The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Kerry

##
So...Frank is convinced that Kerry lied. I am not. If I listened only to, say, Johnnie Cocheran, I'd think O.J. innocent. Listen only to Chris Darden, and O.J. is guilty as hell. Listen to both sides, make a personal guess. Listen to what the judge and the jury say. Do I trust the verdict? Why or why not? Are there political axes grinding away? If I don't care much, I just listen to the verdict and accept it, unless I have a specific reason to believe the system corrupt. If I care massively, I do original research. In-between, I try to listen to what experts are saying on either side, and see what makes more sense to me.

The political threads are so tangled (that is, there are obvious and powerful reasons why Kerry would be attacked: to nullify the competitive advantage being a bona-fide war hero would have over Bush) that I have to take anything said against him with a grain of salt unless it is presented by
1) Someone I know personally.
2) Someone I have reason to have a high level of respect for.
3) (presumably) Neutral governmental sources testifying under oath.
4) Kerry himself, confessing.

Otherwise? A lot of "He-said, She-said." I might look at the people who BELIEVE in one side of the evidence or the other. Is there a great difference in intelligence, education, ethics? Not that I can see. The basic difference seems to be political orientation. And it seems to me that if he is lying as badly as some on the Right say, the government would have motivation to get involved. Otherwise, I'm left with two interesting things:
1) I find it possible that he may have been wrong about the position on the River. In Cambodia? Out? Some of his crew says yes, others say no? Could he have been wrong by being wrong, not by lying? There is certainly room for a raised eyebrow. But again, listening to only one side of a case always produces a slanted response. Insufficient data.
2) Was he probably exaggerating about atrocities "on a daily basis" "known up and down the chain of command"? Probably. But was that exaggeration out of step with what human beings say when they are highly agitated? No. "You always..." "you never..." "They all..." are common exaggerations, and I see equal amounts of this crap on all sides. In other words, if he witnessed three atrocities, and heard of two more, it is quite reasonable that he would overload and say "every day." People do that. "Up and down the chain of command"? Highly unlikely. Could it have SEEMED like that? Sure.
3) When the government says "this doesn't happen" in relation to atrocities, they are lying or deluded. Too many documented cases throughout history, and too many stories I got from people who were there. Approved of? In general HELL NO. Do officials look the other way? Doesn't every organization seek to protect itself?

I look at this the same way I look at the question of child abuse in the Catholic Church. The damning thing is not that it happens and we hear about it. The damning thing is that we NEVER hear about it unless a victim comes forward and insists the church take responsibility.

What? The Church has NEVER known of a pederast before the local newspaper does? It seems to me that they NEVER out a pederast priest and turn him in to the police unless the community is already in an uproar. Because I can't believe they could be so oblivious as to NEVER know, I come to the conclusion that they cover it up, unless there is no choice.

And the number of times the military has prosecuted soldiers for unseemly behavior without ANYTHING about the event leaking before hand seems suspiciously low to me.

And I'm not saying that there is something wrong with "our" soldiers. Or soldiers at all. Or "us." Far from it. I could take the position that
1) America is the best country ever
2) Our citizens are the best ever
3) Human beings are, on average, wonderful.
4) Our soldiers are the very best among us

And there would STILL be atrocities. It isn't the warriors. It is the nature of war itself. You can't open those doors of human perception, loose the bonds which universally constrict the capacity for violence, and then bond these guys (and gals) together and drop them into a war zone without clearly demarcated enemies. Let them get tired, hungry, frightened, angry. Watch their buddies blown apart. Put them in a kill-or-be-killed frame of mind in which the denigration of the foe is a normal part of daily conversation and action. And not expect that some percentage of them are going to go off the rails. They will. They always have.

And again, I've had maybe five friends who were seriously involved in combat. And in private conversations, three of them had seen things that haunted them, that they would not talk about publicly. In some cases, done things.

"Every day" "all of them" "up and down the chain"? No. "Doesn't happen" "Isn't policy" (THAT'S a huge, grim laugh) etc. No. The truth is obviously some where in-between. And this assumes the very best of intentions of sterling men and women with the world's best training.

Under stress, flaws are revealed. All are flawed. War is hell. Assuming these human drives can be perfectly contained is naivete at the least, willful ignorance in the middle, flat-out lying on the end.

So what Kerry said, absent an admission of lying FROM HIM, or sworn testimony evaluated by a (supposedly) neutral judge, strikes me as being, within the limits of the human tendency to re-construct reality around powerful emotional cores, plausible. And the Swift Boaters to have been a political hit squad.
##
I finished SHADOW VALLEY and sent it off yesterday. I'm still in a bit of shock...
Do you ever work on something so long, and so hard, that you begin to forget why you were interested in the first place? What was it, and when it was all over...was it worth it?

