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Friday, June 25, 2004

My Life, Second 100 Pages

Haven't had much time to move forward, but two things stand out to me in the discussion of Clinton's time being a Rhodes Scholar and dealing with the Vietnam draft process:

1) He was called home from Oxford to see the draft board, and at the time he thought that meant no second year in England for him (as it turned out, he did get to go back). I know Vietnam is said to have been a war fought largely by the poor, but even the best educated young people in the country had to deal with the anxiety and disruption to their lives this caused. The Iraq war is nothing like this, with most Americans continuing along as before with only minor inconveniences, like going through airport security.

2) In discussing his options, Clinton quickly notes that there were no places available in the National Guard--I guess all the children of priviledge and connections had them locked up. I also think it's interesting that Clinton, who got Senator Fullbright to recommend him for the Rhodes, didn't try to use the Fullbright connection to get into the Guard.

As I understand events, Clinton had committed to go to Arkansas Law School and enroll in ROTC, but he couldn't do the ROTC training until the following summer, so he was allowed to return to Oxford for another year. While there he had a change of heart and asked to be let out of the ROTC commitment, even though he recognized he would have to do it if they made him. He was released from that, and thanks to a fortunate draft number (his birthday, August 19, was #311 among birthdays chosen) he wasn't called to serve. He claims to have initially thought he would have to do so, but as it turned out he didn't--who knows how much he really knew of his chances when he backed out of ROTC. I'm sure there are plenty of alternate theories about how Clinton managed to avoid going to Vietnam, though in his book, at least, he says he was genuinely torn about all of this--he writes that when he was back in Arkansas in summer 1969 he couldn't sleep. I'm sure it was an awful time to go through.

Here's an alternate take from people who aren't so fond of Clinton, and the account differs from that in Clinton's book. Also a Frontline show on it and a CNN summary of the issue might help clarify what went on. While the ROTC switch Clinton pulled seems rather convenient to me, the case against Clinton also has some holes. For instance, the officer who interviewed Clinton for ROTC says he was decieved and Clinton concealed his antiwar views, but he worked for Fullbright on the Foreign Relations Committee, so his war stance must have been obvious (Clinton also had grown long hair and a beard at the time). He must have know of Clinton's ties to Fullbright because he claims the senator's office pressured him to take Clinton into ROTC.

The questions at the center of the controversy remain relevant today: should we be forced to fight in wars we don't agree with? And what is acceptable or not acceptable in trying to avoid seeing combat duty? I'm also amazed by Clinton's foresight, as he wrote in his letter at the time that he wanted to put his name back into the draft to make him viable as a poltiician later in life. He must have seen the 1992 controversy coming years in advance.