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Letters to the editor

Mike Mathias

F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that the rich are different from you and me. To which Ernest Hemingway responded: “Yeah, they got more money.” And more money is what you needed if you wanted to avoid the draft and service in Vietnam. With a few exceptions, the rich didn’t go. Those born in the lucky sperm club (Bush, Quayle, Dean, et al) need not worry, nor those with sufficient political cunning (Clinton, Cheney, Ashcroft). And then there’s that large pool, mainly from the Republican right – people like Gingrich, DeMay, O’Reilly, Buchanan, Limbaugh and many of the radio screamers who supported the Vietnam War, but not for them personally. They had “other priorities” (Cheney). It was up to soldiers like me and my friends to go and die in their places, and if not us, then that new Mexican immigrant from East LA, the street Negro from Harlem, or that poor farm boy from Kansas would have to do. What a sorry lot these “not me” people are. I wouldn’t give any of them the time of day, and I’m told I’m a decent enough guy, and I got a watch.I was drafted in the late ”60s after many years of shrill and threatening letters from the draft board (Grand Junction). My draft classification was I-A, draftable at any moment, when it should have been II-A while in school. But such detail really didn’t seem to matter. If you were poor and they had your name, you were cooked. (Woody Allen, incidentally, said his draft classification was IV-P, that in the event of war, he would be a hostage). I accepted my draft with maturity, as it was merely a bad-luck-of-the-draw type of thing. And I thought the country’s draft system was essentially fair and honest, and so why slice my wrists and complain? Also, in the ignorance of youth, the war might be interesting if not an adventure. It turned out to be my longest journey and my finest hour, chump that I was.It wasn’t very long, however, before I realized that the draft system was not fair at all. In short, it was corrupt to the bone. And our president, George W. Bush, is the poster boy for how debased the system became, particularly for the rich and connected who did not want to go. His grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush, got him into Yale despite less-than-stellar academic work, where, of all things, Bush joined the cheerleading squad. It’s amazing that Bush was almost totally oblivious to the constant turmoils of the dreadful 1960s. But he did know that he did not want to go to Vietnam and possibly die. But there was a problem: He was only number 500 on the waiting list to get into the Texas National Guard, where he knew (as did a large number of Dallas Cowboys) he would be safe and spared. You can imagine how he made it in, but then he disappeared for awhile. He refused to take his annual flight physical, stating he preferred admin-paperwork duties rather than remaining on flight status (yeah, right). It’s one thing to flunk your physical for high cholesterol, blood-sugar count, and so on, and quite another if you’re afraid to take it as it might show the residue of drugs from a period in his life that even Bush admits was not tame. And how does this lead into John Kerry and the current campaign?John Kerry was born a lucky sperm, too, but he went to the war. He put his hand up; he volunteered; he went. He did not run to Canada; he did not get a bogus medical waiver. (Dean: a “bad back” even though records showed he was able to ski 80 days that year in Aspen; Buchanan had “flat feet”; and so on). Kerry did not try to hide in the National Guard as it was his birth right. He didn’t seek eternal deferments from service for one reason or another. (Ashcroft had seven! Cheney learned he could connive a fifth life-saving deferment if only he could get his wife pregnant, which was all the incentive he needed to get to work.) Kerry went. He served. He bled. Three cheers for John Kerry. And yes, I know he is a Democrat. But for the sorry, “not me” lot identified earlier, that means that Kerry’s wounds need to be twice as deep and that he bleed twice as much to meet their tough standards of what it means to be real patriots, like they.As far as military engagements are concerned, they are never well-scripted. There are as many versions as to what happened as there are participants. And the analysis, to some extent, breaks down by rank and duty position, which can become very fuzzy over time and events. They are John Kerry’s medals to do with as he pleases. They belong to no one else. But the medals pose problems for Bush because he doesn’t have any, because he never earned any, because he and his family made sure he never went to begin with. (Napoleon said that a man would never sell his life for any amount of money, but that he would give his life for a ribbon).How ironic that only a few weeks ago I was cleaning miscellaneous materials out of a rural storage shed when I noticed the casing for a Bronze