A fleeting grasp of civil, well reasoned discourse.
This blog will comment on topics of interest like politics, business, taxation, the War with Islam / Islamofascists, road cycling, football, and others.
Opinion of The Angry Cyclist:
"Irrelevant...macho ravings"- Marc Herold, Grand Seigneur, University of New Hampshire
WITH A TWO-FACED grin on affirmative action, President Bush turned the White House into the Apollo. He put blacks folks on the turntable and spun them into soulful senselessness. On Tuesday Bush celebrated Black Music Month. Surrounded by singers from Harlem, Bush said: ''The artistry of black musicians has conveyed the experience of black Americans throughout our history. From the earliest generations of slaves came music of sorrow and patience, of truth and righteousness, and of faith that shamed the oppressor.''
Courting a block of voters. Naturally, there's something sinister about this...
Bush was as shameless as a disc jockey taking payola to play only certain records. He is becoming a broken record.
Like Derrick's columns. Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.
Five months ago, despite America's history of oppression, Bush took the side of the white students who sued to destroy affirmative action at the University of Michigan. It did not matter that Michigan's affirmative action undergraduate and law school programs had no quotas or that African-Americans were underrepresented at Michigan to start with. Bush reached for the most inflammatory language of affirmative action opponents to justify his position.
That's a lot of lies and bullshit packed into a single paragraph. How do you reconcile the belief that 'Bush took the side of the white students...' with what President Bush actually said (third & fourth paragraphs):
Our Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law. Yet we know that our society has not fully achieved that ideal. Racial prejudice is a reality in America. It hurts many of our citizens. As a nation, as a government, as individuals, we must be vigilant in responding to prejudice wherever we find it. Yet, as we work to address the wrong of racial prejudice, we must not use means that create another wrong, and thus perpetuate our divisions.
America is a diverse country, racially, economically, and ethnically. And our institutions of higher education should reflect our diversity. A college education should teach respect and understanding and goodwill. And these values are strengthened when students live and learn with people from many backgrounds. Yet quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution. (emphasis added)
Secondly, the Michigan undergraduate program was ruled unconstitutional because it was, in all respects, a hard quota system. Since the law school program wasn't as blatant about its quota system, it somehow passed muster. Kind of difficult to pass this stuff off as 'inflammatory' unless you're the Angry Black ColumnistTM.
''Quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair, and impossible to square with the Constitution,'' Bush said.
He actually read the link from above. I'm shocked, I tell you!
He said this on the actual birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
So insensitive, this President. What nerve...
Five days later, on the federal holiday for King, Bush went to a black church in Landover, Md. There he kissed the minister on the cheek. Bush said: ''There are still people in our society who hurt. There is still prejudice holding people back. There is still a school system that doesn't elevate every child so they can learn.... We remember the dream of Martin Luther King and remember his clear vision for a society that's equal and a society full of justice.''
At the church, African-Americans applauded. At the momentary Apollo of the White House, black folks sang. For three years now, Bush has held celebrations for Black Music Month, saying things as if they were mouthed by former president Clinton, who actually took up an office in Harlem.
Because Clinton in Harlem would generate reams of approval from the New York Times crowd.
Last year Bush marked the event by saying, ''In the Black American experience, there has been a lot of pain, and America must recognize that.'' In 2001 Bush said the roots of black music go back to ''people held in bondage, denied schooling, and kept away from opportunity. Yet out of all that suffering came the early spirituals, some of the sweetest praise ever lifted up to heaven. In those songs, humanity will always hear the voice of hope in the face of injustice.''
No such hope or recognition of pain can be found in Bush's politics. When the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action at the Michigan law school but struck down bonus points for underrepresented people of color in the undergraduate school, Bush acted as if he had played the middle ground all along. He said: ''I applaud the Supreme Court for recognizing the value of diversity on our nation's campuses.... Race is a reality in American life.''
Really? More from the Bush link:
Our government must work to make college more affordable for students who come from economically disadvantaged homes. And because we're committed to racial justice, we must make sure that America's public schools offer a quality education to every child from every background, which is the central purpose of the education reforms I signed last year.
Seems to me that the President thinks problem of race cannot be solved by government intervention alone, and it has to start way before kids hit their college years and apply to schools with bad grades and SAT scores. In other words, part of the problem lies with the kids themselves. Can Derrick bring himself to admit this basic fact?
Bush has yet to provide a vision as to how diversity can be achieved in a country where racism remains a significant impediment to education and employment. That is not news. His dad did the same thing. The senior Bush had plenty of African-American entertainers come to the White House after he and his bouncers threw out average African-Americans with Willie Horton, Clarence Thomas, and his 1990 veto of the Civil Rights Act.
That's the liberal belief in a nutshell: The federal government has to solve the problem.
The junior Bush is amassing a similar record, smearing affirmative action at home, sneering at racism conferences abroad, underfunding the Leave No Child Behind Act, announcing antiprofiling guidelines with loopholes that still allow profiling, and appointing federal judges with checkered records on civil rights. It was telling that in the days after Bush announced his support for the white plaintiffs in the Michigan case, all his top African-Americans - Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Rod Paige - cautioned that the country is not yet so ''race-neutral'' that we can throw race out in admissions.
Derrick is familiar with the concepts of smearing and sneering. It permeates his every article.
The telling part was that Bush ignored them and still called the Michigan program ''quotas.''
Because that's what they are. Truth in advertising...
Rapidly, the issue is less that Bush plays black folks for fools. The real issue is that the longer African-Americans stand for this, the more they become the fools. Praising King for a day or black music for a month means nothing if Bush's politics deliver pain all year long.
Why not let African-Americans make up their own mind about these issues instead of insisting on support for quota-based systems which only serve to stigmatize those minorities who benefit from them? Why does Derrick consistently ignore this point?
African-American ministers need to think about this the next time Bush wants to come to a church. Entertainers need to think about this the next time they are asked to sing at the White House. Bush is well practiced at shuffling and jiving about past oppression while owning no responsibility for the present. At some point, dancing to this disc jockey makes one a lawn jockey.
On the contrary. Badgering your fellow African-Americans to support unconstitutional quota systems that stigmatize its recipients simply solidifies them as second class citizens.
Come on, Derrick, agreeing with President Bush 'makes one a lawn jockey'? This is exactly what I mean when I call this arrogant prick a racist. Can you imagine a white columnist using this phrase? They'd be fired as soon as the ink dried on the morning paper. That's just fucking vile commentary. It also fits perfectly the mindset described by David Brooks as Democrats Go Off the Cliff, using the most hateful rhetoric possible and ascribing the most evil of motives to everything Bush does. Derrick Jackson is Boston Globe's Exhibit A of this phenomenon.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Join Jackson today for a live online chat at 9 a.m. on www.boston.com.
LAST MONTH, when President Bush donned his coronation clothes and landed on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, I felt like the skunk at the victory party. I went around asking the partygoers: Where were the weapons of mass destruction?
You were there? Or is this your Jayson Blair imitation?
What bothered me wasn't just whether we'd find the weapons we were warned about with such terrifying, repetitive certainty. The question was whether it would matter.
You might want to bring this issue up with our troops in Iraq, who had to take such a threat seriously.
Would the American people care if they'd been conned into conflict?
I was haunted by a congressional aide who said the absence of the smoking guns of WMDs wouldn't ''sway public opinion much,'' because ''everyone loves to be on the winning side.''
Are we supposed to take seriously any commentary from someone who claims to be 'haunted' by something another person said? I could understand being haunted by a ghost, but this seems a bit ridiculous to me.
The column on the con job filled my e-mail box with hundreds of incoming missives that ranged from an accountant who protested my ''whiny screed'' - ''Get over it. You lost. We won.'' - to a Californian who rued the ''outrage fatigue'' dulling the public's mind.
But they all seemed to say the same thing; it's a bogus argument
Since then the Search for the WMDs has become the subject of O.J. Simpson jokes and milk carton images as well as some solid reporting. The president has switched seamlessly from proclaiming certainty about the weapons to certainty about the weapons programs. There's now a congressional inquiry asking whether the intelligence community offered faulty ingredients or the executive chef cooked up a recipe for war.
Think I'll go home and cook up some steak tips a regional conflict with my neighbors...
But public opinion has yet to sway in this breeze. For openers, the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll reports that 24 percent of Americans thought the Iraqis did use chemical and biological weapons in the war and another 14 percent weren't sure. That's better than an earlier poll that showed half of all Americans falsely believing the Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers, but it's still fairly startling.
So this poll's not helping your argument much, is it?
More to the point, two-thirds of those in the current poll still believed the war was justified even if we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. Maybe they love to be on the winning side, maybe they're happy to see one dictator bite the dust. But they think it was, in short, justified even if the justification wasn't just.
WMD wasn't the only justification for this war. Like Robert Kuttner, she'll just avoid mentioning the seventeen UN resolutions Hussein was in violation of, the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's and Kurds, the funneling of money to the Palestinians for suicide missions against Israel...
I have had trouble believing there are no WMDs, and we may find evidence more compelling than a couple of broken-down trailers dubbed as mobile labs. But we haven't found the ''thousands of tons of chemical agents'' or the ''massive stockpile of biological weapons,'' and the imminent threat of nukes turned out to be a scam.
