An email from The Progress Report provides some nice context for Sen. Harkin’s characterization of Cheney (“When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil. He’ll be tough, but he’ll be tough with someone else’s kid’s blood”):
Cheney’s admiration for these fine young Americans in uniform, however, can’t quite burn with the same warmth one would feel from having been there. As a student, he enjoyed four 2-S draft deferments from 1963 through ’65, and a fifth in 1966 under the 3-A classification — “registrant with a child or children; or registrant deferred by reason of extreme hardship to dependents.”
Those were frightening times for draft-eligible American men. Congress had approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution on Aug. 7, 1964 (coincidentally, Dick and Lynne married 22 days later), and in March of ’65 U.S. Marines landed at Danang in the Republic of South Vietnam. After six years of study at three colleges, Cheney had just received his B.A. when the troops went in, and was starting on his master’s when, along with his brand-new diploma, he received a brand-new 1-A draft classification on May 19 — “available for military service.”
On July 28, President Johnson announced that draft calls would be doubled, and toward the end of the year — on Oct. 26, 1965 — the Selective Service lifted the ban against drafting childless married men. Nine months and two days later — on July 28, 1966 — Elizabeth Cheney made her entrance into this world, the first-born child of her joyful parents. Times being what they were, the new father hadn’t hesitated in applying for his 3-A status — in fact, he had already received it on Jan. 19, 1966, when Lynne was about 10 weeks pregnant.
I’m not really criticizing Cheney for cowardice. If avoiding the draft in the Vietnam Era was in fact cowardice, it was a widespread and understandable form of cowardice. My real problem is with Cheney’s hypocricy, opportunism, and gall.