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A Desertion of Common Sense
by Kim Petersen
September 15, 2004

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“They probably should have called the National Guard up in those days. Maybe we’d have done better in Vietnam.”


-- George W. Bush, from a 1988 interview (1)


It is a story that President Bush just can’t seem to shake. Yet one wonders why.


The Boston Globe broke the strange National Guardsman story back in 2000. Then lately former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes admitted having granted a political favor to Bush by leapfrogging him into the Texas National Guard. CBS added to the story with documents dug up purportedly signed by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s commanding officer in 1972 and 1973, that cast doubt on Bush’s service. Republicans have denounced the documents as forgeries. CBS veteran news anchor Dan Rather stands by the story: “This story is true, the questions we raised about then-Lt. Bush’s National Guard service are serious and legitimate questions.”


The argument, however, is actually a concerted distraction from the fact that Bush hasn’t produced the documents to adduce completion of his National Guard duty requirements.


Just imagine that you are faced with claims that you hadn’t attended your high school during the years you maintain having been in attendance. What would you do? Well, common sense would seem to dictate that you would produce documentation as evidence that you attended: the school annuals, a graduation transcript, and report cards. To buttress the documentation you could have parents, teachers, and classmates vouch for your attendance. This should be more than sufficient to squash any rumors to the contrary.


This paradigm should apply across a plethora of life experiences. Just produce the documentation and have people step forward to corroborate that you were in fact present and doing what you claimed to be doing during the specified time period.


So why is it so difficult for Bush to once-and-for-all put to rest the dogged (and what should be presidential-ambition-terminating) accusations that he didn’t complete his National Guard duty and even worse, that he deserted his post? To be clear, Bush is charged by some critics of not merely being AWOL but with the more serious offense of desertion, which is defined as being AWOL for 31 days and longer. Legally, desertion occurs when the accused is convicted and court-martialed. In times of war, desertion can be punishable by death; otherwise desertion is punishable by court martial. Outside of war, desertion can result in prison time but more commonly the outcome is a less-than-honorable discharge. (2)


G. B. Trudeau, creator of the widely syndicated comic strip Doonesbury, is offering a cool $10,000 claimable if someone can “definitively prove” that Bush did complete his National Guard duty. Seems like an easy way to bag $10,000. A Texas group has just come up with its own $50,000 ante as reward for similar poof of Bush’s service. (3) Surely Bush must be able to cajole some old buddies from his National Guard days to end the misery of his alleged desertion.


How does having such charges against the Commander-in-Chief reflect on the US military? What will be the effect on US occupation troop morale in increasingly dangerous Iraq? Indeed the US army is faced with a desertion rate that has increased “dramatically” from 1993 to 2001. (4)


The monopoly media’s aversion to the story is puzzling, especially compared with media coverage of far less serious misbehavior. How is it that the trifling matter of someone else’s marital side-springs and fibbing about it could have garnered such an overwhelming media frenzy that it almost resulted in the dismissal of a former president Bill Clinton? There was no endangerment of national security. Clinton had no military record but surely that beats a dishonorable military service. The charges against Bush are a direct threat to the integrity of the military and its hierarchy and yet the media has paid only scant and sporadic attention to the matter.


Will the media maintain the current pressure on Bush to produce genuine name-clearing documentation or will Bush be allowed to walk away again, even though the refutation of the charges should be so easy?

Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:




(1) CyberAlert, “Pouncing on Bush’s Guard Preference; CAF? More Deadly Than SUVs,” Media Research Center, 6 July 1999.

(2) Peter F. Bamberger and D. Bruce Bell, “What We Know About AWOL and Desertion: A Review of the Professional Literature for Policy Makers and Commanders,” US Army Research Institute Special Report 51, August 2002.

(3) United Press International, “Texas Group Makes $50k Bush Challenge,” 1000 KTOK, 14 September 2004.

(4) Bamberger and Bell, op. cit.

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