Open Letter to the New York Times:

Don't Compare G.W. Bush's Military Service Record with Clinton's

To the editors:

Inevitably, one of your readers has complained of the "hypocrisy" of Democrats who seek a full accounting of George W. Bush's military record, yet "gave Bill Clinton a pass on his total avoidance of military service."

This hardy lie should have been buried long ago. Despite his opposition to the war in Vietnam, Bill Clinton did not dodge the draft, although he did consider it. His first step was to join his home state's Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). While that move would have allowed him to defer the moment of his formal military service, it also would have meant his ultimately serving as an officer in southeast Asia. But that step gnawed at him, because he did not want some less advantaged Arkansan to take his place in Vietnam; and so he asked to be removed from ROTC, so as to take his chances just like everybody else. A few months later he pulled a high number in the new draft lottery-a break that bought him time (although it did not mean he never could be drafted).

All of this is amply documented. On the other hand, the tale of Mr. Clinton's sly draft-dodging was based wholly on a dubious, belated affidavit, suddenly produced in 1992, and said to have been written by Col. Eugene Holmes, the ROTC officer with whom the future president had dealt back in the Sixties. That statement raised more questions than it answered. (The aged Holmes himself was inaccessible to journalists.)

While Mr. Clinton agonized about the war, Mr. Bush and his friends gave it little thought ("I don't think we spent a lot of time debating it," he said in 1999). While Mr. Clinton did not want his place filled by somebody else, Mr. Bush had no such qualms. With the help of powerful friends, he gained quick admittance to the Texas Air National Guard, despite the lengthy wait-list for positions there. And while Mr. Clinton was resigned to going eventually to Vietnam, Mr. Bush checked "DO NOT VOLUNTEER" when asked if he would go to fight that war (which he supported).

From the start, this president has postured as the patriotic and upstanding opposite of bad Bill Clinton. It is now time for us to rise above the fog of rightist propaganda, and try to see both men for who they really are.

Mark Crispin Miller
Dr. Miller is a media professor at New York University. This letter is published here with permission of the writer.

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This story was published on February 16, 2004.