RantList Archive

Monday, April 30, 2001

Kerry, Take III

The LA Times quotes a Vietnamese witness who tells a very different story than most members of Kerry's team do. I have no information about this person or the details of how she was interviewed, so I can offer no opinion as to the truthfullness of her account. However, her story does seems to support the story told by the one dissenting member of Kerry's team.

It's only fair to point out that this seeming similarity may be due to clever editing and improper interview technique, something which would not surprise any of us given the media's track record with this sort of thing. Follow the link and decide for yourselves.

Kerry, Take II

Bob Kerry, and all but one member of his team, deny that they killed any women or children intentionally. I have no idea if they are telling the truth or not, but my statement that "[...] there is no real dispute as to the facts of the incident up to this point" is clearly incorrect.

Based on the information I have heard, these men have stated that at least one person was intentionally knifed to death before the shooting started, but presumably anyone killed in this manner was an adult male. I'm sure we will be hearing more about this as time goes on.

Sunday, April 29, 2001

My call on Bob Kerry

I'd expect that most of you have read, or at least read about, the rather startling NYT article describing Bob Kerry's actions as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. At best, Senator Kerry was a good man caught in a bad place; at worse, he was responsible for the sort of war crime that should land him in prison.

I've been careful to read everything I could find on both sides of the issue, which, frankly, has not been much. I've been similarly careful to be critical of the media's bias towards sensationalism, careful of the fragmentary sources, the unconfirmed rumors, and the faulty memories of men who lived in a very different time and place than the one I now enjoy. I have also been careful not to cut any slack where it is not honestly deserved, or to be too impressed by the stature of this one man or his more famous supporters.

I have neither the wisdom or the knowledge to pass judgement, certainly not with such minimal information, and certainly not from the point of view of a lifetime civilian with a fat gut and a cushy day job. I do, however, have an opinion, an internet site, and a small axe to grind, so I will offer that opinion for what little it is worth, and I will base that opinion on the story that follows, which I believe to be a reasonably fair assessment of the facts at hand. (Of course, as more information arises, the soundness of these 'facts' may change).


On Feb 25, 1969, Kerry lead a squad of six other men on a nighttime mission to capture a Vietcong leader in a small, hostile village in a dangerous corner of South Vietnam. They had the authority to kill people in this village as they deemed necessary, and were operating with the explicit expectation that anyone whom they encountered who might jeopardize their mission would be quietly knifed to death.

There is a very strong likelihood they the first five people they encountered - an old man, his wife, and their three small grandchildren - were killed in this way by Kerry's men as they approached their objective. It is quite possible that Kerry did not personally know at the time that his men were knifing children to death in their beds, but it is also reasonable to assume that the age and the gender of these people did not particularly matter. To his credit, Kerry has never shirked his responsibility here, has never blamed anyone but himself. His men did what he expected them to do, even if they operated independently and out of the reach of his vision. Interestingly, there is no real dispute as to the facts of the incident up to this point.

What happened next, however, is hotly disputed; my personal belief is that, in a twisted sort of way, everyone is probably telling the truth. The bottom line is that a handful of women and children, perhaps a dozen, died together in a group under a hail of gunfire. One man on the team, and one presumably independent Vietnamese witness, claim these people were rounded up and intentionally massacred. All of the other men of the team, Kerry included, claim that they were killed by accident in the darkness as the enemy fired upon them.

I can believe both stories; considering that Kerry's team was spread out, doing different things at different times, and remembering different details after thirty years of bad dreams, I'd believe that there could be an honest difference of opinion all around and that the truth lies somewhere in between. What I believe the important point is here, the terrible, important core of it all, is that it really doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter because we sent these young men into a dangerous place with the authority to kill women and children as they deemed necessary to protect themselves and to accomplish their mission. Once you swallow that one, the rest of it is just details.