28 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

When I work on something intensely for a long time like that, I often have a crash and am unproductive for a few days. I have described it as a subclinical case of bipolar disorder, forcibly being manic for an extended period, and when it is done being numb, depressed, and unable to focus on anything for a while.

Steve Perry said...

Pretty much every book I write gets to that stage. The most recent one, which was a back-burner deal that I dabbled on in my spare time, took years to get the first draft done.

Got the first ten chapters done in about a year. The next ten chapters, took two more years.

The last five hundred pp, fifty chapters, took another year, with most of it being done in the last three months.

Now, if my collaborator can get his draft done ...

AF1 said...

When books start out great, but then sort of lose steam or seem to wrap up in an unsatisfying way, I often wonder if the author wasn't burnt out and just mailing it in towards the end.

Lynn said...

-- Could he have been wrong by being wrong, not by lying? --

I wish more people would stop and consider that possibility before they say, "He lied!" whoever they're talking about.

Anonymous said...

'Atrocities on a daily basis'- 'known up and down the chain of command'.
The American aerial and artillery massacres qualify. General Abrahms meant it when he said the population would be denied to the enemy.
I'm speaking against interest here, a little, as a Republican who voted against Kerry and more or less thinks our Vietnam and Iraq massacres were and are justified. Still, we did it.

Anonymous said...

I believe a lie is an untruth told with the intent to deceive.

It all boils down to your willingness to give the benifit of the doubt.

Some would give it to Kerry, but would never even consider that Pres. Bush was anything other than a liar.

Naturally people believe they can see straight to the black hearted soul of someone they disagree with.

John M.

Dan Moran said...

John Kerry is a hero who fought honorably in a war he didn't support. Risked his life, killed for his country, and was honored with medals -- Bronze Star, Silver Star, 3 Purple Hearts -- they don't hand out casually.

George Bush was busy protecting us from Mexican flighter pilots during the same period. And couldn't be bothered to show up for even that.

You want to compare Kerry with John McCain? I'll be happy to tell you how much I admire McCain and how much credibility he has with me. I wouldn't dream of attempting to dishonor McCain's service to this country the way conservatives shamelessly tried to do with Kerry ... all the while relentlessly supporting a coward and liar in George Bush. (Of course the hard right in this country hates John McCain, too -- make of that what you will.)

"Naturally people believe they can see straight to the black hearted soul of someone they disagree with."

I disagree with John McCain and think he's a good guy. I disagree with George Bush and think he's scum. So apparently there is some room for parsing in all this.

Brian Dunbar said...

And the number of times the military has prosecuted soldiers for unseemly behavior without ANYTHING about the event leaking before hand seems suspiciously low to me.

To confirm your suspicion you'd need to talk to the Judge Advocate and get records for all punishments in the theater and measure against news coverage for the given time period. Don't forget to include those that take place after a unit or individual as left the theater - the wheels of military justice can grind slow.

I'll wager ... well not wager I just paid my mortgage ... but my suspicion is that there are a whole bunch of punishments handed down for conduct against good order that never get published in the press.

Not a cover-up - just no one is asking for the information or unwilling to plow through the documentation.

Anonymous said...

Wow Dan.

I was talking about people who accuse Pres. Bush of lying about the war in Iraq. I should have been more clear.

If you find Pres. Bush's military service to be dishonorable, I can only imagine that a draft dodger (purportedly) like Pres. Clinton must be beneath your contempt.

Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton have never served in the military at all, I hope you don't hold that against them.

John M.

mjholt said...

Frank is convinced that Kerry lied.

I agree with Dan. How did I decide? I considered the source. The Swift Boat boys are proven liars. One, at least, has admitted that.

Secondly, Kerry was vetted dozens of times between 1968 and now. That's 40 years of people looking at him. The swift boat boys went after John Murtha and John McCain (maybe they hate people named "John") as well. There is something deep and nasty going on there.

Clinton did OK as President. He kept us out of war. He wanted to go after Al Queda, but the Repubs stopped him (remember, Congress voted down an expedition).

As far as the allegations of George W. Bush being a deserter: He could lay that one to rest with his separation papers. Every one I know who was honorably or dishonorably discharged has their separation papers, unless they were destroyed by fire or flood. Only deserters don't have them -- no official separation.

Dan Moran said...