Star in the flames of an open-pit fire. Where’s the medal? And stop to think about it, where are my other medals? They seemed to have walked away over the decades as things do of little importance. In the examination of self, I cannot imagine being defined by the scope of ribbons and medals given to me by someone else for whatever reasons they thought important at the time.Once in my long stay in Vietnam, I was taken behind locked doors, deep-down into a bunker where I was assigned to a special unit composed of America’s blue-bloods, all the lucky sperms from the country’s prominent and wealthy families. (Isn’t his father in the Cabinet?) And what distinguished young men they were. All those credentials and achievements at such a young age. I was told that I was put there because I was smart and that I could hold my own. Amazing: Merit meets lucky sperm. They had that loud confidence that comes from inheriting great wealth and privilege and the knowledge they need not worry about money, jobs, security – the types of things that plague most everyone else in life. Well, yes, St. Tropez does sound like a nice place. They acted as though they owned the whole world, which of course they did.It was a giant frat party encased by war. Our celebration of National Potato Week is most memorable. But the contrast between the lifestyles of the rich and famous and those of the poor and unknown, meaning poor chumps humping through the jungle in fear, was most stark and obscene in its extremes. We elite were more than pampered and protected. It was to such a unit that Lt. Bush would have been assigned. And perhaps in our celebration of President Fillmore’s birthday, we could have enticed Lt. Bush to favor us with some of his better Yale cheers. Oh, what a hoot that would be. And here Bush worried so much about going to Vietnam and dying. He needn’t worry for naught.But to what extent should military service in war matter for those who want to be presi dent? FDR and Woodrow Wilson had no military experience and yet were effective chief executives. Lincoln and Jefferson had only limited military training in local militias. But then there are the greats: Washington, T. Roosevelt and Gen. Eisenhower. Capt. Harry Truman failed in everything before he became an artillery battery commander in WWI. George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and later was shot down in the Pacific, an event he can still cry about 60 years later. John F. Kennedy probably found traits in his shallow character he didn’t know he had once PT-109 was lost under him. Second Lt. Robert Dole, only three weeks into WWII, was wounded so seriously in his arm and shoulder that he spent 39 months in a hospital only partially recovering. Three years lying on your back in bed would provide more than ample time to think about life and death and all the varieties in between.Had George Bush and Cheney gone to Vietnam, I think our venture into Iraq would have been much different. Certainly the complexities within Iraq would be more resonant. The human costs (over 1,000 American deaths to date) and the expense ($1 billion per week) would have had greater throb during analysis. It’s doubtful they would have attacked Iraq with such certitude (read: folly, arrogance, cowboyism, ignorance, depending upon whose conclusions you prefer).Would Bush and Cheney have performed well in Vietnam? Would they have been stout and brave and moral? I don’t know. And we never will. Instead there is this constant bashing of John Kerry for his service. It all reflects so poorly on Bush, Cheney and all the other “not-me” types. There are so many issues of greater importance that should be discussed during a national campaign. Bush should just lower his eyes in shame for his successful efforts to avoid Vietnam and then just punt, just punt and then move on to more important issues. Then in the process we all might be able to look forward to a better day.Mike MathiasVailQuality of MinturnThe proposed RV park is an oxymoron.When I think of a park, I think of trees, open spaces with grass and flowers, a playground and picnic tables.I don’t think of recreational vehicles. Perhaps we should call it what it is: a parking lot. Filled with gargantuan vehicles erupting from the valley, it might actually look more like an RV dealership plunked on the edge of town by an enterprising entrepreneur. As a consequence, Main Street might end up looking (and sounding) less like the quaint center of Minturn and more like a dedicated thoroughfare for lumbering behemoths searching for a watering hole.Ah, the blare of horns, the grinding of gears, the rumble of tires – all the things that led us away from I-70 and to Minturn.We’re not serious, are we? Do we really want this in our midst?I personally do not believe that the trade-off is worth it, and encourage all voters to think about the qualities of Minturn, not just the presumed economic benefits. Barry KnightMinturn Vail, Colorado


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