What about this discovery? Should we sit around and wait until enough weapons-grade uranium is packed into a warhead?
As this becomes apparent, a lot of folks are busily parsing the difference between a lie and an exaggeration, a spinmeister and a fabricator. But by any definition, the script for a preventive war of preemptive self-defense was a craftily designed White House sales pitch.
Like I've mentioned before, would Ellen rather have a preemptive war against terrorism, or wait for that LNG tank down the road from the Globe's Morrissey Boulevard office to explode?
So we don't know whether there are WMDs.
So why are you writing this column?
But more important, we still don't know the real reasons why Bush went to war and why he thought those reasons wouldn't ''sell.''
President Bush mentioned the above justifications in the last State of the Union address. it's obvious Ellen didn't watch it, or chooses to ignore them.
Did we launch this war, as one pro-war e-mailer boasted, to ''flex our muscles''? To tell the post-9/11 world not to screw around with a superpower? To rid the world of Saddam Hussein and gamble that democracy will come up on the dice, not fundamentalism? Was it for oil? Revenge? All of the above?
Try none of the above. Her arguments, as they were, now carry all the coherence of the aforementioned muscle flexing e-mailer.
The real lie is that the administration didn't (dare?) make its essential case for war. And the real shame is not that we were conned but that, so far, we don't mind.
What case is that, oh, Great Karnac?
''As one who meanders around the middle on most issues,'' writes a St. Paul woman, ''I am as disgusted with the hypocrisy of the right as with the gutlessness of the left.'' Writes a Santa Monica, Calif., reader, ''Why is everybody being so freaking nice about it?''
This is a comment from Santa Monica, not a place to be confused with, say, Talladega.
A generation ago, ''Nightline'' began its tenure with each show announcing that it was Day 12 or Day 120 in the Iran hostage crisis. Where is the network today that would track Day 75 in the Search for WMDs?
Or Day 2,555 - Whitey Bulger, Still Missing?
Where is the Democratic candidate who would adopt this admittedly high-risk strategy? Where is the member of the White House team - memo to Colin Powell? - willing to resign in protest over being misled into misleading?
Colin Powell has access to the same intel as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc., and he still hasn't resigned. You'd think this would tell Ellen something, right?
Instead the president draws yet another link between 9/11 and Iraq, telling $4 million worth of donors in New York Monday night that ''terrorists declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.'' And he gets away with it.
Gets away with what, responding to a bunch of turbans who killed 3,000 of our countrymen? That's his fucking job, Ellen!
It's being said that this war marked the beginning of the American Empire in our relationship to the world. How about domestically? An empire doesn't have citizens, it has subjects. Subjects don't expect to challenge the emperor or even to be told the facts.
Yeah, I'm feeling pretty oppressed right now. Mr. President, could you take that boot off my neck so I can breathe a bit? Thanks.
This New American Empire begins at home. The famous flight suit may end up at the Smithsonian as the emperor's new clothes.
At least this emperor has clothes. Thanks for conceding the point.
Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is email@example.com.
THE 5-4 SUPREME COURT decision upholding narrowly crafted affirmative action programs is being celebrated by everyone from civil rights activists and university presidents to military officers and corporate CEOs. Tolerance and diversity are now mainstream values. Yet the survival of affirmative action could be short-lived. The Bush administration opposes both the Michigan admissions plan and the constitutional principle affirmed Monday that race could legitimately be a factor in assembling a diverse class of students or a diverse workplace. And President Bush, if he gets his way, will soon have the most radically reactionary court in modern history.
That's funny, Bob. I could have sworn that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade discrimination based on race and other factors. How is the opposite now considered 'constitutional principle' on the basis of a Supreme Court ruling?
Two or three justices have told friends they wish to retire and could well step down this summer. The most likely are Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the majority opinion in the Michigan case, and John Paul Stevens, who voted with O'Connor. That would leave just three justices in favor of even the limited affirmative action that the court upheld.
Bob won't mention that the 'third' justice (never heard the rumor about Stevens until now) is Chief Justice William Rehnquist, since that would undercut his hysterical rant.
The tenuousness of this vote is a reminder of so much else that is at stake in the courts. It isn't just affirmative action hanging by a thread. With two more ultra-conservative justices, Roe v. Wade, upholding a woman's right to an abortion, would be at risk. The Rehnquist court has already begun pursuing a jurisprudence of convenience on regulatory issues - defending states' rights when it dislikes a federal law and opting for federal preemption when it disapproves of state regulation.
Maybe that federal law that 'it dislikes', like Roe V. Wade, is something that is best left for the states to decide? There are a fair number of legal scholars from both the left and the right that disagree with Roe on that very basis.
Four or five of the present justices, depending on the issue, embrace a pre-New Deal version of federal authority, drastically limiting the national government's ability to regulate. For example, the court invoked states' rights when it overturned the Violence Against Women Act as well as major portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, narrowing Congress's ability to enforce the 14th Amendment and to regulate under the Constitution's commerce clause.
I'm waiting for someone to explain to me how either act mentioned above has anything to do with interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause has been used extensively by proponents of a large federal government to enlarge the scope of federal regulations. This looks to me like a step back in the right direction.
Although he took office as a president who did not receive a plurality of the vote and who pledged to be ''a uniter, not a divider,'' Bush has acted as if he had a broad, popular mandate to appoint radically activist judges. Clinton, by contrast, appointed mostly moderates. So did Bush's father.
Bill Clinton did not receive a plurality of the vote in 1992 and 1996, but liberal commentators like Kuttner keep 'forgetting', uh, certain inconvenient facts.
The right has gone ballistic because the Senate has blocked a couple of extremist judges, although more than 95 percent of Bush's court appointments have sailed through. A far higher proportion of Clinton's were blocked.
Source, please? Oh, that's right, you're a Globe columnist. Never mind.
Because the Supreme Court has been so closely divided, the appointment of even one far-right judge to succeed either Justice O'Connor or Justice Stevens could have grave consequences for a range of issues.
Yes, we know - millions of homeless, children suffering, back alley abortions, locusts, plague, pestilence. Only during a Republican administration.
For instance, even weak campaign finance reform would be impossible. The Second Amendment protecting the ''right to keep and bear arms,'' traditionally interpreted by the court as authorizing well regulated state militias, could be reinterpreted to preclude even moderate forms of state or federal gun control.
Bob conveniently 'forgets' that it was the ability of the citizens to freely form militias that led to this Amendment being created. It seems to me that armed citizens are not effective unless they're organized.
The right-wing doctrine that defines regulation protecting the public as an unconstitutional ''taking'' of private property could be enshrined as national legal doctrine. The entire fabric of environmental regulation, legislated under Congress's traditional power to regulate commerce, would be at risk.
There's no context for this statement. What specific instance of 'protecting the public' is he referring to? This is just more blowing smoke.
Congress's ability to protect the rights of criminal suspects, minorities, women, and the disabled would be further eroded. Due-process challenges to the more dictatorial moves of John Ashcroft's Justice Department would find fewer friends in court. Commerce would get preference over privacy. Economic concentration would gain at the expense of pluralism and competition.
Just like that mythical NYT headline - "World ends tomorrow; women, minorities hardest hit". I see a lot of sweeping generalizations, but not anything specific to a Bush administration act that would erode due process, etc.
Many conservatives have expressed outrage that three of the five justices who voted to uphold a limited form of affirmative action - O'Connor, Stevens, and Souter - were appointed by Republicans. But those Republicans, President Gerald Ford and George Bush I, understood the importance of a court that carefully balanced interests and respected precedent. They did not view the courts as an ideological battering ram.
Massive error here - O'Connor was appointed by Reagan in 1981, not Ford or Bush I. Second, in reference to Souter, Bush I was convinced that Souter, a New Hampshire judge (that's why I remember this) was a conservative judge without a paper trail that would have led him to be 'borked'. That's why Bush I nominated Souter. I am hard pressed to see how Bob Kuttner cannot remember such an elementary fact of Supreme Court members such as the O'Connor nomination other than to deliberately slant the article to make it seem that Bush II wishes to nominate clones of Adolf Hitler.
Now the far-right Federalist Society has been empowered to take charge of the process of vetting judicial appointments after Bush told the far-left ABA to pound sand . The far right views balanced compromises like the O'Connor opinion as sellouts and looks to the next wave of judicial appointments to complete the process of taking over the courts. Americans did not vote for this, and the Democrats have the power to block it by filibuster. The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, has wisely proposed that the next Supreme Court nominees should be consensus candidates that can win confirmation by a wide Senate majority. We will soon learn whether Bush reciprocates.
When justices like O'Connor agree that discrimination is okay, as long as it can hopefully end in 25 years, it will do nothing but stigmatize the beneficiaries of those programs. It's a sellout on a number of levels.
When, then, does this end?
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.
Derrick Z. Jackson never met a quota he didn't like.
What about the bonus points for whites?
That's offset by the bonus points you get when you apply for college at the University of Michigan...
