Blogs > HNN > Should We Be Asking Why the Bush Twins Haven't Volunteered to Go to Iraq?

Aug 15, 2005 6:10 pm

Should We Be Asking Why the Bush Twins Haven't Volunteered to Go to Iraq?

Two years into the war with Iraq, with public support declining, people finally are beginning to ask why the Bush daughters haven't volunteered to join the military. (See NYT letter to the editor 8-13-05.)

Of course, this is an unfair question. Why should the Bush daughters have to risk their lives just because their father has taken the country to war? They shouldn't have to pay for their father's sins (or, if you prefer, his policies) anymore than the rest of us should have to pay for our father's sins.

But in the real world a president's children are not like other children. What they do reflects on their parents and has political consequences. The only reason we haven't asked these two children why they haven't joined the war their father started is because of their gender. If George and Laura had had two boys instead of two girls you can be sure the question would have been asked a long time ago.

In our previous wars a president's boys of military age always served. TR's four sons--Ted Jr., Archie, Kermit, and Quentin--all served in World War I even though their father had been out of the White House for several years. Not serving wasn't an option and not just because it was inconceivable that the sons of Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't serve but because he would pay a political price if they didn't. He after all wanted to serve--and perhaps return a hero and run again for the White House in 1920. But Woodrow Wilson wouldn't allow him to serve (mainly because Wilson was indeed fearful that TR would again thrill the country with heroism on the battlefield and return to run in 1920).

A peculiar traditionalism has shielded the Bush daughters from public criticism until now. But that the question is finally being asked is a sign of the decline in public support for the war. Now suddenly asking all kinds of questions about this war is permissible.

Lincoln, TR and FDR all believed that war could be used to transform American culture in positive ways and bring about social justice. Lincoln hoped to use the Civil War to end slavery. TR hoped to use World War I to create a strong central government capable of challenging the control of corporations. FDR (and Eleanor in particular) hoped that World War II would lead to greater racial equality.

Is it possible that this war will lead to cultural changes along similar lines? President Bush has tried to insulate Americans from the war in Iraq. As David Kennedy has noted, the president hasn't asked Americans to make sacrifices for the war. But it may be that the war will change us despite the president's best efforts. One way might be that it leads us to make the same demands on young women as we do on young men.

This would be an entirely wholesome change in my view. It might make us more reluctant to commit our troops to battle. Before parents are willing to send their daughters off to war they might want to ask more penetrating questions of their leaders than they did when it was their young men they were sending. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

So should the Clintons send Chelsea Clinton into the military ex post facto for Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo? How about for Clinton's stationing troops on sanctions duty in the Persian Gulf and on the Arabian peninsula (remember the National Guard bombing, Khobar Towers and the USS Cole?), and for having repeatedly bombed Iraq and maintained no-fly zones there for eight years? Or: Why not send her into the Foreign Service, to confront the peril that diplomats regularly face abroad (as in the 1998 embassy bombings)? Or send her into the ATF as ex post facto recognition for the loss of federal agents' lives at Waco.

Wouldn't all of those be cases of Clinton's putting his money where his mouth was? Granted Chelsea was too young at the time for some of these operations, but she's surely old enough now--better later than never, right? If Barbara and Jenna should go to Iraq, why can't Chelsea go to the abovementioned places? While we're at it, why not send Amy Carter into the Iranian desert in deficient helicopters and see if she can survive an air crash in hostile territory--to replicate Carter's 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran?

This principle--"let's make the president's kids implement the president's policies"--has lots of strange consequences. I wonder whether anyone really endorses it as a principle, or merely endorses it as a convenient rhetorical prop by which to evade questions of principle.

carl de Cordova - 8/17/2005

because nobody has been asked to sacrifice anything... except those currently serving in the military.

In past wars, everyone had to sacrifice for the war effort. But this time the Neocons thought this would be a super simple affair... waltz through a virtually non-existant iraqi army, be greated with flowers, exit after a few months and gain the bases needed to control the region. They even thought they could do it for a very small amount of money (50 bil according to paul wolfowitz). Like gulf war one, no sacrifice needed.

Keith Halderman - 8/16/2005

I would be in favor a law which required any military age children of the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State to serve in combat during wartime, as well as, the military age children of any Congressman or Senator who voted to declare war or voted to authorize the use of force. Maybe then they would not be so quick to get our country into situations such as we now have in Iraq.

tony reilley - 8/15/2005

What are those kids up to anyway? While they obviously would be useless in Iraq (aside from being an especially valuable enemy target), it seems odd that they haven't at least volunteered in any civilian capacity on the homefront, e.g., aides at a VA hospital, USO, anything. At least I haven't heard of it. Very strange.

Leigh A. Letson - 8/15/2005

I have to disagree with your comment about asking the president's children to serve in a war. If a president truly feels he can ask other people's children to enlist and possibly lay down their life for a particular cause how can he leave his children out of it? If he feels that strongly about something then he should put his money where his mouth is and suit up his daughters to fight along side my son and nephew who have enlisted and are in transit to Iraq as we I write this note.

Oscar Chamberlain - 8/15/2005

And who would have paid for retrofitting the public school to deal with security?

As I understood it then, the private school Chelsea attended had dealt with the problems of security for the children of prominent individuals before. Raising the academic standards of public schools was, and is, an entirely separate challenge from the one-off problem of providing a secure school environment for a president's child.

For what it is worth, I'm not sure if it's a great idea to ask the kids of a president--male or female--why they are not serving. After all, their actions do not have any necessary corelation to the beliefs or actions of their father.

Peggy Arendt - 8/14/2005

In the past a military career had more prestige where almost all male members became soldiers, for example the Lees of Virginia. The exploits of some military, in particular any one with the name of Lee, were chronicled in newspapers across the country. It seems that in the past certain soldiers were as famous in their time as certain rock stars are today. Newspapers followed many members of the Lee family in a manner simular as fan magazines do today. The Lee family is the example I am most familar with and I'm sure there are other examples.

Today we don't have "rock star" soldiers. The prestige of the past is mostly gone perhaps because people have realized there really is no honor or glory in war. The wars of the second half of the 20th century probably had much to do with it.

The original question was if jenna and notjenna should fight in Iraq. Yes because it does appear they support their father's policies. Instead they follow their father's actions during Vietnam rather than his words concerning Iraq. This also holds true for anyone who supports the war, yes they should enlist but instead follow the chickenhawk actions of President Caligula.

Rick said "It might make us more reluctant to commit our troops to battle." Heard the same thing after Vietnam....

Melvin Small - 8/14/2005

You don't have to go back to TR or even FDR to find presidential "sons" who served in wartime. Johnson and Nixon were four for four with LBJ's sons-in-law, Charles Robb and Patrick Nugent serving in Vietnam and Nixon's sons-in-law, Edward Cox and David Eisenhower, serving in the Special Forces Reserves and the Navy, respectively, albeit not in Vietnam.

Dwight Deisen - 8/14/2005

after Bill promised to fix public education, Chelsea was sent to private education.