A Question of Character

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that we’re reliving the last days of the Roman Empire. Of course, that’s not all bad, especially if you like peeled grapes, gladiatorial games, and those cute little tunics on men: but it isn’t all fun and games, either, particularly when you get into the political arena, not to mention the foreign policy realm. All those wars drained the Roman treasury, and fatally attracted a horde of barbarians whose ire was ultimately the empire’s undoing. The once noble Romans, having succumbed to the lure of bread and circuses, and given up their old republic, were saddled with a long succession of tyrannical and often crazed rulers: the depraved Caligula, the murderous Nero, the out-of-control teenage drag queen Elagalabus. A full accounting of the psychos who donned the Imperial purple would read like a volume by Kraft-Ebbing.

Our own degeneracy nearly matches that of our Roman predecessors, and so I am perfectly willing to believe this report from Capitol Hill Blue:

“President George W. Bush is taking powerful anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia ….

“The prescription drugs, administered by Col. Richard J. Tubb, the White House physician, can impair the president’s mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and his ability to respond to a crisis, administration aides admit privately.

“‘It’s a double-edged sword,’ says one aide. ‘We can’t have him flying off the handle at the slightest provocation but we also need a president who is alert mentally.’

“Tubb prescribed the anti-depressants after a clearly-upset Bush stormed off stage on July 8, refusing to answer reporters’ questions about his relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth J. Lay.

“‘Keep those mother*uckers away from me,’ he screamed at an aide backstage. ‘If you can’t, I’ll find someone who can.'”

If power tends to not only corrupt, but also drives even the best of us a little nuts, then what must it do to a fifth-rate intelligence like George W. Bush, the Boy Emperor of the West? The presidential depression also comes as no surprise: after all, wouldn’t you be a little bit down if you had just committed the worst foreign policy mistake in American history?

Bush paranoid? You betcha. With his aides and advisors feeding him phony “intelligence” – misleading both him and the country into thinking Iraq had WMD and a solid link to 9/11 – and even passing off crude forgeries as “proof” of Iraq’s nuclear weapons procurement program, no wonder the president is paranoid.

As for Bush being “erratic,” in this context that can only be a good sign. The recent trend of U.S. policy – the “handover,” the stand-down in Fallujah, dumping Chalabi – is a negligible but very welcome change, one that augurs well for the hope, proffered by Pat Buchanan, that “we are on the way out” of Iraq. That’s always been the neocons’ great fear, ever since Bush declared “victory” and announced that combat operations in Iraq had “ended” – and one can’t help but wonder, in this context, about the source of these rumors around the president’s alleged malaise.

Loyalty has never been the neocons’ strong suit, and, in any case, one can easily see them jumping ship mid-campaign, especially if John Kerry manages to sell himself as “a hawk among hawks,” as Fred Barnes avers. And he’s trying mightily. However, it isn’t only Kerry’s often expressed hostility directed at the Saudis, and his willingness to appease Ariel Sharon and the Likud party’s American supporters, that ought to concern antiwar voters. Kerry’s character, as well as his politics and policies, will become an issue in this campaign, especially as embodied in his war record.

To begin with, one has to read this account by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair of Kerry’s Vietnam war exploits, which are being touted so loudly from the proscenium in Boston, in tandem with a perusal of this report from the intrepid Matt Drudge, who cites a new book by one of Kerry’s Vietnam era comrades:

“Kerry would revisit ambush locations for reenacting combat scenes where he would portray the hero, catching it all on film. Kerry would take movies of himself walking around in combat gear, sometimes dressed as an infantryman walking resolutely through the terrain. He even filmed mock interviews of himself narrating his exploits. A joke circulated among Swiftees was that Kerry left Vietnam early not because he received three Purple Hearts, but because he had recorded enough film of himself to take home for his planned political campaigns.”

The introductory video preceding Kerry’s convention speech incorporates some of this footage, but, Drudge reports, some shots of bullets hitting the water are “illustrative,” according to the director. But the atrocities committed by Kerry in Vietnam are real enough, as he himself admits here.

Basing much of their case on Kerry’s diaries and letters of the time – as cited in Douglas Brinkley’s recently published and highly complimentary biography, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War – Cockburn and St. Clair draw a disturbingly dark portrait of Kerry “the conquering war hero.”