It is not Bob Kerry's fault we sent him there, it is not his fault we ordered him to kill as he saw fit, and it is not his fault that a dangerous and unstable situation came apart in his hands. I have no reason to believe that Bob Kerry was anything but a good man in a tough place, a man who is on the verge of being betrayed by a government that demanded incredible personal sacrifice, and repaid his efforts by passing the blame for the crimes of his leaders.

Imagine you were Kerry's captain. You send this man and his squad into a village filled with women and children and you order him to kill whoever he has to kill to complete his mission and return. He does what you tell him; he does his duty and you reward him for it, and you send him out to do it again. Thirty years pass and people finally see the ugliness of what happened that night, and they wonder if Kerry should be held personally responsible for the casual way in which civilian lives were spent.


I have never claimed to be an especially ethical person, but I do have my limits. I believe that if you choose to keep an animal in a cage, you have a duty to treat it humanly; once you have used your power to compel this creature to your will, you have taken the responsibility for its own well-being into your hands.

Similarly, I believe that when you order men to do your will, you owe them. You might not be able to be honest with them about what role they will play in the bigger picture of your command, but they have no choice but to trust that you are spending their efforts and their lives in a good and honorable way.

If you were to tell me to kill someone, and demand that I do it instantly and without question, you are demanding that I trust you to an extraordinary degree. Is there anyone you know in your life who you would trust that much? This is the depth of the trust owed by a commander to his men, owed by the generals to their captains, owed by the politicians to us all. It is a serious, life and death, no nonsense, sacred trust. We build the bombs, we risk our lives to fly them to the targets, we drop them on people who fragment and shatter and burn by the thousands and we trust that it was the right thing to do.

Every good soldier has this trust. A good soldier might balk at doing something way out of line, something obviously wrong, something unusual. A good soldier will also not hesitate to do something that is clearly expected, something usual, even if it is something vicious and horrible. He might never sleep soundly again, but he will do it, and he will not complain.


The children who were slaughtered by the big quiet men that crept into their homes that night would be less forgiving if they could speak now, and I would not deny them their hatred. Is it OK to murder a child because it was in the way, and because your boss told you it was OK? There are two answers to this question.

1) Yes, sometimes it is OK.

2) No, it is not OK, and there are about 5000 commanding officers, political leaders and former national security advisors who belong in prison.


My call?

1) Kerry is a good man. Either leave him alone, or considering thanking him for his sacrifice.

2) War in an incredibly ugly thing, a thing that actually makes it OK to kill children if you have to. If you are in the business of killing children, be honest about it to the people you serve, and to the people who serve you.

3) If you order your men to do horrible things and they are later called out for their actions, for god's sake, stand up for them and show them a fraction of the loyalty they showed you. If you are ashamed of what you ordered them to do, it is your shame, not theirs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The gay movement often portrays homosexuals as helpless victims. Here's an alternative: Arm them.

You had to just KNOW I was going to love this...

I stumbled upon this one at http://opinionjournal.com/best/?id=90000484

A year ago the gay libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch penned an article for Salon in which he urged his fellow homosexuals to respond to gay-bashing by taking up arms for self defense. Now the idea, which Rauch dubbed "pink pistols," seems to be catching on. The Washington Blade, a gay paper in the nation's capital, reports that there are now 13 Pink Pistols chapters nationwide, with some 150 members, many of whom are heterosexuals for whom a common love of guns is more important than sexual orientation.

Pink Pistols has a Web site that includes, among other things, a list of antigun companies, organizations and individuals to boycott. Andrew Sullivan reports that "the gay left establishment is mortified,"[...]

You can find the original Salon article (which I think is excellent) at

And the Pink Pistols website at

And yes, I might consider setting up my own chapter and becoming an instructor...

Monday, April 23, 2001

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Saturday, April 21, 2001

"Don't try to be a hero" - Well, why the fuck not?

There was an interesting episode of Dateline the other night, probably more interesting than producers intended. The story was about the inherent unreliability of eyewitness testimony, an important and often overlooked phenomena that leads to all sorts of misunderstandings in the courtroom.

