E.J. Dionne is mortified that the political advantage John Kerry should have by virtue of his heroism in Vietnam is being negated, and worse, due to Kerry’s actions after he returned from the war. Dionne takes out his frustration on Republican Congressmen who, in a “shameful display. . .declared that what mattered was not Kerry’s service but that he decided afterward that the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake for our country.”
In reality, though, it is Dionne’s dishonesty, not the statements of the Congressmen, that is shameful. Take Dionne’s premise — that Kerry was attacked for concluding that the Vietnam War was a mistake. This statement is more than spin; it is a deliberate falsehood. Kerry is not being attacked because he concluded that the war was a mistake. That is the majority position today, so it would make no political sense to attack Kerry on that basis. As Dionne well knows, Kerry is under attack because he concluded (and apparently still believes) that the war was a crime and the soldiers who prosecuted it were criminals. The distinction between “mistake” and “crime”, obvious enough on its face, was the fundamental divide within the antiwar movement. Most protesters considered the war a tragic mistake. But Kerry’s statements after he returned from Vietnam unambiguously placed him in the “vanguard” that thought the war was actually a criminal enterprise. Dionne cannot contend that Kerry’s extreme view of so central event is not a legitimate matter of concern, so he pretends that Kerry did not hold the extreme view.
Dionne’s dishonesty continues when he considers the specific remarks of the Republican Congressmen in question. War hero John Kline, one of our favorite members of Congress, is taken to task for stating that Kerry’s service in Vietnam “does not excuse his joining ranks with Jane Fonda and others in speaking ill of our troops or their service, then or now.” To Dionne, the “then or now” part of the quotation is “demagogic” because Kerry has not bad-mouthed our troops in Irag. No, but he continues to speak ill of those who served in Vietnam, still claiming that his allegations of endemic war crimes, though phrased the wrong way, are true.
Dionne also criticizes former POW Rep. Sam Johnson for stating that Kerry engaged in “nothing short of aiding and abetting the enemy.” Yet it is difficult to disagree with this characterization. How could Kerry’s highly publicized statements before Congress and on television that America was routinely, deliberately, and systematically committing war crimes in Vietnam not have aided the enemy? Dionne doesn’t attempt to tell us.
Some of Dionne’s arguments are just silly. He moans that when Bill Clinton ran, the Republicans seized on the fact that he didn’t fight in Vietnam. Now that the Democrats have a candidate who fought heroically, Republicans want to talk about something. It seems that the Democrats just can’t win for losing, although they might consider nominating someone who was neither a draft dodger nor a member of the fringe anti-war movement.
Inevitably, Dionne summons John McCain to vouch for Kerry. McCain has said that Kerry’s anti-war actions angered him, but that he no longer holds these actions against Kerry and now regards him as a friend. This is the position that McCain consistently takes with respect to antiwar extremists he comes to know. For example, McCain developed a good relationship with my schoolmate, the late David Ifshin, who visited Hanoi as an anti-war activist while McCain was a POW. It is noble, almost saintly, of McCain to be so forgiving. But the reaction of Rep. Johnson (a POW for seven years) is more natural and just as valid, at least until such time as Kerry repudiates (if not apologizes for) his slanderous charges against those who served in Vietnam.
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