The New York Times hasn’t surrendered yet on its pursuit of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and his serial fabulism regarding his military service. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate gave an interview with the Connecticut Mirror in which Blumenthal claimed that he assumed the Marines could ship him to Vietnam even if he did enlist in the Reserves. NYT reporter Raymond Hernandez says that sounds fishy as well:
At one point in the interview, Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in April 1970 knowing that reservists could be activated for service in Vietnam. “I did not want to avoid service,” he said. “I did realize reservists could be called up, and that it was something that I wanted to do.”
But military experts said there was no expectation that reserve units would be activated at the time Mr. Blumenthal enlisted, particularly given how drastically public opinion had turned against the war.
In fact, President Richard M. Nixon had begun in 1969 to reduce the American troop presence in Vietnam and transfer more responsibility for fighting to the South Vietnamese, said James E. Westheider, a history professor at the Clermont College campus of the University of Cincinnati who has written about Vietnam.
“By the time he was in the service, if he was in the Marine Reserves, he was not going to Vietnam,” Mr. Westheider said.
Hernandez also reports that Blumenthal misrepresented his position in the draft lottery, which also goes to motivation:
In the interview, he discussed the number he received in the draft lottery in 1969, just a few months before he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, according to the article.
His number in the December 1969 draft lottery, according to the Selective Service, was 152. People with numbers as high as 195 in that lottery were eligible to be drafted.
Blumenthal offered his draft-number explanation as a way to show that he didn’t enlist in the Reserves to avoid combat. Since the number was supposedly too high for any real chance of being drafted, Blumenthal claimed, his enlistment in the Marines was entirely motivated by a desire to serve his country. However, another expert consulted by the Times disputes that contention and Blumenthal’s lack of recollection of his exact number:
David Curry, a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who is an expert on the Vietnam draft, said Mr. Blumenthal’s lottery number would have been cause for worry for someone who did not want to be drafted.
“I’d say he had a medium-level lottery number,” Mr. Curry said. “It’s not really a safe number. But once he joined the Reserves, he would not have been eligible for being drafted.”
Mr. Curry, who served in Vietnam, also questioned how anyone could forget his draft number. “I find it hard to believe that anyone would forget their lottery number,” he said. “I am betting if I call my colleagues who were in that same lottery,” he said, “every one of them would know their draft number.”
Blumenthal had five deferments prior to this, so quite obviously he wanted to avoid the draft. However, so did a lot of young men at the time, including Dick Cheney, who had an equal number of deferments. There is nothing wrong with seeking legal avenues of avoiding the draft, especially when it results in honorable service to the country, as it did with Blumenthal and with George W. Bush, whose Reserve status became controversial in 2004.
However, the difference between Blumenthal and the other two men is that Blumenthal appears to consistently misrepresent his motivations and his actions. This is less clear in this instance than in the original reporting done by the Times on this story, though, and gets into the murky area of motivations rather than concrete actions. If the actual instances of Blumenthal lying about being in Vietnam rather than serving as a stateside reservist during Vietnam didn’t move the needle in polling, a debate over motivation seems less than promising. It may provoke more stumbles from Blumenthal when pressed, at category for which the Mirror interview certainly seems to qualify.