Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh was disqualified from the Vietnam-era draft due to a pilonidal cyst.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]
Origins: Vitriolic "hawk vs. dove" debates are a standard feature of modern American politics whenever war is in the offing. Generally pitting Republicans against Democrats, the argument (at its lowest level) boils down to hawks criticizing doves as cowards who don't understand the military because they never served in it and are too timid about using military force, while the doves maintain that
As men in their 50s — men of America's "Vietnam generation" — are now the most predominant figures in American politics at a national level, service in the Vietnam War is a "litmus test" issue that comes up often in political debate. And since talk radio host Rush Limbaugh is one of the most popular media proponents of the conservative political viewpoint and has been a vociferous critic of a young Bill Clinton's efforts to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, it's not surprising that the question of Limbaugh's own military status should be a common one.
When Rush Limbaugh first came of draft age he held a
What was the basis of Limbaugh's
What was the physical problem that disqualified Rush Limbaugh from the draft? Limbaugh biographer Paul D. Colford notes that:
As for Limbaugh himself, the broadcaster stated that he was not drafted during the Vietnam War because he had been classified(Technically, Limbaugh's classification during his primary year of draft eligibility was
Which of the two stated medical reasons was the primary one behind Limbaugh's
Asked about Limbaugh's "football knee from high school," [Ryland] Meyr, the coach during his lone year of play, said he did not remember any injury.2However, that Limbaugh did indeed have a pilonidal cyst seems indisputable, as he himself, his mother, and his brother all maintain that he did:
Yet, for all his father's patriotism, and deep-rooted fear of Communism, Rusty (Rush) did not enlist to preserve those ideals. The official explanation, David Limbaugh said, is that Rush had a student deferment and, like his father, had a pilonidal cyst on his ass which qualified him for a medical deferment.3And a pilonidal cyst was indeed a legitimately disqualifying condition:
Limbaugh's mother said in 1993 that she did not know if her son had a physical or not, but she added that he did have a pilonidal cyst like his father.2
According to the Military Entrance Processing Command, a pilonidal cyst was then and is today a so-called "disqualifying condition" for induction. It's a congenital incomplete closure of the neural groove at the base of the spinal cord in which excess tissue and hair may collect and cause discomfort and discharge. The malady can be corrected by surgery, but short of that it is viewed by the military as a needless risk amid unsanitary conditions in the field.2(Limbaugh critics have maintained that his pilonidal cyst was a "simple-to-treat condition" easily corrected through minor surgery, and that it was not a legitimately debilitating condition that precluded his serving in the armed forces but simply an excuse he seized upon to avoid military service.)
That the disqualifying condition was a pilonidal cyst and not a bad knee seems to be borne out by Limbaugh's own comments on his draft status:
Limbaugh's draft status arose during a 1992 appearance at the 92nd StreetIt's highly unlikely that Limbaugh only "discovered" he had a high school football knee injury several years after the fact or was unaware that a bad knee was reason for a physical deferment, so the pilonidal cyst is the far more probable explanation.
In response, Limbaugh chose his words slowly and cautiously. He seemed to be saying that he had not known ahead of time that whatever physical condition he had in 1970 would free him from draft consideration.
"I had student deferments in college and, upon taking a physical, was discovered to have a physical — uh, by virtue of what the military says, I didn't even know it existed
(The lottery issue is largely irrelevant since Limbaugh's
When asked about this issue nowadays, Limbaugh dismisses it as "Internet BS," as in this excerpt from a transcript of a
CALLER: And Rush you never mentioned how you dodged the Vietnam draft.These kinds of responses, provided by Limbaugh on his show and available on the rushlimbaugh.com web site, are unconvincing and dissembling. Why not just give a straightforward answer to the question? After all, "I had a knee injury" is a simple explanation (and hardly an embarrassing one), but dismissing the issue as "Internet BS" and railing against "Internet conspiracy theories" sound too much like the response of someone who is evading the question. Instead, Limbaugh provides non-responsive "answers" when queries are posed by quickly steering the focus away from himself and claiming that "the message is that unless you've been a member of the military, you have no right to support it" (which isn't the message at all — the message is about whether it's hypocritical for those who escaped the draft to criticize others who did) but doesn't address the issue of his own draft status in the least.
LIMBAUGH: I didn't.
CALLER: Yes, you did. You claimed you had a boil on your
LIMBAUGH: No, you see, that’s part of popular mythology that is out there that I have not whined nor complained about, Greg. But that is just a bunch of internet BS and hyperbole. Never happened. Was not the cause, wasn’t the case.
There is, of course, a huge difference between draft evasion (or "draft dodging") and draft avoidance: The former involves the use of unethical or illegal means (e.g., bribing a doctor to falsify a medical report, fleeing the country) to escape military service; the latter involves taking advantage of established legal means (e.g., college deferments, conscientious objector status) to avoid or delay military service. The issue discussed here is clearly not one of draft evasion, and the matter of who is justified in criticizing whom for not serving in Vietnam is a gray area to be hashed out in the public arena. The only conclusions drawn here are that Rush Limbaugh was ineligible for the draft due to a physical condition, that he had a pilonidal cyst, and that if there's an explanation for his draft status other than the cyst, he has yet to offer it.
Last updated: 4 October 2007
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