My husband woke me up one day with the news that Vice President Quayle had announced that the anticipated conflict in the Persian Gulf "won't be another Vietnam."
"How on earth would he know?" I said.
"Exactly," said my husband, who was a war correspondent in Vietnam.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. had the same reaction. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 7, he said: "And please, Mr. President, spare us the sight of Dan Quayle telling the troops that this war won't be another Vietnam. How in hell would he know?"
Dan Quayle on the subject of war lacks a certain, shall we say, credibility. He looked at the prospect of serving in Vietnam and promptly enlisted in the Indiana National Guard. That caused him considerable embarrassment during the last presidential campaign, and he has been struggling to be taken seriously ever since. There are some things you just can't recover from.
But the Persian Gulf War has given Quayle a second chance. He could resign the vice presidency and enlist as a grunt in one of the armed services. He could cite his reservist training to bypass boot camp and use his considerable connections to be sent forthwith to the Persian Gulf.
This is the kind of bold move that gets people elected president. But it carries some risk. He could get hurt. The political ramifications, however, would be enormous. He has no chance of being elected president now. He would have every chance if he came back, particularly if he distinguished himself.
This is not without precedent. Lyndon B. Johnson got a leave from the U.S. House of Representatives to enter the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War II. He was the first House member to join up. He won a Silver Star. Fiorello La Guardia was elected to Congress in 1916, but he enlisted and served as a pilot in World War I. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate in 1944 to go on active duty with the Army in World War II. He served in Italy, France and Germany and was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre.
The history of American presidents shows a high percentage have been veterans of wartime service. Like the two-term limit on the presidency, it was a tradition started by none other than General Washington. James Monroe was wounded at Trenton. Andrew Jackson joined the militia at the age of 13 during the Revolution. He subsequently led succcessful campaigns against the Indians and the British, as did William Henry Harrison. Zachary Taylor fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War in 1832 and the second Seminole War in 1837. He was known as Old Rough and Ready. He became a national hero after he defeated Santa Anna in 1847 and got the Whig nomination the following year.
Franklin Pierce was a former U.S. senator when he enlisted in the Mexican War and became a brigadier general. James Buchanan was a volunteer in the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln enlisted in the militia during the Black Hawk War.
Ulysses S. Grant led the victorious Union Army and had held no public office when the Republicans nominated him for president. Rutherford B. Hayes was wounded several times during the Civil War and held the rank of brevet major general.
James A. Garfield had been in the Ohio Senate before he volunteered in the Civil War and was accorded the rank of major general as a reward for gallantry. Benjamin Harrison was a brevet brigadier general in the Civil War and saw action in three battles. William McKinley was 18 when he enlisted in the Civil War and ended up with the rank of brevet major.
Theodore Roosevelt organized the U.S. Volunteer Cavalry during the war with Spain and led the charge up Kettle Hill at San Juan. Harry S. Truman served in the Army in World War I and saw action in three battles.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II. John F. Kennedy commanded a PT boat in the Navy and received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford both joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific. Jimmy Carter was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served as an aide to Adm. Hyman Rickover in the Navy's nuclear submarine program. Ronald Reagan also never saw combat, but he was a captain in the Army Air Force during World War II. Navy pilot George Bush was shot down over the Pacific in World War II.
The 25th Amendment provides for a vice presidential vacancy to be filled by presidential nomination with confirmation by a majority of both houses. This is how Ford and Nelson A. Rockefeller became vice president.
So there's precedent for filling the job should Quayle decide to rehabilitate his presidential resume by joining the war effort. He'd be formidable in 1996, and Quayle-bashing would finally go out of style.