Robert Prather posts a letter from a retired Marine who questions John Kerry’s honor:

As a retired Marine I honor his courage in combat –however, I feel that he himself negated that accomplishment by his later actions as head of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War while his comrades continued to fight and die in Vietnam, and while our POWs still languished in the Hanoi Hilton and other NVA cesspools. I find his current shallow references to supporting our engaged troops to be a cynical manipulation of his own record of abandoning his peers who remained loyal to the fight in Vietnam.


Remember: I don’t question Kerry’s momentary act of heroism. He did that himself when he tossed those medals–only to run for President on his medals years later.

Robert, a non-veteran, feels uncomfortable weighing in on this issue and leaves it to his readers.

I respectfully dissent from the view of Mr. Cole. It seems to me that Kerry took the most honorable actions possible for someone who came to oppose the war in Vietnam: He served his tour of duty, with distinction no less, and then exercised his fundamental right to petition his government for redress of grievances. The easy thing would have been to say nothing; he was home and was not going to have to serve again. Instead, he risked public scorn to try to stop others from having to go over to kill and die in a war he believed immoral.

There has been much talk of late as to whether it’s possible to simultaneously oppose an ongoing war and “support the troops.” The question strikes me as odd, since the two have little to do with one another. Our soldiers go into harm’s way because they’re ordered to do so by their chain of command. By and large, they support the mission because it’s their mission and their lives and those of their buddies are on the line. Plus, at least for the young soldiers, going to war is what they do.

I had barely arrived at my first assignment as a platoon leader when Operation Just Cause, the mission to oust Noriega in Panama, was launched. To a man, the lieutenants of my unit, stationed in Germany, were upset that we were “left out” of the war. I had a master’s degree in political science, yet I frankly had little understanding of why we were fighting. I’m sure the others had even less of a clue. It really didn’t matter; the country was at war and we were soldiers. Most of us got our opportunity a little over a year later when we deployed for Saudi Arabia and Operation Desert Shield, which morphed into Desert Storm. I don’t recall anyone being concerned that there was serious opposition to that war back in the States, including a very close vote in the Senate. Indeed, we were largely oblivious to any of that. I’m sure it was the same for previous wars, almost all of which were controversial on the home front.

The fact that a president sends soldiers to war doesn’t automatically take away the right of others to disagree. When I was back in graduate school, I opposed every military operation that took place, save for the initial humanitarian foray into Somalia. Indeed, it didn’t take long before I was referring to Panama derisively as Operation Just Cuz. But, had I been recalled from the inactive reserve, I’m sure I would have grabbed the duffel bags and gone on those missions without much complaint. I thought the operations were ill-advised, not immoral or unlawful.

Given that opposition and loyalty are compatible, where is the line drawn? I’d argue that Jane Fonda’s actions in Vietnam crossed the line. Going to the enemy capital and making propaganda films to persuade American soldiers to resist the orders of their “war criminal” superiors goes beyond the realm of dissent into something rather indistinguishable from treason. I’m sure there are actions somewhat less blatant that would qualify, but I’d hesitate to draw the line much closer in than that. What Kerry did, though, is almost the model of honorable dissent.

As to constantly trumpeting one’s war hero status in a war that one opposed, I’m not particularly troubled. The two aren’t necessarily contradictory. In my view, Kerry overplays his hand there–thousands of men have earned Silver Stars and tens of thousands have received Purple Hearts; they’re not thereby qualified to be president–but he’s attempting to establish that he has a certain amount of courage; that he’s served his country; that he understands the consequences of war; that he’s been up close and personal with working class people, and probably other things as well. Those things are really independent of Kerry’s political views on the war that gave him those credentials.