Already angling for a political career in college, young Kerry made a speech against the war, denouncing LBJ, and then signed up for the Navy and marched off to fight in a conflict he ostensibly opposed. As Cockburn and St. Clair relate:

“Arriving in Vietnam on November 17, 1968, Kerry chafed at patrols around Cam Ranh bay and pushed successfully for assignment to the forward, killing patrols. He was no Al Gore, peaceably smoking dope and shooting hoops on his Army base in Vietnam and writing home fierce moral critiques of the war. ‘I was more opposed to the war than ever,’ Kerry told Brinkley in 2003, ‘yet more compelled by patriotism to fight it. I guess until you’re in it, you still want to try it.'”


From what we know about his activities as a star performer in the naval component of Operation Phoenix, which engaged in wholesale atrocities in Vietnam, it was something other than patriotism that motivated Kerry to cut a murderous swathe through “enemy” villages, mowing down innocents without showing the least sign of remorse, not even years later. As Cockburn and St. Clair relate:

“Day after day, night after night, the Swift boats plied the waters, harassing and often killing villagers, fishermen and farmers. In this program, aimed at intimidating the peasants into submission, Kerry was notoriously zealous. One of his fellow lieutenants, James R. Wasser, described him admiringly in these words: ‘Kerry was an extremely aggressive officer and so was I. I liked that he took the fight to the enemy, that he was tough and gutsy – not afraid to spill blood for his country.’

“On December 2, Kerry went on his first patrol up one of the canals. It was near midnight when the crew caught sight of a sampan. Rules of engagement required no challenge, no effort to see who was on board the sampan. Kerry sent up a flare, signal for his crew to start blazing away with the boat’s two machineguns and M16 rifles. Kerry described the fishermen ‘running away like gazelles.'”

That’s not “patriotism”: that’s bloodlust. And here’s something from Kerry’s record that seems eerily up-to-date:

“Craving more action, Kerry got himself deployed to An Thoi, at Vietnam’s southern tip, one of the centers for the lethal Phoenix sweeps and the location of an infamous interrogation camp which held as many as 30,000 prisoners. Kerry’s first mission as part of the Phoenix program was to ferry a Provincial Reconnaissance Unit of South Vietnamese soldiers, which would have been led by either a Green Beret or CIA officer. After off-loading the unit Kerry hid his Swift boat in a mangrove backwater. Two hours later a red flare told them that the PRU wanted an emergency ‘extraction.’ Kerry’s boat picked up the PRU team, plus two prisoners.

“The leader of the PRU team told Kerry that while they were kidnapping the two villagers (one of them a young woman) from their hut, they’d seen four people in a sampan and promptly killed them. The two prisoners were ‘body-snatched’ as part of a regular schedule of such seizures: the victims would be taken to An Thoi for interrogation and torture. Kerry’s term to Brinkley for such outings – and there were many in his brief – is ‘accidental atrocities.'”

In light of this, Kerry’s promise that he will be a better manager of the Iraq war and prosecute it more efficiently seems rather ominous. As Seymour Hersh reports the existence of a secret network of torture prisons maintained by the Pentagon, and the horrors of Abu Ghraib reverberate throughout the Arab world and whatever is left of the American conscience, the Kerry-ite’s claim that he’ll be just as “tough” as George W. Bush, if not more so, is all too believable. Which is one reason why neocons of the Andrew Sullivan persuasion have jumped on the Kerry bandwagon.

Bush may be a depressed paranoid, but Kerry is a murderous megalomaniac, as revealed by one particularly horrific incident at An Thoi:

“It’s daylight, so the population is not under curfew. Kerry’s boat is working its way up a canal, with a Cobra above it. They encounter a sampan with several people in it. The helicopter hovers right above the sampan, then empties its machineguns into it, killing everyone and sinking the sampan. Kerry, in his war diary, doesn’t lament the deaths but does deplore the senselessness of the Cobra’s crew in using all of its ammunition, since the chopper pilot ‘requested permission to leave in order to rearm, an operation that left us uncovered for more than 45 minutes in an area where cover was essential.'”

In another grisly scene you didn’t see on that “hail the war hero” video, Kerry and his cohorts use an old man as a human minesweeper, making him walk along a path they believed might be paved with Viet-Cong landmines. The trail was clean, there were no Viet-Cong in sight, but the Nung tribesmen Kerry was ferrying slit the guy’s throat anyway, leaving a note on the old man’s disemboweled remains. It turns out that a great many of those medals he pretended to cast away as part of his “antiwar” protesting were for incurring relatively superficial wounds and firing on unarmed villagers. Cockburn and St. Clair cite former assistant secretary of defense W. Scott Thompson’s recollection of a conversation with the late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.:

“[T]he fabled and distinguished chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, told me – 30 years ago when he was still CNO [chief naval officer in Vietnam] – that during his own command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam, just prior to his anointment as CNO, young Kerry had created great problems for him and the other top brass, by killing so many non-combatant civilians and going after other non-military targets. ‘We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control,’ the admiral said. ‘Bud Zumwalt got it right when he assessed Kerry as having large ambitions – but promised that his career in Vietnam would haunt him if he were ever on the national stage.'”

