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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Profiling the Texas Barbarian

Paul Berman, writing in the Nov. 28 & Dec. 5 New Republic (“The Anti-Anti-Americans”) puts his finger on why the mention of President George W. Bush sends his haters here and in Europe rushing to the vomitorium.

“…[E]verything about the new president, each strange tic and motion—the street thug’s swagger, the inability to compose his face into a civil expression, the problem with alcohol, the apparent lack of formal education, and so forth—conjured in Europe the worst of clich├ęs about Texas barbarism.”

Just another job

Richard Cohen, in a Nov. 24 Washington Post op-ed column, seems bothered that military veterans are honored on…Veterans Day.

Nov. 11 used to recognize the First World War’s Armistice Day. When it was switched to Veterans Day, it came to mean “something so amorphous it’s hard to say what or who is being celebrated,” Cohen wrote. Heros? No. Combatants? No. “So, it’s just anyone who served in the military. Yes, that’s it. Is it any wonder no one much pays any attention—or for that matter, notices that the day lacks an apostrophe?”

My brother, Bill, pays attention. Every Veterans Day (with or without the apostrophe), he calls to thank me, for my non-heroic, non-combatant military service. He figures that you don’t have to die or receive a Congressional Medal of Honor to be deserving of the nation’s gratitude.

I confess, I like to get the calls, but honestly, I didn’t much care to be in the Navy and I didn’t like the Vietnam War, raging at the time. I can’t claim any special valor, because if I had not volunteered, I would have been swept up in the draft. I was never shot at and never saw the enemy. No special medals were awarded for any of it, although everyone in service during time of war got what we called a “gedunk” medal—meaning that it was as common as the candy bars and other goodies in the ship’s store.

About the same time, Cohen apparently was doing “some post-graduate work” at Fort Dix, N.J. and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., according to his biography. I don’t know if he was proud or upset at having several years yanked from his life for mandatory national service—something that today’s “entitlement” generation can’t begin to understand. Few of us brag about such service, fully aware that such humility becomes all of us.

But Cohen’s putdown of veterans is undeserved. The draft ripped hundreds of thousands of young men away from lovers, families, friends and careers into an alien world of being told to go here or there, to do this or that, much of which was unpleasant, distasteful and even dangerous. Six people died on board or in the ocean nearby in my 15-month tour aboard a destroyer, from accidents in peaceful waters. Today’s volunteers, while not goaded by a draft breathing down their necks, deserve to have a day recognize them, even if they didn’t happen to be ordered to stand next to a roadside bomb in Iraq.