“During the Vietnam War, many young men, including the current President, the Vice President and me, could have gone to Vietnam and didn’t. John Kerry came from a privileged background. He could have avoided going, too. But instead he said, ‘Send me.’
“When they sent those Swift Boats up the river in Vietnam… John Kerry said, ‘Send me.’
“And then when America needed to extricate itself from that misbegotten and disastrous war, Kerry donned his uniform once again, and said, ‘Send me'; and he led veterans to an encampment on the Washington Mall, where, in defiance of the Nixon Justice Department, they conducted the most stirring and effective of the protests, that forced an end to the war.
“And then, on my watch, when it was time to heal the wounds of war and normalize relations with Vietnam…John Kerry said, ‘Send me.'”
So spoke President Clinton at the Democratic convention–except that he did not deliver the third paragraph about Kerry’s protest; I made that up. The speech cries out for the inclusion of Kerry’s glorious moment of antiwar leadership; and its absence is as palpable as one of those erasures from photographs of high Soviet officials after Stalin had sent them to the gulag. Clinton’s message was plain. Military courage in war is honored; civil courage in opposing a disastrous war is not honored. Even thirty years later, it cannot be mentioned by a former President who himself opposed the Vietnam War. The political rule, as Clinton once put it in one of the few pithy things he has ever said, “We [Democrats] have got to be strong…. When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have somebody who’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right.”
And now the United States is engaged in a war fully as wrong as the one in Vietnam. The boiling core of American politics today is the war in Iraq and all its horrors: the continuing airstrikes on populated cities; the dogs loosed by American guards on naked, bound Iraqi prisoners; the kidnappings and the beheadings; the American casualties nearing a thousand; the 10,000 or more Iraqi casualties; the occupation hidden behind the mask of an entirely fictitious Iraqi “sovereignty”; the growing scrapheap of discredited justifications for the war. But little of that is mentioned these days by the Democrats. The great majority of Democratic voters, according to polls, ardently oppose the war, yet by embracing the candidacy of John Kerry, who voted for the Congressional resolution authorizing the war and now wants to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, the party has made what appears to be a tactical decision to hide its faith.