The Corner

Vietnam Phonies and the Benefit of the Doubt

Given that Vietnam was such an unpopular war, it has always amazed me that so many people who were not there claim to have been. Why do they do it? In my experience, most of the phonies use Vietnam as an excuse for failure in civilian life. Others think the claim that they served in Vietnam will burnish their resumes. But one would think that after Jug Burkett’s book, Stolen Valor, the phonies would get the message. I personally have no problem calling out a phony when I meet one. A phony Vietnam vet — or any phony vet for that matter — deserves all the humiliation called down on him.

Still, I’m a little conflicted about Blumenthal, and I’m not sure I would include him among the phonies that Jug “outed” or the characters that those of us who did serve in Vietnam have encountered. On several of the clips I have seen, Blumenthal clearly refers to his “Vietnam-era service.” Like George Bush, his service in the reserves meant that he could have been sent. However, by the time he joined the Marine Reserve in 1970, the Marines were being redeployed. And we should remember that only about 11 percent of the age-eligible male population served in Vietnam during the entire war.

Did he misspeak? I don’t know. But while I may be willing to give Blumenthal the benefit of the doubt in this case, Rob Simmons — who is a decorated Vietnam veteran — may not.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is senior national security fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, editing its journal Orbis from 2008 to 2020. A Marine Corps infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College from 1987 to 2015. He is the author of US Civil–Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.


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