By Derrick Z. Jackson, 6/25/2003
WITH SUPREME optimism, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority that race can still be factored into admissions for the University of Michigan's law school - for now. She conceded that at the moment, because of ''our nation's struggle with racial inequality,'' historically underrepresented students ''are less likely to be admitted in meaningful numbers on criteria that ignore those experiences.'' But at the very end of her opinion, O'Connor added this cheery and potentially fateful sentence:
''We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.''
This begs the question about affirmative action & the quota system - who's to say, or at what point, do these things end? To quote Opinion Journal,
The one silver lining in yesterday's Grutter opinion is Justice O'Connor's own lack of confidence in it. She admits that race-based policies are so constitutionally suspect that they must be "time-limited" and predicts that they will be gone at Michigan in 25 years. Alas, that is probably also what Justice Powell thought when he wrote Bakke, precisely 25 years ago.
Derrick wants divisive programs to continue ad infinitum.
With supreme realism, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the dissent in the court's parallel decision to strike down automatic bonus points for underrepresented people of color in undergraduate admissions at Michigan. In the law school case, the court barely upheld affirmative action by a 5-4 vote because each law student's application undergoes a ''highly individualized, holistic review,'' which means race is a factor, but not a decisive factor.
Then how come minorities get admitted when their scores are demonstrably lower than other applicants?
To see Ms. Gratz's case Â and so many others like hers Â as simply coincidental is to ignore the race-based policies used at the University of Michigan. Michigan's policy actually rewarded admissions points to applicants who were black and Hispanic. On a scale of 150, race counted for 20 points Â more than personal achievement and SAT scores combined. In fact, a black student was 174 times more likely to be admitted to the Ann Arbor campus than a white student: That is disparate impact. But far worse, it is taking race into account to convey a right or privilege as well as to deny a right or privilege, and the word for that is, plainly and simply: racism. The Supreme Court struck down the mechanized use of a point system this week, but went on to say that a more "narrowly tailored" plan (read: less obvious use of race), for purposes of a diverse student body, would pass constitutional muster.
A quota is a quota is a quota. It doesn't matter what you call it.
In the undergraduate case, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the 6-3 majority - which included O'Connor - said the point system was far too ''decisive'' in assuring the admission of ''virtually every minimally qualified underrepresented minority applicant.''
That's called a 'hard quota', that's why it was ruled unconstitutional.
Ginsberg retorted that there remain historical, pernicious reasons that many students of color may be qualified but not as qualified in terms of test scores as white applicants. She wrote, ''The racial and ethnic groups to which the college accords special consideration (African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) historically have been relegated to inferior status by law and social practice; their members continue to experience class-based discrimination to this day.... The stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society.''
That's the best argument I've heard for school vouchers yet. You'd think this solution would be obvious to Derrick, but...
With that, affirmative action survived, but in a form more limited than ever and with O'Connor setting the nation's timer to get rid of it by 2028. Getting rid of a point system may sound fine to someone who refuses to open a history book. It is a time bomb for those who read the fine print. The court took away bonus points for black, brown, and red people on behalf of angry white people. But the bonus points of white privilege are still in place, unchallenged and unrelenting, no matter how angry black, brown, and red people get.
So, discrimination is bad. When minorities want to get into colleges, discrimination is good. That's Boston Glologicgic at its finest.
Ginsberg wrote, ''In the wake `of a system of racial caste only recently ended,' large disparities endure. Unemployment, poverty, and access to health care vary disproportionately by race. Neighborhoods and schools remain racially divided. African-American and Hispanic children are all too often educated in poverty-stricken and underperforming institutions.
I learned a lot of things at the University of Michigan (I graduated in April) and one of them was that Michigan's idea of diversity amounts to little more than an applicant's skin color. Patricia Gurin, Michigan's diversity guru and expert witness, insists on referring to minority students as "diverse peers." I also learned that Ann Arbor is not an idyllic racial utopia, despite how Michigan's lawyers portrayed it to the Court. The campus is rife with racial division, resentment, and segregation Â much of it encouraged and underwritten by the school administration. In other words, the Supreme Court was duped.
And, despite what Payton told the Court, there is a minority dorm at the University of Michigan. Tucked away on North Campus, Bursley and Baits Halls have become the unofficial minority refuge. Architecturally, they resemble something out of an Eastern bloc country circa 1950. Socially they resemble an Alabama lunch counter of the same era. The last thing they resemble is an "incredibly vibrant and complex campus that has diversity in every conceivable way," as Payton described the campus. But Bursley and Baits are only two incarnations of Michigan's many failures in fostering diversity.
From application to graduation, Michigan segregates students and stigmatizes minorities. Many minority students are invited to attend the "Summer Bridge" program, which aims to prepare minorities for the rigor of a highly competitive institution. During their freshmen year, they can enroll in the Comprehensive Studies Programs, which offers smaller class sizes, free tutoring, career planning, and mentorship programs for no additional cost. By their sophomore year, many minority students choose to move to Bursley or Baits, and many become active in one of over 90 minority student organizations. During their junior year when most students choose their major, many opt for programs like women's or African-American studies. And finally, during their senior year, amidst the literal pomp and circumstance of graduation, the Office of Multicultural Academic Initiatives hosts a separate-but-equal African-American graduation ceremony.
Is the solution, then, more discrimination?
''Adult African-Americans and Hispanics generally earn less than whites with equivalent levels of education. Equally credentialed job applicants receive different receptions depending on their race. Irrational prejudice is still encountered in real estate markets and consumer transactions. `Bias, both conscious and unconscious, reflecting traditional and unexamined habits of thought, keeps up barriers and must come down if equal opportunity and nondiscrimination are ever genuinely to become this country's law and practice.'''
Yes, it is, just in reverse...
Every penalty against Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans is a bonus point for white Americans. For instance, according to Education Week's Quality Counts 2003, students in schools of either high poverty or with high concentrations of African-American and/or Latino students are far more likely to have teachers for key subjects who are not certified in that subject. And those schools suffer from far more teacher turnover.
Meanwhile, the parents of tomorrow's college applicants go through their own distractions. Last year, a four-year study funded by the massively liberal Ford Foundation reported that people of color still suffer from high rates of intentional job discrimination. The study found that an African-American who sought a promotion or who sought to ward off a layoff had a 1-in-4 chance of encountering discrimination. ''Studies show that 45 percent of whites in the work force believe that blacks are treated fairly at work,'' said a co-author of the study, Rutgers Law School professor Alfred Blumrosen. ''That is not true. It is awfully clear, when you look at our statistics, that color differentiates workers. Blacks and Hispanics are treated badly Except for Jayson Blair, Derrick Z. Jackson and other recipients of reverse discrimination.''
If I were to look at 'your statistics', I'm sure I'll see anything you want me to see. Lies, damned lies, and statistics...
Bad treatment for people of color is bonus point for white Americans who go through life without such burdens, and particularly for a white college applicant who can depend on a legacy admission, even if he was, as was the case of our current president, a C student.
I got into UNH without the precious 'legacy' that Derrick seems so insistent applies to all us oppressive white folk. So did my cousin, for that matter. So did about twenty of my high school classmates. Could the common thread for all these be 'legacy admissions'? It's more likely good grades and good test scores. The concept of merit would otherwise not be brought up in this space.
While we're discussing discrimination, I found out firsthand that, yes, indeed, it works in reverse. I applied for a job years ago at the Mass. Dept. of Employment and Training (AKA the unemployment office) as a Internal Auditor. There were two, er, ladies of African-American descent that gave me a look that could have frozen a polar bear. I filled out the application anyway and left it with them. I figured the key stat "Passed all four parts of the Uniform CPA Examination on November 1992" would make me a shoo-in, right?
Wrong! I lost the job to a woman named Lourdes Rivera. My former girlfriend at the time (and, if she's reading this, I hope she no longer wonders why) wondered aloud, in all seriousness, "Maybe she was better qualified than you?" I suppose it's silly of me to ask what her professional qualifications are...
Actually, it is not a bad thing in the abstract for O'Connor to proclaim we can kill affirmative action 25 years from now. The only thing that can bring her words to life is an assault on white bonus points just as deadly as the one just concluded on black and brown bonus points. Anything less will ensure that our system of racial caste will endure.
I don't mean to deny that there aren't problems with race in this country. Search the recent archives for 'Georgia Sattelites' for a previous discussion. Derrick, on the other hand, typically overstates his case when he equates our current state of affairs on race with that of a state-sponsored system that explicitly treats all members of society as members of a group. By cheerleading for a continuation of quotas and other forms of discrimination based on race, Derrick Jackson pulls us closer to an actual caste system, not further from it.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 6/25/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company. posted by Roger at 11:07 PM
April 28, 1971, 4:33 p.m. President Richard M. Nixon takes a call from his counsel, Charles Colson.
"This fellow Kerry that they had on last week," Colson tells the president, referring to a television appearance by John F. Kerry, a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
"Yeah," Nixon responds.
"He turns out to be really quite a phony," Colson says.
"Well, he is sort of a phony, isn't he?" Nixon says.
Yes, Colson says in a gossiping vein, telling the president that Kerry stayed at the home of a Georgetown socialite while other protesters slept on the mall.
"He was in Vietnam a total of four months," Colson scoffs, without mentioning that Kerry earned three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and a Bronze Star, and had also been on an earlier tour. "He's politically ambitious and just looking for an issue."
