[sixties-l] Kerrey Agonistes

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 19:18:40 EDT

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    U.S. News & World Report
    May 7, 2001

    Kerrey Agonistes

    Is the ex-senator baring his soul and spinning his story?

    By John Leo

    No journalist is better than Mickey Kaus at cutting quickly to the heart of
    an issue. Here is his opening comment about Bob
    Kerrey last week on his kausfiles Web site: "There is already entirely too
    much respectful attention being paid to the moral
    and psychological agony of Bob Kerrey and to the 'healing' process. . . .
    The question is what happened to the people who
    haven't had the luxury of agonizing for 32 years because they've been dead.
    Kerrey's agony is a distraction."

    Exactly. Ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey is undoubtedly feeling a lot of stress after
    finally admitting that his squad killed a lot of
    unarmed women and children during a Vietnam raid in 1969. And his three
    decades of silence (or coverup, if you like)
    obviously took a toll. But his feelings are not the issue here. In an
    Oprahfied culture, important moral and political issues
    are always in danger of being obscured by huge clouds of media-created
    empathy. This process is now so common that we
    often hardly notice when it happens. After Janet Reno drew heavy criticism
    for the Elin Gonzlez raid in Miami, Deputy
    Attorney General Eric Holder said: "I held the attorney general in my arms
    and she wept. She did not want this to happen."
    But whether she wept, fled into the arms of a subordinate, or simply sat at
    her desk playing solitaire is irrelevant. In
    politics, we properly judge actions, not emotional states, especially ones
    retailed to the media to generate empathy and
    deflect criticism.

    The Kerrey case is already a classic example of a serious moral issue
    propelled before the public almost entirely in
    psychological and therapeutic terms. "How hard this must be to stand up and
    tell the world your secret," one network
    reporter told viewers. Kerrey "is baring his soul about a 32-year-old
    mission in Vietnam," burbled a sympathetic CNN
    talk-show host. An Omaha World-Herald account begins: "Bob Kerrey is
    confronting another wound from Vietnam, one
    that left him with no physical scars." "We should all recognize the agony
    that Bob has gone through," said the trustees of
    Manhattan's New School University, whose new president is Bob Kerrey.

    Coping with killing. The ex-senator kept issuing statements that encouraged
    a close focus on his psychological struggle.
    "Now I can talk about it. It feels better already," Kerrey told the Los
    Angeles Times. The New York Times said Kerrey
    spoke of the military's need to provide psychological training and how to
    cope with killing.

    The psychologizing flows freely through "What Happened in Thanh Phong,"
    Gregory Vistica's April 29 New York Times
    Magazine article that forced Kerrey at last to speak out. It begins with a
    scene of Kerrey's hands trembling as he read
    documents on the case. It goes on quickly to discuss his nightmares, his
    fleeting thoughts of suicide, and Kerrey's weird
    notion that his memories of the raid are personal ones that belong to him
    alone. "Part of living with the memory, some of
    those memories, is to forget them," Kerrey told Vistica. "I've got a right
    to say to you, 'it's none of your damned business.' I
    carry memories of what I did and I survive . . . ." But this is the way
    somebody might speak to a therapist, not to a journalist
    asking whether you massacred women and children. Try to imagine other people
    who have been accused of killing unarmed
    civilians-the New York cops who shot Amadou Diallo, for instance-trying to
    argue that their memories of the night are
    personal and nobody else's business.

    Even Kerrey's argument that the killings were justified is couched in terms
    of his effort to cope with the trauma: "Knowing
    that the people we killed were probably enemy sympathizers and their missing
    men had fired upon us, drawing our fire, has
    not helped." Similarly, his occasional admissions that something horrific
    occurred are also expressed in the language of
    feelings: "To describe it as an atrocity, I would say, is pretty close to
    being right, because that's how it felt." In a press
    conference, Kerrey announced: "I have chosen to talk about it because it
    helps me to heal." This is not just an awful bit of
    psychologizing. It's also untrue. Kerrey is talking about it because the
    expos in the Times magazine was well on its way,
    and he wanted to get his version out ahead of the story and spin it his way.

    Stripped of psychologizing, the central issue is clear: Was this a war
    crime? One-and only one-member of Kerrey's SEAL
    platoon says, in effect, that it was. In this man's account, 15 or so women
    and young children, including a baby, were herded
    together and simply shot to death at close range. "We just basically
    slaughtered those people," Gerhard Klann told Dan
    Rather on the 60 Minutes II program that is to be broadcast this week.
    Kerrey's version is that his men had been shot at and
    fired back in the dark from a distance of about 100 yards. Besides, the
    village was a free-fire zone, meaning that all who
    lived there were regarded as enemies who could be fired on at will. Did that
    policy amount to a blank check for American
    troops to commit atrocities?

    Even at this late date, we need to know the answer. And we need to have
    testimony from each member of Kerrey's platoon
    on just how and why the women and children of Thanh Phong were killed. No
    more psychology, please. There are real
    issues to deal with.

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