Democrats & Liberals Archives

An Appeal To The Veterans

In 1971, John Kerry went to Washington in front of a foreign affairs committee chaired by one Senator Fulbright and blew the whistle on what he and his fellow veterans had been ordered to do in Vietnam. He related the stories of fellow veterans, a fact willfully neglected by his critics. Either that, or they call them liars or fakes.

Again, a political party is mobilizing to protect its political fortunes instead of the American people, and again such an administration will betray its soldiers by compromising them on supplies, moral guidance, and effective use of the work they do by their own blood sweat and tears. This time, they’re asking for your help. I ask that you refuse that help.

There's been a kind of blackmail at work here, you know. Don't criticize the administration's execution of this war, or you will let down the troops. Don't highlight abuses, because it will harm our people and our reputation. Again and again people have told us to look the other way when corrupt or cruel practices are brought to bear in our name. Again and again, the value held highest is the reputation of the armed forces, no matter what.

I appeal to you veterans to say that such a policy will only end in shame, and will only encourage our government, whoever is in charge, to be half-hearted and half-witted about how it deploys our troops. Ours is a military under civilian command, and although the admitted mission of the military is to defend democracy, not to practice it, that nonetheless means two things: American citizens can and must demand the best behavior and representation from our military, and those in charge must be held to account in the public forum for the things they do.

I am proud to be the grandson of a veteran, proud to be an American, and proud of those people who have fought for this country. But that does not mean I must concur with all the decisions that the soldiers are called upon to execute. Most of the time, I have been critical of the half-hearted application of force. Iraq is a rare case where I have found a difference of opinion with my government over its application of military force.

I will not bore you with a rehash of what I have posted repeatedly on this site. Suffice it to say, I believe this administration knowingly neglected post invasion planning, believing that certain elements of Iraqi society would be available to do the work for us. I believe they missed a crucial window of opportunity, due to a number of factors, in which law and order could have been effectively continued and maintained. They have since, instead of learning from their mistakes, perpetuated their errors in order to avoid the political fallout that changing policies would produce.

I believe they picked the wrong target, the lesser of the threats facing us, and did so knowing that the evidence for their invasion was neither impressive, nor all that substantial. I believe they took resources and attention from our efforts in Afghanistan, away from the real threat of Osama Bin Laden, whose organization and his very person have proved more resilient than our president anticipated.

In short, Wrong war, Wrong place, wrong reasons. The Connection to Vietnam, I feel, is important and salient to what we are going through now. Again an administration resists reforms in the approach towards a war out of political motivations. Again, kill ratios become more important than ground gained or kept, again our attempts to gain hearts and minds run at cross purposes to the ruthless tactics our soldiers are permitted and expected to employ. Again, for the sake of fighting a philosophy, an idea, we have compromised our integrity, and in some part our humanity.

Wars change, societies change, people don't. We generally want the same range of things out of life, and we're generally vulnerable to the same kind of influences, the same kinds of promises and overarching myths of passage.

Again, we've been told that to prosecute this war, we will have to go beyond the pale.

How we win, though, is as important as gaining the victory itself. We won the ground war, the invasion, but we did so at the price of not being able to establish quick and lasting control of the country. Because of that, whatever the outcome, Iraq will remain a foreign policy difficulty for some years to come. Defeat is not pre-ordained, but as the losses of the last year have indicated, victory will not come cheaply.

It is sad to say that so many have given their lives for a mistake, and I doubt that is an easy thing to tell yourself after you've devoted your heart and soul to furthering that cause in your country's service. I can understand why veterans of Vietnam would not be all that in love with the idea that the war they fought, bleed and saw friends die for was a mistake. I can understand why some would think it unrealistic to expect to win the war without the harsh means that were applied in that war, even if such thinking troubles me.

We must face up to something, though- it was not cowardice that drove John Kerry to reveal the ugly truths of the war. It wasn't liberal bias or communist sympathies. It was disgust. Disgust with a war that had torn friend after friend from him, just so his commanding officers could fly the flag in the Mekong Delta, and nothing else. It was disgust with tactics like free-fire zones, where any Vietnamese person caught in an area could be killed and counted towards one's number of kills. He does not blame the soldiers for what they did- he said what he did to effectively state that he had sinned alongside his brothers, and understood that they could not do otherwise without inviting disciplinary action and reprisals.

He heard their confessions, told their stories, and worked to effect changes in administration policy so that the veterans of this war would not be simply neglected by an ungrateful government. He was an advocate for them, not stoolpigeon against them. When talk went to assassination, he severed ties with the group. When Jane Fonda showed up, he said no thanks, despite what some doctored and ambiguously shot photos might fool people into believing. Among his people he was considered a moderate, not an ideologue.

Now, though, he is attacked and derided for both sides of his service to his country, by men who until recently spoke well of him, by men whose record presents contradictions with regards to their current testimony. He is confronted by an old Nemesis, a man he once debated with, a man who had thirty years ago debated Kerry on behalf of the Nixon administration. He leads a group of veterans who have made claims about Kerry's medals that are far from uncontestable. They labeled many soldiers as liars, and forced them to relive parts of their lives that they hoped they would be done with.

You should not underestimate the extent of the pain such whitewashing causes. It is bad enough that a soldier must go through the horrors of war and see things that they can never quite relate to friends and family back home. It is worse to have that government lie and whitewash the events going on around them, to raise the pressure by adding peer pressure, political pressure on those who simply call things as they are.

In this election, we have a choice between a Commander in Chief who has sent our country into an unnecessary war once again, and one who knows the price of such an action first hand. We have a choice between somebody who took the hard path of service willingly, and one who decided to take things easy back at home. We have a choice between a man whose cabinet is mostly filled with people who found one excuse or another not to serve, and a man who has made allies of some of the most highly decorated veterans in our congress.

I appeal to the veterans out there, to look past Bush's outward support of the military, and to see the facts of what he has done to our young men and women in uniform. I appeal to them not to believe the literally questionable charges of Kerry's opponents, and not to underestimate the importance or the courage of what Kerry testified to all those years ago.

Silence about misdeeds, atrocities, and corruption must not be made the standard of loyalty amongst our fighting forces. That sort of dishonor is not a fitting tribute to those who sacrifice themselves in our country's defense. It is more akin to the tightlipped behavior of organized criminals and gangs than it is akin to the military honor which many of us legitimately hold high, and feel the calling to. To let the highest and the best virtues of our military shine through, we must not be afraid to open the dark sores of the conflicts of our time to the light, no matter how some might find it painful, for in the end, more pain is brought by those who betray the honor they vowed to uphold, and those whose actions bring shame to our country.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at August 23, 2004 4:07 PM