(I know it isn’t Saturday, but I don’t feel like changing the name of this series: “Silly Meme Saturday” for one entry.)
First, the text: “You elected a draft dodger”. In this case, it was posted by a distant relative of mine (a second cousin), directed at someone she knows who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
Multiple factors are at play with this meme.
• Elected vs. Voted
The first problem I saw with it is that it is factually untrue. The person in question voted for Trump, but did not elect him. If you think this is splitting hairs or semantics, consider that I voted for Hillary Clinton — clearly I did not elect her. Voting and electing are two different things.
Normally, electing someone is a process that involves everyone who voted. In the case of the U.S. president, it involves almost no one who voted. Only the 538 delegates to the Electoral College elected Trump. (You can’t even claim that the voters choose the electors, because 43.24% of Texans voted for Clinton while zero percent of Texas’ 38 electors voted for Clinton. A state law chose our electors, mandating the “winner-take-all” absurdity.)
• What Is A Draft Dodger
The second problem that came to mind is the question of whether Trump qualifies for the derogatory term “draft dodger”. There is no formal or legal definition of this term; it is slang, used to condemn someone who either illegally avoided military conscription (failed to register, failed to show up when called, left the country, etc.) or who cheated his way out of getting drafted.
The first category doesn’t apply to Trump. It is factual that he was registered for the draft (in 1964) as required by law, and received multiple deferments — common enough for men who were in college as Trump was at the time. Once out of college (1968), he received a medical deferment — allegedly due to “bone spurs” in his heels (which is weird because his initial medical tests listed him as fit for duty, with birthmarks on his heels). In 1972, his designation was changed to “not qualified for service”, and the draft was last used late that same year.
The second category — somehow cheating the system in order to get a deferment — could apply to Trump, but this is NOT known. It is only alleged that he somehow used his family’s influence to get out of being drafted.
• Considering His Opponent
A third thing that popped out at me was the fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election was also someone who avoided military service, despite being of a perfect age to serve during Vietnam. (Consider that when “draft dodger” was thrown at Bill Clinton, he was up against military “heroes” — first George H.W. Bush and later Robert Dole.)
Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, could not be called a “draft dodger” because the Selective Service registration has always been for only men. Due to longterm patriarchal attitudes and laws, not only could she not have been drafted, she wasn’t expected to have served voluntarily either (though she could have).
So it makes little sense to berate one candidate for somehow avoiding military service when the other candidate was expected to have avoided military service.
• The Assumption That Avoiding Military Service Is A Bad Thing
Further, the meme — like much of U.S. culture — makes a couple of assumptions that I’d like to challenge. One is that simply being in the military or having been in the military makes someone a hero. The other is that forced military service is a good idea — or further, that it is a duty that morally can’t be ignored.
Throughout my life, candidates for political office who didn’t serve in the military have been denigrated for that very fact. It becomes most apparent at the presidential level. The earliest presidents I remember (I have no memories of Nixon or Ford being president) were all former military men. Jimmy Carter served as a naval officer in the late 1940s and early ’50s. Reagan was a military officer during World War 2, though he avoided overseas combat duty and worked mostly in public relations. Bush 1, who was president when I reached adulthood, was a naval officer during World War 2 — flying nearly 60 combat missions.
By the 1990s, we were suddenly electing presidents too young to have served in the wars of our grandfathers — there was a 22-year age gap between Bush 1 and Bill Clinton. Clinton was called a “draft dodger” though evidence shows he did indeed register for the draft in the late 1960s — despite being morally opposed to the war in Vietnam. Like Trump, he received educational deferments — and he was excoriated for it.
Clinton’s replacement, Bush 2, was accused of preferential treatment in the military (due to his father’s political clout), though he actually did serve in the military. Bush 2’s opponents, Al Gore and John Kerry, both served in the military — Gore as an enlisted Army soldier who was deployed to Vietnam and Kerry as a decorated naval officer in Vietnam.
It became less important later. Obama, of course, was too young for Vietnam — when the last draft was conducted in December 1972. He handily defeated John McCain — a verified war hero — and later Mitt Romney, who had received multiple deferments during the Vietnam War. But the ideas are still in our consciousness as a nation.
I think both ideas are mistaken and should be actively opposed.
First, a disclosure: I have known military personnel and former servicemembers my entire life, including my father (drafted in the mid-1960s), multiple uncles, friends’ fathers and uncles, coworkers, friends, bosses, and employees — and, currently, many of my neighbors. One of my mother’s uncles was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor for his actions in Germany during the second World War (see his obituary in the New York Times.)
At least one of those men was a bona fide hero. John R Crews rushed up a hill alone against withering German machine gun fire that had just killed or wounded everyone with him. Badly wounded in the thigh by crossfire, he still managed to silence the machine gun nest singlehandedly. Seven Germans surrendered to him immediately and the rest fled the area.
His heroism wasn’t due to being in the military; it was due to specific actions in a specific battle.
Today, sports fans are regularly inundated with images of “the troops” and told they’re heroes. Politicians trot out veterans or people currently serving to bolster their campaign numbers. Movies glorify combat and the soldiers who participate in it. And regular people have completely swallowed all this — which is evident from comments on social media. It is typically conservatives who hold this mindset, but I’ve seen liberals do it too — if it scores them points against Trump.
But I have a problem with glorifying war or automatically assigning heroism to anyone who signed up for it. War is one of the worst scourges of humanity’s history. Forced military service (conscription, or “the draft”) is almost as bad and goes against the very ideas of personal freedom upon which our nation was founded.
• The Assumption That Military Service Makes One Fit To Hold Office
Lastly, I would point out that — regardless of your feelings on the draft or military service in general — serving the military in no way qualifies someone to hold elected office in a representative democracy. The meme assumes that it does.
Of all the people I mentioned above who served (or are serving), none of them have become more qualified or less qualified to hold elected office due to their military service. They learned how to march, obey orders, maintain and operate specific weapon systems. They learned the required way to wear a uniform. Many of them learned many other things too — how to fly helicopters or planes, drive large trucks, navigate, fight, dig, and much more. But almost none of those things are relevant to being president (or Senator, or Representative, etc.) And anything they learned that is relevant could have been learned without serving in the military.
So we see that this meme misuses the term “elected”. It makes an unsubstantiated claim that Trump is a draft-dodger. It values military service in an election where the opponent was automatically exempt due to her gender. It assumes inherent value in military service as pertaining to elected office. It assumes that acquiescing to forced military service is always a good thing.
For all these reasons, the meme is worthless and pointless.