Jarheads

By Jennifer Parker

Mar 25, 2008 12:55pm

In light of Tuzla-gate (catchy, no?), reporters are going over past statements by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, (and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois) to see if others don’t stand more rigorous examination.

One that may get renewed scrutiny is a story she told “Women in Military Service” in 1994 — that shortly after the end of the Vietnam war, she looked into joining the Marines.

In June 1994, Clinton told an organization trying to build a memorial for women who had served in the armed forces, that while living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1975, “I decided that I was very interested in having some experience in serving in some capacity in the military. So I walked into our local recruiting office…”

Clinton recalled that she didn’t know if she wanted to be active duty, reserves, or National Guard. She was already a lawyer; surely there was a role she could perform. The Marine recruiter looked at her, she recalled, and asked how old she was. Twenty-seven, she said.

“He looked at me, and in those days that was before I learned how to wear contact lenses," Clinton said. "I had these really thick glasses on. He said, ‘How bad’s your eyesight?’ I said, ‘It’s pretty bad.’ …Finally said to me, he said, ‘You’re too old. You can’t see. And you’re a woman.…But maybe the dogs would take you.’”

("Dogs” would be a pejorative reference to the Army.)

Clinton continued, “I said, ‘This is not a very encouraging conversation, so maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.’”

That seems an odd pronouncement for the recruiter to have made, considering that at the time, according to A History of the Women Marines, female Marines who became pregnant were permitted to remain on active service, as this photograph attests.  And I believe the military had a few recruiting problems back in the 1970s — hence their abject rejection of a brainy lawyer wouldn’t make much sense. (Then again, ask a soldier how often Pentagon rules "make sense.")

At the time Clinton told the story, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd seemed to wonder about it, pointing out that Hillary and Bill Clinton were married on Oct. 11, 1975 in Fayetteville.

“So, if she was talking to a Marine recruiter in 1975 before the marriage, was she briefly considering joining the few, the proud and the brave of the corps as an alternative to life with Mr. Clinton, who was already being widely touted as a sure thing for Arkansas Attorney General?

“Neal Lattimore, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, said her visit to the recruiter had to be seen in the context of her dedication to public service. ‘I’m never surprised when Mrs. Clinton is doing something service oriented,’ he said. ‘She was just taking in all her options, saying “This is where I am in my life, this is what fits into my life right now.”’”

The Washington Post looked into the story at the time as well. No one could find any records or anything other than vague memories. "All I can remember is that she looked into it," Clinton’s late friend Diane Blair told the newspaper.

Another Arkansas friend, Ann Henry said she "vaguely" recalled the episode “in the context of frequent discussions they used to have about women’s access to supposedly open career paths. Frequently, the equal opportunity that was promised was not a reality – and sometimes female faculty members went out to conduct ‘tests,’ Henry said. ‘If Hillary Rodham had asked about the Marines as a way of testing whether the corps actually welcomed women, ‘it would have been consistent with what was going on with us at the time,’ Henry said. ’Is it possible she was testing?’ Blair asked. ‘I don’t remember if she was seriously exploring a career, or was moved by curiosity, or patriotism or feminism. I wish I had kept notes.’”

It’s a story that I don’t believe Clinton has repeated since 1994.  Why not?

- jpt

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