August 22, 2004

The Vietnam Story

I am tired of all the tit-for-tat about the specifics of what happened on a particular day 35 years ago in Vietnam. There is no question whatsoever that many thousands of American soldiers faced worse situations and more danger, suffered greater wounds and hardship, than John Kerry did in Viet Nam. Just read the book (or see the series) "Band of Brothers." Now THERE was some hardship, suffering, and danger.

But that's not really the point, is it?

The point is to determine the type of man John Kerry is--his integrity, his character, his courage. John Kerry is running for President, a civilian position which has, as one of its duties, command over the greatest military power on the planet (for now anyway). Character matters. Integrity matters. Wisdom matters.

Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry volunteered to go to Viet Nam. George Bush and Dick Cheney did not; instead, they used their considerable influence to get out of going to Viet Nam. I don't blame them--in their position, I would have, too. I hope that in my entire life, I never have to see ten seconds of combat personally. Clearly, George Bush and Dick Cheney feel the same way. That does not necessarily make them (or me) cowardly, but it does speak volumes about John Kerry's courage and character. John Kerry still carries shrapnel in his leg. Some say his wounds were "not really that bad." When did "it has to be a really bad wound" become a prerequisite for being respected?

Integrity also matters. A group of veterans claims Kerry falsified after-action reports. This is a "whom do you believe, him or me" question. The Naval documentation supports Kerry's account. Kerry's attackers, however, have not a single item that could possibly prove their story. Instead, the best evidence they offer is, "I wasn't wounded, so how could there possibly have been a big firefight?"

Sounds an awful lot to me like, "Of course we can't find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, obviously he's hidden them." Lack of counter-evidence does not satisfy burden of proof. So clearly, the integrity of the veteran group is much more in question than Kerry's.

But back to Kerry's integrity: After he got home from the war, he followed his heart and his mind and spoke out against the war. The veterans that now attack him felt betrayed and angry and no doubt now resent his success, particularly because he is a Democrat. The point, though, is that Kerry learned while in Viet Nam, and he felt strongly enough that he did what he felt was right. George Bush, however, still has six months of missing records from his National Guard service. Bush has also lied about Saddam's weapons, the cost of the prescription drug benefit, the cost of the Iraq war, "mission accomplished," "the economy has turned the corner." Integrity is not Bush's strong suit.

Finally, wisdom matters. Foreign policy and economic policy are not best defined by a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later cowboy. Understanding every nuance and being able to adjust policy accordingly is the key to policy wisdom. Bush doggedly sticks to his vision of the world, his vision of how things must be, without understanding nuance and in fact ridiculing Kerry for it. This is like the "C" student ridiculing the "A" student for being smart in school. All the other "C" students get a big kick out of it and slap him on the back, but when push comes to shove, who would they rather have as the "brains" of their operation? Kerry has wisdom to ask questions, listen, and formulate responses and strategies. Bush blasts into every situation knowing in his soul that he is right, even when the evidence is against him.

This whole Viet Nam thing bothers me because it is so far away from the real point of this election that it should have disappeared in a puff of irrelevance when it first showed up. Kerry deserves respect for volunteering to go when other privileged young men used their influence to stay home. There is no evidence of Kerry falsifying anything. Until there is, this should just not get any more media attention.

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