The good news is that Secretary of State John Kerry is not Ayaan Hersi Ali, and therefore his address to Yale graduates on College Class Day was not cancelled by a tremulous administration responding to charges that the appointed speaker had needlessly denigrated Islam. Yale, one may be thankful, is not Brandeis University, which first announced plans that it would bestow an honorary degree on Hersi Ali and later cancelled her invitation to speak at the college when students and Muslim organizations became restive.
Mr. Kerry, assuredly, is no Hersi Ali. His comments concerning the murderous assault on Christians by Muslim Salafists in the Middle East and Africa are so mild and inoffensive as to be barely noticed at all.
Nor is Mr. Kerry Condoleezza Rice, currently a professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and the first African American in U.S. history to be appointed Secretary of State. Ms. Rice graciously declined the invitation to speak at Rutgers University when students at the university professed to be agitated by former President George Bush’s Iraq War.
Ms. Rice fell victim to academic indignation when leaders of the university’s Islamic organizations, Ahluk Bayt, MuslimGirl and the Muslim Student Organization wrote a letter to Rutgers’ President charging that Ms. Rice, in her official capacity as Secretary of State, had been guilty of “grave human rights violations, defrauding the American public” and unequivocally supporting “enhanced torture tactics.”
“During a six-hour ‘occupation’ of a campus office building,” one news outlet reported, “demonstrators labeled Rice a ‘war criminal’ and suggested that her rightful place was not in front of a college commencement crowd but in the docket.”
The President of Rutgers showed some spine by refusing to withdraw the invitation, but Ms. Rice declined to appear because, she said, the invitation “has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
Mr. Kerry’s invitation to speak was not protested by Yale students. Nor was President Barack Obama denounced by aggrieved Islamic student organizations for having sent Navy Seals into a sovereign nation to assassinate Osama bin Ladin, a charismatic, Islamic “religious leader. Protesting that the war in Iraq was the wrong war, Mr. Obama disengaged and committed many more American troops to “the right war” in Afghanistan, a collection of warlike tribes sometimes called by historians “the graveyard of empires.”
During his self-effacing remarks at Yale, Mr. Kerry may have unintentionally appropriated a line from T.S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions
Which a minute will reverse.
Mr. Kerry advised graduating Yale students to tie their courage to the hitching post or, as Lady Macbeth says, “But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail.”
Said Mr. Kerry, “Class of 2014, your job is to disturb the universe. You have to reject that these problems are too big, so don't weigh in." Courage must not “fall victim to the slow suffocation of conventional wisdom.”
For a good part of his life, Mr. Kerry said, hidebound institutions and conventional government had responded laconically to society’s “felt needs.” As examples of the incapacity of government to respond quickly and adequately to “felt needs,” Mr. Kerry mentioned the Civil Rights Movement, the Clean Air Act and, according to a report in a Hartford paper, “ the ending of the war in Vietnam.”
Ah yes – Vietnam. Mr. Kerry is something of an authority on the Vietnam years, a national agony that corresponded neatly with the breakdown of authority in colleges: Spitting at returning troops, non-negotiable demands made of college deans by students occupying his office, and a highly fictionalized view of the role played by soldiers in Vietnam were all characteristics of the age of protest. The students to whom Mr. Kerry directed his remarks at Yale, unlike the Secretary of State, have no personal recollection of the Vietnam War era. They depend for an accurate remembrance of times past upon such as Mr. Kerry, one of the disturbers of the universe during the Vietnam period.
Upon his return from service in Vietnam, Mr. Kerry was not one of the troops spat upon by war protesters, possibly because he eagerly joined their protests as a member of the "Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” Invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1971, Mr. Kerry pulled out all the anti-Vietnam War stops, and then some. He and other returning soldiers whom he contrasted in his testimony to Thomas Paine’s “sunshine patriots” had just finished conducting in Detroit an investigation into war crimes committed by American troops in Vietnam. In his Congressional testimony, Mr. Kerry reported the findings of the “Winter Soldiers” with which he strongly identified. He wished to emphasize that the details he was providing to the Congress were:
… not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day to day basis, with the full awareness of officers at every level of command. It’s impossible to describe to you what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. But they did. They relieved the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories of times they personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown (sic) up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, raised villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war, in addition to the very particular ravaging which is done by the power of this country. We called this investigation the “winter solider” investigation…
Mr. Kerry’s graphic description of war crimes committed by American troops in Vietnam – “… not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day to day basis, with the full awareness of officers at every level of command” – did not prove a bar to his long career in the U.S. Senate, his bid for the presidency in 2004 or his appointment as U.S. Secretary of State following the resignation, presumably for health reasons, of possible Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
During his presidential bid, Mr. Kerry campaigned in opposition to the Iraq War, having voted two years earlier in favor of a measure authorizing then President George Bush to use force in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Such pirouetting is not uncommon among congressmen who decide they are presidential material.
Yale students who may have expected a heroic anti-Vietnam War protester to launch verbal missiles at Islamic terrorists who have only recently cut off the ears and arms and heads of Christians in the Middle East and Northern Africa very likely were disappointed in Mr. Kerry’s College Class Day address, a good part of which was devoted to the ravages to the environment caused by an over-reliance on oil.
China and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have just concluded a multi-billion dollar oil deal, shredding whatever serious sanctions might be imposed by Mr. Kerry on a proto-Stalinist Russia now busily dismembering Ukraine.