The Faithful Correspondent is working on her story on the March for Women’s Lives last weekend. But in the meanwhile, she heartily recommends the following for your reading pleasure.
ON THE WAY to the fence where he threw some of his military decorations 33 years ago, I was 4 or 5 feet behind John Kerry.
As he neared the spot from which members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War were parting with a few of the trappings of their difficult past to help them face their future more squarely, I watched Kerry reach with his right hand into the breast pocket of his fatigue shirt. The hand emerged with several of the ribbons that most of the vets had been wearing that unique week of protest, much as they are worn on a uniform blouse.
There couldn’t have been all that many decorations in his hand — six or seven — because he made a closed fist around his collection with ease as he waited his turn. I recall him getting stopped by one or two wounded vets in wheelchairs, clearly worried that they wouldn’t be able to get their stuff over the looming fence, who gave him a few more decorations. Kerry says he doesn’t remember this.
It is true that Kerry was one of the veterans group’s “leaders,” but in this eclectic, aggressively individualistic collection of people who had been through a pointless war, there were no privileges of rank. Kerry was in the middle of a line of perhaps 1,000 guys — only a third or even less of the total who had assembled on the Washington Mall that astonishing week.
At the spot where the men were symbolically letting go of their participation in the war, the authorities had erected a wood and wire fence that prevented them from getting close to the front of the US Capitol, and Kerry paused for several seconds. We had been talking for days — about the war, politics, the veterans’ demonstration — but I could tell Kerry was upset to the point of anguish, and I decided to leave him be; his head was down as he approached the fence quietly.
In a voice I doubt I would have heard had I not been so close to him, Kerry said, as I recall vividly, “There is no violent reason for this; I’m doing this for peace and justice and to try to help this country wake up once and for all.”
With that, he didn’t really throw his handful toward the statue of John Marshall, America’s first chief justice. Nor did he drop the decorations. He sort of lobbed them, and then walked off the stage.
“Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
It was the classic question posed by Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy 50 years ago during the Red-hunter’s hearings investigating the Army for alleged communist influence. With his query, Welch, the Army’s special counsel, began the undoing of McCarthy.
Unfortunately, the question needs to be asked again. It needs to be posed to shamelessly partisan Republicans who can’t stand the fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are facing off against a Democrat who fought and was wounded in Vietnam. Cheney said in 1989 that he didn’t go to Vietnam because “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.” While Kerry risked his life, Bush got himself into the National Guard.
Funny, isn’t it? When Bill Clinton was running against Republican war veterans in 1992 and 1996, the most important thing to GOP propagandists and politicians was that Clinton didn’t fight in Vietnam. Now that Republican candidates who didn’t fight in Vietnam face a Democrat who did — and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts while he was there — the Republican machine wants to change the subject.
It seems to be a habit. When Bush faces a Vietnam War hero in an election, a Vietnam veteran perfectly happy to trash his opponent always turns up. In the case of Ted Sampley, the same guy who did Bush’s dirty work in going after Sen. John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries is doing the job against Kerry this year. Sampley dared compare McCain, who spent five years as a Vietnam POW, with “the Manchurian Candidate.” Now, Sampley says that Kerry “is not truthful and is not worthy of the support of U.S. veterans. . . . To us, he is ‘Hanoi John.’ ” Is that where Sam Johnson got his line?
One person who is outraged by the attacks on Kerry is McCain. When I reached the Arizona Republican, I found him deeply troubled over the reopening of wounds from the Vietnam era, “the most divisive time since our Civil War.” He called Sampley “one of the most despicable characters I’ve ever met.” McCain said he hoped that in the midst of a war in Iraq, politicians “will confront the challenges facing us now, including the conflict we’re presently engaged in, rather than refighting the one we were engaged in more than 30 years ago.”
Now that McCain has spoken, will Bush have the guts to endorse or condemn the attacks on Kerry’s service? Or will he just sit by silently, hoping the assaults do their work while he evades responsibility? Once more, Welsh’s [sic] words call out for an answer: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
To quote TFC, “Wish I thought the rest of the country could read.”