Dole's War Record
As published in The Nation (Aug12/19, 1996).

The first casualty of politics is truth.

                Robert B. Ellis 

Bob Dole's war record -- and Bill Clinton's lack of one -- has become a major theme in Dole's drive for the presidency. According to Katharine Seelye in The New York Times, the G.O.P. strategy is to portray Clinton as "the baby boomer in the White House, who was not born until 1946, a year after Mr. Dole had earned two Bronze Stars, and who skirted service in his own generation's war."
Dole doesn't talk much about his wartime exploits, beyond his references to the grievous wounds he suffered and his long, painful course of rehabilitation. Despite his reticence, and to some extent because of it, the widespread belief has grown up that his military service was exemplary, even heroic.

The Republican Party propaganda machine blows wind on the flame. In a recent G.O.P. fundraising letter that Dole signed (though surely did not write), the following statement appears: "And when I was asked to lead my men up a rocky hill in Italy into the roaring guns and mortar fire of the German Wehrmacht my sense of duty never wavered." The Dole for President homepage on the Internet describes his feats in thrilling terms.

Most journalistic accounts of Dole's wartime experience pass along, without questioning, the versions from several biographies, some based on interviews with him; some from interviews with the same soldiers who were interviewed for those books; some from the autobiography Dole wrote with his wife, Elizabeth, The Doles: Unlimited Partners, an updated version of which was published in time for the campaign; and some from G.O.P. campaign literature. Although these sources sometimes contradict one another, the following composite picture of Dole's combat exploits emerges:

Yet all of the above is either untrue or exaggerated. Dole's first wound, in the night patrol, was self-inflicted (a story the candidate once told himself), but that fact does not appear in an extremely laudatory profile the G.O.P. distributes with a cover letter by Dole. And the factoid that Dole got two Bronze Stars for heroism is circulated without evidence of dates and citations. All this is not to suggest that Dole failed to perform his duties honorably, or that he does not deserve respect and sympathy for the terrible wounds he suffered and his courage in living a productive life in spite of the resultant damage. But as a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment in which Dole served, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with efforts to cast him as a wartime hero. Let's examine the Dole military myth piece by piece: