Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 15, 2005
POLITICS: The Vietnam Card - 2008 Edition
Every presidential campaign since 1988 has featured an intense focus on the issue of non-service in Vietnam: the issue arose in 1988 with Dan Quayle's Indiana National Guard service, then moved on in 1992 and 1996 to Bill Clinton's on-and-off ROTC commitments, and then in 2000 and 2004 to George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service as contrasted with the Vietnam service of Al Gore and John Kerry. Kerry's service, of course, also spawned the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and related controversies best not rehashed here.
It's debatable whether attacks on a candidate's failure to serve in Vietnam are effective - note that the targeted candidate was on the winning side in each of those five elections, in the last four cases against candidates with more distinguished service records, three of them combat veterans. As I've argued in the past, the Democrats' particular fixation with the "chickenhawk" theme was the source of many of their worst mistakes in 2004.
Still, the issue remains with us, and whether we like it or not, we will assuredly be arguing, come 2008, about what the candidates did during the Vietnam War. With that in mind, to assist us all in going into the next cycle with our eyes open, I set out to examine what I could dig up on the various people who have been prominently mentioned at one time or another as (1) 2008 candidates (2) 2012 or later candidates or (3) possible VP candidates. Consider this a first draft. I've tried to keep the list comprehensive rather than fret over which ones are actually bona fide candidates at this stage, although I've put more effort into locating information about the more major candidates. Candidates are arranged by year of birth, to give some perspective on when they would have been eligible to serve. A NOTE ON SOURCES: I've cited anything I could get my hands on via a Google search. Take the sources for what they're worth. I'm happy to be corrected; email me or drop links in the comments if I've missed something or if a source has misstated facts. Birthdates and other basic information are mostly taken from the Almanac of American Politics.
Before we get into the candidates, though, let's try to offer a little of the historical perspective that often got lost in the shuffle in discussions of the draft status of Bush, Kerry and Dick Cheney. Even based on date of birth alone, not every young man in the 1960s and early 1970s was equally likely to get drafted to go to Vietnam.
Before the lottery was implemented in the latter part of the Vietnam conflict, Local Boards called men classified 1-A, 18 1/2 through 25 years old, oldest first. This resulted in uncertainty for the potential draftees during the entire time they were within the draft-eligible age group. A draft held today would use a lottery system under which a man would spend only one year in first priority for the draft - either the calendar year he turned 20 or the year his deferment ended. Each year after that, he would be placed in a succeedingly lower priority group and his liability for the draft would lessen accordingly. In this way, he would be spared the uncertainty of waiting until his 26th birthday to be certain he would not be drafted.
As to student deferments:
Before Congress made improvements to the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree.
A lot of my information on the Vietnam draft comes from this site, the provenance of which I can't vouch for, although a good deal of the information about the Vietnam-era lottery is also here on the Selective Service website. (There's more here). Apparently, the lottery was introduced in 1969:
December 1, 1969 marked the date of the first draft lottery held since 1942. This drawing determined the order of induction for men born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950.
In addition to the draft procedures, you need to understand the changing circumstances of the war over time. U.S. involvement in Vietnam did not become a major manpower commitment until 1965 (see here), with troop levels rising from 23,300 in 1964 to 184,300 in 1965 to a high of 536,100 in 1968. Under Nixon, troop levels dropped off to 334,600 by 1970 (a 37% reduction), then dropped in half to 156,800 in 1971, and to 24,200 in 1972, with the war ending by the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973. As you can see, the need to draft men to go to Vietnam was falling off sharply from 1971 on. This chart shows the peak and dropoff in the number of draftees taken into the Armed Forces; I'll reproduce the key figures:
To give some sense of perspective for the proportions involved, the link above notes that a lottery for six years' worth of potential draftees affected 850,000 young men. In other words, if you came of age between 1965 and 1969, your odds on being drafted were pretty high; other years, much less so.
CANDIDATES BORN BEFORE 1939
1936 - Draft Eligible 1954-62
CANDIDATES BORN 1939-1943
The men in this age group were draft eligible before the institution of the draft lottery in 1969, and thus were exposed to the draft at age 18 1/2 and became gradually less likely to be drafted as they approached age 26, becoming ineligible on their 26th birthdays. While women served and in some cases died in Vietnam as volunteers in non-combatant positions, women were not eligible to be drafted.
1942 - Draft Eligible 1960-68
Biden himself was in graduate school during the Vietnam War and avoided it. He was described by Vietnam veteran David Hackworth as a "well-connected draft dodger" . . .
