Readers respond to "Kerry vs. the Chicken Hawks," by Robert Poe, and "Howard's End," by Joan Walsh.

Salon Staff
February 21, 2004 1:20AM (UTC)

[Read "Kerry vs. the Chicken Hawks," by Robert Poe.]

Robert Poe's article should touch the heart and soul of all of us who lived through the Vietnam War years. As one who enrolled in NROTC in 1954, was commissioned ENS USNR in 1958, served two years of active duty and then 18 satisfactory years in the Ready Reserve, and who is now retired with pay, I am outraged by the apparent behavior (from published military documents) of George W. Bush during his tour with the Texas Air National Guard and Air Force Ready Reserve.


Regardless of how or why people entered the Ready Reserve during the 1960s and 1970s, it was my experience that the vast majority met their service obligations and responsibilities that they freely accepted when they were sworn to duty. This had little to do with being pro- or antiwar, but it was the mark of character to perform their duties as expected and to the best of their ability. Even though few reservists were called to active duty during that period, still we were all ready to go if called. It is my opinion that President Bush's apparent failure to take his flight physical in 1972, which resulted in his being grounded, was not only a terrible waste of taxpayer money, but it was also clear evidence of his failure to accept responsibility to honorably serve his country, as he promised to do, during wartime.

-- Thomas Henkel

Thanks to Robert Poe for the cathartic piece on the politics of oversimplification. Like many young men of draft age during the Vietnam era, I rejected the war for more than any one simple reason. I did everything within my legal power to avoid going to Nam. Thankfully, in my case, it was enough.


At the same time, I never understood why any American would feel resentment or anger toward our Vietnam veterans. Almost from the beginning, I viewed them as victims, even if they themselves didn't. For years now, when discovering that I am in the presence of a veteran, I have held out my hand and said, "Thank you for your service." I always mean it from the bottom of my heart.

I think Poe has put his finger on the essential pressure point in this election and the chance we have to achieve a truly historic advance in American politics. Perhaps by stepping forward for one of the best of their own, our veterans can do one last, great service for our country, to help us all grow past the point where jingoes, platitudes, posturing and name-calling work.

Is American democracy capable of sensitivity and nuance? We must work to make it so. It is the example the world desperately needs if the long, great march of humanity is to continue.


-- John Northrop

To state that Kerry will be supported by Vietnam veterans because of his combat service is simply not true. Democratic vets will probably support him because he might be the party's nominee. Republican vets will probably not. Monitor any Web site about Vietnam vets and you'll see this clearly. Many right-wing vets are already circulating e-mails that question his every motive and medal.


The big thing with many of them is how he got three Purple Hearts and not miss a day of duty. Even some trivial wounds could lay you up for a couple of weeks. Many guys want to know how he got two valor medals in three months' time. There is the belief that the Navy over-medaled its young officers to keep up with the Army and Marines.

At the same time, the politics of this get out of hand; it doesn't help to have a parade of phony crap like the bogus photo showing Kerry with Jane Fonda on a podium.

I'm a Democrat and a combat infantry veteran of that war. I post regularly to a site where many of the men from my battalion write in. The support for Kerry is about like the support for Clinton. There are simply more Republicans on the site, and simply more Republicans among vets. We vote just like any other group of Americans.


-- Larry Kirby

Thank you for one of the best articles I've ever read on Salon. In the past, I've always considered Kerry's Vietnam service an interesting, but largely irrelevant, part of his political résumé. Your article though, turned me around on that one. If Poe is right, then Kerry's presidential run offers us as a nation a shot at something not entirely unlike redemption. Or a smidgin of it anyway.

-- Davey Leslie


I do believe that Vietnam was Johnson's political war. But Poe's line, "...whether one had the courage to face combat defines one's character in such a deep and important way that it should be our most important criterion in selecting our leaders," is ridiculous.

I never believed in the Vietnam War, but I never blamed the soldiers for going there. I think that, whether they believed in the war or not, they are people who did the best they could in a bad situation -- and got swindled.

What is proved by courage in an act of absurdity? Courage, like virtue, may be its own reward. But is courage in a stupid war really any better than cowardice in a stupid war? I don't think so. Not at all. Maybe cowardice in a stupid war is simply a recognition of reality.

I don't believe in the Iraq War any more than I did the Vietnam War. I wish we had a president who would say that macho posturing is irrelevant to foreign policy. The chicken hawks are disgusting, but what we really need is an honest chicken.


-- John Chesnut

I don't think that one must have served in the military to be a good wartime president; I just think that one must have a high level of regard for human life. While John Kerry's time in Vietnam might have provided him with some sort of epiphany on the value of life, it does not mean that this particular lesson can be learned only on battlegrounds.

By focusing on Bush and Co.'s lack of military experience, Kerry is removing the limelight from the most important issue: The Bush administration should have never taken this country to war if the intelligence supporting their case came from very questionable sources, at best. In the end, none of it was right. No WMD has been found in Iraq so far.

