Monday, October 31, 2005

Did Alito dodge draft...sort of like the guy who appointed him?

Alito: Where were you in '72?

A lot has been said this morning about Samuel Alito, President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, and his impeccable legal resume. Well, here's one portion of his resume we hope gets some very, very close scrutiny over the next few weeks, before his confirmation hearings.

Where were you in '72?

Specifically, what were the circumstances of Alito getting a coveted slot in the Army Reserves that year, while the Vietnam War was still raging? Is Alito yet another "chickenhawk" who avoided the war and now will be deciding on life-or-death cases involving our young men and women fighting in Iraq and elsewhere today?

We don't know the answer -- it's only been about four hours since Bush nominated Altio to replace Sandra Day O'Connor -- but it's a question that needs to be asked, especially in light over the controversies over how Bush and Dick Cheney avoided Vietnam.

Alito was born on April Fool's Day -- April 1, 1950. He entered Princeton University as an undergrad in 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive, at a time when there was still a college deferment for the draft. That meant that full-time students working toward a degree were not in jeopardy of being sent to Vietnam.

However, in 1971 Congress voted to essentially end the college deferment, and by then the U.S. Selective Service had switched to a draft lottery -- the higher your number, based upon your birthday, the more likely that you would be drafted.

In February 1972, the service held its draft lottery for 1973 inductions -- and Alito, in essence, lost. His birthday, April 1, came up as No. 12 that year, a certain ticket to induction, or so it seemed.

In fact, the draft class of 1973 would never be called. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam was substantially winding down in 1972, to just 49,000 troops from a high in the 1960s of more than half a million. But as Richard Nixon's Christmas bombings that year showed, no one had a crystal ball to predict the final American withdrawal at the start of 1973.

By then, young Sam Alito -- who was graduating Princeton on his way to Yale Law School -- was already in the Army Reserves, which, as this article notes, "became a haven for those avoiding service in Vietnam." The future judge served in the reserves until 1980 and left with the rank of captain.

How did he get that coveted slot? The judge's father, Sam Alito Sr., was the director of New Jersey's Office of Legislative Services in 1972, so he surely knew some powerful politicians. Did someone make a phone call? We're curious.

The Vietnam War was an immoral enterprise, just like the current military misadventure, and many people -- including some who became outstanding public servants -- took measures to avoid fighting it. Still, it's troubling that so many of our current leadership is comprised of "chickenhawks," eager to throw military weight around now that their own generation's turn is over.

That list includes Bush, whose convoluted history with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam period has hovered over his presidency, and Cheney, who had "other priorities" during Vietnam. And in the next few years, we expect the Supreme Court will render key rulings on cases involving their military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo or elsewhere.

That's why we need to find out if Alito is a bird of the same feather.

NOTE: Since publishing this, several readers who were exposed to the draft lottery and know more than we do said that Alito's exposure to the draft lottery came in 1969, not 1972. That said, the number in that lottery for April 1 was an also very high No. 35, also very much in the inductee zone. So that doesn't make us any less interested in the story of how he found his way into the Reserves.

UPDATE: From the AP:
Alito joined the Army ROTC at Princeton. In 1972, one year before the military draft ended but while the Vietnam War was still raging, he was one of nine in his class to receive a commission in the Army Reserve. He was discharged in 1980 as a captain.



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