Blumenthal’s Lesson

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Dear Son,

Quite a hubbub is erupting over the story at the top of page one of the New York Times in respect of the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, who is running for U.S. senator. It seems that Mr. Blumenthal has been exaggerating his military record to suggest that when he was a Marine in the 1970s he served “in Vietnam.”

Mr. Blumenthal may have, in one appearance, done more than suggest it, stating outright, according to the Times, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam . . .Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

The Times reports that “many politicians have faced questions about their decisions during the Vietnam war,” and it notes that Mr. Blumenthal is not alone in staying out of the war. But “what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record,” the Times says, “is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life.”

One thing to bear in mind as you read this story is that there is nothing wrong with service in either the National Guard or the Reserves. Generally speaking, reservists serve a shorter “hitch” on full-time active duty but make a longer commitment of monthly meetings. It is true that during Vietnam many potential draftees did seek a spot in the Reserves or the National Guard, in the hope that they would be less likely to see service in Vietnam. But that long commitment of active reserve duty is nothing to sneeze at.

And there was always the risk that the National Guard or the various reserves units could be called up to active duty and sent to Vietnam. According to the National Guard Website, some 8,700 members of the Guard were deployed to Vietnam. Although President Johnson didn’t call up large numbers from the Army Reserve, one Website reports, “thousands of individual Army Reservists did serve in Vietnam, as did 35 USAR units deployed there in 1968.” In the current war, much more significant percentages of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from Reserve and Guard units. So I’d recommend against sneering at Mr. Blumenthal’s commitment.

What excited the news desk of the Times wasn’t the fact that Mr. Blumenthal chose the reserves instead of the regular Marines. It was that he had spoken, at least once, as though he’d actually served in Vietnam, as opposed, I suppose, “during” Vietnam. No doubt you will share, as I do, the Times disapproval of such dissembling, if it was, in fact, intentional. That would be an easy call. The Times, however, fails to dwell on why service in Vietnam is, today, so important that a politician would want to have served there.

Here there is a lesson to remember. There was a time when the Times itself has scoffed at the idea that Vietnam had any higher purpose. The war, “then, as now, seemed to lack any rationale except the wrecking of as many lives as possible on both sides,” is how the Times put it in one editorial.

Yet 35 years after we lost the war, it seems that for voters today, Vietnam did have some meaning, or such a brilliant figure as Mr. Blumenthal wouldn’t be trying to give people the impression that he served in Vietnam. It is something to think about should you ever be called for the draft in the midst of an unpopular war.

Your aging papa, etc. etc.

The New York Sun

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