Why would anyone need to lie about having been in Vietnam?

A visitor touches a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A visitor touches a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)

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By Henry Allen
Thursday, May 20, 2010

O,the stained souls, the small-hours doubts, the troubled manhood of so many American men who didn't go to Vietnam when they could have -- the strange guilt they seem to feel when they confront Vietnam veterans.

Strange: There were some cheaters and liars, but all that most of them did was exercise their legal rights, in the manner of Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut attorney general and Democratic Senate candidate -- five deferments, then a safe stateside slot in the Marine reserves.

They had a right to avoid the draft with academic deferments, occupational deferments and medical deferments obtained from doctors noted for their artistry in taking X-rays of dangerous deformities.

They were entitled to get married and sire a child that could bring them a 3-A hardship deferment. Couldn't these men argue that they had a moral obligation not to fight in an immoral, pointless war? Wasn't it true that "winners go to Harvard, losers go to Vietnam," as the wisecrack had it?

The case can be made that these men -- often upscale and educated, the sort of people who are supposed to lead this country -- acted legally and even honorably in using their social status and intelligence to stay out of Vietnam.

But the stains and doubts linger.

Vietnam veterans who don't care whether somebody served have had to sit through plaintive confessions.

"I got a high number in the draft lottery," the non-servers say in a tone of remorse.

"You lucked out," veterans say, but the lucky ones are not consoled.

To prove they couldn't have gone even if they'd wanted to, men have been known to pull up their shirts to show the scars from youthful back surgery. "They fused all those vertebrae."

So many confessions. Pathetic. It was 40 years ago. Forget about it.

"I was going into officer training but then I got a full scholarship to Oxford."


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