Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On Saying What You Mean And Meaning What You Say: Or You Can Take The Soldier Out Of The War, But You Can’t Take The War Out Of The Soldier

This is what Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said during a campaign rally for California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

This is what Kerry spokeswoman Amy Brundage said that Kerry’s text had called for him to say, according to an Associated Press report: "Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

This is what President George Bush, campaigning in Georgia for former Republican congressman Mac Collins, said concerning the statement made by Kerry: Calling the Kerry statement “shameful” and “insulting,” Bush said, “The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.”

This is what Kerry said about what Bush said about what Kerry said: "I'm sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate real policy, who won't take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes. It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who've never worn the uniform of our country are willing to lie about those who did."

What we have here, on the face of it, is a failure to communicate, leading to a tiff that points backward to Kerry’s unfortunate habit of hyperbolizing and then braving his way out of a rhetorical hole by a) accusing those wagging fingers at him of outrageous personal attacks, and b) brazenly asserting that no one who has not participated in a war is fit to comment on any matter relating to the military. Soldiers who have seen active service, like Kerry, may join in the discussion and say things that are wounding and wrong; others, including the wounded and the wronged, must bite their tongues.

That view of things is essentially wrong because soldiering does not confer infallibility on the soldierly speaker. However honorable Kerry’s service to his country as a soldier in the Vietnam War, there is no necessary connection between his service and any political statement he may make such that his service will confer on his statement a certitude that belongs properly to a correspondence between unchanging facts and statements made about such facts.

Since Kerry has already admitted, through his spokeswoman, that he did not say what he intended to say, it would be a very small step for a man but a large step for humanity if Kerry would simply apologize for having unintentionally insulted the troops in Iraq, after which everyone could begin to discuss whose grades were lower in college – Kerry’s or Bush’s – and who, of the two, got stuck in a war in Vietnam.
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