To drive the point home, they filmed the sort of staged crime that is sometimes performed in a law school classroom to help the students appreciate just how fragile their recollection is. As a lecture hall full of earnest first-year law students took notes and listened to their professor, a stranger walked to the front of the class, paused for a moment, and then grabbed the professor's purse and sprinted out the door. The students had no idea that this was being staged for their benefit, and they responded with all the surprise and confusion you might expect. The rest of the show mostly concerned itself with how erratic and inconsistent their testimony was when they were asked the details of what they had seen.

But, that wasn't the interesting point. The interesting point was long-haired, overweight, rather hippie-looking guy who leapt out of his chair and gave chase while probably 50 other kids sat there with their mouths open.

Well, most of them sat there with their mouths open. One, who was sitting near the back row, actually dove under her desk until it was all over.


I'm not going to sit here and claim that running after purse snatchers in New York City is going to be good for your health, but I was struck by a real disconnect between what was happening in my heart and what seemed to be happening in the hearts of the professor, the producers, and the other students in that class. Maybe I missed it, but nobody even thanked this guy, nobody acknowledged his obvious bravery or even credited his willingness to try to help. Hell, I would have crossed two lanes of traffic to shake his hand, but I got the feeling that he was something of an embarrassment to the others.

Well, I think they should be embarrassed.

You know what Stone Phillips would have said, if he had said anything at all - something along the lines of "Don't try to be a hero, you're not qualified to help and you will only make things worse." Ordinary people are not capable of dealing with conflict, or of assuming any risk to help another human being. If you want to be the sort of hero that people admire in today's world, stand back and pick up your cell phone to dial 911. Maybe they will even play the heroic sound of your voice calling for somebody else to come help.

This attitude seems to be everywhere. Wait for someone else, call out for someone else, and hope that all the someones don't follow the same advice you did and that at least one of them is willing to step forward.

I see this all the time... a few weeks ago I stopped to help a family with small children who's car was obviously broken down by the side of the highway as night was falling. As it turned out they were a short walk from home and waved me off, but there must have been fifty cars, at least, that sped past them without even slowing down. (I know this because I sat at a red light for about a minute watching it happen). What the fuck is the matter with these people? Are they afraid some guy with his wife and toddlers in tow is going to shoot them if they so much as roll down their window?

Obviously, you assume some risk in helping others. You also assume risk driving your car, skiing at a resort and eating uncooked cookie dough, but it's a reasonable, calculated risk that needn't take over your whole life. But this is not about being practical, it's something much deeper than that - being a hero, or even making a good-faith effort to try to be one, is often seen as immature and undignified. It's as if you are some little kid pretending to be an astronaut, trying to do something you obviously can't, trying to be something you are not.

It wasn't always like this. We used to encourage little kids and tell them that maybe someday they could do something heroic, maybe save some guy from drowning or rescue an old person from a burning home. We used to reward people for standing up to a purse snatcher, but no the only time such as act is mentioned now is when it involves some 70-year-old woman with a cane who surprises us all with her old-fashioned spunk, a story necessarily closed with that dire but sound advice, "Of course, don't try this yourself".


Well, I have a different take on this.

Try To Be A Hero. Try to do something brave that other people will admire. Take pride in yourself, in you own good sense and abilities, in your willingness to assume a little risk for someone else.

What in god's name is wrong with trying to be good? Even if you fail, so long as you tried in good faith we should applaud you, and we should encourage others to do the same. In short, we should stop walking around like a bunch of overcivilized wimps and start taking a little pride in having some grit and some actual nobility in us.

There's a word for people who are afraid to encourage that part of themselves; they are called cowards, and they are deserving of everything that label implies. Maybe we have managed to build a world for ourselves where well-meaning cowards teach in our schools, edit our newspapers and preach from the television, but that doesn’t mean we have to fall for it ourselves. The world is full of people who think you are being deluded and vain if you dare carry yourself like a brave and capable adult. The world has always been full of them, and their scorn has never been worth all that much.


Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis