1970s: Vietnam War

Joe Biden didn’t offer any moral objections to the Vietnam War and thought protesters were “assholes,” but he said the war was a “tragic mistake” based on “lousy policy.”

Democratic Senator-elect Joseph Biden, of Delaware is seen here as he takes his oath of citizenship as he checks in at the office of the Secretary of the Senate.  Biden, who just turned thirty will be the youngest Senator in Congress when he takes his seat in the 93rd Congress on January 3rd.  Left is William Ridgley, Senate financial officer and center is Frank Valeo, secretary of the Senate. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Sen.-elect Joe Biden, D-Del., takes his oath of office in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 1972. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Joe Biden first ran for U.S. Senate in 1972 as the Vietnam War was entering its waning years. He was not a tenacious anti-war voice, nor did he embrace the anti-war movement, saying he was “not big on flak jackets and tie-dye shirts.” Biden described himself at the time as being married, in law school, and wearing sports coats. He professed a “lack of moral outrage” at the war. He described walking through campus with law school friends one day and seeing other students occupying office buildings in protest. “They were taking over the building,” Biden said. “And we looked up and said, ‘Look at these assholes.’ That’s how far apart from the anti-war movement I was.” In Biden’s words, “The war had just been a tragic mistake based on a faulty premise.”

Biden, who was of draft age during the war, received five student deferrals. A spokesperson said in 2008 that Biden was “disqualified from service because of asthma as a teenager.” In his own words, Biden did not oppose the immorality of the war, which took the lives of as many as 2 million Vietnamese civilians and 58,000 U.S. soldiers, as much as he believed that it was “lousy policy.” Other political figures from his generation “felt more strongly than I did about the immorality,” Biden said. “My view of it was it didn’t make sense.” This posture would become a consistent theme of Biden’s positions on war: With some notable exceptions, Biden has emphasized strategic considerations and constitutional and legal arguments over questions about morality, sovereignty, or foreign casualties caused by U.S. militarism.

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