Saturday, September 18, 2004

Vietnam and Bush's Brain

The Salt Lake Tribune's Rebecca Walsh (with the help of Tom Harvey) has done a good bit of journalism for a small time paper, uncovering the details of Karl Rove's spotted Vietnam-era draft history. Unlike his boss and his boss' boss, Dick Cheney, the meddling to void going into combat isn't as obvious.

In fact, Rove was against the war. Here's a nice nugget:

Far from being a conscientious objector, [Olympus High School classmate Mark] Gustavson recalls, Rove's opposition to the war was political. He considered the conflict a "political skirmish that was not being properly administered."

"I never heard Karl say, 'I hope I don't get drafted,' " Gustavson says. "Everyone went and registered. No matter how we felt about the war, we understood our legal duty. I don't remember Karl saying he would get married or get a student deferment or do anything that would have earned one a deferment."

But Rove got one anyway. Rove graduated from high school in the spring of 1969 and in June was reclassified 1-A, available to be drafted.

Then it gets weird: "Rove received number 84, or within the top one-fourth of the 365 numbers. It would turn out that the highest lottery number drafted from this group was 195, according the Selective Service, putting Rove's number deep within those that could be drafted."

He got a physical, and was deemed eligible, yet somehow they passed him up again because he goes to the University of Utah, monitoring under a staunch Democrat while protesting Hubert Humphrey's speech in Salt Lake. "But in the autumn and spring quarters of 1971, Rove was a part-time student... Despite the apparent lapse in his full-time status, Rove maintained his deferment."

Then Rove transferred to the University of Maryland, "But a letter he prepared to notify the local draft board in Murray of his transfer never made it to Utah."

When at MD, Rove went part time again and went from being 1-A to 1-H after the Pentagon reclassified thousands of men during the wind-down of the Vietnam war. The whole thing seems realistic by Walsh. Stories of real life are often complex and complicated, with no real clear wrong doing on people's parts. I also have trouble blaming people for trying to avoid going to war, my father did, I would have. But John Kerry didn't. Why not? I think it was partly because he was hoping to be the next JFK to become president. He eventual saw the swift boats as his PT-109. He wanted to create a myth out of his tour of duty like the Kennedy family managed to do with Jack's. The fact is, World War II was more a George W. Bush black and white war, where was Vietnam was more a Kerry grayscale.

I think Rove's High School buddy (who's now a Salt Lake City Lawyer) put it best:

"It [the Kerry-Edwards campaign] paints a time in American history with too broad and dramatic a stroke. It [Vietnam] wasn't that black and white," Gustavson says.

"There were a lot of legitimate reasons for not going. There were a lot of legitimate reasons for going," he adds. "Some of my friends were just cowards. But I never heard Karl advocate violating that law. That he didn't go makes him like hundreds of thousands of other guys my age who didn't go."

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