"He came back a hawk and became a dove when he saw the political opportunities," Colson says.
"Sure," Nixon responds. "Well, anyway, keep the faith."
The tone was sneering. But the secretly recorded dialogue illustrates just how seriously Kerry was viewed by the Nixon White House. Some of these conversations have not been previously publicized, and Kerry said he had never heard them until they were provided by a reporter.
Day after day, according to the tapes and memos, Nixon aides worried that Kerry was a unique, charismatic leader who could undermine support for the war. Other veteran protesters were easier targets, with their long hair, their use of a Viet Cong flag, and in some cases, their calls for overthrowing the US government. Kerry, by contrast, was a neat, well-spoken, highly decorated veteran who seemed to be a clone of former President John F. Kennedy, right down to the military service on a patrol boat.
The White House feared him like no other protester.
Colson, in a secret memo, revealed he had a mission to target Kerry: "Destroy the young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader."
The effort by Nixon and his aides to undermine Kerry went much deeper than even Kerry realized. Yet it is this chapter in his life, as much as any other, that helped turn Kerry into a national political figure. By targeting Kerry, the Nixon White House boosted his stature in ways that still are having an impact.
But at the same time, many of the issues that Nixon and his aides raised more than 30 years ago about Kerry still remain. Echoes of Colson's words can still be heard in Washington: "He's politically ambitious and just looking for an issue, a phony."
Yet even Nixon described Kerry as an articulate and impressive spokesman. The Nixon White House began an investigation of Kerry. Who was he, the Nixonites wanted to know. What was his real motivation? And how could they stop him?
Connecting with a cause
John Kerry returned from Vietnam in April 1969, having won early transfer out of the conflict because of his three Purple Hearts. He asked for a cushy assignment - service as an admiral's aide - and was given precisely that job in Brooklyn. Kerry had thought about running for public office long before he had gone to Vietnam. But when he returned from the war, he wasn't greeted as a hero, like the soldiers of his father's generation. Kerry found that being a veteran could be a drawback, especially in Eastern Massachusetts, where he hoped to run for the US House.
"I just came back really concerned about it and upset about it and angry about it," Kerry said. "It took me a little while to decompress. I saw someone who said, `What happened to you? Your eyes are sunk way back in your head.' The tension and the trauma in your life took its toll."
When Kerry returned to the United States, the country's troop strength in Vietnam was at its height - 543,000. To that date, 33,400 Americans had been killed, and the number of protests was surging. But during this time, Kerry was still a naval officer and not publicly protesting the war.
It was his sister, Peggy, who was involved in the antiwar movement. One day in October 1969, Peggy Kerry was working in the New York office of a Vietnam War protest group that was planning a "moratorium" peace rally in Washington, which would draw 250,000 protesters one month later. A leader in the New York protest, Adam Walinsky, a former speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy, said he needed a pilot and plane to take him around the state on Oct. 15. Did anyone know a pilot?
Peggy Kerry said she would provide such a volunteer: her brother.
John Kerry flew Walinsky around New York to deliver speeches against the war. Kerry did not wear his uniform and did not speak at the events, but the experience helped convince him that he wanted to become a public leader of the antiwar movement. On Jan. 3, 1970, Kerry requested that his superior, Rear Admiral Walter F. Schlech, Jr., grant him an early discharge so that he could run for Congress on an antiwar platform.
"I just said to the admiral: `I've got to get out. I've got to go do what I came back here to do, which is, end this thing,'" Kerry recalled, referring to the war. The request was approved, and Kerry was honorably discharged, which he said shaved six months from his commitment.
But for all his Vietnam heroics and patrician background, Kerry was, politically speaking, a nobody. He gave up on a three-month 1970 bid for Congress in Massachusetts' Third District, which at the time stretched from Newton to Fitchburg, when it became clear the Rev. Robert F. Drinan would instead get the Democratic Party nomination.
Some of Kerry's positions at the time sound naive in retrospect. He was quoted in The Harvard Crimson as saying he would like to "almost eliminate CIA activity" and wanted US troops "dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."
Out of the Navy and with a political failure behind him, Kerry refocused on his personal life. In May 1970, he married the woman he had been dating for more than six years, Julia Thorne, the sister of his best friend, David Thorne. Kerry, whose upper-class image was already well established due to his Forbes and Winthrop roots, had a glittering wedding.
The New York Times described it this way: "Miss Julia Stimson Thorne, whose ancestors helped to shape the American republic in its early days, and John Forbes Kerry, who wants to help steer it back from what he considers a wayward course, were married this afternoon at the 200-acre Thorne family estate" on Long Island.
The article noted that Miss Thorne's cream-colored dress had been worn by her ancestor, Catherine Peartree-Smith, who married Elias Boudinot IV, who served as president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. "Alexander Hamilton was best man at that wedding and among those present was George Washington," the story noted.
"Whether today's wedding becomes a similar footnote to history may depend on the bridegroom, a graduate of Yale and a veteran of the Vietnam war, who is considering running for Congress from his native Massachusetts." (The article left unsaid that Kerry had just failed in that bid.)
For his honeymoon, Kerry chose a telling location: the Pershing family's Jamaica home. Richard Pershing, a close friend of Kerry's and a fellow member of Yale's Skull and Bones society, had been killed in Vietnam. Pershing's grandfather, General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, had commanded US forces in Europe during World War I.
With Julia by his side, Kerry became more active in the antiwar movement. After working behind the scenes and making a few little-noticed appearances at rallies, Kerry joined a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Some thought the group was marginal; others mocked its connection to Jane Fonda, who had earned enmity by visiting North Vietnam. In January 1971, the organization held a series of hearings in Detroit called the "Winter Soldier Investigation," but Kerry did not speak at the event, which received only modest press coverage. Kerry wanted a bigger stage, and he wanted the top role.
During private conversations with other group leaders, Kerry suggested that a veterans rally be held on the Mall in Washington, an effort Kerry hoped would refute Nixon's charge that the protesters were mostly college "bums."
"It was my sense that it wasn't going to be heard unless we went to a place where the issue was joined," Kerry said. "It was my idea to come to Washington. It was my idea to do the march. I floated that idea at the Detroit meeting. We all decided to make it happen. I became the unofficial coordinator-organizer."
Some members of the antiwar group viewed Kerry as an opportunist. He hadn't testified during the Winter Soldier hearings, hadn't organized the group, yet now he was seeking to become the coordinator and spokesman. But plenty of veterans also realized Kerry - erudite and clean-cut - was the ideal foil for those who viewed the group as hippie traitors or even communists.
So Kerry became the face of the organization, and a media sensation.
The protests were set for the week of April 20. Kerry spent some of his time at the Georgetown townhouse of his longtime friend George Butler, working the phones, trying to round up veterans. But the real problem was money. Kerry, who was not financially independent despite rumors to the contrary, was supposed to raise money to pay for buses that would transport the veterans.
He called his friend Walinsky, who had run unsuccessfully for New York attorney general and had excellent financial connections. Walinsky arranged a meeting of potential donors at the Seagram Building in New York City. Among those present were Seagram chief executive Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. and about 20 other New York businessmen who opposed the war. Kerry delivered a low-key speech about the importance of having veterans attend the protest. Then the businessmen were each asked to stand and declare how much they would contribute.
"We raised probably $50,000," Walinsky recalled. "It took an hour."
Face of the antiwar movement
Just before the event, on April 19, 1971, Colson fired off a memo expressing exasperation that more wasn't being done to undermine the organizers. He ordered administration officials to show that Vietnam Veterans Against the War was "a fringe group, that it is financed from questionable sources, that it doesn't represent a veterans movement, and that the guys involved are a pretty shoddy bunch. . . . There just must be more that we can be doing."
At a jammed Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 22, 1971, Kerry took his case to Congress. Television cameras lined the walls, and veterans packed the seats. Kerry was dressed in his green fatigues and wore his Silver Star and Purple Heart ribbons, although he said he left the medals at home. With his thatch of dark hair swept across his brow, Kerry sat at a witness table and delivered the most famous speech of his life, the speech that defined him and made possible his political career.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" Kerry asked. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Attacking the Nixon White House, he said, "This administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifices we made for this country."
Almost forgotten in that famous speech were Kerry's controversial assertions that Vietnam veterans had "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephone to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."
To some veterans, including some of those who served alongside Kerry, this was too much. They thought they had served honorably, and they had seen Kerry as a gung-ho skipper who led the charge and didn't voice such opposition on the battlefield.
"I would go up a river with that man anytime. He was a great American fighting man," said Michael Bernique, a highly decorated veteran who served as a swift boat skipper alongside Kerry. But Bernique remains upset with Kerry's assertion that atrocities were committed, an assertion that Kerry has not backed away from. "I think there was a point in time when John was making it up fast and quick. I think he was saying whatever he needed to say."
In the Oval Office, President Nixon delivered a backhanded compliment to Kerry, whom he distinguished from the other "bearded weirdos."
The "real star" of the hearing was Kerry, Nixon told chief of staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman and national security adviser Henry Kissinger the day after Kerry testified, according to the secretly taped White House recordings.
"He did a hell of a great job," Haldeman said.
"He was extremely effective," Nixon agreed.
