The Magazine

Never Apologize, Never Explain

From the November 1 / November 8, 2004 issue: John Kerry's real record as an antiwar activist.

Nov 1, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 08 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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The FBI files, however, don't just reflect Kerry's presence. They show a raucous two-day debate, changing venue midstream when someone announced excitedly that the meeting hall was bugged. The highlight of the gathering was a bitter running battle between Kerry and Hubbard, the two former friends and co-leaders. The brouhaha culminated with Hubbard pulling down his pants to show his scars and Kerry finally resigning from the organization which he had so famously led. Participants interviewed by reporters--including Kerry supporters--scoff at Kerry's claim to have forgotten his starring role at this climactic event.

After the war, when Communist repression spread over South Vietnam sending hundreds of thousands of "boat people" to face likely death at sea, dozens of former antiwar leaders led by singer Joan Baez took out newspaper ads decrying the abuses. Those who joined in the statement did not say that they regretted opposing the war, but they faced up to some sense of responsibility for the painful consequences of what they had advocated. The signers included many from the moderate antiwar camp and even some radicals like the priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan, but John Kerry's name could not be found among them.

Just as he has never brought himself to apologize for having said that committing war crimes was the norm for American soldiers in Vietnam, so Kerry could never voice remorse for what happened to the South Vietnamese when the Communists took over. Although his campaign themes often sound like a litany of second-guessing (in Iraq, Americans did too much of the fighting; in Afghanistan, Americans did too little), Kerry seems never to second-guess himself. Whatever he did, he's proud of it, even if he has to misrepresent it. That would be a worrisome trait in a president.

Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.