John Kerry’s gaffe yesterday was a self-inflicted wound, greatly compounded by his refusal to apologize and his bizarre attack on the Republicans, as if they had somehow made him stick his foot in his mouth. One wonders what possessed Kerry to say that soldiers are both dumb and lazy: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” And not only to say it, but to stand by it at considerable political cost.
It seems clear that the roots of Kerry’s blunder–like so much else where Kerry is concerned–go back to Vietnam. It was an article of faith among liberals (and many others) at that time that the Army consisted largely of the poor–kids who couldn’t get into college and thereby obtain a deferment. It was also an article of faith that non-white Americans died in disproportionate numbers in Vietnam. That turned out not to be true, and I confess that I was astonished to learn, only within recent years, that there was no such ethnic disproportion in the Vietnam dead.
The stereotype of the poor, dumb soldier is firmly entrenched among liberals of the Vietnam era. We often see it repeated by younger liberals today, even though the stereotype has no application whatever to our current volunteer army, which is demonstrably equal, at least, to the civilian population in talent and accomplishment.
Why are liberals so determined to hang on to these discredited stereotypes of the past? I suspect it is because the young men and women who serve in the armed forces are a constant reproach to liberals’ facile, politically-motivated pronouncements on foreign policy. Iraq is a disaster (never mind that I voted for it)! But the young men and women who are stationed there don’t think so. They re-enlist in remarkable numbers; a large majority beieve in their mission; and they are working hard, risking their lives, and making considerable progress on many fronts. So it’s helpful for liberals to think: what do they know? They’re only soldiers–they must be dumb!
UPDATE: Dafydd ab Hugh offers some textual criticism and a like-minded analysis of the cultural origins of Kerry’s view of the military.
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