I wrote an editorial in today's Lancaster Sunday News about Conservative Talk Show hosts who never served in the military. I like the headline they wrote.
Radio/TV patriots snipe from safety of homefront
I was surrounded.
I was taking fire on all sides.
No, not from Iraqi insurgents, but from the conservatives I was eating lunch with in a dining facility or DFAC on Tallil Ali Air Base in Iraq.
Last year I was deployed to Iraq with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. I knew I would be in the minority when I voted for Barack Obama for president, but sometimes I really felt like an Army of one — the one white, male Obama voter among the thousands of soldiers and airmen on base.
We were real curiosities for each other, the conservatives and I. The most ardent among them listen to Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and others tell them that liberals are cowards and trying to destroy the nation and who knows what else. But there I was sitting in the DFAC, my rifle under my chair, serving in the Army. The radio/TV patriots were home in America where they had always been and always will be.
I was arguing with some of the best men and women I ever met. While we disagreed on politics, they were the kind of men and women who left home to support their families and maybe make their lives better. When we were done hassling each other about politics, we could go back to complaining about the heat, or the garrison, or talking about what we were going to do when we got home.
It did seem strange to me that these soldiers and airmen, many on their second and third tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, would give such respect to men who never served. Often someone would say that the president should be a veteran. If, as usual, Fox News was playing on the DFAC TVs, I could point to O'Reilly or Beck and say, "They never served. Why should they be the ones to say who is and isn't a patriot?"
Foreign visitors often see the strangest things about America more clearly than we do. Recently I was talking with an Israeli writer working in America. He thinks America is a great country, but he does think it very odd that all of the leading radio/TV patriots in America have not served in the military. Odder still that in America you can be a draft-dodger and be calling someone else a coward on your daily show.
Israel has compulsory military service, so the situation is different, but no one in Israel who avoided military service could pretend to be a paragon of patriotism.
In 1972 when I first enlisted, my enlistment meant a poor kid would not have to be recruited or drafted to take that place. Military service is a zero-sum game. If enough people walked in off the street to fill the ranks, the thousands of sergeants on recruiting duty could go back to leading squads and platoons.
When Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh avoided the draft, a poor kid who could not afford to duck the draft took their place. When a draft-dodger said the Vietnam War was the "wrong war," that implied they would serve in a "right war." But if other Americans are fighting and dying, how can that be a wrong war for a patriot?
I can understand avoiding the draft if you are anti-war. I can't understand it for someone who is yelling about patriotism on the radio, or accusing others of cowardice on TV.
I don't think the war in Iraq was the "right war." Reasonable people still disagree about whether we ever should have invaded. I did not volunteer and serve because Iraq was the "right war." I went because, just as in 1972, if I went, one less person had to be recruited.
Although they are too young to be draft-dodgers, I also wonder why Beck, Hannity, and for that matter Ann Coulter, did not at some point take a temporary pay cut and show us liberals how brave conservative media mavens really are. Coulter and Hannity were born in 1961. They could have enlisted any time between 1979 and 1996. Coulter is an attorney and may still be able to get a waiver before her 50th birthday next year.
Born in 1964, Beck had from 1982 to 1999 before he became too old for an initial enlistment. Technically, Beck could have enlisted during 2006, when the Army raised the enlistment age to 42. That way he could have been in "the surge" instead of just talking about it.
I would not want to return to a draft. That we can fight two wars and patrol the world with an all-volunteer force that is less than 1 percent of our population says volumes about how good our military is. But I do think that those who accuse others of cowardice should have served themselves, especially Savage, Limbaugh and O'Reilly who avoided the draft and let someone else fight and maybe die in their place.