The ironic thing to me about all this is that, while Kerry legitimately cites that experience as well as his long service in the Senate as his bona fides to be a wartime commander-in-chief, he is unable to articulate his position on the Iraq War. He keeps hedging as to whether he supported it at the time, he voted for the resolution in the Senate but now claims he was lied to, and seems to have no coherent vision for what he’d do now.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Cabot Foster says:

    To all Americans or those concerned, I personally do not feel that ones service to their country should be a political issue. If I was Bill Clinton I would have been proud to be a ?Rogue Scholar rather than Air Guard that was AWOL for a year.As an American I would be much more proud to have the Top most person serving my and possibly my decendants interests be a person of world accomplishments and goals that can, are and will be accomplished on a daily basis.
    For Mr. Kerry I say “Forget about Patriotisim”
    for this is a personal matter almost like Religion
    for they have both come to us Americans like a vengence since 911. We were challenged at that time but our leadership took us away from the focal point.and has led us to where we are now!
    Your service should not be the focal of your campaign. Patriotisim should not be your ralling call. Growth of the United States and the World around us, economically,in unision,in division,the same truths that we as Americans hold dear should be given unconditionally to every other nation,PERSON for that matter.
    I am a #1 gulf vet, sometimes Im proud and then I remember who my Commander in chief was and Im not! I have been ledand was led by Viet Nam Vets.
    No, I was not there. I do know what happened to the Army after that time with the enlisted,nco and commisioned officers. Iknow what happened here in the United States during the last days of the Viet Nam War, the peace time And then the build to what we are facing now.And it has been a build up. If you cannot face that then you might as well have gone AWOL with our Honorable president. This is not a time to Flaunt but a time to make things happen for us Americans. Get our people home.Admit we wre wrong in Iraq and start mending fences here and abroad. I offer my sevices as amanager of building products and people.As someone who flys no flag, but loves the country we live in to no bounds. Iwill respect you as my neighbor and expect my Government to the same. We are not the only nation on Earth. The “New World Order” need not mean “New World Domination”. This is not what we as a Nation want.
    Americans want the Earth “United” not dominated.
    Real Peace on Earth

  2. Eagle says:

    James: You are missing the point. You must read the comments (lies) of John Kerry before congress in April of 1971 and his abuse of Vietnam veterans and the troops that were in captivity, in combat, and dying at the time of his appearance before congress. He should have been court-martialed (he was still on inactive duty service as a military officer.) A Navy investigation into the allegations was launched and found that much of the testimony presented by Kerry was given by guys that weren’t even in the military, let alone Vietnam. In addition, many of the people giving testimony were not even in the area or doing jobs that would avail themselves of the facts while they were in Vietnam.

    I too am a decorated Vietnam vet and also have a purple heart. I was also not happy with the way the Vietnam War was prosecuted. To be against a war is one thing; to make up stories and lie to the empty suits on Capital Hill is something else.

    Kerry is a liar and a phony. Read the facts — do some research.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Eagle, I posted on that in a follow-up post. But that’s not what the essence of the charge was here.

  4. Robert Baker says:

    Although I am in agreement with many of the statements of Robert Prather regarding Senator Kerry, I must disagree with his stance on the important point of simultaneously opposing an ongoing war and supporting the troops. They do have much to do with one another.

    Our soldiers do go into harm’s way because they’re ordered to do so by their chain of command.

    But once they’re there, the vital issue of “morale” kicks in. In the current circumstance, following a skillfully executed period of major combat, our troops now face a difficult, dangerous and prolonged period of garrison duty. They see their mates being killed and maimed. They are separated from home and hearth.

    And they see protesters at home who loudly deny the legitimacy and usefulness of their being there. But while the protesters “oppose the war”, they feel they can somehow maintain the pretense that this is consistent with “supporting the troops”. It wouldn’t feel much like support to me.

    And by the way, serving on active duty during the seventies I and was able to observe “up close and personal” the importance of morale and a sense of the validity of the enterprise one is engaged in.

    Just because you’re not being spat upon, doesn’t mean you’r being “supported”.

  5. James Joyner says:


    I’m sure that’s true. But we live in a democracy. Surely, the fact that the president sends troops in can’t be the end of legitimate discussion.

  6. ConKea says:

    If Kerry were a Republican, he would have been branded a traitor for his actions following his return from Vietnam. For one who fought with distinction, to turn his back on those he fought with it truly “Democtatic.” I’d rather stick with Bush – at least he’s willing to fight.

  7. TJ says:

    George W Bush has never fault a war and has never come in the realities of war. The peceived dominance of our country should not be used to create wars and we should be aware of the fact that soon wars will come to our door steps.
    The domonance we seem to be enjoying now must be directed to making america and the rest of the world tolerent.
    Bush is a cheat and should be watched closely because if we don’t!, We are soon going to bring our very loved ‘war’ in our homes.