I wonder if the “antiwar” fake-leftist cheerleaders for Kerry can guarantee that they’ll straightjacket him for the duration, and make sure he doesn’t go off on another killing spree. I wouldn’t count on it, however.

Indeed, the question of who will be straightjacketing whom is raised upon reading the news that Kerry supporter and Nader-hater Medea Benjamin – who gave a speech to San Francisco leftists, covered in this space, exhorting her comrades to get with the program and start pulling for Kerry – was arrested and dragged off the convention floor by security guards. Her crime: unfolding a pink banner proclaiming “End the Occupation.”

Hey, Medea, now will you take off that “Kerry for President” button and toss it in the trashcan where it belongs?

Look, I hate to be so bitter about it, but can anyone really blame me for being a little, uh, cranky. After all, here we are faced with a “choice” of war criminals this November, one whose atrocities are in the past and another whose crimes are more recent. We can vote for a paranoid depressive with a megalomaniacal foreign policy, or for a megalomaniac with a history of violence and unmitigated narcissism.

Scylla – or Charybdis?

Poor Medea – now there’s another name with strong mythological overtones! – was sucked under and carried away by the latter, but I hope the rest of her compadres on the antiwar Left don’t make the same mistake – or else they will suffer the same fate.

The only way to register an effective protest against the war is by voting for one of several antiwar candidates being run by the “minor” parties: a large third party vote will send a strong message that the voters are increasingly rejecting the bipartisan interventionist “consensus” of perpetual war.

Ralph Nader is by far the most well-known of these, but the Democrats have done such a good job of enforcing the two-party monopoly on ballot status that it looks like he’ll only be on the ballot in 15 states at the most. I probably won’t be able to vote for him in California, since he needs to collect and turn in at least 250,000 signatures very shortly, which is possible, but not, in my view, very probable. In any case, Nader’s foreign policy positions combined with his fame make him the leading antiwar candidate, albeit not the only one.

In any case, no matter which third party candidate the ballot access laws in your particular state allow you to vote for, one can hardly go wrong no matter which one you pull the lever for – with one important exception, which I’ll get to shortly.

The Kerry-ite Popular Front is yelping that now is not the time to cast a “protest vote,” but they couldn’t be more wrong. It is precisely now, when the leading – and, in an important sense, the only – issue is the war, that a protest is most crucial, and there is no better way to do that than at the ballot box this November. An unprecedented vote for third party candidates, whether Nader, Michael Badnarik (the Libertarian candidate), or Michael Petroutka (the Constitution party nominee).

I want to pointedly exclude Cobb, the “Green” Party candidate, who is explicitly committed to Kerry’s election, and declared that he wouldn’t campaign in “swing states” – meaning any states the Democrats tell him to stay out of. Cobb’s candidacy, a Democratic Trojan Horse inside the Green Party, has turned the Greens into an unofficial arm of the DNC. This maneuver resulted in the effective marginalization of the only candidate – Nader – who could have given expression to the view held by the majority in this country – who believe that the Iraq war was and is a mistake.

I note that the voice of the antiwar movement was entirely missing from the Democratic party convention, while the tired old refrain of the neocons, represented by Senator Joseph Lieberman, was given a prominent prime-time spot. The co-chairman of the newly-reconstituted Committee on the Present Danger explicitly endorsed the war, and hailed the legacy of “opposition to isolationism” embodied by FDR and Harry Truman. Every minority group and ethnic sub-group under the sun was honored and recognized in some form or fashion, given a voice and a forum at this convention – all but the peace movement.

“I’m John Kerry – and I’m reporting for duty.”

Yes, that’s right: in service to the War Party.

Okay, so get ready for the next reenactment of a Soviet party congress, the Republican convention in New York City, at which the same warmongering neocon foreign policy line is going to dominate the proceedings, albeit with a unilateralist flair. We’ll see the rest of the Committee on the Present Danger in Manhattan, where they’ll be a less visible but no less powerful presence, busily policing the place for any small sign of dissent.


Random thought on watching the Democratic party convention: I’m an immigrant, says Gary Locke of Washington; I’m the daughter of immigrants says California Senator Barbara Boxer. Oh, and, by the way, let’s stop out-sourcing jobs to your relatives in Mexico, China, and wherever. Instead, why doesn’t everybody come here? That way they can enjoy the fruits of empire and vote the straight Democratic ticket.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].