Friday, March 8, 2013

The Unbearable Smugness of Being A Tough Guy Republican

Driving into work this morning I heard Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions saying that he owned an AR-15 automatic rifle, the same gun which the teenage shooter used at Newtown, and Sessions said he  liked the gun because it looks so intimidating, and he can imagine, what with all the bad weather and floods and hurricanes (not caused by global warming,) that the lights in his town might just go out some night and he will need an intimidating weapon to protect himself and his home, and a two barrel shot gun does not have enough fire power for him to feel safe.

Mr. Sessions, whose middle name evokes a fearsome Confederate general, has a  website which shows him standing in front of a  battleship. He is a man who likes big guns. He is from Selma, Alabama, where the guns are big and the brains run small. 

But, funny thing, when you look at the background of the loudmouth Right Wingers, like Rush Limbaugh, Jon Kyl, John Cornyn, John Ensign, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, not a one of these tough guys ever served. None of them ever jumped out of an airplane with a parachute and a gun, into hostile fire. None ever had a shot fired at them in anger. None of them had to dig into a foxhole while artillery rained down upon their positions. None had to wade through a swamp carrying his gun above his head while leeches fed on their legs. 

You will quickly object: Senator sessions "served" in the Army Reserves during Vietnam. But as anyone who lived through that era will know immediately, the Army Reserves did not send soldiers to Vietnam. That and the National Guard were the safe hiding places for men trying to avoid the airplane ride to Vietnam. Only the well connected could get into those safe havens. So Sessions did not serve; in a sense, he did worse, like George W. Bush, he only pretended to serve.

It does not take Sigmund Freud to analyze the personality of the man who wants to boast of his own dangerousness  and potency, who has a history of avoiding danger.

Not that Vietnam was simply a test of bravery. The bravest men during that war were the men who stood up and refused to serve, who went to prison, or to Canada. But plenty of brave men were pressured into going to Vietnam. That was a bad war, and as Thoreau famously said, the only place for a really just man under those circumstances was in jail.  Ultimately, resistance to the war played a role in forcing Lyndon Johnson's resignation (decision not to stand for re election) and that, along with the Viet Cong's winning strategy and military effectiveness,   finally brought the American public to its senses and the  realization the war was unwinnable. So  Nixon declared we have won an honorable victory,  and got out.

Mad Dog's own brother finished his surgical internship and found himself on a boat to Vietnam, first as ship's doctor, and later going up river on a swift boat, where he ducked a rocket or two fired from the shoreline, tromped up a hill, visited a village in the program to bring Western medicine to the villagers, to win the hearts and minds of villagers, who spoke no English. The villagers prepared a meal for the visiting doctor.  A translator listened to the symptoms of the villagers who wanted to see the doctor, and translated: "Same thing, doc." Mad Dog's brother wore a sidearm then, but he does not own a gun now. He doesn't need an AR-15 to know about his own courage, or to proclaim it to others. The only way you'd ever know he ever was in Vietnam would be to see the pictures he took of the villagers, which hang on the wall of his home study. And there is not a gun to be seen in those pictures, just faces, suffering and humanity.

George McGovern, who tried to end that war, had won a silver star in WWII.  Never saw McGovern brandishing a weapon. 

Somehow, the guys who have the big thing, don't need to wave it around. 
Which makes you wonder about the guys who seem to need to display the big stick.

Since posting this blog, Mad Dog has read Gail Collins in today's New York Times and is informed it was not Mr. Sessions, but his South Carolina twin, Lindsey Graham, the other Senator from South Carolina Mad Dog had heard on the radio. (These South Carolina politicians--Graham, Sessions, Francis Underwood--who can keep them straight?  They all look alike. They all sound alike. I'm a white man and I still can't distinguish among them.)

Actually, in some ways, it makes the story better. At first, Mad Dog was distressed because the story was about a man who had hidden in the reserves, and seeing the photo on line 
Mr. Graham looked like the real article. Look at those camo fatigues. And his biography says he served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, having been in the Air Force in the mid 1980's.  
But, turns out, although Mr. Graham claimed such service, he never got out of South Carolina. He later replied, "I never said I was a combatant."
Do da word "poser" mean anything to you, Mr. Graham?


  1. Mad Dog,
    I'm not sure about anonymous above, but I do agree with the sentiment....As for Sessions-who thought the Klan was OK until he found out they smoked pot-now says he likes his big boy gun because it looks intimidating-does he expect that it will make him look intimidating as well-ugh..he can be added to the list of reasons why I'm glad I'm not from Alabama. I agree that the the loudest saber rattlers are usually men who have never caught sight of a battlefield i.e. Dick Cheney, the consummate tough talking, war loving chicken hawk.

    Your family must have been very proud that your brother was one of the ones doing something good in Vietnam, but it had to have been extremely stressful with him over there. Even for those of us without a family member serving, the war was a constant presence growing up-you were always aware of it. How different from the experience of kids today, even though we just spent the last ten years fighting two wars....

  2. While I agree with your sentiment regarding the false bravado of some of our elected officials I must point out that both the Guard and the Army Reserve sent ground troop to Vietnam during the conflict there. Approx. 7000 and 6000 respectively.

  3. Maud,

    Mad Dog's family was not proud. We were worried, and Mad Dog was a little annoyed his brother had not found a way out. But Mad Dog was just 5 years behind, and discovered, as his brother had before him, if you had an MD, there was no escaping military service: "If you can practice medicine, you can practice it in the Army." Mad Dog was on the launch pad, but the doctor draft ended just as he finished his internship.
    As for the Guard and the Reserve, I'm surprised to learn 13,000 went to Vietnam. I'd like to know out of how many and during which years? I do remember those years very clearly and not a person I know thinks of the Guard or the Reserve as anything but a hiding place--which has all changed now, of course.
    Mad Dog does have a correction to his story about Mr. Sessions--see the addendum above.

  4. Anonymous,

    A quick check on line confirms your numbers. Almost 9,000 Reserve were deployed. 97 died in combat. The total number of reservists mustered in over the 10 year conflict has so far eluded me. But one remark shown below, suggests the political walking on eggshells aspect of sending the reserves:
    "In 1969 and later the use of reserve forces in any large numbers was not forthcoming due to the change in conflict's strategic direction by the incoming administration."
    This from the Minnesota Guard website.
    One can well imagine, or I might say, be certain, the rich and well connected needed a place to hide their sons (see George W. Bush, military service, Wikipedia.)

  5. Actually Mad Dog I knew your brother and he was not looking for a way out. Once called, he felt it was his duty, as an American citizen, to serve. There might have been some strategies he could have followed to get out of going to Viet Nam but he sincerely felt it was an obligation to serve if asked - and he did. What he learned, among other things, is war is no fun and the country needs to be damn sure about what it is trying to accomplish before rushing off to war because a lot of people will be killed or badly injured. War is truly a terrible thing although rarely it may be necessary.

  6. From wikipedia:
    During the Vietnam war, service in the National Guard and Reserve components were seen as a way to avoid combat. Although some number of Guard and Reserve units were in fact "called-up" to combat duty in every US war since they were founded,[1] the risk was especially low in the 1970s. Only 8700 of these soldiers were sent to Vietnam, 0.3% of the personnel who served. Furthermore, a greatly disproportionate number of famous, wealthy, and/or politically connected young men received slots in the Guard or Reserves during Vietnam, including 360 professional athletes such as Bill Bradley and Nolan Ryan.[2]

    Commenting on this disparity, General Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography, "I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well placed and many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country."[3]

  7. Trying to find the Ultimate Dating Website? Create an account and find your perfect date.