NYT Compares the Background of Bush and Kerry





David Halbfinger, in the NYT (Aug. 29, 2004):

John Kerry and George W. Bush started out the tumultuous late 1960's in exactly the same place, young men of privilege with a scant two years separating them at Yale.

But they were worlds apart in outlook, and they made starkly different choices after graduating that now, more than three decades later, continue to reverberate loudly in their presidential contest. At times the debate has grown so loud that it has nearly drowned out the issues of the moment, particularly in the week leading into the Republican National Convention.

One young man, Mr. Kerry, had misgivings about the Vietnam War but volunteered anyway, took and saved lives and won medals for valor, then came home and led other veterans trying to stop the war - while antagonizing countless others in uniform. The anger over his antiwar period remains on fire to this day, consuming a group of veterans who have lobbed unsubstantiated charges that he did not earn his medals and are questioning his fitness to be president.

The other young man, Mr. Bush, supported the war but avoided combat by landing a coveted spot as a National Guard pilot. He struggled in his powerful father's shadow to find his own place in life and tried his own hand at politics, going to work for a Republican candidate trying unsuccessfully to capture a Senate seat from Alabama.

It was that period of politicking, when Mr. Bush left his Texas Air National Guard unit to transfer to Alabama, that has led Democrats to question how and where he performed his prescribed military service from May 1972 to May 1973. The White House says he fully performed his service and took an honorable, and early, discharge in October 1973 to attend Harvard Business School.

As 1968 began, Mr. Bush was a senior at Yale and a congressman's son who was grappling, as were his classmates, with a decision "each of us had to make: military service or not," he wrote in his autobiography. For Mr. Bush, who wrote that his inclination was to support the war, "leaving the country to avoid the draft was not an option."

Volunteering for combat was not an attractive option either. "Did I think about going to the Army post and saying, 'Send me to Vietnam?' '' Mr. Bush asked in an interview in 2000. "Not really. I wanted to fly, and that was the adventure I was seeking."

Mr. Bush, then 21, had inquired about getting into the Texas Air National Guard while home for Christmas; back at school, he took the Air Force officer's qualifying test on Jan. 19, 1968. He scored in the 25th percentile for pilot aptitude but the 95th for "officer quality," according to The Dallas Morning News.

On Feb. 10, Ensign John F. Kerry, 24, a day out at sea on a frigate in the Pacific, sent off a request for duty in Vietnam. He wanted to see the war up close.

"I consider the opportunity to serve in Vietnam an extremely important part of being in the armed forces," Mr. Kerry wrote. He asked to command a Swift boat, and offered to extend his hitch if need be.

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