Kerry me back

Today brings word that President Obama has settled on John Kerry as Secretary of State succeeding Hillary Clinton. The record of Kerry’s opinions in American foreign policy is long and deep, distinguished by its devotion to mischief, error and misjudgment. To take only one small example, Jay Nordlinger documented Kerry’s wayward ways on Latin America in the 2004 National Review article “Back in Sandinista days…” We’ll have to talk to our friends at NR about making that article accessible online.

Kerry has done a lot of damage in the course of a long public career. I saw Kerry speak at Dartmouth in the lounge on the second floor of Hopkins Center — the top of the Hop — during his entry into public life as head of Vietnam Veterans against the War. It was in the spring of 1971 just after his notorious appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April.

I had read about Kerry’s testimony in the New York Times. At Dartmouth I heard him repeat his infamous statement that our soldiers had “personally [sic] raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephone to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” The Boston Globe placed Kerry’s testimony in the context of his career in part 3 of its excellent 2003 biographical series.

I was a sophomoric antiwar student who had turned out to hear the new antiwar celebrity. Kerry had me eating out of his hand. I believed him. I bought it all. Why not? He’d served in Vietnam and held himself out as speaking from his personal experience. I was a fool, of course, but Kerry cynically exploited my own ignorance and that of many others like me.

One of the students right next to me in the audience stood up to walk out on Kerry’s speech and shouted to Kerry as he approached the steps descending to the first floor of the Hop: “You phony. You’re just in this to promote yourself.” Kerry was only momentarily flustered, bending down to the microphone and asking the guy to stay and talk after he’d already made his way down the steps.

At the time I couldn’t believe the obtuseness of the student; I bought Kerry’s act completely. In retrospect, however, that student may have been the most perceptive person with whom I’ve ever crossed paths.

UPDATE: Sincere thanks to our friends at NR, who have now posted Jay Nordlinger’s 2004 article “Back in Sandinista days…”

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