Fortunate sons and phonies: president’s claims are disrespectful

by Karl Noyes

My dad went to Vietnam. He doesn’t like to talk about it so I don’t ask him about it. Whenever the subject comes up, his eyes cloud up and become distant. When I hug him I can feel the lumps on his body, the cysts he has from handling Agent Orange more than 30 years ago. So when people ask me why what President George W. Bush did 30 years ago concerning the National Guard matters, I tell them exactly why.

Bush’s actions 30 years ago don’t speak to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of his policies. Think of them what you will, but his actions do go a long way

toward establishing his character. They go a long way toward explaining his flippant disregard for millions of anti-war protesters. As Texas governor, he was able to execute prisoners with a cold ease.

Maybe I’m of a dying breed, but I believe presidents should have good character. Presidents represent the United States. They represent us and who we are. The cornerstone of good character is compassion, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I found former President Bill Clinton’s wayward sexual activity in the White House appalling and offensive. But Bush’s tremendous void of compassion and disregard for life I find more so.

Bush can parade around in his flight suit, acting the war hero, but he certainly is not. He has the gall and guts to claim that his National Guard experience was on the same level as the men and women who actually served in Vietnam. He has the gall and guts to send the United States’ sons and daughters off to wars around the world. And he has the gall and guts not to welcome their dead bodies back home.

Bob Dylan called people like Bush “masters of war.” John Fogerty called them “fortunate sons.” I’ll take a hint from J.D. Salinger and call Bush what he is: a phony. Bush calls himself a compassionate conservative. Bush calls himself a war

president, but where is the compassion? A real war president would know what war is. Bush thinks war is serving on a senator’s campaign and going to a dentist appointment.

It would probably be different if Bush acknowledged his National Guard service for what it was back in the 1970s: a privileged way to avoid going to war. He could be forgiven for being scared and not wanting to die in the mud fields of Southeast Asia. He could probably be forgiven for taking advantage of the privilege that has protected him his whole life. But he cannot be forgiven for pretending to be on the same level as Vietnam War veterans.

Every time Bush asserts his National Guard service was on par with those of Vietnam veterans, he does a disservice to his office and this country. Most importantly, he does a disservice to the men and women who actually served in Vietnam. This comes down to respect. Every time Bush claims that his National Guard service is something other than it really was, a dodge, it is an act of disrespect. It is spit in the face of my dad and others who served this country in Vietnam. Fortunate sons can be forgiven. Unrepentant phonies cannot.

Karl Noyes is a member of the Daily’s editorial board. He welcomes comments at [email protected]