Donald Trump attended a high school military academy. But when the Vietnam War came calling, he developed heel spurs that kept him out of the military. In the case of Joe Biden, it was asthma that kept him on the sidelines of that war. Dick Cheney had multiple student deferments and “higher priorities” than serving, as he put it. George W. Bush got a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard. John Kerry, ironically, did serve in the military during Vietnam but famously turned against that war. His service was “Swift-boated” into infamy even as Bush/Cheney were being applauded by some for their alleged toughness.
When it comes to service in the military, U.S. politicians typically vote with their feet, meaning they double-time away from joining the ranks. This is nothing new, of course. During the U.S. Civil War, the rich could pay for substitutes if they were drafted. When it comes to war, it’s very often a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.
Interestingly, there are two Democratic candidates who are veterans of America’s most recent wars: Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. According to his website, Mayor Pete “served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and took an unpaid seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. For his counterterrorism work, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal.” Sounds impressive, yet a “joint service commendation medal” is a standard-issue medal for any company-grade officer who completes such an assignment without screwing up in a major way. It’s a little like a participation trophy in a Little League tournament.
Despite Mayor Pete’s fairly limited military experience, his web site boasts that if he’s elected president, he’ll take office with the most military experience since George H.W. Bush, who served in the U.S. Navy in combat during World War II.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s military record is far more extensive than Mayor Pete’s. She joined the Army National Guard soon after 9/11 and deployed to Iraq during some of the most bitter fighting in that country. She’s currently a major in the Guard and has spoken extensively about how her military service informs her positions against wasteful, regime-change, wars. According to her web site, “Having experienced first-hand the true cost of war, Tulsi made a personal vow to find a way to ensure that our country doesn’t continue repeating the mistakes of the past, sending our troops into war without a clear mission, strategy, or purpose.”
Tonight, there’s yet another Democratic debate featuring Mayor Pete as well as Congresswoman Gabbard. It will be interesting to see if they’re called on specifically for their views on military issues, such as Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria.
In fact, I’d like to hear the views of all twelve Democrats on that stage tonight on the question of America’s forever wars, and why these wars have illustrated that old story of war being in the service of the rich even as the poor pay the ultimate price. Given America’s supine Congress, our presidents have enormous power over life and death in making war across the globe. When are we going to rein that power in? When are we going to stop fighting foolish and destructive wars that have nothing to do with safeguarding America?
Until we honestly — even ruthlessly — address these questions, America will continue to witness generational wars for the rich fought by the poor.