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Friday, October 08, 2004

Going Upriver

Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
directed by George Butler

Because of the low quality of a lot of the archive footage this is one of those movies that will look a lot better on a TV, but I’m grateful that I had the privacy of a largely-empty, large movie theater on this rainy afternoon. As a veteran I felt close to the movie and its subject matter, and as I sat in the dark all by myself, imagining a horror I never had to face, I needed the extra space to breath at times.

The opponents of John Kerry would like me to believe that I am being foolish for admiring this man while they hold up an empty suit that lives on a fake ranch in Texas as the alternative. I only have to quote a short passage in the film to make my decision on which of the two candidates has character. In the course of Kerry’s testimony in front of the foreign relations committee he is questioned about his service record:

“Do you have a Purple Heart?”
“Yes,” John Kerry says.
“How many Oak Leaf clusters?”
“You've been wounded three times?”
“I have no further questions Mister Chairman.”

After being wounded in combat doing the job America has sent you to do there should never be any more questions about your commitment to this country, but manufacturing questions is about the only plan of attack available to a president who chose to sit out the war in Viet Nam stateside, a president who has placed American soldiers in harms way for reasons that become less clear with every passing day. Kerry routinely risked his life in combat. The Bush people knew that this represented an incredible advantage in the issue of character between the two candidates so they manufactured a smear campaign to lie about John Kerry’s war record. That is a tremendous insult to all of the men and women who have served this country in our military. If you have made up your mind about Kerry on the strength of the lies of the swift boat smear campaign then you need to watch this movie and do some rethinking.

During my enlistment I worked hard at every task I was assigned; I can say that I gave it my all. I was lucky enough to be part of a very competitive unit of highly motivated people but I was never fired upon, and I certainly was never wounded.

I have been out of the service for quite some time now but to this day I will always buy a drink for any kid in the military. I call the service the world’s biggest fraternity, it’s the fraternity I never wanted to join in college. I sure as hell would never denigrate a fellow service member who saw combat and was wounded—to do so would show a tremendous lack of character.

As the movie points out, John Kerry was motivated to join the military by the sense of patriotism he felt by John Kennedy’s inauguration speech. I was motivated to join the military after the failed rescue of the American hostages in Iran in 1980. After returning from a year studying abroad, the thought of returning to a college campus to finish my degree seemed small and joining the Air Force seemed like the opposite. I was right and I still feel that was the greatest experience of my life. I am still grateful for the friendships that I developed during that time.

There was no war while I served in the Air Force. We practically prayed for a war, as the job we did was completely operational even in peacetime. Be careful what you wish for would be what John Kerry would have told my comrades and me. He got his war and some of his comrades never made it back. Over 58,000 never made it home as almost any American can now tell you. Now the question is how many Americans won’t make it home from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Any American who considers Fox News a way to stay informed can tell you that John Kerry threw away the medals he received in Viet Nam—a traitorous act they say. This is ironic when you think that these same people don’t appear to value those medals (a Purple Heart equals a band aid) and think that Kerry didn’t deserve his. The most emotional moment in the film for me came when the Veterans Against the War, the group Kerry was helping to lead, threw away their medals in a highly symbolic gesture calling for the return of all U.S. soldiers still fighting and dying in Viet Nam which at that time was already a lost cause.

I have a couple of military medals myself and regardless of what I feel about them, if anyone else tried to discount their value he and I would have some words. Those medals are mine to do with whatever I want and I think that throwing them away in a symbolic act to illustrate the horror of war is a lot more noble than hanging them on the wall of an office to impress some business cronies.

Speaking out against an unjust or unnecessary war is certainly as patriotic to me as performing military service. While watching Going Upriver you realize that John Kerry’s activism against the Viet Nam war was equally as heroic as his heroic service in that conflict. I can say without any doubt that more than any candidate in my lifetime, I will be proud to have John Kerry as my president.

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