John M,

Clinton's not a purported draft dodger, but a real one. And I don't hold Clinton's draft dodging against him; people who refused to serve in Viet Nam because their consciences dictated they shouldn't have my respect.

What I hold against Bill Clinton is his cowardly refusal to outright refuse to serve. That work for you? He tried to dodge the draft while avoiding the appearance of dodging it. That's pathetic and no better than what George Bush did.

No, I don't hold a lack of military service against people as a general rule. I haven't served myself. But anyone who was of age to serve in Viet Nam, was physically capable of serving in that war, was loudly in favor of that war both before and since, and failed to serve, has my suspicion at best.

Do what you're doing. If you have to cover up and change the subject, you probably got it wrong. Zero question Clinton did, and Bush too. Clinton was against the war and afraid to stand up for that position -- Bush was for it -- and afraid to do what that required.

I admit, my contempt for Bill Clinton is a lot of litle items rolled up. My contempt for George Bush is based at least 50% on how he conducted himself after the execution of Karla Faye Tucker.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karla_Faye_Tucker

Tucker Carlson, a reliable conservative apparatchik, repeats an interview with Bush:

In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, a number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask. Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them", he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, 'What would you say to Governor Bush?'" "What was her answer?" I wonder. "'Please,'" Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "'don't kill me.'" I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.

There's lots of conservatives I've disliked, or deeply disagreed with, over the years. But Bush is a rotten human being all the way down, a sociopath who mocked the fear of a woman he executed.

Dan Moran said...

BTW ... Clinton's failure to refuse to serve might be worse than Bush's war dodging. No sarcasm ... Bush was avoiding being killed. The worst Clinton was avoiding was being jailed, and probably not even that. I admit, we're parsing cowardice here, and there's little doubt in my mind that Bush is a physical coward ... but Clinton's a moral one, which is probably worse.

Anonymous said...

"I finished SHADOW VALLEY and sent it off yesterday. I'm still in a bit of shock..."

Congrats! Now I wish I could read it already, but at the same time I don't like it when editors rush stuff to press to early. :/

I also want to read the sequel to Zulu Heart someday. :)

Brian Dunbar said...

Clinton did OK as President. He kept us out of war.

I agree with your first sentence. But please don't forget Bosnia and Kosovo.

Frank said...

Steve said

1) I find it possible that he may have been wrong about the position on the River. In Cambodia? Out? Some of his crew says yes, others say no? Could he have been wrong by being wrong, not by lying?

Um, what Kerry said about being in Cambodia was very definitive

"Mr. President, I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia.
I have that memory which is seared-seared-in me, that says to me, before we send another generation into harm's way we have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate to go the last step, to make the best effort possible in order to avoid that kind of conflict."


He says he remembers being shot at by the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodians. And he says he was ordered specifically to go to Cambodia and he said he went and was there getting shot at by Cambodians.

I am sorry, but it was not a case of him thinking he may have strayed into Cambodian waters and finding out later he was wrong.

Was he probably exaggerating about atrocities "on a daily basis" "known up and down the chain of command"? Probably. But was that exaggeration out of step with what human beings say when they are highly agitated?

Exaggerated?

On NBC's Meet The Press in 1971, Kerry was asked whether he had personally committed atrocities in Vietnam. He responded:

"There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50 calibre machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals."

Emphasis is mine.

Frank said...

Ooops. Here's the link to the congressional record that goes with the words very definitive in my previous comment.

Sorry

mjholt said...

And there would STILL be atrocities. It isn't the warriors. It is the nature of war itself.

This whole section of your blog is insightful.

Dan Moran said...

"I wouldn't dream of attempting to dishonor McCain's service to this country the way conservatives shamelessly tried to do with Kerry ... all the while relentlessly supporting a coward and liar in George Bush."

Worth repeating, that.

mjholt said...

Frank, I am probably missing your point, so will you explain why the statement you quoted from Kerry's testimony upsets you so.

All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals."

This does not bother me because it is what I have heard from dozens men and women for that last 45 years about Vietnam. I have heard it from ARVN pilots who were officers, men and women who were boat people and escaped Vietnam, and men and women who were our soldiers, non-coms and officers.

Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt touched on edges of this issue in his interviews and writing. While he was at some remove from day-to-day fighting, his comments on the use of Agent Orange support Kerry's statements.

Kerry never said that there were no atrocities on the other side. He spoke of those, too, but those statements are now apparently lost.

The My Lai Courts-Martial in 1970 and recent court-martials from Iraq bad behaviors probably should not have happened. No ranking officers were brought up on charges, yet the ranking officers and their superiors set up the situations that caused these massacres. I followed the My Lai Courts-Martial as closely as I could at the time, and read significant information about the psychology surrounding the incident and in-battle military service. I concluded it was all rather hypocritical.

