Vice President Dick Cheney used every trick he could to evade the draft and military service altogether during the Vietnam War. His evasion of service has significant ramifications in his execution of the Iraq War. Americans should demand more in their vice president.
There doesn't seem to be much that Cheney wouldn't do to avoid service in Vietnam. Cheney applied for and received four draft deferments for being a student at Casper College and University of Wyoming between 1963 and 1965. On August 7, 1964, Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which greatly increased Cheney's chance of being drafted, but 22 days later, he married Lynne. At the time, married men were exempt from being drafted. Hence if student deferments were to become disallowed, his marriage might still decrease his chances of being drafted. But the war kept demanding more troops, and the number of people eligible for the draft rapidly expanded. On May 19, 1965, Cheney was reclassified with the most dangerous draft status. On July 28, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the number of people drafted would double. Then on October 26, 1965, the Selective Service announced that it would start drafting married men with no children. Married men with children were still exempt from the draft. Exactly nine months and two days later, Cheney's first daughter, Elizabeth, was born. During the first trimester of Lynne's pregnancy, Cheney applied for and received another draft deferment. Altogether, Cheney finagled five draft deferments.
This isn't what Cheney recalled in 1989 during a Senate confirmation hearing to be secretary of defense to the first President Bush. Cheney was questioned about his failure to serve and responded, "I would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." Cheney admitted in the same year to a Washington Post reporter that he "had other priorities in the 60s than military service." Cheney said he had "other priorities" than military service, but many brave men from Cheney's hometown of Casper, Wyoming, such as Specialist 4 Richard Sweeney, Gunnery Sergeant Robert Grove, and Captain Carlton Holland, served instead of Cheney and died in Vietnam. Cheney was busy with his "other priorities" while supporting the war in which he was too lily-livered to fight.
During the 2004 election campaign, Cheney strongly criticized the national defense commitment of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the Democratic nominee for president. This criticism was outrageous and disgraceful because Kerry was a Vietnam War hero who volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy, requested duty as a swift boat officer, which was one of the most dangerous combat duties in Vietnam, and demonstrated exceptional valor in combat, which resulted in winning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Kerry served America with tremendous courage, honor, and distinction during two tours of duty, and to this day, he still has shrapnel left in a leg from his battle wounds. Cheney was supportive of the Vietnam War, but used every dirty trick he could find to avoid serving in it. Then he had the gall to criticize Kerry's commitment to national defense. Kerry could have used his privileged background to evade service in Vietnam like Cheney, who finagled five draft deferments. But Kerry volunteered to serve, even though he didn't believe the war was worthwhile, because he knew if he didn't go, another young American would be sent in his place. Besides criticizing Kerry's commitment to national defense, Cheney stood by while his surrogates distorted and skewered Kerry's honorable and courageous service in Vietnam.
Referring to Cheney's criticism of Kerry's commitment to national defense, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), another Navy veteran, responded, "When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil. Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids. But not when it was his turn to go."
"Our problem with this current war in Iraq is that we're being governed by the chickenhawks," said former Governor Jesse Ventura, a Vietnam veteran. "You know what a chickenhawk is? That's somebody when it was their time to serve they were chicken. But now they come back when they're 50 years old and they're hawks. I laugh when President Bush says-he come out a few months ago and said the problem with Vietnam was we left too soon. Well, why didn't he come over and help out? Or why didn't five or four or five deferment Dick Cheney show up? And how is it that a guy with four or five deferments from the military can end up the secretary of defense? Shouldn't you have at least served? You're the main liaison between civilian and military. Shouldn't you have at least had military service? And yet here's Dick Cheney, a [former] secretary of defense."
Cheney was recently asked about the milestone of 4000 American troops being killed in Iraq. He responded, "The president carries the biggest burden, obviously. He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans."
Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, the former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Cheney's attitude well when he said, "The commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions or bury the results."
Cheney says that Democrats favoring a timetable for withdrawal of American troops believe in "cut and run," as if he is the courageous one for staying the course, but he isn't among the troops facing the prospect of death every day in Iraq. Cheney cut and run when his country needed him in Vietnam.
As a result of his evasion of service in the Vietnam War, Cheney has no firsthand experience in or appreciation of the risks of war, such as becoming a prisoner of war. This truancy undoubtedly contributed to troops being sent into combat without proper body armor and enough armored vehicles. It contributed to him supporting policies that created so many more insurgents and enemies of America instead of winning over hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes being indifferent to tremendous civilian casualties, allowing Iraqi home invasions, imprisoning numerous innocent people including children, holding detainees for years without charges, eliminating their right of habeas corpus, sanctioning the abuse and torture of prisoners, and gutting the Geneva Conventions meant to protect American and foreign troops. All of these policies created many more enemies and thus many more American casualties.
Cheney never needed the protection of the Geneva Conventions, but American troops do. Because Cheney helped discard the Geneva Conventions for enemy combatants who become prisoners of war, American troops who become prisoners of war can't expect to be treated under the Geneva Conventions by the enemy. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, beheaded American Nick Berg as revenge for humiliation and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison by American troops. What a way to die. The American public should be outraged that this beheading was caused by the Bush Administration's policies for treatment of prisoners.
Cheney acts as the de facto behind-the-scenes president on foreign policy. This chickenhawk doesn't have the moral authority to send troops into combat when he was too scared to serve in the war fought by his generation. Cheney supported the Vietnam War as long as he didn't have to fight in it. While he evaded service in Vietnam, many other young Americans died in his place. Why would any veteran or member of the military support someone who shirked his duties when he honorably performed or is performing his duties? Why would any citizen support someone with such a disgraceful record of evading military service? Why would anybody reward cowardice over courage? Through his actions and words, Cheney said that if his country needed him, don't come calling on him, but send someone else in his place.
Now Cheney thinks he can be a leader for the armed services and the country. Wake up, America. If he didn't have the courage to serve, he doesn't have the courage to lead.