Bill's beach show helps to win over army critics

Rupert Cornwell@IndyVoices
Tuesday 07 June 1994 23:02
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The headline in yesterday's Washington Post was of the sort his aides had been praying for - 'Veterans See Commander-in- Chief in New Light.'

But President Bill Clinton's troubles with the military may not be over, despite generally favourable reviews of his performance in Europe at the D-Day anniversary commemorations.

Not so much despite but because of the overwhelmingly ceremonial nature of proceedings, the White House had been highly jittery about the trip. A gaffe, even an unconscious hint of disrespect, could doom his chances of gaining the credibility forfeited by his draft-dodging reputation.

These fears were unfounded. In his appearances in Italy, Britain and finally on the Normandy beaches, Mr Clinton - by common consent - struck exactly the right note in recalling the sacrifice and achievement of American and Allied troops in 1944: 'In Normany yesterday those facts were ably stated and properly honoured,' the New York Times wrote.

Comparisons with Ronald Reagan's bravura performance at the same occasion in 1984 have not been unfavourable. Commentators even detect a more soldierly snap in the Presidential salute.

It was when Mr Clinton moved on to the less formal terrain of the television interview that his problems began. After the President talked about his 'mixed feelings' on the Vietnam draft, the New York Times castigated his 'pernicious desire to edit his own history to suit every constituency.'

He made a bizarre speech to NBC about how he had 'grown up on war movies' and how his generation had been hurt about their ambivalence over Vietnam, 'because we all love the military so much'. The phrase is somewhat at variance with the famous 1969 letter 23-year-old Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton wrote from Oxford, talking about his 'political viability', and exlaining how people like him could love their country while 'loathing the military'.

Some old soldiers were not convinced. Asked by the Times whether President Clinton was moving beyond his draft record, a former veteran from Omaha Beach replied laconically, 'I didn't say there was no problem.'

A smaller problem is Mr Clinton's unpunctuality. He turned up 25 minutes late for his appearance at Utah Beach, to be greeted by some boos from a crowd won over by Republican Senator Robert Dole, a wounded hero of the Italian campaign and a possible Clinton opponent in 1996.

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