Kerry would have been a good president, because he would have understood the unintended results of sweeping military action. There is much glory in war when it is observed from afar, and much agony when experienced close up. An non-western-cultural war movie, Ran (1985) by Akira Kurosawa, explores this quite effectively.

mjholt said...

Bosnia and Kosovo: ethnic war/ethnic cleansing.

At least it was a NATO action. Gen. Wesley Clark was the only high commander there from the US.

War seems to leave a lot of room for blame.

Steven Barnes said...

Frank, what I said was that there are those who support Kerry's account, and those who deny it. Without a government inquiry with sworn testimony and evidence, I'm going to assume that, without a recanting on Kerry's part, that his account was more accurate than not, even if exaggerated in part. When faced with two versions, both of which trigger reason to doubt ("It happened like this, and it was Hell Itself!" or "It didn't happen at all.") I tend to split the difference. I've never known a human being capable of actually reporting the "truth" of what happened anywhere, at any time, without a little filter. If he lied so drastically, I want to see him prosecuted so I can see sworn testimony and evidence from both sides. Without sworn testimony, I'll default to believing his version of the story.

mjholt said...

He (Clinton) tried to dodge the draft while avoiding the appearance of dodging it. That's pathetic and no better than what George Bush did.

Bush is worse by far. He is likely a deserter. Bush took the oath. Bush walked away. Bush has mocked many more people than Karla Faye Tucker. In the end, she was the more Godly and righteous person than Bush. I remember a set of questions she answered from reporters and others gathered around the exercise yard who spoke with her hours before her execution, and while she was upset and scared, she had dignity. She was no longer the person who committed the crimes and aided the killers that resulted in her execution. Bush's mocking is more disgusting because it is about 180 degrees from her behavior.

Dan Moran said...

mjholt,

Look, I'm the last guy out there to stick up for George Bush; I was merely noting that Clinton was a coward on the subject of his -- let's call them convictions, for lack of a better word -- where he was unlikely to suffer personal harm; Bush was a coward on the subject of his personal safety. They're not the same thing and cowardice without the impetus of physical danger seems worse to me.

When it comes to breaking oaths -- shrug. Both Bush and Clinton seem equally dishonest to me; once you've established a complete contempt for the truth, and both of them have, I don't know how you parse the fine shades of gray in who is or is not more dishonest.

I do think Bush is a much worse person down at the core of it. Clinton's a fairly standard issue political liar, best as I can tell; he lies because he lacks courage. Bush, OTOH, is downright sociopathic. The torture fixation of his administration came straight from the top: this is a guy who tortured pledges with hot wires when he was in college. Bush's childhood friends said the guy used to blow up frogs with firecrackers ... he's a twitch.

Let me be clear; most Republicans I dislike are merely run of the mill conservatives who I dislike for the same sorts of reasons conservatives dislike Barbara Boxer. They may be good or bad people in their personal lives; I dunno, mostly. But I do know about Bush. That's a man who better hope and pray there's no judgement waiting on the other side.

Time to go breathe quietly somewhere.

Frank said...

mjholt asked me

Frank, I am probably missing your point, so will you explain why the statement you quoted from Kerry's testimony upsets you so.

Well, if you are referring to Kerry's interview with "Meet the Press in 1971 that I posted in this thread, I ask you, how does it square with his interview on the same show in 2004 that I posted in the previous thread? Excerpt:

Q: You committed atrocities?

Kerry (Meet the Press Apr. 18, 2004:) ...I think the word is a bad word. I think it's an inappropriate word. I mean, if you wanted to ask me have you ever made mistakes in your life, sure. I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. It was honest, but it was in anger, it was a little bit excessive....


So maybe your fine with what he said, but he sure wasn't.

Steve Barnes said

Without a government inquiry with sworn testimony and evidence, I'm going to assume that, without a recanting on Kerry's part, that his account was more accurate than not, even if exaggerated in part.

So you missed the part where he did recant his statement as shown in the previous thread? But in addition to the Washington Post article cited then, it was also reported by Wall Street Journal correspondent Robert Pollock

Last Wednesday Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan sent me a statement saying that "During John Kerry's service in Vietnam, many times he was on or near the Cambodian border and on one occasion crossed into Cambodia. . . . On December 24, 1968 Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory." I asked for clarification as to whether the "one occasion" was Christmas Eve 1968. "No," was the reply.

This is very different from Kerry's account of sitting there in Cambodia taking fire from the Khmer Rouge.

