When Kerry worked with Cheney on Vietnam P.O.W.'S

As for Kerry in 1991, since I recognize that the human species is vulnerable to great leaps of self-delusion, I wonder if it's possible that, given the odds that few prisoners could still be alive, Kerry told himself that the greater good for America was simply not to stir a national furor (and possibly damage his career), but instead move toward restoring relations with Hanoi so as to put the past away.

The past, though, can never really be put away. It tells us who we are and how we got that way. And Kerry knows, better than the average citizen, that men who have gone into battle for us at great risk must be properly honored. Those P.O.W.'s kept their part of the covenant with their country. We didn't keep ours. And some day we must own up. What better time than now? What better person than Kerry, who lived through Vietnam and now says he wants to give the nation "a fresh start"?

Yes, he allied himself with Cheney in the past. And now Cheney and President Bush are his adversaries in a presidential election. The twist of history is that the core issue of this election is about truth-telling and whether Bush and Cheney, imbued with ideology and visions of grandiosity, misled the nation into the war with Iraq.

High irony: Cheney and Kerry were allies on the critical P.O.W. issue
photos: Cheney,; Kerry,
High irony: Cheney and Kerry were allies on the critical P.O.W. issue


Previous articles by Sydney H. Schanberg on American P.O.W.'s:

When John Kerry's Courage Went M.I.A.
Senator covered up evidence of P.O.W.'s left behind

Did America Abandon Vietnam War P.O.W.'s? Part 1
A closer look at an ugly issue

Did America Abandon Vietnam War P.O.W.'s? Part 2

Department of full disclosure: I am not someone who wants John Kerry to lose this election. To my mind, he is clearly a better man and leader than his opponent, who has lost his way. But he is also a man who, like many politicians embedded in government for a long time, has on some occasions allowed his ambition and perhaps his hubris to cloud his judgment. So why, with this piece, have I now written two stories for the Voice (and dozens of other stories elsewhere in the past) about Kerry's role as chair of that committee—stories that might cost him some votes? The answer is twofold. First, history and honesty are consequential. A nation can't claim to be a beacon of democracy for the world if the beacon is built on a foundation of lies.

And second, this story has become personally important to me, probably because of my life's arc. I've been in the army, and I've been a war reporter in India and Indochina, where military people have looked out for me. I have learned that duty, honor, country, and band of brothers are not words to be used lightly in political campaigns. I have learned never to confuse soldiers with the policies of the men in a nation's capital who have sent them into war. And I believe that abandoning men who have fought under their nation's flag is a terrible betrayal.

In his Democratic convention speech last week, Kerry said: "We have it in our power to change the world again. But only if we're true to our ideals—and that starts by telling the truth to the American people."

I hope John Kerry will turn out to be a different kind of leader. I hope he digs deep and tells us the truth about the band of men—not the "small number" they were reduced to in his committee's report—who were left behind in 1973 in Vietnam. That would truly be a fresh start.

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