Frank Rich: Kerry’s “Apocalypse Now””

This write-up of George Butler’s new film, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, should serve as a powerful tonic to anyone infected with the propaganda of the Smear Boat Liars. The part that moved me the most:

Mr. Butler, best known for “Pumping Iron,” the 1977 documentary that first turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a national commodity, can be a powerful storyteller. And nowhere more so than when he gets to the scene where Mr. Kerry and his buddies protest the war by throwing medals and ribbons over a fence onto the Capitol steps. This incident has been stigmatized as an ugly un-American activity by the Kerry detractors. But the scene plays quite differently when you see it here, not as a grainy snapshot but as an extended cinematic drama, pieced together by Mr. Butler from his own photos and the large and heretofore scattered film record made by the many news organizations present that day.

What stares you in the face is the anguish and grief of men who put their lives in the line of fire for a government that undertook a pointless war, mismanaged it, kept it going out of hubris and then abandoned it. These veterans do not lightheartedly toss away the symbols of their sacrifice in Vietnam; they struggle with tears and violently conflicted emotions as they do so. They are battered men often wearing the ragtag remnants of their uniforms. Their eyes are haunted. They are willing to engage in self-annihilation, eradicating the record of their own heroism in battle, if that’s what it takes to prevent their brothers from continuing to die in a doomed mission. Watch this and try not to weep.

Set against this real-life backdrop of the time, Mr. Kerry’s famous line before J. W. Fulbright, Jacob Javits and the rest of that Senate committee regains its patriotic force: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” And as Todd Gitlin documents in his history, “The Sixties,” the young Kerry’s antiwar stance was hardly anomalous among his fellow Vietnam warriors by then, those still serving included. By that late point in the war — three years after Tet, L.B.J.’s abdication and Walter Cronkite’s public declaration that we were “mired in stalemate” — there were seven desertions and 17 AWOL incidents for every 100 American soldiers. There were more than 250 antiwar newspapers within the armed forces alone. And still another 13,000 Americans were yet to die for the mistake.

Although Rich doesn’t say it in so many words, his article underscores the shallowness of the attacks against Kerry, which would have you see him as a ruthless back-stabber, betraying his fellow soldiers to bask in the spotlight of national attention and boost a political career. This is simply untrue. Reading the warbloggers, one gets the impression that the ribbon/medal-throwing was an act of glee, and of extreme selfishness — and an act of treason. Maybe this film, by displaying what actually happened, as opposed to Tom Maguire’s and Hugh Hewitt’s fantastical iterations thereof, will open the eyes of a few voters still willing to think for themselves.

I can’t urge you strongly enough to check out the article. It will grab you with its opening lines, and you’ll want to read very word.

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