Gave a great D-Day speech about generations...

BILL CLINTON

June 13, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

BILL CLINTON gave a great D-Day speech about generations and won over the hearts and minds of the least narrow-minded of his critics.

That he is not himself a veteran didn't matter at all. And why should it? Veteran commanders-in-chief are the rule, but there have been plenty of exceptions -- including the one when D-Day occurred.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy when the U.S. entered World War I. Partly out of the romanticism that still existed about war then and partly because he thought it would be a political liability not to have served, FDR asked the secretary of the Navy for a commission. He was told he was needed in his civilian job.

FDR was our last non-vet president, till Clinton. He was the sixth of a consecutive string of non-vets: Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and him.

Among the presidents who also served by only standing and waiting: Adams I, Adams II, Jefferson, Van Buren, Fillmore and Cleveland. Cleveland was drafted during the Civil War, but hired a substitute to take his place and stayed in Buffalo practicing law. Fillmore was living the life of an ex-president in Buffalo at the same time. He organized and led a militia unit.

Several critics tried to excuse Bill Clinton's draft dodging by charging that Ronald Reagan was also one. Michael Kinsley (Opinion * Commentary, June 2) for example, and Evan Thomas and Nina Totenberg on "Inside Washington" June 4.

In fact, Reagan biographers as unsympathetic as Ronnie Dugger and as objective as Lou Cannon never charged that Reagan's soft tour of Hollywood duty in WW II was draft dodging. And Edmund Morris, who is presently working on a bio, has made public RR's Army Reserves personnel records from the National Archives that show his uncorrected vision was 6/200 in both eyes, and thus he was classified "permanently incapacitated for Active Duty." He then chose limited duty making training films. No hero, but no slacker, either.

Americans might as well get used to commanders-in-chief who aren't veterans. According to a survey of Congress, while 49 percent of all members born before 1950 have had military experience, 93 percent born after 1950 have not.

I don't know which comment about D-Day+50 was the sillier, (1) Cokie Roberts' complaint (National Public Radio) that not enough attention was paid to servicewomen, or (2) Carl Rowan's charge (Opinion * Commentary, June 7) that only the "gullible" believed the "Jim Crow military" was fighting for "democracy" in WW II.

(1) There weren't any women fighting or ministering in Normandy on D-Day.

(2) At U.S. insistence, the right of "all people to choose the form of government under which they will live" was an official Allied war aim -- and because of that, colonial rule over Africans and Asians soon ended.

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