After finishing college, Bush used his father's connections to evade service in the Vietnam War by jumping over a huge waiting list to get a pilot slot in the National Guard after numerous other applicants who were much more qualified and who had much higher aptitude test scores were rejected. Then Bush refused an order from a superior officer to take a physical exam, but used his father's connections to avoid criminal prosecution by court-martial for disobeying a lawful order. Bush obviously refused to take the physical exam because it tested for illegal drug abuse and he would have failed it due to heavy drug abuse for which he was never caught by the police as far as we know. Finally, after failing to take the physical, Bush went AWOL in the National Guard, but again used his father's connections to avoid criminal prosecution for being a deserter.
As a former infantry officer, I know that in the military, we believe in leadership by example. What kind of example does Bush set for American troops as commander in chief?
Compare Bush's disgraceful military record to the military record of his Democratic opponent for the presidency in 2004. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) could have used his privileged background to evade service in Vietnam like Bush or like Vice President Dick Cheney, who finagled five draft deferments, but Kerry volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy and then requested duty in Vietnam as a swift boat officer, which was one of the most dangerous combat duties there. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Kerry demonstrated exceptional valor while leading combat troops into battle. He won a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Then when Kerry came back home after two tours of duty, he fought to end the war as the most prominent spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. 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.
One of the key differences between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats overwhelmingly won't try to unjustly tarnish the military record of a Republican war hero as draft evading Republicans shamelessly do to Democratic war heroes. Whereas numerous Republicans invested enormous resources into impugning the heroic military service of Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, extremely few Democrats tried to do the same to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a World War II veteran, defines a chickenhawk as "having the shriek of a hawk but the backbone of a chicken." Lautenberg spoke on the Senate floor about chickenhawks criticizing Kerry's commitment to national defense: "They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersions on others, but when it was their turn to serve, they were AWOL from courage. Shame on those who impugn the patriotism of those who supported their country's call to duty and paid for it with injuries resulting from their obedience to that call. In my view, that's the cry of the chickenhawk, who has no idea what it means to have the courage to put your life at risk to defend this nation. How dare they challenge his commitment to our defense?"
Compare Bush's ignominious military record to the military record of his main Republican opponent for the presidency in 2000. After graduating from the Naval Academy, McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam and served as a naval aviator. He nearly lost his life when his plane was accidentally struck by a rocket from another plane on the same aircraft carrier, which caused a series of explosions and a conflagration resulting in 134 sailors dying and 161 more sailors being injured. Two days after the accident, McCain turned down an offer to go home and volunteered for combat duty from another aircraft carrier. While flying his 23rd mission over North Vietnam, his plane was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain was badly wounded and taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton where he spent five-and-a-half years including two years in solitary confinement. McCain received marginal medical care for his wounds and was often severely tortured. McCain was offered early release by his captors less than a year into his imprisonment, but turned down the offer unless everyone captured before him was also released. The courage, honor, and integrity that McCain demonstrated as a pilot and a prisoner of war were incredible.
While Kerry, Gore, and McCain volunteered to serve in Vietnam, Bush spent the war, by all accounts, boozing it up and getting stoned too. Many brave men from Bush's hometown of Midland, Texas, such as Private First Class Paulino Lopez, Staff Sergeant Kendell Cutbirth, and Captain Robert Zonne, served instead of Bush and died in Vietnam. Bush stayed home, supportive of the Vietnam War, but too afraid to fight for his country. Instead he decided to spend the war in a drug and alcohol induced haze.
Although too young to have served in the Vietnam War, President-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) can similarly be faulted for never having served in the military, but being a strong proponent of the war in Afghanistan and increasing American troops there. Because he never served in the military, Obama can't understand how it works well enough to be an effective commander in chief, particularly while the military is fighting two wars.
"Our problem with this current war in Iraq is that we're being governed by the chickenhawks," said former Governor Jesse Ventura (I-MN), 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?"
The hypocrisy is without bounds. Bush unethically used his father's connections to get a prized slot in the National Guard and evade service in Vietnam. Then he went AWOL and failed to even complete his military commitment in the National Guard. Now Bush is ordering the same National Guard to combat duty in Iraq and forcing military personnel to serve even after they've completed their commitments.
Bush 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 and Afghanistan. Bush cut and run when his country needed him in Vietnam.
Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, the former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Bush'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."