Thanks to this post by Instapundit, I came across an out-of-print hard-to-find book called "The New Soldier". Although the book purports to be "by" John Kerry, it is simply a compilation of quotes and memories from various Vietnam veterans (Kerry didn’t even compile the quotes).
In fact, Kerry’s only "new" contribution toward the book was the epilogue. I read it, and was struck most by the last paragraph. Within those few sentences — written more than 30 years ago — flowered the salient differences between John Kerry and George Bush, both as men and as leaders. I will emphasize the key sentences below. Here’s what John Kerry, reflecting on his war experience, wrote:
I myself went into the service with little awareness of the people in the streets. I accepted then and still accept the idea of service to one’s country. But because of all that I saw in Vietnam, the treatment of civilians, the ravaging of their countryside, the needless, useless deaths, the deception and duplicity of our policy, I changed. Traditional assumptions and expectations simply were not enough.
Note to Bush supporters: When people experience things which cause them to change their views, it is not a "flip-flop". It’s called growth and experience. Something the current President lacks.
Going on . . . .
I still want to serve my country. I am still willing to pick up arms and defend it — die for it, if necessary.
Difference #1: Kerry was still willing to pick up arms and defend his country . . . even after going through the Vietnam experience. Bush, on the other hand, who supported Vietnam, wasn’t willing to pick up arms and defend his country.
You can do the song-and-dance about "whether or not Kerry was in Cambodia on Xmas 1968 as opposed to January 1969", and I can do a song-and-dance about whether Bush actually completed his Air National Guard duties, and so on. But . . . we’re all men here (well, most of us), right? Get real and ask yourself: What defines a "patriot"? And which candidate’s life experience more closely fits that definition?
Going on . . .
Now, however, I will not go blindly because my government says I must go. I will not go unless we can make real our promises of self-determination and justice at home. I will not go unless the threat is a real one and we all know it to be so.
Difference #2: Kerry learned the folly of sending troops to fight against a "threat" which is not real. He was talking about this stuff 33 years ago — waaaaay before he was a politician, and waaaaay before he ever ran for President. He was talking about it from first-hand experience.
President Bush, on the other hand, even with the benefit of hindsight, still has not learned that lesson (remember, Bush doesn’t make mistakes).
I recognize that even experienced politicians must endure a learning curve when they enter the Oval Office. But Bush isn’t into learning, and never has been. As a young man, he wasn’t putting himself through the same life experiences as Kerry. And as a older man, he’s still not interested in learning from mistakes, or even getting input from those who might enable him to be make more well-informed decisions.
Pre 9/11, it may not have mattered, but now we can’t afford that amateur-ism in the White House anymore. The above passages show that Kerry is serious about defending the country, but equally serious about not wasting soldiers’ lives needlessly and without just cause. Unlike Kerry, Bush didn’t learn this lesson 33 years ago. What is worse, he is steadfastly refusing to learn that lesson as President — and that’s simply tragic.
Sure, there’s plenty of flaws with Kerry. But in these dangerous times, all of them pale in comparison to the substantial differences between Bush and Kerry that I have raised here. Differences as men. This is a serious time in this country’s history — we should want a serious President with a trunkful of real lifetime experiences relating to the serious issues we face and will continue to face.