Editor’s Note: John Kerry’s “Dissent” speech yesterday captured the hearts and minds of many who have long supported John Kerry. Our friend Sandy at LightUpTheDarkness.org, had these thoughts on Kerry’s speech, that we are sharing here as Guest Blog…
John Kerry’s infamous line from 1971 is not the one that has hung with me all these years. Perhaps being infected by the optimism of the Kennedy Era, I’ve always been struck by Kerry’s hope of an ‘America turned’. “when small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.”
In the course of my life, I’ve probably had more conversations about Vietnam than any other event that touched the lives of the boomer generation. It lurks among us like a festering ghoul, silent for awhile, only to seep through the cracks of our consciousness, rearing its ugly head again. A simple cup of coffee somehow turns to a conversation about coming home and guilt and loss and PTSD. A new friend suffers from Agent Orange affects, another from a long-ago lost limb. And with the horrors of the Iraq war, late night calls of panic as vets and former protestors see a familiar scenario play out, military leaders ignored, corporate crony influences and political lies.
And then, as now, the role of the patriotic American is questioned. When I was a child, I saw Americans fighting, fighting on the streets of American cities and fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. I saw fighting to end racial discrimination and the war, I saw fighting in my own central California town to end the abuses of migrant workers. I saw soldiers peering out the backs of helicopters and wading through the swamps, I saw body bags and body counts. Small girls ask why too and I’ll never forget the pained look in my father’s eyes when he couldn’t answer that simple question.
The sad answer came in 1971, that the crime of Vietnam was that it sent men to kill and maim for “the biggest nothing in history” and that it was “part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country, the question of racism…. the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions..” The true danger of our time was not peasants in a far off land, but ourselves and our indifferent complacency.
And so we have come full circle. We again have troops engulfed in an illegal war that has dissolved into a chaotic morass where our brave troops cannot define friend from foe. Again we have dissenters scorned and can hear the echoes of Spiro Agnew when he labeled them “criminal misfits of society”. Again we have migrant workers in the streets and African Americans abandoned just as surely as they were abandoned to sharecropper shacks so many years ago. And once again, we have John Kerry, rising to state the most obvious truth, “it is wrong to think fighting for your country overseas and fighting for your country’s ideals at home are contradictory or even separate duties. They are, in fact, two sides of the very same patriotic coin.”
I wish with all my heart John Kerry had said those words in 2004. It doesn’t matter whether it would have helped or hurt his Presidential campaign. What matters is that they need to be said, as many times as is necessary for Vietnam protester and Vietnam Vet, and Iraq war protester and Iraq war vet, to be seen as equal defenders of our democracy.
Because if America is to turn, the dissenter and war hero must become indistinguishable. They will both recognize “that patriotism does not belong to those who defend a President’s position—it belongs to those who defend their country. Patriotism is not love of power; it is love of country.”