Thursday, July 29, 2004

Here’s an un-Conventional line of thought: I’ve sometimes wondered, idly, how it could be that John Kerry had so many pictures of himself from his Navy days in Vietnam. Just four months “in country,” as Vietnam vets say, during which time he earned three Purple Hearts, one Silver Star and one Bronze Star, and he comes home with what are reportedly hours — hours! — of 8 millimeter film. Some snips appear in Kerry campaign ads; more show up in the Great Kerry Convention Biopic produced by Spielberg protege James Moll. How did Mr. Kerry do it?

Now we know. That is, according to the Drudge Report, a new Regnery book, John O’Neill’s “Unfit for Command,” will explain all. “Kerry would revisit ambush locations for reenacting combat scenes where he would portray the hero, catching it all on film,” writes Mr. O’Neill, whose still unpublishedbook rocketed to No. 2 on Amazon’s sales list after the Drudge story appeared.”Kerry would take movies of himself walking around in combat gear, sometimes dressed as an infantryman walking resolutely through the terrain. He even filmed mock interviews of himself narrating his exploits.” Sounds as if after the heat of battle cooled, Mr. Kerry and crew would motor out on location to shoot — with film, this time — a retake of the latest patrol, starring himself. You can almost hear the post-battle cry across the delta now: “Action!”

Not so, says the Kerry campaign. Or, rather, not exactly so. Fox News Channel reported the “Kerry campaign acknowledged that after a number of skirmishes and battles, Kerry and his unit did return to the various locations to film one another,” but officials “adamantly denied” they returned to “reenact” any incidents. Still, “reenact” is the word the Boston Globe used to describe the Kerry home war movies back in 1996, and the same verb crops up again in another new Regnery book, Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson’s “Reckless Disregard.” “On February 28, 1969,” the author writes, “Kerry came under fire from an enemy location on the shore. The crew’s gunner returned fire, hitting and wounding the lone gunman. Kerry directed the boat to charge the enemy position. Beaching his boat, Kerry jumped off, chased the wounded insurgent behind a thatched hutch, and killed him.”

This isn’t exactly Sergeant York, but, as Lt. Col. Patterson tells it, Mr. Kerry apparently rated his exploits (which earned him a Silver Star and a Purple heart) too good simply to write home about: “Kerry and his crew returned within days, armed with a Super 8 camera he had purchased at the post exchange at Cam Ranh Bay, and reenacted the skirmish on film.”

Before writing another word, I guess I better pay homage to Mr. Kerry’s military service. But, frankly, I draw the line at paying homage to the reenactment of his military service. In fact, I find this behavior so extremely weird I quail at the thought of the man even possibly becoming president. Of course, such bizarre revelations — a big picture window onto his nature — could well be a drag on his White House run. Why? There is something so preening in his calculation, so self-conscious in his self-dramatization, that there is ample reason to question Mr. Kerry’s perspective on reality — or, rather, his own sense of place in it.

Then again, maybe Mr. Kerry’s war record of fighting by day, filming by day-after shows a perfectly commendable, eyes-on-the-prize focus on the future, or at least his future. As the Boston Globe put it, we have to reckon with this “young man so unconscious of risk in the heat of battle, yet so focused on his future that he would reenact the moment for film. It is as if he had cast himself in the sequel to the experience of his hero, John F. Kennedy, on the PT-109.” Crucial to remember, of course, is that the 1963 movie “PT-109” starred not JFK as JFK, but Cliff Robertson as JFK.

Author O’Neill, who took command of John Kerry’s swift boat after Mr. Kerry left Vietnam and who actively opposes his presidential candidacy, includes this reminiscence in his book, which may explain Kerry the auteur: “A joke circulated among Swiftees was that Kerry left Vietnam early not because he received three Purple Hearts, but because he had recorded enough film of himself to take home for his planned political campaigns.” Funny enough to the guys, then. But here we are, 35 years later, and “John Kerry: The Movie” is part of a presidential campaign, and with Steven Spielberg’s cinematic blessing. Will this long-in-the-making epic be a 21st-century success?

Here’s how: George W. Bush wins a second term, and John Kerry wins an Oscar.

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