Why did the Kerry campaign do this? Because his claims were not credible.

Mike said...

dan, you say "Bush's childhood friends said the guy used to blow up frogs with firecrackers ... he's a twitch."

Can you provide a source? Just interested, because it would confirm a suspicion for me (I'm inclined to believe, as you do, that Bush is a sociopath), and possibly win an argument (a friend with psych training claims that I'm using the term incorrectly, because there is no evidence of frog torture), if the source is credible.

Josh Jasper said...

I sincerely doubt any well funded project to bring down McCain on the level of what was done to Kerry will happen. Moveon.org will certainly call him to account, but it's doubtful that they'll ever perpetuate such a massive campaign of smears, going after every single statement he ever made, until they can find something he said that will stick out as a possible lie.

But hey, if we want to argue about past presidential candidates who didn't get elected four years after the fact, I gotta wonder why we cant talk about the substantial differences between all of the Democratic candidates and Bush, and the substantial lack of difference between McCain and Bush.

You want a duplicate of the last 8 years of Bush, vote McCain. You want change, vote Clinton or Obama. Whichever one wins, they're actually not all that different from each other. The one they are different from is Bush.

On another note, did you ever get that book I sent you, Steve? The one by Richard Morgan? Let me know if it got there.

Dan Moran said...

Mike,

http://partners.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/052100wh-gop-bush-bio.html

"We were terrible to animals," recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out.

"Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them," Mr. Throckmorton said. "Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up."

When he was not blowing up frogs, young George -- always restless and something of a natural leader -- would lead neighborhood children on daredevil expeditions around town, seeing how close they could come to breaking their necks. George also quickly acquired a colorful vocabulary.

~~~~~

Later in the same article --

~~~~~

"... his next-oldest sibling, Jeb, was six and a half years younger. Neil and Marvin were 9 and 10 years younger than George, and Dorothy was 13 years younger. So while George occasionally used Jeb as a punching bag in childhood squabbles, and always relished his role as elder brother, most of the time his playmates and confidants were friends and roommates rather than siblings."

I have boys 6, 9, and 12. Occasionally the 9 year old fights with his older or younger brother, though there's almost never any actual physical violence --

I can't begin to think of my 12 year old using my 6 year old as a "punching bag." He's twice that boy's size -- but apparently Bush did with Jeb, and it was youthful highjinks, and not a sign of a thoroughly disturbed individual.

~~~~~

Then there's this, on the branding pledges stuff -- take note of Bush's astonishing statement that the brandings were no worse than ciagarette burns:

http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/15856?badlink=1

On Sunday, Trudeau's cartoon "Doonesbury" featured fictional character Mark Slackmeyer explaining the President's position against current anti-torture legislation by revisiting a series of 1967 Yale Daily News articles that exposed DKE's rush activities, which at the time included brandings and alleged beatings. Soon after these stories were published, the University's Inter-Fraternity Council fined the fraternity for performing "physically and mentally degrading acts," and the Times published an article in which Bush defended the brandings, comparing them to cigarette burns.


"At the time, it caused quite a stir on campus, even generating some national attention," Trudeau said.

The News article, published Nov. 3 1967, featured a photograph of a half-inch high "D" burned into a pledge's naked backside.

...

Some pledges at the time told the News their branding was preceded by a physical beating.

"By that time, my body was so numb [from the beatings] that the iron felt good, like a match was being held close to my body," an anonymous DKE pledge told the News in 1967.

(Abu Ghraib wasn't an accident. It wasn't even a surprise.)

~~~~~

The greatest hits continue -- there was the bit where Bush chuckled during a debate with Al Gore when moderators brought up a man who'd been sent to death row despite his attorney sleeping through the trial ...

... the big smile during that debate when he said, of the three Texans who killed a black man by dragging him behind their truck: "Guess what's going to happen to them! They're going to be put to death!"

... his response to the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, covered earlier ... except that when Bush mocked her, pretending to be her saying "Please don't kill me!" ... as ugly as that was, he made it up ... Tucker never actually said that. This was some twitchy fantasy from the depths of Bush's soul, some image of a woman pleading for her life, that he made up to mock ...

~~~~~

I know Frank wants to talk about whether John Kerry, war hero, was ever in Cambodia. I suspect he was, myself; certainly plenty of other American soldiers were. But bearing in mind the Grand Canyon gulf between the moral characters of John Kerry and George Bush, Frank ... who'd you vote for in 2000?

Dan Moran said...

And by "who'd you vote for in 2000," I mean, "who'd you vote for in 2004," of course ...