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Shadow of ‘Nam clouding campaign

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To anyone such as myself who was actually there in the 1970s, it is easy to find irony in the Vietnam War becoming a factor in a presidential campaign 30 years later.

The irony isn't that war service, in Vietnam or any other conflict, would be a factor in assessing a presidential candidate's credentials.

The irony is that the candidate who is lobbying for kudos for fighting in Vietnam, one John F. Kerry, protested America even being over there, while the candidate who didn't protest America's involvement, one George W. Bush, is being criticized, by Kerry's party, for NOT fighting them Vietcong.

Ah, Vietnam.

Love it or leave it.

Like the war, this can be confusing.

While Kerry himself has stayed about the fray, leaders of his party, the Democrats, have accused Bush essentially of dodging Vietnam by joining the National Guard, which, at the time, was the attractive alternative to merely allowing yourself to be drafted. Draftees not only had a huge chance of being shipped straight to 'Nam, but of being sent there as a buck private with a rifle and directions to the jungle.

By joining the Guard instead of being drafted into the Army, you stood a better chance of (A) being trained in something you had some interest in (including not getting shot), (B) advancing in rank, and (C) in the event you did wind up in Vietnam, you would theoretically have more of a say in your destiny.

It was the thinking man's approach to a controversial war. The intelligent choice. The clear-thinking option.

The Guard, and other diversionary tactics, was also precisely the direction John Kerry subtly recommended to a nation of reluctant soldiers when he returned from his stint in Vietnam, threw away his medals on the Capitol steps and testified to Congress about the wrongdoing and atrocities of a war he fought in and was now fighting against.

In that sense, by joining the National Guard, a young George Bush did exactly what John Kerry would have applauded — right down to the civil disobedience of missing a few Guard meetings to prove his point.

The wrinkle, of course, is that George Bush blithely and unilaterally denies missing Guard meetings, or otherwise disagreeing with or dodging duty in the Vietnam War.

What we're left with 30 years later, at least through the distorted lens of selective history driven by politics, is a nonprotester who behaved more like a protester than the protester and a protester who behaved more like a nonprotester than the nonprotester.

Makes you wonder who Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali will vote for, doesn't it?

As convoluted as the logic, though, it's all so very appropriate, in a Vietnam convoluted kind of way, that the guy who threw away his Vietnam service medals is now displaying them as props in an effort to win the presidency of the United States of America and the guy who did his military time but never went to Vietnam and never fired a bullet in battle is now commander-in-chief of "Vietnam, the sequel," a k a Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As anyone who was actually there in the 1970s knows, then, as now, the jagged, distorted shadow of Vietnam never has made a whole lot of sense.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.