Whether Bush honorably served in the military or not is rather irrelevant. The issue is whether Bush is honorably serving the people of the United States right now.


-- Nadine Giguere

One of the arguments against the electability of JFKerry has been the consistent comparison with that other "Massachusetts Liberal," Michael Dukakis. The famous Dukakis tank photo is seen as pivotal in his defeat, the image that showed the candidate was weak on security. "Kerry and 'Hanoi Jane'" was the Neocons' attempt to find the equivalent, but I'm sure many in the Bush-Cheney camp are disappointed with that story's impact.

What Poe's article makes clear is that the equivalent photo is out there already -- but it's aimed in the other direction: G.W. Bush in his flight suit, with a "mission accomplished" banner hanging behind him seems far more riduculous today than Dukakis's thumbs up. As Bush's Alabama National Guard record continues to be in doubt, the photo-op once seen as the start of Bush's re-election campaign may be the picture that helps bury him.

The White House can deny hanging the banner, or claim to have dental records showing Bush put in his time, but every day, as the body count rises in Iraq and John Kerry walks around with his Band of Brothers, Bush's smirk on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln looks sillier and sillier. Of course, if Iraq turns into a functioning peaceful democracy between now and November, it will not be as effective a tool for the Dems. But if I were George Bush, I wouldn't bet the Presidency on that.


Then again, I think he already has.

-- Daren Wang

[Read "Howard's End," by Joan Walsh.]

I wish to take exception to the implication by Joan Walsh that Howard Dean's campaign lacked a clear program, differentiated from his competitors. The issue statements found at DeanForAmerica.com and in all the campaign's literature were clear, cogent, thoughtful and achievable.

Unwilling to pander, lie and misinform, Dean clearly suffered at the hands of pundits, reporters and competitors who were not familiar with that which has vanished from the American political dialogue long ago, namely truth. People do not want to hear that you can't have health care for all without giving up a tax refund. They are used to being told they can have both. The determination as to how successful Dean's programs were was their rapid adoption by John Kerry, who wouldn't know what an original idea was if it stood up and hit him.

Likewise, I do not understand what the confusion is about what happens next. Dr. Dean always said that the campaign would identify 20 or so crucial and winnable congressional races and would support those specific efforts to take back the House and Senate from the Republicans. And that's what's going to happen next. My guess is that what's next is a mystery for Salon because like most of the press, Salon was listening to form instead of the ample substance that characterized the Dean for America campaign.

-- Steve Rozov

Joan Walsh seems to have completely missed Dean's impact on liberals. "Taking down Rove is hard work and if you're having fun you're not doing it right," she says. She's wrong: Taking down Rove and Co. is hard work and is fun, when roving packs of blogging liberals donate to Senate campaigns in Kentucky, South Dakota and other hot spots. To wit: The stunning Dem success of the KY6 special runoff campaign this past Tuesday [when Ben Chandler won a congressional seat in Kentucky] was aided by the dollars and passion of liberal Deaniacs.

I can't think of a better way to sustain a movement than through community -- be it online or otherwise -- and dollars and fun. With even the occasional "YEAHRRRHG!" thrown in for good measure. The rest of the dour Dems can sit home making google eyes at Edwards or Kerry -- I'm continuing to take my party back.

-- Margaret Weigel

Here in Durham, N.C., a core of Dean supporters has been working for a while, and will continue to do so, to become leaders in our local Democratic Party. Precinct chairmen, activists in the party. This is so that we can begin to purge the influence of the DLC from the party, in order to begin to shape the Democrats into something other than cowardly, watered-down Republicans. That's the point. If Dean can morph his campaign organization into a tool to accomplish this, I'll be right there.

I for one will be working to try and keep the Senate seat Edwards abandoned from falling into the hands of a Jesse Helms clone. And once again, I will be voting against the Republicans instead of for the Democratic presidential nominee of my party.

Neither Edwards nor that other political coward Kerry will get a dime of my hard-earned money or a split second of my time. That is because I don't believe either Kerry or Edwards suddenly has a backbone -- their campaign speeches have changed, not their backbones.

-- Lucy McMorris

I'll admit, I can't say for sure how Dean got my vote in the Iowa caucus. What I can say about him isn't even political -- authenticity and passion. Maybe that's the whole point. My only regret is that I didn't buy an organic fair-trade cotton "Dean" T-shirt when I had the chance.

-- Mary Meyer

To the Democratic Party establishment: Your successful efforts to kill the Dean campaign only proves that you are a large part of the problem with this country. I will not vote in this election. I now agree with a previous letter-writer that this country will have to hit rock-bottom with another four years (or more) of Bush & Co. for it to come to its senses. Congratulations.

-- [Name Withheld]

Salon Staff

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