I'm not sure what the basis of "draft dodger" is; presumably, Biden used student deferments to avoid service, but I don't have better sources on this.
1943 - Draft Eligible 1960-68
He took a nine-month break before his senior year to work for Cornell University at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. He returned to earn his Harvard degree, but something had changed. "I enjoyed it, but I was ready to move on," Bredesen said.
John Kerry (D-MA) (12/11/43) - Navy 1966-70, Navy Reserve, 1970-78. Volunteered for the Navy after being denied a deferment; served two tours, 1966-70, including four months of hazardous combat duty in Vietnam, December 1968-March 1969. I won't rehash here the various controversies over Kerry's service, but he was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
CANDIDATES BORN 1944-45
1944 - Draft Eligible 1961-69
Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY) (5/28/44) - Did not serve; received a deferment in 1968 for a clerkship with a United States District Court judge. Got a letter from the judge to sustain this deferment, after receiving student deferments for college and law school.
Wesley Clark (D-AR) (12/23/44) - Army 1966-2000. Graduated from West Point, 1966. After two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, served in Vietnam with honor and distinction 1969-70, being wounded four times and earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart. Remained in the Army until 2000. Link.
Tom Tancredo (R-CO) (12/20/45) - Did not serve. According to Political State Report, Tancredo "avoided service in Vietnam by obtaining a medical deferment for mental health reasons." This and this link, from critics of Tancredo's views on immigration, are harsher in their descriptions.
CANDIDATES BORN 1946-51
Romney was given a religious deferment while a Mormon missionary in France during the late 1960s and a student deferment while at Stanford and Brigham Young universities. . . . In fact, millions of American men received deferments during the Vietnam War. In 1964, for example . . . 1.2 million men received student deferments, according to the Selective Service. In 1965 -- the first year of Romney's deferment -- 1.7 million men received student deferments. . . Romney . . . declined to be interviewed on the subject. But in 1994, when he was trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, Romney denied that his 2 1/2 year Mormon mission to France was taken to avoid being drafted. He said his father, a three-term Michigan governor and 1968 presidential candidate, never intervened.
I believe that the mission is a religious requirement for Mormons; while I'm not sure if there are strict rules as to when you take them, most Mormons today do the mission in or around the college years.
Newt Gingrich (R-GA) (6/17/47) - Did not serve. It appears that Newt got deferments for college, graduate school and fatherhood. This link states that Newt also got a deferment for being a father. PBS' Frontline has a good timeline; Newt was married in 1962 as a college freshman, had his first child in 1963, and was in college and grad school from 1962-70. On the draft:
Gets draft deferment because of school and children (flat feet and near-sightedness also probably would have kept him out).
Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) (7/30/47) - Austrian Army, 1965-66. Military service was compulsory, but Austria was not at war in those years. Arnold spent a week in military prison for going AWOL to enter his first bodybuilding competition, but was thereafter given permission to compete in bodybuilding events while in the military. Link.
Haley Barbour (R-MS) (10/22/47) - Did not serve.
Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (10/26/47) - Did not serve. Woman, not eligible for draft.
Bill Richardson (D-NM) (11/15/47) - Did not serve. Got college degree in 1970, Masters Degree in 1971.
Bill Owens (R-CO) (10/22/50) - Did not serve. According to USAToday, Vietnam is a problem for Owens, who's had a lot of problems lately:
Shortly before the 1998 Republican primary, reports surfaced that he had misrepresented his Vietnam War draft status. Owens told The Denver Post he was never called up, but a review of his records showed college deferments in 1969, 1970 and 1971. Owens said he simply forgot.
Tom Vilsack (D-IA) (12/13/50) - Did not serve.
CANDIDATES BORN 1952-1953
1952 - Subject to 1971 Draft Lottery for Induction in 1972
George Allen (R-VA) (3/8/52) - Did not serve. According to the same source, his lottery number was 229, a high number.
1953 - Subject to 1972 Draft Lottery for Induction in 1973
Russ Feingold (D-WI) (3/2/53) - Did not serve. Very high lottery number of 322.
John Edwards (D-NC) (6/10/53) - Did not serve. Lottery number: 178. Edwards' Vietnam exposure is discussed by Tim Noah here.
CANDIDATES BORN AFTER 1953
Mark Warner (D-VA) (12/15/54) - Did not serve.
Mary Landrieu (D-LA) (11/23/55) - Did not serve. Woman, not eligible for draft.
Evan Bayh (D-IN) (12/26/55) - Did not serve.
Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) (11/27/60) - Did not serve.