Did George W. Bush show up for a physical at his National Guard base in 1972? That’s besides the point. While pundits debate Bush’s National Guard days, the real question is why a President, with a penchant for all things military, evaded fighting a war in Vietnam.
On the Sunday Feb. 8 edition of “Meet the Press,” Bush made it sound like being in the Guard was a fun pastime. “I served. I flew fighters and enjoyed it,” he said. He later added, speaking about Vietnam, that he “would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way.” But the unit in which Bush served was one that was confined to the United States. On PBS’s News Hour from Feb. 10, retired Army Brigadier General David McGinnis said Bush’s Guard unit was “specifically a fighter interrupter unit… it’s highly unlikely they would have been called up to go to Vietnam or any other incident.”
Today’s National Guard has a dangerously different role. Its members are among the first sent to war. Some 40 percent of those currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are in the guard or reserves. But when Bush served, the guard was usually kept safe on the home front. Often referred to as the “champagne unit,” the Texas Air National Guard of the late 60s and early 70s was where the young and affluent enrolled, knowing that their chances of ever seeing combat were slim to nil. At the time Bush enrolled, 500 men were on a waiting list. Since Bush’s father was a Texas congressman, he pulled a few strings. A former Texas House speaker admitted in a later court case that he and a Bush family friend arranged for a young George to bypass that waiting list and get into the Guard.
And yes, Bush was a slacker. He disappeared for much of 1972 and was suspended from flying in September of that year. Bush couldn’t have flown a military plane if he was called to duty. Perhaps that best illustrates how he really felt about serving his country.