Kerry, Politics and Vietnam - More than Medals vs. Ribbons

Stephen Sherman
Thursday, June 24, 2004

The 2004 Presidential race has re-focused the public's attention on the Vietnam War and its legacy. Many of the myths of the 1960’s and 1970’s have been revived as “truths” and these “truths” are now weapons in the political debate.

Vietnam was a formative experience for me and for many of my comrades, including John Kerry. I’m sure that this was not unique to the Vietnam War, but Vietnam veterans had to add to their military experience the impact of the distorted lens through which they were viewed – both when they came home and later.

False distortions of how we conducted ourselves in Vietnam initially advanced by North Vietnam were spread by many in an anti-war movement here at home led by some who were more anti-American than pacifist.

Jane Fonda was not atypical of many anti-war activists, going so far as to tell students at Michigan State University (Nov. 1969), “I think that if you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would someday be communist.”

We veterans fought to preserve freedom of speech, but freedom does not abrogate the individual’s responsibility for the content of statements.

How damaging were comments like Fonda’s, Kerry’s and others of the anti-war movement? After the war, some of North Vietnam’s top communist leaders told western journalists that the American anti-war movement was central to their prosecution of the war.

As early as 1965, the North Vietnamese issued a stamp depicting a group of demonstrators waving anti-war signs written in English.

Far from the battlefield, this movement, assisted by leaders of America’s media culture, was able to attain sufficient political traction to diminish, and ultimately end, support for our hapless allies, the South Vietnamese.

Attempts to paint a faithful picture of Vietnam were drowned out by a doctrine that has since morphed into the current political rhetoric and few people have re-examined their views in the light of the horrendous events that occurred after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

For those clinging to the myths perpetrated by Jane Fonda, John Kerry and their ilk – that the American troops committed atrocities in a neo-colonialist war – the fault is not entirely their own.

No one can undo 40 years of misrepresentations, but we owe it to our nation, to those who fought and bled and died in Vietnam and to those who have and will serve into the future, to analyze and critique such misleading “lessons of history.”

For those who are imbued with the myths of Vietnam and its veterans, that John Kerry espoused, how can you not see John Kerry himself as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode?

All of us are influenced by the way we see the world, past and present. If we view it through a prism as distorted as the anti-war movement’s Manichean perspective – whether we are voters, commentators or elected officials – the result will deadlock our political processes and embolden out enemies.

Senator Kerry and influential proxies such as Edward Kennedy are making the Vietnam War a major touchstone for this campaign.

My fellow citizens need to re-examine the myths of that war, to reject any political analysis based on those myths, and to correct the mis-directions in which those myths have led us all.

Stephen Sherman ( served as a Lieutenant with 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam, 1967-1968. He maintains a database and publishes archival information on Special Forces in SE Asia. He is a frequent participant in the symposia at the Vietnam Center, Texas Tech University, and ran four annual Vietnam Veteran Film Festivals in Houston from 1988-1992. A recent op-ed “Conduct Unbecoming” was published by the Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2004. He is contemplating a conference to examine the myths of the Vietnam War.