The Corner

Re: Kerry, Gwb, Vietnam

Just one more from the tarpit. A reader in Houston urges me to correct my

statement of yesterday: “We all know what happened when time came for

George W. Bush to make his Vietnam decisions. His family, like 90 percent of

well-connected elite families in America at that time, made a few phone

calls & got him a stateside billet. This option was not open to most

Americans.”

Not so, says my reader: “The assertion that Dubya signed up for the Texas

Air National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam … [is] simply untrue. It’s

untrue for the very simple — objectively factual, easily verifiable

— reason that the

TANG unit young Bush signed up for was indeed in hot combat in Southeast

Asia’s skies at the very moment he signed up for it, and Bush or anyone else

joining that unit would reasonably have expected that its pilots would still

be in hot combat over Southeast Asia as long as the war continued!

“As it turned out, that TANG unit was no longer in combat by the time Bush

was trained to fly its planes. And so Bush didn’t get shot at by his

country’s enemies. Rather, his unit intercepted and shadowed Russian

aircraft (flying out of Cuba) that were routinely probing American airspace

in the Gulf. World War III didn’t break out, and no, Bush wasn’t shot at by

the Russians, and no, he can’t now claim to have the combat experience that

Kerry can claim. Yes, he’d be a more appealing candidate today if he could

claim combat experience. He can’t, and he’s never tried to. But the

explanation for that is not what you’ve claimed — that is, that Bush used

his connections to join a part of the armed forces which was guaranteed not

to see combat.”

“(Ironically, exactly the opposite thing happened to Senator Kerry. Joining

the Navy, as he did, was unlikely to put him into hot combat, and indeed he

saw none on the ship on which he served most of his time abroad. When he

volunteered to join the Swift Boats, they weren’t seeing hot combat either.

It was only a change in their mission, after he’d volunteered for them, that

resulted in his country’s enemies shooting at him. And after four months

and three bandaide wounds with the Swift Boats, he promptly got his ticket

punched, collected his medals and his 8mm films of his dramatic

re-enactments of his combat experiences, and headed back to a stateside post

as an admiral’s aid, and thence to an early discharge so he could run for

Congress. The medals eventually went over a Capitol fence in a war protest;

the 8mm footage will be onscreen at tonight’s Democratic National

Convention.)”

I hope this is correct. I can *absolutely guarantee*, though, from years of

experience in this business, that within half an hour of this being posted I

shall get some equally indignant, equally long, and equally self-assured

e-mail from someone arguing an entirely different version of events. Since

no-one is going to pay me to dig to the bottom of this, which would take

weeks — if it actually has a bottom, which after 35 years is by no means

certain — I present my reader’s account as offered (though edited without

prejudice), declare myself respectfully agnostic, and CLOSE THE SUBJECT.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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