What I didn't do during the war

The thought process behind a recent political cartoon...

Not long ago Donald Trump claimed that there has never been a president that has stuck up for the military like he has.

Trump was referring to his involvement in a military justice case, but his statement made me think of some presidents who may have contributed just a bit more to the military; mainly those presidents who actually served in uniform.

Here’s the resulting cartoon:

I posted this cartoon to subscribers yesterday and reaction to it made me think I should explain myself a little better than I have so far.

One of the reasons some people love political cartoons is they cut through the mealy-mouthed, back-and-forth of politics and make declarative statements; that’s also the reason some people hate them.

Cartoons are great for expressing opinions, but lousy at providing context for those opinions. But since this is my blog or website, I now have the freedom to do that.

So let’s get started.

Set the WayBack Machine for 1968

Back in the late 60s (like most teenagers) I was pretty much completely self-absorbed. These days (like most Social Security recipients) I’m still about 75 percent self-absorbed, but leave about 25 percent of my brain free to think about other issues, like how climate change will affect me. (Some habits are hard to break.)


By the time I was in high school I was aware that there was a war going on in Vietnam, but it seemed far away from the kind of issues that concerned me at the time; whether I was going to be in the starting lineup for that weekend’s football game and whether that cheerleader I liked would go out with me.

When you’re 15 years old, something that’s three years away seems like it will never happen, but somewhere in the back of my mind I understood that when I turned 18 and graduated high school there was a chance I could be drafted.

Back then most of my ideas about war were formed by the WWII movies that would show on TV in the afternoons and John Wayne seemed to star in all of them.

Wayne made a big deal out of patriotism and flag waving so I was surprised when I found out he never served in the military and never saw combat. I thought he was America’s Super Soldier and it turned out that wasn’t true.

It was also surprising to find out that Hollywood stars like Jimmy Stewart, Jason Robards, Charles Durning, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marvin, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Mel Brooks served during WWII and in many cases saw combat, but those guys didn’t seem to talk about it much.

Timeout for a story too good not to retell:

According to what I read, during the Battle of the Bulge, sentries were suspicious of David Niven’s accent so they asked him who won the 1943 World Series. Niven said: “Haven’t the foggiest, but I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in “Bachelor Mother.”

Now that’s some real-life cool.

Here’s the point: it seemed like the guys who saw combat didn’t talk about it much and the guys who didn’t fight were more inclined to play Tommy Toughguy.

Which brings us to our current president.

Despite the fact that Donald Trump let some highly dubious bone spurs keep him out of Vietnam, he had no qualms about claiming he would have run into the middle of a school shooting and stopped it.

He also criticized legit war hero John McCain for getting captured and to sink any lower you’d have to own a submarine.

But intellectual honesty (which is a giant pain in the ass) makes me think if I’m going to criticize Donald Trump’s lack of military service, I ought to address mine. (See? Right back to my favorite subject…me.)

My number was not up

By the time I was getting ready to graduate from high school some of the older guys I knew had been to Vietnam and come back. They all seemed kinda burnt out and way older and more cynical than any 20-year-old should be. Everybody I talked to that had been there told me if I could avoid going to Vietnam I should.

It wasn’t like the movies.

Up until then it was pretty much my country right-or-wrong and America was what stood between people like Hitler and world domination; we were the good guys.

But by the late 60s and early 70s it was becoming clear you couldn’t trust politicians as far as you could throw them with a catapult – which seemed like an increasingly attractive idea – and more and more people began questioning the war in Vietnam.

That attitude pissed off a lot of people of my father’s generation who signed up and did their duty as defined by the people in charge, so it’s pretty hard to blame them for feeling the way they did.

The idea of America fighting an unjust war was a new one to a lot of people including me.

So I split the difference; I wasn’t relocating to Canada, but I also wasn’t going to volunteer. Faking bone spurs never occurred to me, but I also didn’t have a bajillionaire father who knew a podiatrist that owed him favors.

One night after playing in drums in a band at a bowling alley lounge, we all went out to breakfast at a Denny’s and someone asked if I’d knew my lottery number; they’d come out that day.

I borrowed a dime and took what seemed like a very long walk outside to get a newspaper and find out if I was going to Vietnam, which would have put a pretty good dent in my evening.

I got my draft lottery number and was just about smack dab in the middle: if the war escalated I would probably get called up, if it didn’t I could go on worrying about playing drums in a lounge act and dating cheerleaders.

My number never came up.

I never served, but was left with an enduring respect for those who did.

I wouldn’t want to live any place else, but America’s treatment of military veterans is a dark stain on our history and anyone who spit on returning soldiers or called them baby killers ought to have a combat boot surgically implanted by a proctologist with a questionable medical degree.

Putting your life on the line for others – whether it’s in the military or as a policeman or a fireman or any other job where you run toward danger instead of away from it – deserves respect.

And you don’t talk tough if you’ve never done it and if you’ve ever done it you probably don’t talk tough.

There’s a lot not to like about Donald Trump – we can disagree about what makes the list – but if I’m going to post more cartoons, every once in a while I’m going to explain the thought process that went into their creation. Maybe it helps to know that when I draw a cartoon I’m not telling you what to think; I’m only telling you what I think.

But if you feel like disagreeing with anything I post, go right ahead. Just remember we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who make our disagreements possible.

And Billy Bonespurs ain’t on the list.