Barack Obama Wanted To Join US Military
Barack Obama has said he considered joining the United States military when he left school but decided not to because the Vietnam war was over and “we weren’t engaged in an active military conflict at that point”.
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Last Updated: 9:00AM BST 09 Sep 2008
The statement is thought to be the first time during the 19-month-long presidential campaign that the Democratic nominee for the White House has indicated he once wanted to serve in uniform. The aspiration was not mentioned in either of his two volumes of memoirs.
Mr Obama was asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” programme whether he’d ever thought about military service and replied: “You know, I actually did. I had to sign up for Selective Service [a means of conscription in case of war] when I graduated from high school.
“And I was growing up in Hawaii. And I have friends whose parents were in the military. There are a lot of Army, military bases there.
“And I actually always thought of the military as an ennobling and, you know, honourable option. But keep in mind that I graduated in 1979. The Vietnam War had come to an end. We weren’t engaged in an active military conflict at that point. And so, it’s not an option that I ever decided to pursue.”
All male American citizens are legally required to register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
The Illinois senator’s newly-disclosed military ambition came after the choice of Sarah Palin as the running mate of his opponent John McCain ensured that for the first time in modern history three of the four candidates on the two presidential tickets would have a son that had served or would serve in a war zone.
Mrs Palin’s eldest son Track, 19, is due to leave for Iraq on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks on America and exactly a year after he joined the US Army as an infantryman.
John McCain’s youngest son Jimmy, also 19, is a lance-corporal in the US marine corps who served in Ramadi, deep in Iraq’s Sunni triangle, last year. His other son Jack, 21, is currently training to be an officer at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Beau Biden, 39, elder son of Senator Joe Biden, Mr Obama’s running mate, is scheduled to go to Iraq early next year. Beau Biden is attorney general of Delaware and a captain in the legal corps of the US Army’s National Guard. He is in line to inherit his father’s Senate seat should Mr Obama win the White House.
Voters often fault Democratic candidates on issues of patriotism and support for the military. Bill Clinton was vilified by Republicans as a Vietnam draft dodger, though he defeated two Second World War veterans, President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Senator Bob Dole in 1996.
But Al Gore, a US Army journalist in Vietnam, and John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran who won a Silver Star while serving in patrol craft on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, both lost to George W. Bush, who avoided active service in Vietnam by joining the Texas Air National Guard.
Mr Obama is more vulnerable than most Democrats on the patriotism issue because of his exotic life story, his past radical associations, his previous refusal to wear an American flag pin – though he has since relented and is now seldom seen without one – and inaccurate smears that he is a Muslim.
The Illinois senator’s maternal grandfather Stanley Dunham served in the US Army in Europe during the Second World War.
His maternal great uncle Charlie Payne helped liberate Ohrdruf, a part of the Buchenwald concentration camp network – though he was criticised for misstating this on the campaign trail as an uncle who liberated Auschwitz.
But these military connections pale in comparison with Mr McCain’s fabled biography as the son and grandson of admirals who spent more than five years in the Hanoi Hilton prison after his jet was shot down over Vietnam.
Mr McCain took as his Republican convention theme the slogan “Country First” and both Mrs Palin and Rudy Giuliani, the former Republican mayor of New York, mocked Mr Obama’s time as a “community organiser” in Chicago when he was in his twenties.
Hillary Clinton, who Mr Obama defeated in the Democratic primaries, was ridiculed in 1994 for stating that she tried to join the US marines in 1975, the year she married, but was rejected because she was too old and had poor eyesight. Her husband Bill said this year that she had tried to join the US Army.
During the ABC interview, Mr Obama sought to broaden the concept of national service beyond serving in uniform. Asked about the jibes related to his work when he first arrived in Chicago, he said: “It’s curious to me that they would mock that, when I, at least, think that that’s exactly what young people should be doing.
“Understand what I did as a community organiser. When I got out of a college as a young person, 24, 25 years old, I moved to Chicago and worked with churches, who were dealing with steel plants that had closed in their neighbourhoods, to set up job training programmes for the unemployed and after-school programmes for youth.”
He also tried to “deal with asbestos in homes with poor people – community service work – which John McCain has been talking about, putting country first and extolling the virtues of national service”.
Barack Obama Wanted To Join US Military
R. W. “Dick” Gaines
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