John Kerry has done a lot of damage in the course of a long public career. As Secretary of State in the Obama administration, the man has met the man. Seth Lipsky takes Kerry’s measure this week in the New York Sun on Kerry’s career. Seth writes that it looks like “Kerry is determined to go out the way he came in — wrapping himself in the flag while betraying the causes of both America and its allies. He came in by doing that to Vietnam and is going out by turning on Israel.” Seth reminds me of my initial exposure to Kerry. I’ve recalled it here previously and want to revisit it this morning in the context of Seth’s column.
I saw Kerry speak at Dartmouth in the lounge on the second floor of Hopkins Center — “the top of the Hop,” as it’s called — during Kerry’s 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 statement in the New York Times (posted in complete form here, posted with video here). I had read the Times’s profile of Kerry that is now posted here. As I recall, the Times gave the Foreign Relations Committee hearing page-one treatment that week as well.
At Dartmouth I heard Kerry earnestly 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 took what he had to say at face value. I bought his act completely. 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 somehow knew better. He 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 and out the building.
At the time I couldn’t believe the obtuseness of the student. As I say, I fell for Kerry’s act completely. In retrospect, however, that student may have been the most perceptive person with whom I’ve ever crossed paths.