The liberal revival of the Vietnam War in this election year is an exercise in nostalgia. For the baby boomers who played through those days of rage, it's like "they're playing our song." It's a revival of the energy of idealism in the service of revolution, "us against them" in the sensual pleasures of protest. The South of Faulkner's telling is right, after all: The past is not dead, the past is not even past.
John Kerry gets the best of all possible worlds. He can put on one halo with the medals he once pretended to throw away, the man who went off to war and came home a hero. He can put on another halo as the man who, safely home, told a committee of the U.S. Senate that the soldiers he had left behind in Vietnam were rapists, baby-killers and artists of unimaginable atrocities.
George Bush, like Dan Quayle before him, is tarred and feathered for having served in the National Guard service while Bill Clinton's draft-dodging is kept out of sight, out of mind and off-limits to purveyors of nostalgia.
If the proverbial Martian were to land among us, he would think the war we're in is not against terrorism but against the Viet Cong. The world we live in is so different from the world in which we fought the Vietnam war that it's both decadent and dangerous to play out that past as a guide to the future. But the Democratic primaries give the angry, out-of-power leftists a sense that they can revive the '60s and revel again in war, revolution and fun in the sleeping bags spread out across the living room floor.
They ignore the big questions. Has anyone asked Kerry whether his views on Vietnam have changed over the years? If so, how? Has the conduct and corruption of the communists in Hanoi led him to think again? Did the plight of the boat people refine his understanding of how the hot war played out in the Cold War?
Many Vietnam protesters (including me) have put away the childish naivete of youth even if we haven't renounced our criticism of how Lyndon Johnson conducted the war. Unlike a rolling stone, we've gathered a little moss.
Before Kerry revived Vietnam and his several positions on the war, we were sharply focused on the fight against terrorism, facing up to the difference between the world before 9/11 and the challenge after 9/11.