"He did a superb job on it at Foreign Relations Committee yesterday," Haldeman said. "A Kennedy-type guy, he looks like a Kennedy, and he, he talks exactly like a Kennedy."
"Where did he serve?" Nixon asked.
"He was a Navy lieutenant, j.g., on a gunboat, and he used to run his gunboat up and shoot at, shoot babies out of women's arms," Haldeman said. (A member of Kerry's crew had shot and killed a Vietnamese child in an episode that occurred in a "free-fire zone," according to Kerry, but it is not clear whether Haldeman knew about the matter or was being jocular.)
"Oh, stop that," Nixon said. "People in the Navy don't do things [like that.]" With apparent sarcasm, Nixon turned to Kissinger, who assured him a naval officer would not shoot babies out of women's arms. But there was a seriousness to the statement as well; just three weeks earlier, a jury had convicted Lieutenant William Calley of killing 22 civilians in what became known as the My Lai massacre. Just days earlier, Nixon had ordered Calley released pending his appeal. The case had been more fuel for the antiwar movement.
Nixon seemed particularly incredulous that Kerry had won so many medals. "Bob, the Navy didn't have any casualties in Vietnam except in the air," Nixon told Haldeman, showing either a disregard for the high casualty rate of swift boat sailors or an extraordinary lack of knowledge about what had really happened during the war he oversaw as commander in chief.
The White House staff decided it needed to dig up dirt on Kerry, or at least undermine his effort. Three days later, Haldeman arrived in the Oval Office and announced to the president: "We've got some interesting dope on Kerry."
Nixon was interested.
"Kerry, it turns out, some time ago decided he wanted to get into politics," Haldeman said. "Well, he ran for, took a stab at the congressional thing. And he consulted with some of the folks in the Georgetown set here. So what, what the issue, what, he'd like to get an issue. He wanted a horse to ride."
The tape recording inexplicably ends at this point.
Kerry, meanwhile, was becoming a celebrity. Overnight, he had emerged as one of the most recognized veterans in America.
Kerry, who understood well the importance that the media placed on imagery, put an exclamation mark on events by lining up with veterans to return their medals to the military on April 23. Kerry said he suggested that veterans place their medals and ribbons on a table and return them. But he said other members of the antiwar veterans group wanted to throw the medals and ribbons over a fence in front of the Capitol, and Kerry went along with the idea.
Video footage of the scene shows hundreds of veterans angrily gathering in front of the Capitol, near a fenced-in bin with the large sign saying "Trash."
One by one, the veterans, most of whom had long hair and wore combat jackets, threw their medals into the makeshift trash bin.
Some press reports say that Kerry "threw his medals." But Kerry has long maintained he threw his own ribbons but someone else's medals.
In an interview, he said that he had previously met two veterans, one from the Vietnam War and another from World War II, who had asked Kerry to return their medals to the military. Kerry said he stuffed them into his jacket.
He said that when he prepared to throw his ribbons over the fence, he reached into his jacket and pulled out the medals from those two veterans. He said his own medals remained in safekeeping.
The week's events had unquestionable impact. At the beginning of the week, a band of 800 or so Vietnam veterans gathered to protest the war, followed by Kerry's April 22 testimony, then the medal-tossing ceremony on April 23. By the following day, the publicity helped draw at least 250,000 people to the Mall in a massive protest.
Kerry, wearing a blue button-down shirt under his combat jacket, addressed the rally from the Capitol steps. "We came here to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war," Kerry told the cheering throng.
In one week, Kerry had gone from little-known former swift boat skipper to the face of the protest movement.
"The transformation was instant," said Kerry's friend George Butler. "Eight hundred people had turned into 250,000," said Kerry's then-brother-in-law, David Thorne, who stood beside Kerry during the rally. "That is what made it so spectacular."
A national figure
A few weeks later, Kerry was featured in a lengthy segment on the CBS television program "60 Minutes." Correspondent Morley Safer, in a segment titled "First Hurrah," portrayed Kerry as an eloquent man of turmoil who had a Kennedyesque future.
"Do you want to be president of the United States?" Safer asked Kerry.
"No," Kerry replied. "That's such a crazy question when there are so many things to be done and I don't know whether I could do them."
But Kerry's image as a self-promoter soon became the subject of parody, none more on-target than a Doonesbury comic strip penned by fellow Yale alumnus Garry Trudeau. A character in the strip is heard urging that they all attend John Kerry's speech. "He speaks with a rare eloquence and astonishing conviction. If you see no one else this year, you must see John Kerry!"
"Who was that?" another character asks.
"John Kerry," comes the response.
Another strip shows Kerry soaking up the adulation after a speech, smiling and thinking, "You're really clicking tonight, you gorgeous preppie."
At the White House, the plotting against Kerry continued.
"The concern about Kerry was that he had great credibility as a decorated Vietnam veteran," Colson recalled in a recent interview. So Colson and his staff tried repeatedly to dig up dirt on Kerry. The effort failed.
"I don't ever remember finding anything negative about Kerry or hearing anything negative about him," Colson said. "If we had found anything, I'm sure we would have used it to discredit him."
Colson's memos, in storage at the National Archives, show that he tried mightily to discredit Kerry. On April 16, Colson noted that, "A number of tough questions have also been planted with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War questioners for `Meet the Press."'
Vice President Spiro T. Agnew briefly led the White House charge against Kerry. Appearing in the Bahamas, Agnew said that Kerry, "who drew rave notices in the media for his eloquent testimony before Congress, was later revealed to have been using material ghosted for him by a former Kennedy speechwriter, and to have spent most of his nights in posh surroundings in Georgetown rather than on the Mall with his buddies."
Both of Agnew's charges were false, according to Kerry and Walinsky, the former Kennedy aide to whom Agnew referred.
Kerry began traveling around the country to carry the antiwar flag. During Memorial Day weekend, he joined a throng of antiwar protesters on the green in Lexington, Mass., where he and hundreds of others were arrested. Kerry said the arrest, for which he paid a $5 fine and spent the night at the Lexington Public Works Garage, is the only arrest of his life. At the time, Kerry's wife, Julia, kept $100 under her pillow just in case she needed to bail out her husband on short notice.
In another iconic moment, Kerry appeared with former Beatle John Lennon at a protest in New York City.
The White House found a better way to go after Kerry. Colson had seen a press conference featuring a young Navy veteran named John O'Neill, who served in the same swift boat division as Kerry shortly after Kerry left Vietnam. O'Neill, like many swift boat veterans, was outraged at Kerry's claim of US atrocities.
In short order, O'Neill became the centerpiece of the Nixon White House strategy to undermine Kerry. O'Neill, now a Texas lawyer, stresses that he did not receive any payment from the White House and was acting on his own because he thought Kerry's statements were unconscionable lies.
For weeks, Colson had been accusing Kerry of ducking a debate with O'Neill. On June 15, Colson wrote to another White House aide: "I think we have Kerry on the run, he is beginning to take a tremendous beating in the press, but let's not let him up, let's destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader. Let's try to move through as many sources as we can the fact that he has refused to meet in debate, even though he agreed to do so and announced to the press he would."
The next day, O'Neill arrived at the White House to meet with Nixon. The two men bonded; a brief "grip and grin" session turned into an hourlong meeting, with Nixon bucking up O'Neill for the fight against Kerry.
'We've got to change'
Kerry's 1971 book later became the focus of controversy because of the cover photo which showed of veterans hoisting an upside-down US flag.
Two weeks later, on June 30, the much anticipated debate took place. Kerry, who had been studying debate since he was about 14 years old, appeared with O'Neill on "The Dick Cavett Show." At 6 feet 4 inches, Kerry towered over Cavett and O'Neill. With his thick dark hair, dark blue suit, and lean features, he cut a striking figure.
O'Neill came out swinging. Visibly angry from the start, wearing a light suit, short hair, and white socks, O'Neill used words seemingly intended to taunt his opponent.
"Mr. Kerry is the type of person who lives and survives only on war-weariness and fears of the American people," O'Neill said. "This is the same little man who on nationwide television in April spoke of, quote, `crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.' Who was quoted in a prominent news magazine in May as saying, `War crimes in Vietnam are the rule, not the exception."'
Where O'Neill was red-hot, Kerry sought to look calm and intellectual, toting a hefty briefing book. He said the veterans weren't trying to tear down the country, but instead say to the country: "Here is where we went wrong, and we've got to change. What we say is, the killing can stop tomorrow."
"On the question of war crimes, it is really only with the utmost consideration that we pose this question," Kerry said. "I don't think that any man comes back to say that he raped, or to say that he burned a village, or to say that he wantonly destroyed crops or something for pleasure. I think he does it at the risk of certain kinds of punishment, at the risks of injuring his own character, which he has to live with, at the risk of the loss of family and friends as a result of it. But he does it because he believes intensely that people have got to be educated about the devastation of this war. We thought we were a moral country, yes, but we are now engaged in the most rampant bombing in the history of mankind."
Again and again, the question was asked: Did Kerry commit atrocities or see them committed by others? Kerry stuck to his script.
"I personally didn't see personal atrocities in the sense I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that," Kerry said. "However, I did take part in free-fire zones, I did take part in harassment and interdiction fire, I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these acts, I find out later on, are contrary to the Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty. But we are not trying to find war criminals. That is not our purpose. It never has been."
