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Jewish World Review May 7, 2004 / 16 Iyar, 5764

James Lileks

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Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War | Making John Kerry commander in chief would be like making Louis Farrakhan the ambassador to Israel. At least that's the opinion of several scores of military commanders and other soldiers, all of whom have signed a damning letter critical of Kerry's approach to national defense.

Cue the predictable howls: You can't question his patriotism! Well, no one did. They just questioned his judgment. Ralph Nader would be a bad CinC; he'd make the Army redesign the tanks to run on solar power and demand that unmanned Predators be piloted to create jobs. Dennis Kucinich would be a wretched CinC; he'd send the Navy to sail into foreign ports and use the big guns to shoot flowers and stuffed animals into hostile territory. Pat Buchanan would deploy the entire infantry on the Mexican border with orders to shoot anyone darker than a grocery bag -- bad CinC. Yet each of these men in his own curious way is a patriot, inasmuch as he wants the best for America. They just have unusual definitions of what's best.

Kerry's supporters find proof of his patriotism in his Vietnam service, but this forces Democrats to describe the war in terms one hasn't found on the left since John F. Kennedy's day. As Dick Durbin, D-Ill., put it the other day on the Senate floor: "John Kerry led men into battle. He defended America."

Wait a minute. Hold on. So it's now accepted wisdom on the left that the Vietnam War was conducted in the defense of the United States? Interesting. Nice to know they've come around to realize it was part of a battle against Communism. (You remember Communism. It was in all the papers.) Vietnam wasn't the long twilight-struggle part, this was the broad-daylight-struggle portion of the Cold War. But didn't the left view Vietnam as a racist, atrocity-packed, misguided intervention in a civil war? Can it be all those bad things and still be considered to be a defensive act?

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Apparently so. Maybe in 30 years the left will have a similar epiphany about Iraq.

Which brings us to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Some insist you have to serve before you can have an opinion on military matters. Otherwise you're a Chickenhawk. Does this mean you're a Chickenjudge if you criticize the miscreants who abused the prisoners? Probably. Who cares? We can all agree that the idiots who abused these prisoners should stand trial, and if they're guilty, make them swap the uniform they disgraced for one with black and white stripes. Here's your hammer; there's the rock pile. Five years or five tons of pebbles, whichever comes first.

But there we go again, questioning their patriotism.

Doesn't that seem like an utterly irrelevant accusation now? Sure. And it's as meaningless as another hoary trope of the left: "We Support the Troops." "Support" was always conditional, and defined rather narrowly: It meant "bring them home as soon as possible, and in the meantime send happy be-safe mind-beams in their direction." It's difficult to support the troops and oppose the mission. Do the people who opposed the war but supported the troops support the troops who just flushed America's reputation down the commode? Of course not. A more accurate slogan would be "We Support Some Troops Performing a Limited Set of Non-Violent Objectives," but it makes a lousy bumper sticker. And it makes you look less, well, patriotic.

We've become so mired in these cliches that we are losing sight of the goal: victory. The withdrawal from Fallujah may have strategic wisdom, but it feels wrong. The misdeeds of the prison guards make us suspect we've ceded all possible claims to the moral high ground -- indeed, to some our moral high ground looks like Tora Bora. At home, the inanities of the presidential campaign seem like a diversion from the war, not a clarification of the struggle we face.

It may take a hard right cross to the jaw to focus our attention on the job. And yet you think: Pray it never comes.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


05/05/04: New cell phone does everything, but there's a problem...
04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks