American nationalism is truly admirable. Even during the 1960s, a sense of patriotism prevailed in the midst of the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, a misguided national pride based on false information fueled support for the war in the early years of U.S. involvement and led Congress to pass the infamous Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the U.S. to escalate, and lose its prestige and so much of its youth -including disproportionate numbers of Puerto Ricans forced by our colonial condition to needlessly shed their blood.
Yet it was nationalism, correctly understood, that developed and strengthened civic opposition and put an end to that war. As John Kerry, one of the most vocal young protesters of my generation phrased it: “I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.”
During his campaign for president, and as recently as his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Kerry stated that, under his presidency, the United States would never conduct or start a war “because we want to.” He said that the U.S. “should only go to war because we have to.” “And -he admonished- if you live by that guidance, you’ll never have veterans throwing away their medals or standing up in protest.”
This statement is consonant with the young Vietnam Veteran Against the War who repudiated U.S. aggression in Southeast Asia more than three decades ago, courageously denounced U.S. war crimes, and admitted to his part in free-fire zones, in harassment and interdiction fire, and in search-and-destroy missions. Kerry testified back then that U.S. soldiers had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.” In his own words, he realized that Americans “were sent to Vietnam to kill Communism,” but instead ended up “killing women and children.”
Logically, a sense of shame led him to repudiate the Silver Star and the three Purple Hearts he had “won” in Vietnam. He threw what everyone presumed were his medals over a barricade and onto the steps of the Capitol during a highly publicized anti-war protest that contributed to his high public visibility. However, after three terms in the U.S. Senate, his medals have reappeared in his Senate office. And since his nomination, the desire to crown his career with the presidency has begun to plunder his discourse to the detriment of his credibility.
It seemed somewhat contradictory that Kerry would begin his race as a presidential nominee with a documentary film portraying his war experience as a source of glory. Still, ever since John F. Kennedy was depicted as a war hero to compete with his predecessor in the White House, World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower, most presidential aspirants have sought to validate their patriotism through military credentials.
Kerry, flanked at the Democratic convention by his Vietnam crewmates, delivered an acceptance speech laden with references to patriotism and his decorated military record. The explanation for this tastelessness became clear a few days later when an AP poll showed that, among some likely GOP voters, Kerry was catching up to the incumbent’s presumed ability to protect U.S. security. (STAR. Aug.7)
Nevertheless, Kerry’s blamelessness on Iraq still seemed plausible. Like most Americans who originally favored the invasion, he could claim to have been misled about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as a justification for a war that Bush may have wanted, but the U.S. did not need. However, despite this well-known falsehood, Kerry now supports the war. He now argues he would still have voted to authorize American aggression, even if he had known there were no WMDs in Iraq. (AP, Aug. 11) Finally, Kerry’s response to a sarcastic thank-you from Bush was simply that, even without WMDs, he would have used the authority to include U.S. allies so American troops did not have to fight alone. (STAR, Aug. 14)
Really? Ask France, and Germany and, recently, Spain! This new twist on the credibility road to the White House could have deleterious repercussions on foreign and domestic policy in the foreseeable future, if he gets elected.
As regards Puerto Rico, last February 20, Kerry apparently favored colonial commonwealth as a continued arrangement for Puerto Rico. (STAR, Apr. 5.) Yet later, his revised position was to authorize Puerto Ricans to choose a status that “includes national government democracy” from among all options “permitted by the constitution and basic policies of the United States.” (KERRY POLICY PAPER, June 11) Subsequently, a congressman close to pro-commonwealth leaders reaffirmed Kerry’s adhesion to this subservience option, while his official spokespersons have kept silent.
As Kerry’s credibility unravels and our political status remains unresolved, the question regarding Puerto Rico’s decolonization becomes: Would he, or wouldn’t he?
Only a real war hero would know for sure.