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.