National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 13, 2004

A warrior president's military record in question

In another administration, the military record of the president of the United States would be of lesser matter.

The Bush administration, however, continues to extol the good that can come from battle. It has sent young Americans to fight two wars in three years. It has justified preemptive wars. Public events of every sort are now draped in military imagery, language and celebration.

Last month Bush’s own military credentials returned to the surface in an unexpected way when Michael Moore, the documentary producer, called Bush a military “deserter.” Bush supporters immediately took issue. Web sites heated up with charges and countercharges and it seemed the question of the president’s lack of participation in his own generation’s war was taking on new life.

Reports on Bush’s involvement in the armed services have appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and most extensively in a book by Nation editor, David Corn., the antiwar and anti-Bush Web site, also compiled a number of the reports detailing Bush’s involvement in the National Guard. Conclusions are subject to interpretation and definition, but what emerges is a story of family privilege and personal protection.

As detailed by

Bush graduated from Yale in 1968 when the war in Vietnam was at its most deadly and the military draft was in effect. Like many of his social class and age, he sought to enter the National Guard, which would make Vietnam service unlikely and fulfill his military obligation. Bush took the Air Force officer and pilot qualification tests on Jan. 17, 1968, and scored the lowest allowed passing grade on the pilot aptitude portion.

He was sworn in on May 27, 1968, for a six-year commitment. After a few weeks of basic training, Bush received an appointment as a second lieutenant -- a rank usually reserved for those completing four years of ROTC or 18 months active duty. Bush then went to flight school and trained on the F-102 interceptor fighter jet.

Sometime after May 1971, young Lt. Bush stopped participating regularly in Guard activities. According to Texas Air National Guard records, he had fewer than the required flight duty days and was short of the minimum service owed the Guard. Records indicate that he never flew after May 1972, despite his expensive training and even though he still owed the National Guard two more years.

On May 24, 1972, Bush asked to be transferred to an inactive reserve unit in Alabama, where he would be working on a Republican senate candidate’s campaign. The request was denied. For months, he apparently put in no time at all in Guard service. In August 1972, Bush was grounded -- suspended from flying duties -- for failing to submit to an annual physical exam.

During his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush’s staff said he recalled doing duty in Alabama and then returning to Houston for still more duty. But the commander of the Montgomery, Ala., unit, where Bush said he served, told The Boston Globe that he had no recollection of Bush -- son of a congressman -- ever reporting, nor are there records, as there should be, supporting Bush’s claim.

In May, June and July 1973, Bush suddenly started participating in Guard activities back in Houston again -- pulling 36 days at Ellington Air Base in that short period. On Oct. 1, 1973, eight months short of his six-year service obligation and scheduled discharge, Bush apparently was discharged with honors from the Texas Air National Guard. He then went to Harvard Business School.

It turns out Bush was apparently absent without official leave from his assigned military service for as little as seven months, according to The New York Times, or as much as 17 months, according to The Boston Globe, during a time when 500,000 American troops were fighting the Vietnam War.

Deserter? Differences of opinion are certain to grow. At a minimum the record raises questions of double standards. One has to wonder if Bush would be so eager to send the young to battle had he served in Vietnam and seen war firsthand.

National Catholic Reporter, February 13, 2004

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: