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Bush vs. Kerry on front lines

Kirk Caraway

Republican supporters of George W. Bush have recently been harping on John Kerry’s war record and acting like sharks feasting on fresh meat.

Their excitement centers on questions of how badly hurt Kerry was when he received his first of three Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and whether he threw his medals away in a protest against the war.

Do they really believe this is a winning campaign issue? Certainly Team Bush can’t be this desperate this early.

If they want people to look into the history of Kerry, what they will find is what looks like a mirror image of Bush – privileged youth, private schooling, Yale, Skull and Bones. Have there ever been opposing candidates for the highest office in the land with such similar education credentials?

But after they left Yale, their paths split. Bush, who proclaimed support for the war in Vietnam, used his family connections to get a spot in the Texas National Guard, marking on his application form that he did not wish to serve overseas.

Kerry, on the other hand, made no secret of his opposition to the war. But instead of following Bush into stateside safety, he enlisted as an officer in the Navy and volunteered for duty in Vietnam.

Bush went on to fly the by-then-obsolete F-102 fighter jet on weekends for his duty, safe in the knowledge that he would never be called up for service in Vietnam. He then decided to move to Alabama to work on a political campaign, missing at least some of his duty weekends and his annual physical, which revoked his flight status. He then opted out of his final year of Guard duty to attend Harvard Business School.

In the Navy, Kerry was assigned to a destroyer off the Vietnam coast and could have served out his time there, safely out of range of enemy guns. But he requested “Swift Boat” duty, one of the most dangerous assignments in the Navy at that time. He volunteered his six-man boat to patrol inside the Mekong Delta, perhaps the hottest spot in the war zone. If you need some idea of what this was like, rent “Apocalypse Now.”

Kerry earned a Bronze Star and Silver Star for bravery under fire. One incident has him disembarking from the boat to kill an enemy soldier about to fire a rocket at his crew. Another time, he turned his boat around and drove back into enemy fire to rescue an American in the water.

Some critics have said Kerry only did these things to raise his political capital for a future career in government. But what Kerry did when he returned stateside blows a Texas-size hole in this theory. If Kerry were really this calculating, why would he commit political suicide by protesting against the war? At that time, Kerry stated that his speaking out would probably cost him any chance of a political future. Once again, he followed what he believed to be the right path, without regard to the personal damage it would cause.

Personally, I have major problems with some of Kerry’s policies, and I haven’t really seen him lay out a vision for what he wants to do as president.

But it’s difficult to judge a candidate on policies and visions, which change with the political wind. That’s why character is important. Ignore the rhetoric and look at the important choices someone has made, and the motivations behind them, and you will see a blueprint of who he is and what makes him tick.

Both of these men with the almost mirror-image backgrounds were faced with life-and-death choices at the same period of their lives, and they chose distinctly different paths. While there is no shame in either path, it does clearly show which person you would want with you on the front lines of a war.

And in today’s war, where there is no front line, that’s something to think about.

Kirk Caraway is editor of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and resident of Carson City.