  8. C. Wayne Lammers says:

    I received this e-mail from a reliable ex-marine. He poses some serious questions about Mr. Kerry. I will let him speak for himself.

    Sent: Monday, February 16, 2004 2:08 PM

    Subject: More on Kerry

    Forwarded by a former shipmate ……….

    I was in the Delta shortly after he left. I know that area well. I know the operations he was involved in well. I know the tactics and the doctrine used. I know the equipment. Although I was attached to CTF-116 (PBRs) I spent a fair amount of time with CTF-115 (swift boats), Kerry’s command.

    Here are my problems and suspicions:

    (1) Kerry was in-country less than four months and collected, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three purple hearts. I never heard of anybody with any outfit I worked with (including SEAL One, the Sea Wolves, Riverines and the River Patrol Force) collecting that much hardware so fast, and for such pedestrian actions. The Swifts did a commendable job. But that duty wasn’t the worst you could draw. They operated only along the coast and in the major rivers (Bassac and Mekong). The rough stuff in the hot areas was mainly handled by the smaller, faster PBRs.

    (2) Three Purple Hearts but no limp. All injuries so minor that no time lost from duty. Amazing luck. Or he was putting himself in for medals every time he bumped his head on the wheel house hatch? Combat on the boats was almost always at close range. You didn’t have minor wounds. At least not often. Not three times in a row. Then he used the three purple hearts to request a trip home eight months before the end of his tour. Fishy.

    (3) The details of the event for which he was given the Silver Star make no sense at all. Supposedly, a B-40 was fired at the boat and missed. Charlie jumps up with the launcher in his hand, the bow gunner knocks him down with the twin .50, Kerry beaches the boat, jumps off, shoots Charlie, and retreives the launcher. If true, he did everything wrong.
    (a) Standard procedure when you took rocket fire was to put your stern to the action and go balls to the wall. A B-40 has the ballistic integrity of a frisbie after about 25 yards, so you put 50 yards or so between you and the beach and begin raking it with your .50’s.
    (b) Did you ever see anybody get knocked down with a .50 caliber round and get up? The guy was dead or dying. The rocket launcher was empty. There was no reason to go after him (except if you knew he was no danger to you just flopping around in the dust during his last few seconds on earth, and you wanted some derring do in your after-action report). And we didn’t shoot wounded people. We had rules against that, too.
    (c) Kerry got off the boat. This was a major breach of standing procedures. Nobody on a boat crew ever got off a boat in a hot area. EVER! The reason was simple. If you had somebody on the beach your boat was defenseless. It coudn’t run and it couldn’ t return fire. It was stupid and it put his crew in danger. He should have been relieved and reprimanded. I never heard of any boat crewman ever leaving a boat during or after a firefight.

    Something is fishy.

    Here we have a JFK wannabe (the guy Halsey wanted to court martial for carelessly losing his boat and getting a couple people killed by running across the bow of a Jap destroyer) who is hardly in Vietnam long enough to get good a tan, collects medals faster than Audie Murphy in a job where lots of medals weren’t common, gets sent home eight months early, requests separation from active duty a few months after that so he can run for Congress, finds out war heros don’t sell well in Massachsetts in 1970 so reinvents himself as Jane Fonda, throws his ribbons in the dirt with the cameras running to jump start his political career, gets Stillborn Pell to invite him to address Congress and Bobby Kennedy’s speechwriter to do the heavy lifting, winds up in the Senate himself a few years later, votes against every major defense bill, says the CIA is irrelevant after the Wall came down, votes against the Gulf War, a big mistake since that turned out well, decides not to make the same mistake twice so votes for invading Iraq, but oops, that didn’t turn out so well so he now says he really didn’t mean for Bush to go to war when he voted to allow him to go to war.

    I’m real glad you or I never had this guy covering out flanks in Vietnam. I sure don’t want him as Commander in Chief. I hope that somebody from CTF-115 shows up with some facts challenging Kerry’s Vietnam record. I know in my gut it’s wildy inflated. And fishy.

    Keep smiling,


  9. carri Ender says:

    To Mike’s very informational comments above I say AMEN! The last thing America needs is a “loser” like Kerry! The very thought just makes me sick, literally!!!