Jewish World Review August 31, 2004 / 14 Elul, 5764
To Serve or not to serve
NEW YORK There is a cruel irony to the attacks on John Kerry's service in Vietnam.
One of the main points of attack by Kerry's critics is that Kerry did not deserve all three of his Purple Hearts and that he exaggerated at least two of them in order to get out of Vietnam. (If you got three Purple Hearts, which are given for injury in combat, you got to go home.)
To believe this accusation, however, you have to believe that Kerry schemed to get wounded but not too badly for the purpose of getting home early.
But, as we all know, there was a far easier way of getting out of Vietnam. It was called not going in the first place.
This is the option that George W. Bush took.
This is the option that Dick Cheney took.
This is the option that Bill Clinton took.
This is the option that hundreds of thousands of young men of John Kerry's socio-economic class took.
But this was not the option that John Kerry took. (For the record: I was eligible for the Vietnam draft, but was never called because of a high lottery number. This did not displease me.)
Kerry not only volunteered for military service; he not only volunteered for Vietnam, but he volunteered for highly dangerous duty on the Mekong River in a so-called swift boat.
Kerry's reward for this military service is now to be attacked as a coward and a liar, while Bush and Cheney are hailed as a "war-time" president and vice president.
Hold on, Kerry's critics say, Kerry may have been in Vietnam, but he was there for only four months. (Kerry says he was there longer.)
But as we all know, some periods of time can seem a lot longer depending on the circumstances. Take the four-month figure that Kerry's attackers use.
I would argue that four months on a swift boat in combat in South Vietnam is a lot longer than four months in the Air National Guard in Alabama or four months spent in various college deferments.
The attacks on Kerry's military service have been effective in one respect, however. They have revealed one weakness of Kerry as a campaigner so far: Kerry has not yet made the emotional connection he needs to make with voters. An emotional connection (trust, likeability, etc.) is what you need to win.
Consider: In 1992, Bill Clinton was accused of many things, many of the accusations were true, Clinton denied them all and many people believed Clinton.
In 2004, Kerry is being accused of many things, many of the accusations are untrue, Kerry denies them all and some people are taking a "wait and see" attitude.
The irony is that the man who volunteered for military service service which Republicans claim to honor and revere is being attacked for his service, while those who didn't go are getting a pass.
If there is a lesson in this for young people who may be considering a career in public service?
Yes: The less you do, the less you volunteer for, the less you serve your country, the less you can be attacked.
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