O'Neill for years has declined to talk about the experience, partly because he says he became disillusioned with politics and government after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
But in a telephone interview from Texas, where he is a trial attorney, O'Neill made it clear he still harbors resentment at the way Kerry accused veterans of atrocities.
"The primary reason I got involved was I thought the charges of war crimes were irresponsible and wrong," O'Neill said. "I thought they did a real disservice to all the people that were there. I thought they were immoral."
The bitterness remains. Asked whether he agrees with the view of some observers that Kerry was forever altered by the war, O'Neill responded: "The war didn't change [Kerry]. I think he was a guy driven tremendously by ambition. I think he was that way before he went and is that way today."
Some Vietnam Veterans Against the War leaders also viewed Kerry as a power-grabbing elitist, a source of internal friction within the antiwar movement. "There was no question but that the rift existed," said Butler, who was with Kerry at the time and remains a close friend. "A wing of the VVAW were pushing so hard to the left that they were almost Maoist. Every time John did something useful like raise money or speak in front of the Foreign Relations Committee or give an interview, he was criticized for being a media whiz."
Scott Camil, a former group leader, said Kerry "was not as radical as some of the rest of us. He was a pretty straight shooter, and he came under criticism for things that weren't fair."
Still, Camil recalled that Kerry's patrician image was derided by others in the group, which was mostly composed of working-class veterans. Camil said Kerry showed up in ironed clothes, while most of the others were rumpled. Camil said a member had tried to reach Kerry by telephone and was told by someone, presumably a maid, that "Master Kerry is not at home." At the next meeting, someone hung a sign on Kerry's chair that said: "Free the Kerry Maid."
Kerry left the organization after about a year of participation and about five months after assuming a leadership role. Kerry says he quit partly to focus on a new organization that emphasized veterans' benefits; others say Kerry was forced out.
In fact, Kerry once again was thinking of running for the US House from Massachusetts. But unlike in 1970, when Kerry was barely known, the antiwar movement had turned him into a national figure and taught him how to campaign, how to organize, how to raise money, how to use the media, even how to debate on national television.
Kerry had battled the Viet Cong, the Nixon White House, and the extremes of the antiwar movement. Now all he had to do was persuade mostly working-class voters north of Boston to vote for him.
Michael Kranish can be reached by email at email@example.com
The Christmas Eve truce of 1968 was three minutes old when mortar fire exploded around John Forbes Kerry and his five-man crew on a 50-foot aluminum boat near Cambodia. ''Where is the enemy?'' a crewmate shouted.
In the distance, an elderly man was tending his water buffalo -- and serving as human cover for a dozen Viet Cong manning a machine-gun nest.
"Open fire; let's take 'em," Kerry ordered, according to his second-in-command, James Wasser of Illinois. Wasser blasted away with his M-60, hitting the old man, who slumped into the water, presumably dead. With a clear path to the enemy, the fusillade from Kerry's Navy boat, backed by a pair of other small vessels, silenced the machine-gun nest.
When it was over, the Viet Cong were dead, wounded, or on the run. A civilian apparently was killed, and two South Vietnamese allies who had alerted Kerry's crew to the enemy were either wounded or killed.
On the same night, Kerry and his crew had come within a half-inch of being killed by "friendly fire," when some South Vietnamese allies launched several rounds into the river to celebrate the holiday.
To top it off, Kerry said, he had gone several miles inside Cambodia, which theoretically was off limits, prompting Kerry to send a sarcastic message to his superiors that he was writing from the Navy's "most inland" unit.
Back at his base, a weary, disconsolate Kerry sat at his typewriter, as he often did, and poured out his grief. "You hope that they'll courtmartial you or something because that would make sense," Kerry typed that night. He would later recall using court-martial as "a joke," because nothing made sense to him -- the war policy, the deaths, and his presence in the middle of it all.
To his crew, Kerry was one of the most daring skippers in the US Navy, relentlessly and courageously engaging the enemy. But the battles and moral dilemmas were in shades of gray, and Kerry to this day wrestles with the scenes of death he commanded.
In an intense three months of combat following that Christmas Eve battle, Kerry often would go beyond his Navy orders and beach his boat, in one case chasing and killing a teenage Viet Cong enemy who wore only a loin cloth and carried a rocket launcher. Kerry's aggressiveness in combat caused a commanding officer to wonder whether he should be given a medal or court-martialed.
Kerry would watch in despair as a crewmate killed a boy who may or may not have been an innocent civilian. He would angrily challenge a military policy that risked the death of noncombatants. And he would try to escape the fate of five of his closest friends, all killed in combat.
Along with Kerry's unquestionable and repeated bravery, he also took an action that has received far less notice: He requested and was granted a transfer out of Vietnam six months before his combat tour was slated to end on the grounds that he had earned three Purple Hearts. None of his wounds was disabling; he said one cost him two days of service and the other two did not lead to any absence.
No period better captures the internal conflicts besetting John Kerry than Vietnam. He enlisted as a Navy officer candidate despite his criticisms as Yale's class orator of America's intervention in Southeast Asia. He would become a war hero, recipient of the Silver and Bronze stars, but would also become an antiwar leader, causing some former crewmates to feel he had betrayed them.
In an effort to understand a fuller picture of Kerry's combat in Vietnam, the Globe examined thousands of recently declassified Naval documents; interviewed sailors who served alongside Kerry; conducted four interviews with Kerry; and read some previously unreleased journal entries and letters selected by the senator.
A dangerous assignment
Kerry initially thought about enlisting as a pilot. But his father, Richard Kerry - a test pilot who served in the Army Air Corps - warned him that if he flew in combat, he might lose his love of flying. So Kerry, who sought in so many ways to emulate John Fitzgerald Kennedy, took to the water, just as his idol served on a World War II patrol boat, the 109.
Kerry served two tours. For a relatively uneventful six months, from December 1967 to June 1968, he served in the electrical department aboard the USS Gridley, a guided-missile frigate that supported aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin and was far removed from combat.
"I didn't have any real feel for what the heck was going on [in the war]," Kerry has recalled. His ship returned to its Long Beach, Calif., port on June 6, 1968, the day that Robert F. Kennedy died from a gunshot wound he received on the previous night at a Los Angeles hotel. The antiwar protests were growing. But within five months Kerry was heading back to Vietnam, seeking to fulfill his officer commitment despite his growing misgivings about the war.
Kerry initially hoped to continue his service at a relatively safe distance from most fighting, securing an assignment as "swift boat" skipper. While the 50-foot swift boats cruised the Vietnamese coast a little closer to the action than the Gridley had come, they were still considered relatively safe.
"I didn't really want to get involved in the war," Kerry said in a little-noticed contribution to a book of Vietnam reminiscences published in 1986. "When I signed up for the swift boats, they had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing."
But two weeks after he arrived in Vietnam, the swift boat mission changed -- and Kerry went from having one of the safest assignments in the escalating conflict to one of the most dangerous. Under the newly launched Operation SEALORD, swift boats were charged with patrolling the narrow waterways of the Mekong Delta to draw fire and smoke out the enemy. Cruising inlets and coves and canals, swift boats were especially vulnerable targets.
Originally designed to ferry oil workers to ocean rigs, swift boats offered flimsy protection. Because bullets could easily penetrate the hull, sailors hung flak jackets over the sides. The boat's loud engine invited ambushes. Speed was its saving grace -- but that wasn't always an option in narrow, heavily mined canals.
The swift boat crew typically consisted of a college-educated skipper, such as Kerry, and five blue-collar sailors averaging 19 years old. The most vulnerable sailor sat in the "tub" -- a squat nest that rose above the pilot house -- and operated a pair of .50-caliber machine guns. Another gunner was in the rear. Kerry's mission was to wait until hidden Viet Cong guerrillas started shooting, then order his men to return fire.
Unofficially, Operation SEALORD was dubbed ZWI, for "Zumwalt's Wild Idea." Navy Admiral Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt was frustrated that the coastal patrols had failed to stop the infiltration of arms via the Mekong Delta waterways. Communist forces effectively controlled the river supply route because US forces weren't supposed to go into Cambodia, and the rivers of the Mekong Delta were considered too dangerous for American boats. When Zumwalt decorated an officer who took the extraordinary risk of running the rivers, Kerry took notice.
Under Zumwalt's command, swift boats would aggressively engage the enemy. Zumwalt, who died in 2000, calculated in his autobiography that these men under his command had a 75 percent chance of being killed or wounded during a typical year. (This wasn't just a statistical concern; one of the swift boat sailors was his son, Lieutenant Elmo Zumwalt III. )
Kerry experienced his first intense combat action on Dec. 2, 1968, when he "semi-volunteered for, was semi-drafted" for a risky covert mission in which he essentially was supposed to "flush out" the enemy, using a little Boston Whaler named "Batman." A larger backup craft was called "Robin."
Unfortunately, Robin had engine trouble, and Batman's exit was delayed until the boats could depart in unison. The Batman crew encountered some Viet Cong, engaged in a firefight, and Kerry was slightly wounded on his arm, earning his first Purple Heart on his first day of serious action.
