Sep 13, 2004
News organizations and politicians friendly to the Bush administration have been making a big deal about the authenticity of the 30-year-old memos shown on CBS's "60 Minutes." In fact, these memos weren't needed to prove that George W. Bush got special treatment when he skated through the Air National Guard, not even bothering to show up for months at a time – but not being found AWOL and sent directly to Viet Nam, which was what the military was supposed to do to those who went AWOL from the National Guard.
Of course, by focusing on those memos, the Bush administration is trying to avoid the main issue that was brought out by the "60 Minutes" program – and not just for Bush himself, but for all the sons of the wealthy and privileged classes.
During the "60 Minutes" interview, Ben Barnes, Texas Speaker of the House, described in 1968 how he was asked to get Bush, the son of a U.S. congressman from Texas and the grandson of a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, a spot in the National Guard. Said Barnes, he gladly reciprocated, because it was a way to make powerful friends who could help him in his own career. Barnes says he did the same thing for hundreds of others, as did officials all over the country.
Fighting in Viet Nam was not for the sons of the wealthy and the well-connected. Since the members of the National Guard were not sent into combat, the National Guard was the perfect spot for the children of the privileged, of the ruling class, like Bush.
Of course, once the draft was ended in the mid-1970s, the ruling class no longer needed to send their children into the National Guard as a way to avoid war. And the National Guard instead became the place where more and more working people went for a second job, one with small retirement, health and educational benefits to supplement what their civilian jobs didn't give them.
With these changes, as well as the sharp reduction in the number of regular army troops, the military began increasingly to rely on the members of National Guard for combat missions. This started during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, and increased greatly during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The mission of the National Guard may have changed. But the way war is conducted certainly hasn't. The ruling class still sends the sons and daughters of the working class and poor to fight and do the dying for the ruling class's wars, while the ruling class finds all kinds of ways to protect its own.