B.S. Detector

Apparently, some readers of Atlantic Monthly are skeptical of the final passage in Douglas Brinkley’s laudatory book excerpt on John Kerry’s Vietnam experience that appeared in the December issue:

A whole line of mercenaries had already formed in the ditch, all shooting madly back at what seemed like nothing. However the whiz of bullets over our heads was clearly lethal. And Bac She De lay in front of us crumpled in the poncho while this holocaust went on. His feet were sticking out of one end and I couldn’t take my eyes off the boots—one going one way and the other the opposite direction—and the whole thing just silhouetted where he had been dropped suddenly when the shooting began. The alive shooting over the dead to remain alive.

I was amazed at how detached I was from the whole scene. I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn’t see what I was firing at and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile while they went down to Schrafft’s and had another ice cream sundae or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account. And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.

One writer thinks Kerry made this up to sound philosophical, noting that it’s amazingly evocative of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. More telling was this:

Ordinary combat officers, when pinned down by enemy fire, tighten their sphincters and wonder 1) How the hell am I going to get out of this? and 2) What’s the best thing I can do now for my men and my mission?

One wonders what Lieutenant Kerry’s men wondered while he wondered about higher matters.

No joke.

I’m not sure what to make of the passage. My guess is it’s one of those things where, in hindsight, Kerry the war protestor found a situation in which Kerry the warrior found himself in quite absurd. Maybe Kerry thinks that he should have thought about something like that in that circumstance. I can’t imagine he actually did.

Hat tip: Craig Henry

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kate says:

    Shit, one’s mind doesn’t wander that far when you’re pinned down by paintballs

  2. He’s trying to find a way to reconcile Kerry the War Hero with Kerry the War Protester in the public mind. We’re supposed to see that the two go together because he’s more sensitive, more feeling than most.

  3. SwampWoman says:

    Wow. JFKerry must be a much more philosophical kinda person than I am. While I never actually got shot at on patrol or while breaking up bar room fights, I did have knives pulled on me, folks tryin’ to hit me with broken bottles, chairs, and whatever else was close to hand. I never actually pondered what else the folks in my high school class might be doin’ right now, seein’ as how I was doin’ my best to avoid being punctured, and doin’ a little retaliation in return. A lapse in attention at that point would be quite painful. I wasn’t all that philosophical afterwards, either, mostly thinking things like what would have happened if the object had connected with my body. In great detail. Ouch.

  4. craig henry says:

    I think Kerry’s “musings” also show that he has been crafting and polishing his persona and history for over thirty years. That just seems a little odd and a lot calculating.

  5. Cassandra says:

    What Kerry was thinking:

    “Johnny you can’t let go because of this — Johnny you find some sense from this — Johnny you are too strong to stop now…”

    What Lieutenant Kerry’s men wondered while he wondered about higher matters.

    “Good Lord — how did we get saddled with such a sphincter…”

    Sorry – couldn’t resist that one…

  6. dj of raleigh says:

    Kerry was against the war when he joined,
    against the war when he did two terms in Nam,
    against the war when he killed Vietnamese,
    against the war when he was decorated a hero,
    against the war when he came home,
    against the war when he spoke to the Senate of war crimes,
    I guess he could be thinking of faraway things
    while under fire.
    I just wonder how he did what he did,
    believing it was wrong all along.
    Perhaps that makes him a war criminal
    and hero too, but it makes my head spin.

  7. Clay Ranck says:

    So when Kerry was in “the shit”, he thought about:

    1) defense contracts
    2) call girls
    3) expense accounts

    Sounds like good preparation for a career in politics….