Yesterday a friend wrote:
The Chuck Hagel Defense Secretary nomination is a referendum on what America thinks about two Americans, exceedingly different in their politics, character, and life-experiences: Chuck Hagel and Bill Kristol. The anti-Hagel campaign was launched by Kristol, and with all his outlets (the Weekly Standard, Emergency Committee for Israel, AEI, WSJ), depend on it, not a flunky, blogger, or senator on his side of the game puts mouth to microphone without clearing the approach with him. I wish the IB (Internet Bigstream)–someone at HP or the Daily Beast or Salon or Slate–would turn the issue in this direction. Do a chronology of the life of Bill Kristol….Cheering the Vietnam war while dodging service (something Stephen Colbert brought up, in a 2006 interview, to Bill’s extreme embarrassment); assistant to wild-man Bennett and sleepy Dan Quayle; first big success, in his daily strategy-bulletins to Republicans in Congress on how to defeat Clinton’s health care plan; hot advocacy of impeachment of Clinton; promotion of Iraq war with false facts and sanguine predictions; promotion of war over Georgia, war with Syria, war with Iran; assistant and (possibly) liaison to Romney 2012 in effort to undermine Obama via accusations of disloyalty to Israel; above all, consistent defender of torture.
Where were Hagel and Kristol during the Vietnam era? First Hagel. These excerpts are from his book America: Our Next Chapter Tough Questions, Straight Answers (2008, written with Peter Kaminsky) and begins with Hagel’s childhood in the small town of Ainsworth, Nebraska, where his veteran father and mother were very active in the American Legion Post and American Legion Auxiliary:
Whatever was true in Ainsworth, I thought, was probably true everywhere… Service was simply what people did. It’s the way neighbors helped each other and looked out for one another. It’s what the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found so remarkable about our democracy and its people in the nineteenth century. Service to others. Service to your country… Service meant that when your country called, you answered the call. It would never have occurred to anyone to question it. If the president said he needed you, that was enough. It was enough for me at the age of 21 [in 1967], which is how I eventually found myself pinned down by Viet Cong rifle fire, badly burned, with my wounded brother in my arms.
I still believe, as my father did, in serving our country. But history has taught me that we must require better answers than we have been given before we ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. And when lives and families are put at risk, those questions should be probing, serious, and unrelenting. I would go so far as to say that it is unpatriotic not to ask them. I do not believe the people’s representatives pressed these questions strongly enough in the run-up to the Iraq war. …
If you listen to the tapes released by the Johnson Library, on which President Lyndon B. Jonson and Senator Richard Russell discuss Vietnam in the mid-1960s, you will hear President Johnson confess that we couldn’t win in Vietnam, but we couldn’t pull out because he didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. Senator Russell said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Get out, it’s unfair to project this country into a situation where on the outside you’re saying, ‘Stay steady, stay the course, there’s lights at the end of the tunnel, we can win’ when privately you are saying we can’t win. That’s wrong.”
I wish someone had told me when I was sitting on a burning tank in a Vietnamese rice paddy that I was fighting for a lost cause just to save a president’s legacy. I volunteered to go to Vietnam to defend our nation, not to save LBJ’s place in history. The cold political calculation I heard on those tapes made me vow that I would never—ever– remain silent when that kind of thinking put more American lives at risk in any conflict.
Bill Kristol went on the Stephen Colbert report in 2006 and called for a larger military for the war in Iraq and other important operations, and Colbert asked him about his own non-military service. The dialogue is at 5:30 or so.
Colbert: Where are you going to get the soldiers. Are you going to go for a draft?…. If I was young enough to be drafted, I’d say yes.
Kristol: I’m open to a draft… I’m not against the draft as a matter of principle. We don’t need a draft to increase the army by a couple of divisions.
C; Were you drafted. You were Vietnam age?
K: No I was a little too young.
C: How old were you in 1972?
C: That’s old enough.
K: No I was in the lottery for one year, and Nixon canceled the draft, and so I didn’t volunteer.
C: Great man.
K: [Uncomfortable laughter.]
My anonymous friend notes:
Kristol was born (Wikipedia) December 23, 1952, making him 19 in 1971. The war was still at full throttle. Doubtless he took a student deferment. He could have volunteered, as Chuck Hagel did. He always describes himself as having been at the time a “Scoop Jackson Democrat.” Jackson was pro-war. So were Kristol’s parents, who in 1972 circulated a signed statement Democrats for Nixon–a portent of neoconservatism. Half of this Colbert probably knew, the rest he intuited. These things are NEVER spoken of as if they mattered. Well, now they do.
P.S. To be clear, I demonstrated against both the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and surely would have dodged the draft if I had been exposed to it in the Vietnam era. My sense of service growing up in an academic Jewish family was very different from Hagel’s.