[sixties-l] John McCain on Bob Kerrey

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 00:04:24 EDT

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    Bob Kerrey, War Hero

    If you've never seen combat, don't be quick to judge.

    Friday, April 27, 2001

    For a long time many Americans thought the Vietnam War was a bad war. The
    citizen soldiers who defeated the fascists in Europe and the Pacific were
    ennobled by their service in a good war. Vietnam veterans fighting
    communists were not.
    In a good war mistakes are seldom made. No one lies.
    Breakdowns in discipline that lead to atrocities never occur. The
    righteousness of the cause sanctifies the experience of all who fought in
    it. In a bad war everyone lies. Innocents are slaughtered. Villages are
    destroyed to save them. Combatants are corrupted. Casualties in a good war
    are martyrs. In a bad war they are the wages of sin.
    But this notion, as a veteran of any war can attest, is simplistic and
    completely wrong.
    All wars occasion much heroism and nobility, but they all have their
    corruptions, which is what makes war a thing worth avoiding if possible. I
    hated my enemies even before they held me captive because hate sustained me
    in my devotion to their complete destruction and helped me overcome the
    virtuous human impulse to recoil in disgust from what had to be done by my
    hand. I dropped many bombs in Vietnam, and I wish I could say that they
    only destroyed military targets. But surely noncombatants were among the
    The combatant, who may be a righteous, God-fearing, lovely human being,
    must become inhumane day after day if he is to do what his country has
    asked him to do. The injunction to love all as we would be loved is the
    first casualty of war, any war. Wars are that awful, and anyone who tells
    you otherwise is a fool or a fraud.
    That does not mean that we should forget our humanity. Our experience does
    not absolve us of our moral obligations, but they can be very hard to keep,
    given the extraordinarily difficult and conflicting expectations imposed on
    us: to kill and to be good.
    Good men, heroes, make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes have the most
    terrible consequences imaginable. We should not be spared criticism for
    them, but it is unlikely that the judgments made by others will be as
    severe as our own regret.
    My friend Bob Kerrey made a mistake in Vietnam. He was sent into a
    free-fire zone to kill for his country, and he helped kill the wrong
    people. Those who now judge him must follow the dictates of their
    conscience. But unless you too have been to war, please be careful not to
    form your judgment of him on your understanding of what constitutes a war
    hero. They are not the Hollywood copy you might expect.
    Bob received a Bronze Star for his action that night. He would be the first
    to agree that his conduct, no matter how unintentional, did not merit
    commendation. But his conduct on another night, one month later, won him
    the decoration our country bestows on only her greatest heroes. And were
    you to read the citation that accompanied his Medal of Honor, you would
    know beyond a doubt he earned it.
    When he came home from Vietnam, like many others, Bob Kerrey tried to bury
    his dead. He did not want to remember, much less talk about, a lot of his
    experiences, especially his mistakes.
    But there are ghosts you cannot bury, like our shame over those occasions
    when circumstances conspired with our own weakness to make an awful
    experience worse. If the fact that he recovered his humanity, that he felt
    remorse, that he sacrificed even more for his country, does not strike some
    as adequate compensation for his mistake, it is enough for his salvation,
    and a harder task than most can imagine. That's a war hero, folks, a
    sinner redeemed by his sacrifice for a cause greater than his
    self-interest. That's Bob Kerrey, my friend and hero.
    Mr. McCain is a U.S. senator from Arizona.

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