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Vice President Al Gore's Military Service

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

We take the military records of political leaders seriously. In this lesson, we will check out the record of Vice President Al Gore, and see how he was impacted by the Vietnam War.

Al Gore's Military Service

The president of the United States is in charge of the American military, so it's not surprising that people tend to investigate their military records. Vice presidents, who could potentially inherit the responsibility, are often subject to the same standards. Al Gore was vice president of the United States from 1993-2001, serving under President Bill Clinton. When running as Clinton's vice president, Gore's military record was pulled up and America learned that he had in fact served in the Vietnam War. It was an experience that had greatly impacted his life.

Al Gore
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Entering the War

In the late 1960s, America was reaching the height of its involvement in Vietnam. Protests were breaking out across the country, and Al Gore was a student at Harvard. His father was outspoken anti-war senator Albert Gore, and the family was recognized for its firm stance on the conflict. Then, in 1969, Gore graduated and lost the student deferment option that had kept him out of the war. The draft board began putting pressure on young Al Gore to enlist.

Senator Albert Gore, Sr.
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The Gore family had a choice to make. They discussed moving to Canada to keep Al Gore out of the war, but decided against it. Gore Sr. was struggling in the polls, and his son felt that enlistment could help improve public perception. So, even though Al Gore was against the war in Vietnam, he enlisted in 1969 out of a sense of duty for his family and for his country. It's worth noting that the vast majority of Harvard's graduates found ways to avoid military service; in fact only about a dozen of the 1,115 people in his graduating class went on to serve. Family connections secured Gore a place in the National Guard, but he turned it down. He was concerned that if he passed up a spot in the Army, someone else would be forced to take his place.

Gore in Vietnam

Al Gore was sent to basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, and later moved to Fort Rucker in Alabama, where he became a war journalist for the base. Finally, in 1971 Gore was shipped to Vietnam as a war journalist for a military base there. He was only in Vietnam for a few months before being honorably discharged, but that time had a great impact on him.

As a war journalist, Gore could have spent most of his time at the base and never been in any danger at all. This especially could have been true considering that Gore's father was well-known for his anti-war stance. Everyone around Al Gore knew who he was, and they knew how connected and powerful his family was. In fact, records indicate that recruiters were too afraid to register Gore themselves; they asked a supervisor to do it. High-ranking generals often asked the young private his opinion on the war, and why he thought people opposed it.

Al Gore in Vietnam
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Al Gore had numerous opportunities to avoid any real involvement in the war, but he chose not to take them. Those who worked with Gore indicated that he eagerly took to dangerous assignments, helicoptering across South Vietnam to interview troops on the front lines. He was never directly involved in a firefight, although he claimed to be close enough to gunfire at one point that he dug a foxhole as a precaution. His military buddies would later tease him for it.

Impact

After the war, Al Gore went on to complete higher levels of education, entered politics, and was eventually elected as the vice president of the United States. So, what impact did the war have on Al Gore? Gore had entered the war personally opposed to the conflict, and those feelings were reinforced by his experiences. In seeing the costs of war up close, he became further convinced that American involvement in Vietnam was a mistake. However, he also realized that he had never really considered what this conflict meant to the South Vietnamese people. In interviewing and working with them, he realized how narrow his ivory-tower perspective had been.

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