Today, Michael Moore explains the context of his much-discussed declaration at a Wes Clark rally that Bush is a "deserter." "I was just attempting my best impersonation of that announcer guy for the World Wrestling Federation, asking the cheering crowd if they would like to see a smackdown ('debate') which I called 'The Generaaal Versus The Deserterrrr!!'" Moore writes on his Web site. Although there are legitimate questions about Bush's guard duty, Moore says, he was going for humorous shtick, not factual exposition. You wouldn't know that from the media drumbeat to get Clark to distance himself from Moore's remarks.
For their part, the folks over at the Columbia Journalism Review Campaign Desk take a stab at clearing up the fracas that ensued after Moore's performance. CJR looks at Bush's record: "After graduating from Yale in 1968, George W. Bush enlisted in the Houston Air National Guard. By November 1969, Bush had completed both basic training and flight school. He then moved on to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas where he regularly flew F-102s. At some point in May 1972 Bush moved to Alabama to work on a U.S. Senate campaign. Bush requested a transfer to a specific National Guard unit in Alabama, but that transfer was denied. On a second attempt, a transfer to an alternate National Guard unit in Alabama was approved. However, military records, or more precisely the lack thereof, call into question how often, if at all, Bush reported to his temporary commander in Alabama. In May 1973, Bush returned to Houston and reported back to active duty until July 30, 1973, when he moved to Cambridge, Mass. His official release from active duty was dated October 1, eight months before his original six-year commitment was scheduled to end. (For more on Bush's National Guard tour and links to various military documents check out this report from Tompaine.com.)"
If you look at the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as CJR did, Bush's behavior does not seem to fit the actual definition of desertion, since he returned for duty for at least 36 days. A deserter is defined as: Any member of the armed forces who "without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently" -- permanently being the key word here.
But CJR doesn't look at the next section of the UCMJ, which defines "absence without leave" -- a phrase Terry McAuliffe uses to refer to Bush's military record. The definition is: "Any member of the armed forces who, without authority fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed; goes from that place; or absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed."