It was an ugly time
It was an ugly time
On the Daily Show yesterday, Bob Kerrey said he had left off his Naval service on his first resume. This from a Medal of Honor winner, one of three SEAL's to win the medal in Vietnam.
While Bush dregdes up Vietnam to discrete John Kerry, he forgets exactly how ugly a time it was.
I first became familiar with John Kerry in the mid-1980's, when I read the Winter Soldier hearings transcripts. They were bound, like all hearing transcripts, and lots of soliders were angry about their service in Vietnam. People forget the insane tension which had existed in the US during 1970-71.
Vets were caught in the middle between anti-war protestors, who had only recently gained steam, and the working class who'd fought in WWII and Korea. Construction workers attacked an anti-war protest in downtown Manhattan, while the White House chortled. Domestic enemies of Nixon faced the Huston plan, a full-scale violation of their rights. Only J. Edgar Hoover's common sense prevented the White House from making the Plumbers illegal break-ins state policy.
The US Army was collapsing, drug use exploding, combat refusals rife, fragging (the murder of officers and senior NCO's) common. People have forgotten how divided the US was. Veterans were routinely attacked on college campuses. Wearing a fatgue jacket with a unit patch was asking to be called baby killer.
And while stories of vets being spit on at airports were probably fictional, the open hostility they faced was not. Admitting service in Vietnam was an easy way to be scorned by both pro-war supporters and anti-war activists. The reason Vets now seem so self-protective and cloistered is that they only had each other to turn to.
The Nixon Administration was full of big talk, but their VA hospitals were rundown and as Bob Kerry found out, filled with rats, as one ran over his chest.
John Kerry joined the anti-war movement older and probably angrier than a lot of his peers. He knew the folly that he saw was wrong. So, yes, like a lot of angry young men, especially those who had been betrayed by both their government and their peers, said things which didn't sound great. But the cold hard fact was there were atrocities in Vietnam, as there are in every war. The Toledo Blade just won a Pulitzer for uncovering the activities of Tiger Force, a unit of the 101st which killed over a hundred innocent Vietnamese.
The vets who are so indignant about Kerry's public statements in 1971 are for the most part lying or didn't see enough combat to know people at war kill civilians as well as the enemy.
For Bush to drag this all up, especially behind the skirts of Karen Hughes, is insane. Bush not only supported the war, he avoided service in it, and thus benefitted from being a part-time soldier, which advanced his career, such that it was.
What people forget is that despite the success of John Kerry, Vietnam was like a giant weight on people's lives long after the war was over. To say the words "Vietnam Vet" was to create a stigma which lasted well into the 1980's. All those who didn't serve, the Clinton's, the Cheney's, they had their careers enahanced while those who did either downplayed their service or faced roadblocks. Bob Kerry didn't hide his military service for no reason. Employers simply did not hire Vets. They didn't and they never said why. My father worked with Vietnam Vets and they had a brutal time in the 70's and 80's.
Most people didn't go to Canada or lie to avoid the draft. Going to Canada was a lifetime decision. You couldn't expect to come back. Meanwhile over 30,000 Canadians served in Vietnam. So the idea that they wanted draft dodgers, deserters and draft avoiders has been overblown in popular legend. More than a few men with short haircuts were turned over to the FBI by the Mounties. While going into exile was a brave decision, so was facing the draft.
Bush made his decision, one that many people tried to make, which was to avoid service in Vietnam. The problem with what Bush did, as opposed to Clinton was that he supported the war. Now he's trying to denigrate Kerry's service, which should engrage people. Kerry didn't take the easy way out. He didn't avoid combat, and he could have, having served a tour off Vietnam on a destroyer. Instead, in a span of five months, he won three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star, a remarkable record for a junior officer. There is absolutely no question about his service or his personal bravery.
John Kerry did what George Bush never had the guts to do, which is face the Vietcong. Bush wanted the aura of military service and risk, without the actual risk of death. Now flying a jet is risky, but Bush couldn't even do that. At least a year of his service was missing from his record. They don't even know he showed up and they don't know why he was booted from flight status.
George Bush could have gotten his daddy to send him into an F-4 Squadron in Thailand, but he didn't. He wanted to emulate daddy without daddy's balls. He refused to fight in a war he supported. For God's sake, he could have been a supply officer at Udon, Thailand, stayed drunk and still served his country. Daddy fought the Japanese and was shot down. Bush wanted to be a pilot without the risk. A lifetime of personal cowardice which continues today.
posted by Steve @ 10:48:00 AM