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Retire from Congress to Fight in Iraq? Look Away, Look Away...
July 23, 2003
By Tom Marcinko

Little-known historical fact:

Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1845. He left office two years later to fight in the Mexican War. He suffered serious wounds but emerged a hero, as Jay Winik points out in his excellent Civil War history April 1865: The Month That Saved America. Davis was 38 years old.

Let's remember, too, that at 38 Davis was already a grand old man. The average lifespan for a male born in the U.S. was only 40 as late as 1900, according to the Merck Manual, but a boy born in 2000 can expect to clock out at 72.

Raising the question: No matter what you think of Jefferson, how many of our hawks in today's Congress have the courage of Davis's convictions?

You see where I'm going with this.

It's long been known that the list of conservative politicians, bureaucrats, and talking heads who avoided military service reads like a who's who of hawkdom.

If Iraq II was so essential to the survival of the republic, then why did so many relatively young senators and congressmen stay home instead of trying desert fatigues on for size?

One reason, of course, is that so many of them are not so young. Few in Congress are under 40.

That still leaves room for pro-war congressmen like my own Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), age 41, to step down from the podium and step up to the battlefront. If the congressman ever served, his website fails to mention it.

Eternally busy stumping for the Bush tax cuts, Flake until recently ran the Goldwater Institute, one of those tanks that tells us what to think. But he could have driven a real tank.

But remember, life was shorter in the 19th century: Jefferson Davis's age 38 is more like post-retirement age today. That leaves plenty of opportunity for our senior legislators.

We can let off the hook genuine patriots like Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole, who actually performed military service.

But how about Arizona's other senator, Jon Kyl? At 61, Kyl is at least on a demographic level with Jefferson Davis.

If you live in Arizona, Kyl's editorials are impossible to avoid. They called for early and frequent intervention in Iraq. They also implied that anybody who disagreed was na´ve, stupid, or French.

Honestly, Senator. These days 61 is young.

Maybe the executive branch should test its mettle, too, so that the image of George W. Bush, 55, leading the Army's Third Infantry ground assault would be more than a parody in The Onion.

Elder statesmen like Cheney and Rumsfeld, how about at least going in a support role and earn some of those military contracting dollars? Paul Wolfowitz? Remember, your age 60 today is like Davis' age 38 in 1854.

Here's your chance to make up for ducking Vietnam.

John Ashcroft was teaching business ed during that conflict. Tommy Thompson was in the National Guard, though let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he actually showed up.

Ari Fleischer,43, you seem awfully sure of yourself, young man. And whatever happened to Tucker Carlson? He still looks younger than Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

But the most conspicuous empty army boots belong to the media cheerleaders for war. Consider Fox's Bill O'Reilly, 54, or his clones Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough.

Why can't they follow the example of Jefferson Davis, and put their money where their considerable mouths are? O'Reilly wants $4.95 a month for "premium" access to his website, but wouldn't you rather sponsor him for a spin in khakis?

All of these fearless frothers, including quite a few Arizona Republic editorial and op-ed writers, have done little but gloat since the fall of Baghdad.

They "so want to rub it in the faces" of anybody who questioned the need for war.

As if there's no room for mixed feelings, ambiguity, or the irony of finding $75 billion to fight in Iraq when teachers in some districts moonlight as janitors in their own public schools.

Still, if the commentariat wants to gloat, why not go for the glory? Jefferson Davis, who left a privileged position to put his life on the line, shows the way.

So: senators, congressmen, and pundits especially: Put the rest of us to shame. Put down your campaign plans, your microphones, and show some real patriotism. Be like Jefferson Davis. If you missed out on Iraq, take heart. There's always Syria, Iran, or maybe North Korea.

If you're tired of being called chickenhawks, here's a way to make us peaceniks eat that word.

Tom Marcinko is a writer living in a bunker in the Phoenix area East Valley.

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