Monday, May 01, 2006

Patriotism then and now

Senator Bob Kerrey
John Kerry"I believed then, just as I believe now, that the best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles."
-- John Kerry, April 22nd, 2006 in Boston

Watch John Kerry's Speech

Dear Friend,

When we were in the Senate together, John Kerry and I shared a lot more than a last name. We both came to public service after having served our country in Vietnam. And that experience caused us to make a fifteen year effort to bring peace to Cambodia, resolve the POW-MIA issue, write a road map to normalization with our former enemy, and follow that road map until a former prisoner of war returned as our ambassador in 1998.

That diplomatic voyage was long and very contentious. It began with President George Herbert Walker Bush and ended with President Clinton. It was not possible without the courageous leadership of Senator John McCain and many other Vietnam veterans who served in Congress. It was angrily opposed by many and reignited many of the bitter, personal debates surrounding the war itself.

It's among my proudest accomplishments. We were able -- Republicans and Democrats together -- to achieve a great foreign policy success at the site of our worst foreign policy mistake. We stood shoulder to shoulder for peace and reconciliation. Millions of Cambodians and Vietnamese are better off today because of it. For me this was an effort worthy of our sacrifices and reflects my strongest desire for America's destiny as a peace maker.

For those who have fought in war, decisions about war and peace and how you send men and women to war become personal in a hurry. Wars -- even when we agree they are necessary -- are not the result of our successes; they are the result of our failures.

Something more, though, was seared into both John and me by our Vietnam experiences. Half of the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall are the names of Americans who died after the policy makers knew our nation was on the wrong course, after both political parties called for expeditious withdrawal. And yet the war dragged on for five more years.

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry asked that question as a recently returned Vietnam veteran testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He acted because he believed it was right to dissent from a war he believed was wrong -- and he was willing to endure the attacks of the Nixon Administration which hated John for saying what he believed.

This testimony provoked more than partisan attacks. Even many of his fellow veterans were angry and some never forgave him. I remember this well because I nearly lost my first race for Governor because people thought I was John.

Say what you want about the content of that testimony, it was an act of profound courage. And say what you want about that testimony, there is little doubt that Vietnam and the United States would have been spared tens of thousands of its youth had John's advice been taken.

Ten days ago, in a powerful speech on Iraq and dissent at Boston's Faneuil Hall, John made it clear that those who disagree with President Bush's course in Iraq have a right and an obligation to challenge a President who they believe is wrong, a policy they believe is wrong, and a war in Iraq they believe weakens our nation.

John stood up and defended the dissenters -- whether retired generals or our fellow Vietnam veteran Congressman Jack Murtha.

In an age where those who speak out are too often vilified or worse, John spoke out about and acted on the real meaning of patriotism: having the courage to speak your mind, heart, and gut even when it's unpopular.

I urge you to watch this vitally important speech and to forward it to as many people as possible.


We're at a big moment here - one where each and every one of us must reject attempts to silence criticism of the rudderless course Washington has charted, one in which each of us must absolutely refuse to let soldiers and civilians die to save face for politicians unwilling to admit their mistakes or change course.

I urge you to watch this speech and to join with John Kerry in speaking out and doing everything possible to make 2006 the year that we did what's right for our soldiers in Iraq, our nation's foreign policy values, and our national security.


Senator Bob Kerrey

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