Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Don't Mention the War

Now here's a reviewer who's never met a WASP war criminal he didn't like*:

"I think [Dick Cheney's autobiography] is the most important memoir to emerge so far from the Bush era. The thing I like most about it is the thing many critics hate: the unapologetic, straightforward explanation and defence of the policies Cheney promoted for the 8 years of his vice-presidency." (Heartfelt defence of the Bush years, Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 15/10/11)

Fast forward to: "I do have one modest complaint about this memoir, however, and that is the things that are left out."

Let's see. There's China for one, and religion - but here's the one I really want to focus on: "Nor, beyond saying that he supported the military commitment, does he offer anything much about what he thought of the Vietnam war, which took place when he was a young adult."

Vietnam, eh? Here we have Australia's self-styled most influential foreign affairs analyst in Australian journalism, a guy who's not only met and interviewed Cheney, and who once summed him up as a "straightshooter," who finds it a tad strange that his "straightshooter" doesn't mention the war. Well, Greg, here's the reason why:

"In an era when many young men avoided military service for many reasons, few were so meticulous about the endeavor as Dick Cheney. Indeed, when the future secretary of defense arrived on the University of Wisconsin campus, he was arguably one of the most accomplished - and inventive - draft dodgers in the country. Unlike George W Bush, who performed some sort of service - ill defined and unrecorded as it may have been - in the Texas Air National Guard, Dick Cheney reacted to the prospect of wearing his country's uniform as a man with a deadly allergy to olive drab. Between 1963 and 1965, Cheney used his student status at Casper College and the University of Wyoming to apply for and receive four 2S draft deferments. As the fight in Vietnam heated up, Cheney fought like a true warrior to defend his deferments. Twenty-two days after Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964, raising the prospect of a rapid expansion of the draft, Dick 'conveniently' - in the words of a 1991 Washington Post profile - married Lynne. Even if his student deferment was lifted, his status as a married man might have made the draft board more sensitive to Cheney's consistent, if frequently reframed, argument that he was needed on the home front, but the Vietnamese were not cooperating with Cheney's plan.

"The war kept demanding more and more American men, and the range of those who were eligible for the draft expanded rapidly. On May 19, 1965, it looked as if Dick Cheney's deferments would no longer protect him. He was reclassified with the most dangerous, draft status: 1A, 'available for military service'. No longer protected by his eternal student status, Cheney was still counting on his marriage to keep him off the front lines. But events were conspiring against him.

"Struggling to maintain the manpower for a war that he still thought could be won, President Lyndon Johnson announced on July 28, 1965, that draft call-ups would double. Three months later, on October 26, 1965, the Selective Services constraints on the drafting of childless married men were lifted. Da Nang was calling. And it did not look as though Dick had any excuses left. But there was one way for ambitious young men to avoid serving their country while maintaining their political viability. If Cheney had a child, he would be reclassified 3A, the status that allowed married men with dependents to remain out of uniform. That would work. Except, of course, that Cheney did not have a child - yet. Precisely nine months and two days after the Selective Service eliminated special protections for childless married men, Cheney was no longer childless. His daughter Elizabeth was born on July 28, 1966. Convenient? Coincidence? That's not Cheney's style. Writer, Timothy Noah, did the math and suggested that the timing of Elizabeth's arrival 'would seem to indicate that the Cheneys, though doubtless planning to have children some time, were seized with an untamable passion the moment Dick Cheney became vulnerable to the draft. And acted on it. Carpe diem! Who says government policy can't affect human behaviour'. Of course, Dick Cheney left nothing to chance. He applied for 3A status immediately, receiving it on January 19, 1966, while Lynne was still in the first trimester of her pregnancy.

"Twenty-three years later, when Cheney appeared before the Senate to plead the case for his confirmation as GHW Bush's secretary of defense, the nominee was questioned about his failure to serve. Cheney responded by saying he 'would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called'. In a more truthful moment that same year, Cheney admitted to Washington Post reporter George C. Wilson that 'I had other priorities in the sixties than military service'. Cheney's lie to the Senate has never caused much concern, but that 'other priorities' line has dogged him." (The Rise & Rise of Richard B. Cheney, John Nichols, 2004, pp 35-37)

[*See my 29/1/08 post Greg Sheridan: In Praise of 'Great' Men.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nothing this man ever did would surprise me,