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Monday, October 04, 2004

GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY 

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? ... Someone has to die so President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, 'the first president to lose a war.'"

I took a notebook into "GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY," but I didn't write a word. Because of the nature of my blog, I felt it was necessary for me to see the film as soon as possible and get some words into the Blogosphere very quickly. I walked in as a reviewer, but I quickly abandoned that role as I got involved in the film as a spectator, as a cinema fan, as a history student, but mostly as an American who loves his country and hates the way that John Kerry has been portrayed by an out-of-control conservative media piranha attack that has nothing but contempt for the truth if it interferes with their preferred version of reality.

"Going Upriver" follows John Kerry from Yale to Vietnam and back to the United States where he took a brave stand against a war that he had seen with his own eyes. The film uses documentary footage of the war and the protest movement, along with interviews with friends, relatives and other Vietnam veterans, to give the viewer a complete picture of John Kerry's war experiences without the sinister filter imposed by the Swift Boat Veterans for Troof and other lying Bush Administration surrogates. Particularly powerful among the interviewees is veteran Max Cleland, a former Democratic Senator from Georgia who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Cleland is no stranger to Republican double standards and character assassination, and his comments on Vietnam highlight the difference between veteran who run for office and the war-doging Republicans who attack them mercilessly with no concern for decency or honesty.

The footage and interviews that involve Kerry's time in Vietnam are fascinating in their own right, a look at one man's Vietnam, a record of Saigon, the Mekong delta, burned villages and men in combat. But it is the last half of the film that really points out the contrast between John Kerry and George W. Bush. John Kerry is a MAN and we need a man in the White House right now.

The Republicans have characterized Kerry as someone who jumped on the "bandwagon" of the anti-war movement in order to futher his political career. In truth (you Kerry-haters can skip this part because I know how much you hate the truth) Kerry made an anti-war speech at Yale in 1966, before he went to Vietnam. And when was anti-war activism ever a sure-fire strategy for political advancement? If all Kerry was interested in was political office, he would have been much more likely to win running as a veteran without an anti-war stigma. His anti-war activism attracted the anger and the hatred of the Nixon administration (vividly illustrated in "Going Upriver" with Nixon's infamous tapes) and has proven to be a liability over and over again after Kerry's words and actions have been twisted and distorted beyond all recognition.

The assertion that the anti-war movement was ever popular is directly contradicted by numerous conservative voices, people who said that the anti-war movement represented a small minority of radicals and "Communist dupes." Within the film itself, Kerry critic John O'Neill - author of the anti-Kerry pack of lies "Unfit for Command" and a Nixon attack dog against Kerry in the 1970s - says that Kerry's anti-war movement Vietnam Veterans Against the War, represented less than one percent of the Vietnam veterans. Which is it, guys? Was the anti-war movement popular or was it opposed by most Americans? Republicans love to change the terms of the argument to support their latest spin. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be changing the rules by expecting you to start being consistent now.

Kerry's involvement in the anti-war movement illustrates the best qualities of the man. Courageous and eloquent and even visionary at times, he took a role of leadership and helped to legitamize the movement as it challenged the Establishment view of the war. He has gotten nothing but grief for it ever since by people who know better. Kerry's famous testimony before Congress, butchered by the Swift Boat Veterans for Trooth as part of the desparate Republican "Demonize Kerry" campaign, is shown here in long excerpts, as are other speeches and actions of Kerry during this time period. His statements on the futility and the wastefulness of the Vietnam War resonate very powerfully today as the Bush Administration tries to avoid any comparison between Iraq and Vietnam at the same time it mentions Vietnam unceasingly when they can use it to attack John Kerry.

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Even Kerry's critics, and I specifically mean those people who think that the First Amendment should be suspended during wartime when the President is a Republican, should at least have the honesty to recognize that Kerry's action were courageous. Surely they can disagree with him without demonizing him. And if they feel so strongly that they are correct, why do they have to lie so much to make the point?

"Going Upriver" is part pro-Kerry campaign ad, but what's wrong with that? It is also a valuable historical documentary that should resonate with all Americans who are interested in finding out about the history of the Vietnam era, even if they disagree with Kerry's policies, even if they supported the Vietnam War and all its excesses. Long after this campaign is over and Kerry has resoundingly won the election, "Going Upriver" will remain an important film for its insightful and complete look at one man's experiences as a soldier and as a protestor.

Check out the Web site for "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry

For a little balance, when they make the movie about George W. Bush's Vietnam, I'll watch it. Two hours of drinking, using family influence to get a privileged spot, turning down a stint in Vietnam, disobeying orders, skipping a physical, dating Nixon's daughter, campaigning in Alabama, bragging about his drinking, not showing up for duty - it should be gripping cinema.

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