The death of idealism in the Democratic Party

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

John F. Kerry enjoys being compared with his hero John F. Kennedy. But for all the superficial comparisons of both being Democratic senators from Massachusetts, ideologically they are worlds apart.

In Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech, he uttered the famous words: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In these eloquent words, Kennedy committed himself to a military response to the spread of communist tyranny, a point he made directly to Nikita Khrushchev during their Vienna summit in Vienna of June 1961 when the Soviet leader threatened to annex West Berlin. Indeed, it was Kennedy’s insistence that he would go to war over Berlin that led Khrushchev to respond to the mass exodus of East Berliners to the West by building the Berlin Wall rather than risking Armageddon by sending in Soviet tanks.

But John Kerry, in an effort to placate Democratic opponents of the war in Iraq poignantly stated in his convention acceptance speech that “the only justification for going to war,” is to “protect the American people … from a threat that [is] real and imminent.” Here was Kerry vowing that – under his leadership – America would never fight to uphold another’s liberty, and would only go to war if attacked.

How tragic that it only took a single generation within the Democratic Party to completely erase the soaring idealism of John F. Kennedy. Indeed, it was this selfish attitude that led another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, to shamefully ignore the nearly 1 million innocent civilians who were hacked to death in 100 days in Rwanda. But heck, they weren’t Americans, right?

How odd that it is conservatives today who clamor for America to use its vast power to liberate oppressed peoples while liberals do everything to obstruct America from fighting tyrants. George W. Bush is compared to Hitler by many on the American left for using the military to rid the world of its foremost despot, while John Kerry is cheered for, in effect, promising never to lift a rifle to rescue people threatened with mass murder.

Indeed, at the Democratic convention there was only a single, perfunctory mention of the genocide in the Sudan, and it is my hope that the reverence I accord George W. Bush as a great liberator will be vindicated by his taking a strong stand to punish the government of the Sudan for their atrocities against defenseless Christian Africans.

But the revulsion for George W. Bush on the part of many Democrats is deeply puzzling. Why would these champions of human rights hate Bush for having removed the world’s foremost war criminal from power? And why would they have nominated a man for president who has confessed to having carried out serious war crimes in Vietnam?

I do not deny that John Kerry is man of many virtues. But in congressional testimony in 1971, he confessed:

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-caliber 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.

Kerry justified such heinous war crimes by claiming that he was only following orders, but it does not behoove an American presidential candidate to employ an excuse that was used by the Nazis.

Equally puzzling is the gullibility of the American people with regard to John Kerry’s military service. At the Democratic convention, Kerry highlighted his four month’s in Vietnam as the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. But while I honor Kerry for having fought for his country, when he returned from Vietnam he was so ashamed of his military service that he publicly threw his medals away. Much more serious was how Kerry slandered the 2.5 million courageous Americans soldiers who fought, and the 57,000 brave men who died, in Vietnam as cold-blooded killers.

Kerry was introduced to the convention by Max Cleland, a great patriot who lost an arm and both his legs to a grenade in Vietnam. Cleland told of his shattered faith as he returned home to an ungrateful nation that made little effort to accommodate its veterans. What Cleland neglected to mention was that the principal reason he and other Vietnam Vets were treated like garbage by the American people was due to individuals like John Kerry who told the American people that these men were not heroes, but baby-killers and rapists.

It took a chutzpah for John Kerry to speak to the convention of his love and devotion to “the brave men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day” when he came to national prominence by alleging before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that American soldiers in Vietnam had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads” and “randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.”

John O’Neill, who took command of Kerry’s SWIFT boat after Kerry’s abrupt departure and challenged Kerry on ABC TV’s “Dick Cavett Show” in 1971, said in that debate that when American veterans returned from Vietnam the biggest problem they encountered was “the big lie by Mr. Kerry and his group, that we were either each individually war criminals or that we were collectively the executioners of a criminal policy.”

When the show’s host, Dick Cavett, challenged Kerry to substantiate his claims that “war crimes in Vietnam are the rule and not the exception,” Kerry suddenly retracted his claim of having witnessed widespread American atrocities:

I personally didn’t see personal atrocities in the sense that I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that. However, I did take part in free-fire zones and I did take part in harassment interdiction fire. I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground.

Get it. Since Kerry participated in war crimes, everyone else must have done it too! Now there’s personal accountability for you.

Thirty years later, when Kerry was grilled by NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” about his accusation that America was waging a war of “genocide” against the people of Vietnam, Kerry responded that he had exaggerated his accusations against his fellow soldiers and that “I don’t stand by the genocide. I think those were the words of an angry young man.” But being a hothead is a sorry excuse for having grossly maligned millions of men who due to such slander were greeted at home with spit and contempt rather than kisses and ticker-tape parades.