Goodbye my sweetheart, hello Vietnam
I've taken a dim view of the vets who have impugned John Kerry's service in Vietnam, but I've also believe that Kerry's war record has no bearing on his abilities to be president, and I continue to be nauseated by the way he has prostituted his military service to establish bona fides as a potential commander-in-chief. The Democrats weren't too concerned with who served and who didn't when Bill Clinton ran sans military experience in 1992.
I finally got around to reading Christopher Hitchens' take on the issue in Slate. Hitchens is a hawk in Iraq, backing the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, but he remains steadfast in his belief that Vietnam was an immoral war waged by a dishonest government. Here's a glimpse:
So what if he (Kerry) has been telling the absolute truth all along? In what sense, in other words, does his participation in a shameful war qualify him to be president of the United States? This was a combat of more than 30 years ago, fought with a largely drafted army using indiscriminate tactics and weaponry against a deep-rooted and long-running domestic insurgency. (Agent Orange, for example, was employed to destroy the vegetation in the Mekong Delta and make life easier for the Swift boats.) The experience of having fought in such a war is absolutely useless to any American today and has no bearing on any thinkable fight in which the United States could now become engaged. Thus, only the "character" issues involved are of any weight, and these are extremely difficult and subjective matters. If Kerry doesn't like people disputing his own version of his own gallantry, then it was highly incautious of him to have made it the centerpiece of his appeal.
I would take issue with Hitchen's assertion that service in Vietnam is of no value; I'm sure the experience of combat in Vietnam shaped the character of many of the men who fought in it much the same way that World War II shaped the character of the men who fought that war. The difference is that the World War II vets had the good fortune of fighting in a war that we won, and that was just. But as Hitchens notes, many Vietnam veterans were draftees; they did not choose to take us into that war, and they can't be blamed for its outcome. (And don't think that American soldiers didn't commit atrocities in World War II.) That said, despite what Kerry has implied, the lessons of Vietnam don't have to have been witnessed firsthand to be taken to heart.
Here's how Hitchens finishes up:
Meanwhile, even odder things are happening to Kerry's "left." Michael Moore, whose film Kerry's people have drawn upon in making cracks about the president and the My Pet Goat moment, repeatedly says that you can't comment on the Iraq war—or at least not in favor of it—if you haven't shown a willingness to send a son to die there. Comes the question—what if you haven't got a son of military age? Comes the next question—should it only be veterans or potential veterans who have a voice in these matters? If so, then what's so bad about American Legion types calling Kerry a traitor to his country? The Democrats have made a rod for their own backs in uncritically applauding their candidate's ramrod-and-salute posture. They have also implicitly subverted one of the most important principles of the republic, which is civilian control over military decisions. And more than that, they have done something eye-rubbingly unprincipled, doing what Reagan and Kissinger could not do: rehabilitating the notion of the Vietnam horror as "a noble cause."