The basic story line is this: The "greatest generation" answered the call and proved their patriotism by winning World War II and thereby saving the world from the Nazis. Then came the boomers, who evaded the draft and spat at soldiers and generally have been a huge disappointment. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general and senate candidate who "misspoke" about having served in Vietnam has given us a new reason to chew all this over.
There are problems with this narrative. For example, the World War II generation are also the people who paid almost nothing into Social Security and Medicare, but enjoy generous benefits that are politically impossible to cut. The boomers, who are just starting to retire (someone born in 1945 turns 65 this year), have been paying in much more for their entire working lives, and will never see anything like the deals their parents have enjoyed. Meanwhile, the debt run up, mostly by writing checks to the Greatest Generation, may wreck the country they saved in their youth. Nothing so great about that.
As for evading the draft, two facts complicate the narrative. One is that World War II required mobilization of the whole country and needed every able-bodied male to be in uniform. The Vietnam war, by contrast, never required more than a small fraction of the available manpower. In the end, only one out of ten Vietnam-era draft-age American males (or one out of 20 boomers if you include women) actually went to Vietnam. The rest avoided service one way or another.
Second, World War II was the ''good war." Vietnam was a mistake or worse. By the end of the 1960s, this was the view of most Americans, not just a few troublemakers. It's often noted that North Vietnam defeated the United States in the short run but the US won in the longer run. Look at Vietnam today. Meanwhile, another reversal seems to have happened to the argument in America about the Vietnam war. The war ended when it lost the support of most Americans. Today, ambitious politicians imagine that they fought there. If they're going to make up anything, they should be making up stories about how active they were in the anti-war movement.
No one should feel guilty or ashamed about not having served in Vietnam. Dick Blumenthal apparently feels otherwise. His lies about his own service, or lack thereof, clearly come from something other than rational calculation, since he has been inconsistent about it. This is not to excuse him, of course.
In Wednesday's New York Times, Matt Bai noted that nobody under 50 has ever had a draft card, his point being that these old arguments are boring to a majority of the population. Too bad.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.