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Bush, Kerry & Vietnam | The Nation

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Bush, Kerry & Vietnam

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The mystery is not that newspapers, television and news agencies want to look into George W. Bush's National Guard record--but rather why they have not done much more about it earlier.

Check out Williams's new book, Deserter: George W. Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past. Click here to purchase a copy.

About the Author

Ian Williams
Ian Williams is The Nation's UN correspondent. In addition to his work for the magazine, he frequently comments on...

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We will probably never discover whether it was arrogance or an assumption of the inherent niceness of the Kerry team that made the Bush campaign choose battle on the terrain of Vietnam, since, as we pointed out when Swift Boat ads ran, those veterans, despite their other confabulations, all testified that John Kerry was indeed in combat and in Vietnam. Pointing to Kerry's war record by implication highlights the absence of his contemporary George W. Bush, who, on his own admission, had joined the Texas Air National Guard to avoid the war.

Kerry was badly advised, and waited several weeks to counterattack, but Cheney's insults finally seemed to rouse him into action last week. And in the weird way of American media, the fact that a Senator and a candidate raised the issue seems to have aroused them from their torpor. As a result, young George Bush's career during the Vietnam War is now being ventilated--which is an easy task because it has so many holes in it!

There is little coming out that is startlingly new. Much of the information was available, already well researched by local newspapers and magazines when I finished writing Deserter four months ago. What is new is the serious and concerted attention it is finally, and deservedly, getting. And each new piece of information reinforces rather than rebuts the evidence of a spoiled rich frat boy who got an easy ride because of family influence while 58,000 of his contemporaries died.

At issue is not really whether or not George W. Bush dodged in Vietnam, it is the hypocrisy of his career then and since, the constant dissimulation about his service then, morphing inexorably into his current self-righteous lies. The attack on Kerry, who did serve, and served by military standards with honor, has clearly been too much for too many people.

And so the revelations belatedly roll in. On CBS's 60 Minutes, Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the Texas House, once again pricked the Bush image of self-made man of the prairies by testifying how he got the young WASP Yale graduate with no redeeming academic features a slot and a commission in the Texas Air National Guard as the tail end of the Tet Offensive still raged. CBS's further revelation of Bush's former commanding officer's private files demonstrate that pressure from senior officers meant that Bush was being given kid-glove treatment and glowing reports throughout his career, even though in 1972 he was suspended from flying, not only for failing to accomplish his flight medical--which he had been trying to dodge even earlier, but for his "failure to perform to US Air Force/Texas Air National Guard standards." (Challenges have been raised about the authenticity of some of the documents but they are consistent with numerous other sources.)

The Associated Press has discovered documents that show, contrary to established hagiographies and published citations that depicted the young Bush as a superb pilot, that he was mediocre, although perhaps better than his 25 percent on the pilot aptitude test may have indicated.

Particular scrutiny then follows on his time in Alabama, where the widow of Jimmy Allison, with whom Bush campaigned for some several very conservative candidates, now reveals in Salon that far from Bush's service's being requested by the Blount Campaign in Alabama in 1972, he was sent there to avoid making a visible mess in Texas.

By all other accounts, he lived down to his reputation there, where he was known by the GOP stalwarts as the Texas Soufflé for boasting so much about his nocturnal exploits.

She confirms the sound of silence across Alabama, from all Bush's would-be colleagues in the Alabama Air National Guard. Did he ever attend National Guard duty? "Lord, no!" The offer from local veterans of $3,500 for anyone who says they saw him on a base in the state remains unclaimed.

Every time the White House announces that it has released all its records on Bush the Younger's brief, inglorious military career, more turn up. The AP, still trawling, wants to know where the records are of the administrative and disciplinary action that should have followed Bush's "Failure to Accomplish" his flight medical when he effectively grounded himself. The Boston Globe returns to the trail they were on before, showing that Bush should not have had that honorable discharge but really should have been disciplined and placed on active service duty for his failures.

The Bush campaign has claimed that he decided not to bother because he knew his plane, the F-102, was being phased out. In fact, his nominal unit in Texas continued flying it for another two years, and even as he was campaigning or cavorting in Alabama was activated for continental defense.

All military people, whichever party that they are in, all admit that for a pilot to voluntarily drop flying duties would be an immense blow to his pride. Bush seems to have taken the blow manfully, and says he is proud of his service--without ever explaining what happened to his pilot's license.

To round it all off, Kitty Kelley's book (The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty), presumably leaked by her publicity machine, quotes Sharon Bush, estranged ex-wife of Neil, on the proclivities of young George for cocaine. The Bush campaign has said that their candidate did not use drugs after 1974. Kelley recounts that he was using the stuff in Camp David, much later than that, while his father was President, although Sharon Bush now denies the story.

Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, flat-out refused to answer when Helen Thomas asked earlier this year if the young Bush had been sentenced to some form of mandatory community service in Alabama at the end of 1972. According to his own biography, he did indeed work for the first six months of 1973 in an organization dedicated to helping minority kids in downtown Houston. No one had noticed any charitable impulse on his part before--and precious little since, one might say.

All the various revelations are like extra dots in a picture--and the picture is of a gaping hole in George W. Bush's record. Now that Cheney, Bush and the Swift Boats have spoken, it would not be surprising if Kerry has decided "no more Mr Nice Guy."

The Bush campaign made Vietnam an issue. The flag and uniform Bush has wrapped himself in should be ripped off. Calls to the NBC to stifle the Kelley stories and the refusal of several local CBS affiliates to air the 60 Minutes program suggest that the Bush campaign is unhappy with that line of inquiry. As he himself said in another context, "Bring it on!"

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