Daniel Henninger: Kerry Should Have Found a Way to Make Peace with His Vietnam Critics Long Ago





Daniel Henninger, in the WSJ (Aug. 27, 2004):

... Vietnam may live largely as a textbook abstraction for voters born during or after the years of that war. But for Mr. Kerry's generation--the baby boomers who came of age then--and for their parents, "Vietnam" is a cauldron of memory. The Swift-boat fight is raising the temperature beneath the old cauldron, turning it into more than an "issue" for the Kerry camp to manage. It's becoming a significant political event. It is transforming history into today's news. As of yesterday the Amazon.com sales rank for "Unfit for Command" was #1.

How can this be happening? Why didn't John Kerry months back--if not years--find some gracious way to make peace with the John O'Neills of the world? Why didn't one wise head among the Democrats point out the obvious difficulties of the Kerry candidacy once past the party's primary voters? This is a man who would be running as both a hero of Vietnam and a famous accuser of the war's heroes. This is an election, not a Shakespearean tragedy. How come John Kerry never worked out, before the final leg of his long odyssey, a let-bygones statement, admitting the hyperbole (at the least) of his accusations of atrocity before Congress in 1971, honoring the service of colleagues who never felt obliged to apologize for Vietnam, but reserving his right to oppose that troubled war?
The reason for not doing so lies in something often asserted but little respected in our politics now--principle. Alongside support for the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, opposition to Vietnam forms the moral bedrock of the modern Democratic Party. John Kerry (whose fidelity to principle, on the available evidence, is weaker than that of those who voted him into this role) is obliged to stand by his 1971 testimony as a matter of principle. Abandon that, and the party abandons him.

Now this principle has drawn the Democrats into a game of high-stakes political poker over the Swift-boat story. Early on, it was merely John Kerry's presidential dream that the Swiftees threatened. We've moved way beyond that. Now the whole stack of moral capital the party banked from the Vietnam period has been pushed to the center of the table.

Liberals for years have argued that the ideas, policies and beliefs of their opposition were, whatever else, morally wanting. The basis for this claim was their domestic achievements inside government during the 1960s and--the twin pillar--their opposition in the streets to the Vietnam war. Both live on, and are used today, as the triumph of simple public morality over the soulless details of public policy. No challenge is ever permitted to either claim. Tax policy, for instance, is now argued almost wholly in terms of moral fairness. Judicial nominees are opposed as threats to some presumed moral consensus on rights and justice.

If John Kerry loses this election over Vietnam, and he just may, one of the pillars that has propped up the Democratic church for more than 30 years will crack.

To date, the controversy has focused on John Kerry in Vietnam. Whatever happened, the core fact remains that he went there, against the grain of his party's swelling moral tide. He was on that dark river, very much in harm's way. So too were many others, but John Kerry is the one who planned to make that service the center of a run for the presidency. Now the rest of the John Kerry Vietnam story is coming home--the Swift-boat veterans are airing ads about Mr. Kerry's post-service opposition to the war. Here the cauldron boils over. ...


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DeWayne Edward Benson - 11/2/2006

Being neither a democrat or republican, I can honestly say Kerry did not err in finding "no way to apologize to the Swiftboat slander."

I am old enough to remember the period of our Vietnam 'Advisor/Police Action', and there is very little reason that Kerry needed to apologize. Certainly it is needed to say that Vietnam servicemen were much the same as our youth serving today.

Some time ago however I began gathering copies of military patches (non gov issue) worn during the Vietnam era, these depicted neither good Advice or Police. Most were gruesome skulls, some bloody axes and swords, all were descriptive of men to long stressed in battle, where many of the enemy were common women and children.

Of a choice between the botched speeches of Kerry or Bush regarding war, Kerry is a pussy cat.