"It was not a very serious wound at all," recalled William Schachte, who oversaw the mission and went on to become a rear admiral.
Kerry commanded his first swift boat, No. 44, from December 1968 through January 1969, a period that is often overlooked because he did not receive any medals while serving on this craft. But he first learned to skipper on the 44, and he conducted the wrenching Christmas Eve mission in which the old man in the river was probably killed in the crossfire.
Kerry said in a recent interview that he didn't remember anything about the elderly man in the water, noting that he sometimes couldn't see all of the action. But Wasser, who says his memory of the event remains vivid, reminded Kerry about it when the pair met earlier this year and talked about the mission for the first time in many years. Wasser remains haunted by the image of the man being shot: "I don't even enjoy Christmas anymore," he said.
In the free fire zone
The possibility of killing innocent civilians haunted Kerry. With many of the South Vietnamese waterways in ''free fire zones'' - meaning that the US Navy was authorized to shoot anyone who was violating a curfew - the likelihood that innocent villagers could be killed was high.
One of Kerry's crewmates on swift boat No. 44 said such an event happened. Drew Whitlow of Arkansas said he was on patrol with Kerry when Whitlow spotted movement along the shore and yelled, "I'm going to fire!" The quiet river exploded in gunfire, with people on the shoreline dropping, dead or wounded, and no fire being returned.
Whitlow recalled the scene: "This is a free fire zone, I will fire, I will put rounds in, I'm doing my thing, I'm feeling Mr. Macho. But then when you get close, you see the expressions of the village people, people waving their arms, saying, `No, no, no! Wait a minute, hold this off.' I ended up putting a few down, and then I found out it was friendlies."
To make matters worse, a mortar round ricocheted back at the boat and wounded three crewmen.
Kerry, asked about Whitlow's account, said he had no recollection of the episode and wondered whether Whitlow was confusing it with another event or whether he was with Whitlow on that occasion. Naval records do not resolve the matter. After being told about Whitlow's recollection by the Globe, Kerry discussed the matter with Whitlow and said he still doesn't remember it.
But Kerry does recall a harrowing incident, which he has never previously publicly discussed, in which he said a crew member shot and killed a Vietnamese boy of perhaps 12 years of age.
A member of Kerry's crew announced he was shooting, and the air filled with the ack-ack-ack of gunfire. The rounds blasted into a sampan, hurling the child into the rice paddy. The mother screamed as the flimsy craft began to sink, and Kerry, shining a searchlight, yelled, "Cease fire! Cease fire!"
Kerry said his crew rescued the mother, took her aboard the Navy vessel for questioning, and left the child behind. Due to the dangerous location, and the possibility that the gunfire had drawn the notice of Viet Cong, Kerry never had a chance to see whether the woman was hiding weaponry in the sunken boat, and does not know to this day whether his crew faced a real threat.
"It is one of those terrible things, and I'll never forget, ever, the sight of that child," Kerry said. "But there was nothing that anybody could have done about it. It was the only instance of that happening.
"It angered me," Kerry said. "But, look, the Viet Cong used women and children." He said there might have been a satchel containing explosives. "Who knows if they had -- under the rice -- a satchel, and if we had come along beside them they had thrown the satchel in the boat. ... So it was a terrible thing, but I've never thought we were somehow at fault or guilty. There wasn't anybody in that area that didn't know you don't move at night, that you don't go out in a sampan on the rivers, and there's a curfew."
The details of the episode are murky, however, because none of Kerry's crewmates remembers it the way Kerry does. The closest recollection comes from William Zaladonis, a crewmate on No. 44 who vividly recalls killing a 15-year-old boy, but does not remember a mother being rescued. "I myself took out a 15-year-old" when the crew came across a sampan in a free-fire zone, Zaladonis said. "It was all legitimate. We told them to stop. When we fired across the bow, people started jumping from the boat. At that time my officer, whoever it was, told me to open up on them, and I did. And there was one body still in the boat, a 15-year-old kid. But over there, 15-year-old kids were soldiers."
'Days of hell'
In any case, Kerry said he was appalled that the Navy's ''free fire zone'' policy put civilians at such high risk. So, on Jan. 22, 1969, Kerry and several dozen fellow skippers and officers traveled to Saigon to complain about the policy in an extraordinary meeting with Zumwalt and the overall commander of the war, General Creighton W. Abrams Jr. ''We were fighting the [free fire] policy very, very hard, to the point that many of the members were refusing to carry out orders on some of their missions, to the point where crews were starting to mutiny, [to] say, `I would not go back in the rivers again,''' Kerry recalled during a 1971 television appearance on the Dick Cavett Show.
But Kerry went back in the rivers. Indeed, it was after this meeting that he began his most deadly round of combat. Within days of the Saigon meeting, he joined a five-man crew on swift boat No. 94 on a series of missions in which he won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two of his three Purple Hearts. Starting in late January 1969, this crew completed 18 missions over an intense and dangerous 48 days, almost all of them in the dense jungles of the Mekong Delta.
Kerry's crew included engineman Eugene Thorson, later an Iowa cement mason; David Alston, then the crew's only African-American and today a minister in South Carolina; petty officer Delbert Sandusky of Illinois; rear gunner and quartermaster Michael Medeiros of California; and the late Tom Belodeau, who joined the crew fresh out of Chelmsford High School in Massachusetts. Others rotated in and out of the crew.
The most intense action came during an extraordinary eight days of more than 10 firefights, remembered by Kerry's crew as the "days of hell."
On Feb. 20, 1969, Kerry earned his second Purple Heart after sustaining a shrapnel wound in his left thigh. According to a previously unreported Navy report on the battle, a two-boat patrol spotted three men on a riverbank who were wearing black pajamas and running and engaged them in a firefight. While not criticizing this engagement, the Navy report did challenge the decision of unnamed skippers to fire at other "targets of opportunity" in the area.
"Area seemed extremely prosperous and open to psyops action, minimum number of defensive and no offensive bunkers detected," the report said. The naval official who wrote the report concluded: "Future missions in this area should be oriented toward psyops rather than destruction."
The destruction included 40 sampans, 10 hut-style hootches, three bunkers, and 5,000 pounds of rice. The crews from two swift boats had expended more than 14,000 rounds of.50-caliber ammunition. No enemy casualties were reported.
In a recent interview, Kerry dismissed the report's questioning of firing at targets of opportunity. "The problem is ... three guys are ducking behind a bank, and you start taking arms fire," Kerry said. "At any place, at any time, anybody could turn around and kill you. That was the problem with the war."
Five days later Kerry's boat was on patrol when a supporting helicopter ran out of ammunition. Instead of retreating, Kerry turned his boat directly toward hidden snipers, then beached the boat, and ordered an assault party onshore. This was not standard procedure. The swift boat crews weren't trained to fight on the muddy landscape; their shoes were closer to deck wear than combat boots.
None of that deterred Kerry. With a second swift boat providing support, Medeiros and Kerry rushed ashore and found what they thought was a Viet Cong guerrilla inside a bunker. After Kerry sought a surrender, Medeiros threw a grenade. The two assumed an enemy had been killed, although Medeiros said he never saw the victim and wonders now whether it could have been an animal.
The next day Kerry's swift boat convoy detected five Viet Cong in the river. Some of them appeared to be dead, but they were actually playing dead in an effort to stall the swift boat crews. It was a trap, and the swift boats came under rocket fire from the shore. The crews managed to capture the five guerrillas and sped away.
On the following day, Feb. 27, Kerry's boat was nearly hit in a rocket attack, and a crew member was shot.
Ambush in the Mekong Delta
This exhausting and harrowing week was only the beginning for Kerry. On Feb. 28, 1969, Kerry's boat received word that a swift boat was being ambushed. As Kerry raced to the scene, his boat became another target, as a Viet Cong B-40 rocket blast shattered a window. Kerry could have ordered his crew to hit the enemy and run. But the skipper had a more aggressive reaction in mind. Beach the boat, Kerry ordered, and the craft's bow was quickly rammed upon the shoreline. Out of the bush appeared a teenager in a loin cloth, clutching a grenade launcher.
An enemy was just feet away, holding a weapon with enough firepower to blow up the boat. Kerry's forward gunner, Belodeau, shot and clipped the Viet Cong in the leg. Then Belodeau's gun jammed, according to other crewmates (Belodeau died in 1997). Medeiros tried to fire at the Viet Cong, but he couldn't get a shot off.
In an interview, Kerry added a chilling detail.
"This guy could have dispatched us in a second, but for ... I'll never be able to explain, we were literally face to face, he with his B-40 rocket and us in our boat, and he didn't pull the trigger. I would not be here today talking to you if he had," Kerry recalled. "And Tommy clipped him, and he started going [down.] I thought it was over."
Instead, the guerrilla got up and started running. "We've got to get him, make sure he doesn't get behind the hut, and then we're in trouble," Kerry recalled.
So Kerry shot and killed the guerrilla. "I don't have a second's question about that, nor does anybody who was with me," he said. "He was running away with a live B-40, and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it." Asked whether that meant Kerry shot the guerrilla in the back, Kerry said, "No, absolutely not. He was hurt, other guys were shooting from back, side, back. There is no, there is not a scintilla of question in any person's mind who was there [that] this guy was dangerous, he was a combatant, he had an armed weapon."
