In his 2012 campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney has been a strident supporter of every possible use of U.S. military power abroad.
He has argued for U.S. military intervention in Syria, and has been loudly critical of President Obama’s approach to the Syrian uprisings. He has also criticized Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq and his strategy in Afghanistan.
Finally, Romney has argued for dramatic increases in defense spending, while at the same time claiming he will cut the federal deficit if elected.
Based on his hawkish policy positions, it seems relevant to ask what Romney did when he was eligible for military service; and the AP recently took a look at Romney’s military service–actually his lack of military service. Not to put too fine a point on it, Romney is a chicken hawk. His (non)military history also shows that his etch-a-sketch behavior began quite early in life.
As you can see in the photo above, Mitt actually participated in a demonstration in favor of the Vietnam-era draft while a student at Stanford. From The Daily Mail, January 6, 2012:
Taken at the height of the swinging Sixties, Mr Romney holds a sign declaring ‘Speak Out, Don’t Sit In’ as, alongside like-minded individuals, he proclaims his support for Lyndon Johnson’s ever-expanding draft….
A newspaper clipping headlined ‘Governor’s son pickets the pickets’ states: ‘Mitt Romney, son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, was one of the pickets who supported the Stanford University administration in opposition to sit-in demonstrators.’
The photograph was taken on May 20, 1966, shortly after a group of students had taken over the office of Stanford University President Wallace Sterling.
They were protesting at the introduction of a test designed to help the authorities decide who was eligible for the draft.
Of course Romney himself could have been drafted in 1966, but he applied for and received a student deferment in the same year he participated in the pro-war demonstration. After one year at Stanford, young Mitt left school to serve as a mormon missionary in France. From MSNBC.com:
Though an early supporter of the Vietnam War, Romney avoided military service at the height of the fighting after high school by seeking and receiving four draft deferments, according to Selective Service records. They included college deferments and a 31-month stretch as a “minister of religion” in France, a classification for Mormon missionaries that the church at the time feared was being overused. The country was cutting troop levels by the time he became eligible for the draft, and his lottery number was not called.
Romney received three more deferments during his missionary service, even though the Mormon church was strongly supportive of the Vietnam war and was limiting the number of deferments it signed off on. Romney got three of them though. Gee, I wonder why?
After his first year at Stanford, Romney qualified for 4-D deferment status as “a minister of religion or divinity student.” It was a status he would hold from July 1966 until February 1969, a period he largely spent in France working as a Mormon missionary.
He was granted the deferment even as some young Mormon men elsewhere were denied that same status, which became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s. The Mormon church, a strong supporter of American involvement in Vietnam, ultimately limited the number of church missionaries allowed to defer their military service using the religious exemption.
Later, a 23-year old Romney had turned against the war he avoided.
“If it wasn’t a political blunder to move into Vietnam, I don’t know what is,” a 23-year-old Romney would tell The Boston Globe in 1970 during the fifth year of his deferment.
His 31-month religious deferment expired in early 1969. And Romney received an academic studies deferment for much of the next two years. He became available for military service at the end of 1970 when his deferments ran out and he could have been drafted. But by that time, America was beginning to slice its troop levels, and Romney’s relatively high lottery number — 300 out of 365 — was not called.
Later, when he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, Romney was quoted in the Boston Herald as saying:
“I was not planning on signing up for the military”…”It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft,”
But he in fact had applied for and been granted four deferments–nearly as many as Dick Cheney got.
Mitt’s views on Vietnam continued to “evolve.” During his last run for president in 2007, he the Globe again quoted Romney on Vietnam:
“I was supportive of my country,” Romney said. “I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there, and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam.”
Romney’s views on Vietnam had gone full circle–from enthusiastic pro-war demonstrator, to draft dodger, to vocal critic of U.S. policy, to claiming he never wanted to go to war, but never tried to get out of it, to nostalgia for how much he “longed” to be in Vietnam while he served out his extra-long 4-D deferment.
What a guy!