Vietnam's Long Shadow

Article excerpt

NEARLY 20 years after the last American troops left Vietnam, that war again haunts the headlines.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton's efforts to avoid the draft in 1969 remain a campaign issue, as does Vice President Quayle's conduct during the same period. Meanwhile, a Senate committee this week questioned former Nixon-administration officials about their exertions in behalf of American prisoners of war and missing servicemen at the time of the US military pullout from Southeast Asia in 1973.

Vietnam should never be locked away in a file. Historians and policy analysts should keep on sifting through the debris of that painful episode, both to establish an accurate record and to glean whatever lessons may benefit future policymakers. And those Americans who bore the brunt of the war - the men and women whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial, the veterans still requiring medical or economic assistance, and the servicemen whose fates have never been adequately accounted for - have an ongoing claim to the nation's attention and caring.

As to Clinton's and Quayle's behavior during the war, the record seems pretty clear. Neither man was a hero; neither deserves any praise for his fancy footwork around his draft board. (Despite what Quayle says about his National Guard service, and Clinton's second thoughts about putting his name back in the lottery, both men's actions hardly differ on the crux of the matter - avoiding combat in Vietnam. …