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Friday, July 23, 2004

Forty Four

Just a little while ago I was sitting in the dentist's chair, reading. I'd printed off the story on John Kerry from the latest New Yorker, Damage Control and found myself reading and re-reading the same page, the same sentences, over and over, waiting for the gas to finally kick in.

Before I slipped off, I came across this passage and wanted to share it here. Just as an example of Kerry's humanity. (regular readers know I'm a sucker for, and seeker of, the "humanity" of humanity) In addition to in-depth interviews with Kerry and those close to him and his campaign, the writer, Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, draws a great deal from Douglas Brinkley's book on Kerry, Tour of Duty.

Reading Brinkley’s book, one wonders why Kerry’s campaign does not make more of another occasion when Kerry was sharply reprimanded for having stepped ashore. On a narrow tributary of the Duong Keo River, he and his crew came upon what looked like a deserted village. Then someone thought he saw a man running away. There was no response to a call for surrender, and Kerry took his gun and went to have a look. As he approached, forty-two Vietnamese—women, children, and old men—appeared with empty hands raised. They were in desperate shape, hungry and sick, and although Kerry received radio instructions to leave them and get on with the business of killing enemy combatants, he herded the villagers onto boats and took them to the nearest American base to receive food and medical care. “For an afternoon,” he told Brinkley, “it felt good to really be helping the Vietnamese instead of destroying their villages.”

That, my friends, is an action, a choice, to be applauded. I can't see how it could be anything but indicative of Kerry as a man and human being. The decisions one makes in a warzone are as close to gut, instinctual, reactions as people will ever display. From all I've read and heard, the split-second choices and decisions Kerry made in the worst of all possible situations were sound choices, regardless. This stands in stark contrast to Bush, who, when hearing that America was under attack, sat frozen in fear and without direction for seven precious minutes. Seven minutes in the jungles of Vietnam, or the streets of Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra--that'll get you, your comrades-in-arms, and perhaps even some unfortunate bystanders, killed. Fast.

Again, for contrast with the current president who was dodging his draft-dodging stint in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam, here's what Kerry was doing:

Few voters knew the story of how he won his Bronze Star for saving a man’s life until that man, a lifelong Republican named Jim Rassmann, showed up in Des Moines during the last days of the Iowa primary race and returned the favor, helping to save Kerry’s political life by describing how Kerry, wounded and under fire, pulled him, hand over hand, from the water after he was blown off another American boat. Even then, Kerry said almost nothing about the incident, leaving the talking to Rassmann, with whom he’d had no contact in the intervening thirty-five years. He also resists speaking publicly about the incident that won him the Silver Star, but his surviving crewmates have told how, when they were ambushed by a Vietcong guerrilla firing rockets from the riverbank, Kerry made an instantaneous decision that evasive action was impossible, turned his boat directly into the fire, beached it, and leaped ashore, to the astonishment of the man with the rocket launcher, who popped up from his spider hole and fled. Kerry chased him and killed him. Navy men were not supposed to leave their ships during combat, and before recommending Kerry for the medal his commanding officer quipped that he wasn’t sure whether he shouldn’t court-martial him instead.

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