An impressive number of people have written me to question why I went out of my way in a recent column to say that John Kerry was “an honorable man.” They point to his 1971 betrayal of his comrades still fighting in Vietnam, and his calling his comrades murderers, rapists, in the tradition of the armies of Genghis Khan. It was a big stretch, but I made myself write “honorable,” as a step toward healing the awful breach that has opened up between political parties in the U.S. I hate what Kerry did then, and I also hate his exaggerations and fantasies about his own behavior in the last three months of his time in Vietnam. It is right for me and others to hold him to account for that behavior, since it was he who put it before us to judge.
Still, in argument I want to stipulate at the beginning that men on both sides are honorable men, and then judge their behavior in that light. I admit, faced with Kerry’s record thirty-some years ago, it feels to me that I am bending over backwards. Others need not go so far. But sooner or later our society does need to get back to the level of civility that concedes each other’s honor and integrity, at least as a starting point, and I am willing to keep making gestures in that direction.