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GOP debate: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul spar over military service

January 07, 2012|By James Oliphant
  • Newt Gingrich answers a question at Saturday night's debate in Manchester, N.H.
Newt Gingrich answers a question at Saturday night's debate in Manchester,… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)

Saturday night’s presidential debate in New Hampshire had been an acidic contest almost from the opening bell, but it took a particularly nasty turn about a half hour in when Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul shared a bitter exchange about military service.

The spat was triggered by a past comment of Paul’s labeling Gingrich a “chicken hawk” because he didn’t serve in Vietnam. Paul served as a flight surgeon during the conflict, having been drafted.

"I think people who don't serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments aren't -- they -- they have no right to send our kids off to war, and -- and not be even against the wars that we have," Paul said. "I'm trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up."

One thing you don’t do in Republican debates (or really, any U.S. debate) is accuse another candidate of dishonoring military service. Gingrich was particularly incensed.

The former House speaker, who is a military historian and has long taken an interest in defense issues, told the crowd at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire how he had grown up “in a military family.” His adoptive father was a career Army officer. Gingrich did not serve in the armed forces, however, having been a student and then a father during the war. He called Paul’s comments a “slur.”

"Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he's referring to," Gingrich said.  "I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with."

Paul countered with: “When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids and I went.”

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