The crewman with the best view of the action was Frederic Short, the man in the tub operating the twin guns. Short had not talked to Kerry for 34 years, until after he was recently contacted by a Globe reporter. Kerry said he had "totally forgotten" Short was on board that day.
Short had joined Kerry's crew just two weeks earlier, as a last-minute replacement, and he was as green as the Arkansas grass of his home. He said he didn't realize that he should have carried an M-16 rifle, figuring the tub's machine guns would be enough. But as Kerry stood face to face with the guerrilla carrying the rocket, Short realized his predicament. With the boat beached and the bow tilted up, a guard rail prevented him from taking aim at the enemy. For a terrifying moment, the guerrilla looked straight at Short with the rocket.
Short believes the guerrilla didn't fire because he was too close and needed to be a suitable distance to hit the boat squarely and avoid ricochet debris. Short tried to protect his skipper.
"I laid in fire with the twin .50s, and he got behind a hootch," recalled Short. "I laid 50 rounds in there, and Mr. Kerry went in. Rounds were coming everywhere. We were getting fire from both sides of the river. It was a canal. We were receiving fire from the opposite bank, also, and there was no way I could bring my guns to bear on that."
Short said there is "no doubt" that Kerry saved the boat and crew. "That was a him-or-us thing, that was a loaded weapon with a shape charge on it. ... It could pierce a tank. I wouldn't have been here talking to you. I probably prayed more up that creek than a Southern Baptist church does in a month."
Charles Gibson, who served on Kerry's boat that day because he was on a one-week indoctrination course, said Kerry's action was dangerous but necessary. "Every day you wake up and say, `How the hell did we get out of that alive?"' Gibson said. "Kerry was a good leader. He knew what he was doing."
When Kerry returned to his base, his commanding officer, George Elliott, raised an issue with Kerry: the fine line between whether the action merited a medal or a court-martial.
"When [Kerry] came back from the well-publicized action where he beached his boat in middle of ambush and chased a VC around a hootch and ended his life, when [Kerry] came back and I heard his debrief, I said, `John, I don't know whether you should be court-martialed or given a medal, court-martialed for leaving your ship, your post,"' Elliott recalled in an interview.
"But I ended up writing it up for a Silver Star, which is well deserved, and I have no regrets or second thoughts at all about that," Elliott said. A Silver Star, which the Navy said is its fifth-highest medal, commends distinctive gallantry in action.
Asked why he had raised the issue of a court-martial, Elliott said he did so "half tongue-in-cheek, because there was never any question I wanted him to realize I didn't want him to leave his boat unattended. That was in context of big-ship Navy -- my background. A C.O. [commanding officer] never leaves his ship in battle or anything else. I realize this, first of all, it was pretty courageous to turn into an ambush even though you usually find no more than two or three people there. On the other hand, on an operation some time later, down on the very tip of the peninsula, we had lost one boat and several men in a big operation, and they were hit by a lot more than two or three people."
Elliott stressed that he never questioned Kerry's decision to kill the Viet Cong, and he appeared in Boston at Kerry's side during the 1996 Senate race to back up that aspect of Kerry's action.
"I don't think they were exactly ready to court-martial him," said Wade Sanders, who commanded a swift boat that sometimes accompanied Kerry's vessel, and who later became deputy assistant secretary of the Navy. "I can only say from the certainty borne of experience that there must have been some rumbling about, `What are we going to do with this guy, he turned his boat,' and I can hear the words, `He endangered his crew.' But from our position, the tactic to take is whatever action is best designed to eliminate the enemy threat, which is what he did."
Indeed, the Silver Star citation makes clear that Kerry's performance on that day was both extraordinary and risky. "With utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets," the citation says, Kerry "again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only 10 feet from the Viet Cong rocket position and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy. ... The extraordinary daring and personal courage of Lt. Kerry in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission."
Michael Bernique, who was revered as one of the gutsiest swift boat commanders, marveled at Kerry's brazen approach to battle. Bernique recalled how Kerry one day "went ashore in an area that I thought might be mined. I said, `Get the blankety-blank out of there.' John just shrugged his shoulders and left. John just was fearless.
"If you are asking, `Was he foolhardy?' -- he survived," Bernique said. "I don't recall anybody saying they didn't want to serve with him. I would not have worried about my back if John was with me."
Roy Hoffmann, who commanded the coastal division in which Kerry served, worried about Kerry, at least at the beginning. He said Kerry and some other skippers initially "had difficulty carrying out direct orders. You know, they were playing the cowboy a little bit. John Kerry was one of them. You don't go out on your own when you are given certain type of patrols, and we were having difficulty with that."
Hoffmann said the problem was corrected and he supported the actions on the day Kerry won the Silver Star. "It took guts, and I admire that," Hoffman said.
A couple of weeks later, on March 13, 1969, a mine detonated near Kerry's boat, wounding Kerry in the right arm, according to the citation written by Zumwalt. Guerrillas started firing on the boats from the shoreline. Kerry then realized that he had lost overboard a Green Beret who is identified only as "Rassman."
"The man was receiving sniper fire from both banks," according to Kerry's Bronze Star citation from that day. "Lt. Kerry directed his gunners to provide suppressing fire, while from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain, with disregard for his personal safety, he pulled the man aboard. Lt. Kerry then directed his boat to return and assist the other damaged craft and towed the boat to safety. Lt. Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service," Zumwalt's citation said.
Kerry had been wounded three times and received three Purple Hearts. Asked about the severity of the wounds, Kerry said that one of them cost him about two days of service, and that the other two did not interrupt his duty. "Walking wounded," as Kerry put it. A shrapnel wound in his left arm gave Kerry pain for years. Kerry declined a request from the Globe to sign a waiver authorizing the release of military documents that are covered under the Privacy Act and that might shed more light on the extent of the treatment Kerry needed as a result of the wounds.
"There were an awful lot of Purple Hearts -- from shrapnel, some of those might have been M-40 grenades," said Elliott, Kerry's commanding officer. "The Purple Hearts were coming down in boxes. Kerry, he had three Purple Hearts. None of them took him off duty. Not to belittle it, that was more the rule than the exception."
But Kerry thought he had seen and done enough. The rules, he said, allowed a thrice-wounded soldier to return to the United States immediately. So Kerry went to talk to Commodore Charles F. Horne, an administrative official and commander of the coastal squadron in which Kerry served. Horne filled out a document on March 17, 1969, that said Kerry "has been thrice wounded in action while on duty incountry Vietnam. Reassignment is requested ... as a personal aide in Boston, New York, or Wash., D.C. area."
The document notes that Kerry was "presently on full-duty status and available for reassignment."
Horne, in a telephone interview, said the transfer request was allowed under then-existing naval instructions and was "above board and proper." Transfer was not automatic and was subject to approval by the Bureau of Naval Personnel, he said.
"I never once in any way thought my decision was wrong," Horne said. "To get three Purple Hearts and not be killed is awesome."
Kerry, asked whether he is certain a rule enabled him to leave Vietnam after three Purple Hearts, responded: "Yep. Three and you're out."
For the past several weeks, Kerry's staff said it has been unable to come up with a Navy document to explain that assertion. On Friday, however, the National Archives provided the Globe with a Navy "instruction" document that formed the basis for Kerry's request. The instruction, titled 1300.39, says that a Naval officer who requires hospitalization on two separate occasions, or who receives three wounds "regardless of the nature of the wounds," can ask a superior officer to request a reassignment. The instruction makes clear the reassignment is not automatic. It says that the reassignment "will be determined after consideration of his physical classification for duty and on an individual basis." Because Kerry's wounds were not considered serious, his reassignment appears to have been made on an individual basis.
Moreover, the instruction makes clear that Kerry could have asked that any reassignment be waived.
The bottom line is that Kerry could have remained but he chose to seek an early transfer. He met with Horne, who agreed to forward the request, which Horne said probably ensured final approval. The Navy could not say how many other officers or sailors got a similar early release from combat, but it was unusual for anyone to have three Purple Hearts.
Kerry's early departure meant that he was leaving behind a crew that had suffered through many bloody battles with him. Worried that crew members would be killed, he arranged for them to receive a safer assignment. When one crew member, Medeiros, tried to stay, Kerry "came and talked to me and said, `I really would like you to go. ... I'd like to know you are safe, or safer."'
Then, at the beginning of April 1969, Kerry left Vietnam. "I thought it was time to tell the story of what was happening over there," Kerry said. "I was angry about what happened over there, I had clearly concluded how wrong it was."
By this point, five of Kerry's closest friends had died in combat, including Yale classmate Richard Pershing. Then, just days after Kerry left, another friend, Donald Droz -- a fellow skipper who had provided support for Kerry on the day he won the Silver Star -- died in a fiery ambush. Droz had an infant daughter.
The mounting losses made no sense to Kerry. The boats went up a river, showed the US flag, perhaps killed some enemy, and returned to base without taking any territory. Six months earlier, Kerry had been a gung-ho skipper eager to lead his men and be a hero. Now he felt the mission had changed. He replaced his dream of a life in politics with a path of protest.
John Aloysius Farrell contributed to this report. Michael Kranish can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org