Character Question

October 2004


Time and time again, the administration -- especially Mr. Cheney -- has made snide comments about Mr. Kerry's anti-war activities during the Vietnam war. It's time we looked at Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry through the same lens.

Members of the Bush administration, especially Mr. Cheney, are very fond of casting aspersions on Mr. Kerry for his Vietnam-era anti-war activities. They don't do so out of any real moral conviction -- they do so because it is a way to call Mr. Kerry's character into question. Many people lost family and friends to that war. Many more have loved ones who were crippled during their service there. Years later, it is easy to confuse the old issues we want to forget with the pain that was suffered. Politicians use those feelings to stir up resentment against opponents.

Let's look back at those years. Mr. Bush did not serve in Vietnam. He served in the Air National Guard, never leaving the USA. Mr. Cheney did not serve at all. He received deferments. Mr. Kerry enlisted in the US Navy and volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

At 22, after Mr. Kerry enlisted, but before he entered the U.S. Navy, he was selected to give the class oration at Yale, during which he said:

"In most emerging nations, the specter of imperialist capitalism stirs as much fear and hatred as that of communism. To compound the problem, we continue to push forward our will only as we see it and in a fashion that only leads to more mistakes and deeper commitment. Where we should have instructed, it seems we did not; where we should have been patient, it seems we were not; where we should have stayed clear, it seems we would not. . . . Never in the last 20 years has the government of the United States been as isolated as it is today."

Then, he went off to war. What he learned there confirmed in him the notion that the war was a costly mistake and that we ought to admit that mistake and get out. He spoke out against the war. He spoke from honest, young idealism and conviction. Many people disagreed with him then, and some people judge in hindsight that his anti-war activities harmed his comrades in the military. Others would argue that the will of the American people had already turned against the war and that the young John Kerry was merely articulating their wish that no more of their sons and daughters should be sacrificed in a war that did not benefit the country in any tangible way.

Mr. Bush was very satisfied with his National Guard service and saw nothing wrong with the Vietnam war then or now. It was a good war for Bush and Cheney -- they didn't have to serve in it. Mr. Bush didn't speak out either in favor of the war or against it -- neither did Mr. Cheney. They had other priorities: maki

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