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Sunday, September 26, 2004

The two most flattering photographs ever taken of John F. Kerry

I've published (and will probably continue to publish) mocking photographs of Sen. John Forbes Kerry.  But in this post, you'll see what I believe to be the two most flattering pictures of him ever made. 

The first is famous and has been widely seen:  It's on Sen. Kerry's campaign website, for instance, and on the cover of Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, and shows Kerry in his Navy dress whites, receiving one of his medals:

The second photograph is comparatively obscure, although it appeared (without the cropping I've imposed here) in Kerry's 1971 book The New Soldier:

Scot Lehigh's Boston Globe op-ed from April 28, 2004, describes this second photo thusly:

The photograph shows a man sitting hunched on the lawn near the Capitol, his head bowed. Sitting beside him is a woman.

The picture, in "The New Soldier," a book of photographs and essays about the April 1971 antiwar protest in Washington, is of John Kerry.

The woman comforting him is Julia Thorne, Kerry's first wife. The photograph was taken just minutes after veterans tossed their war decorations over a wood-and-wire fence erected to keep protesters off the Capitol steps.

Kerry was overcome with emotion at the time. Both David Thorne, Julia's brother and one of Kerry's best friends, and George Butler, the documentary filmmaker [and another of Kerry's lifelong friends since Yale] who took the picture, recall him being in tears. He had come to Washington to try to wake America up about the Vietnam War, and he had returned ribbons commemorating war heroism [that] he was proud of [in order] to make a statement.

My blogospheric friend the Carnivorous Conservative points out that Ms. Thorne knew in advance of young Kerry's plan to throw his (or someone's) medals (and/or ribbons) over the Capitol fence, having told of the plan while lunching "one day in 1971 at the Italian Embassy with a group of elegant Washington women."

In the years since 1971, Kerry has grown defensive over this "return" of his medals — a highly publicized symbolic act that has been used by his opponents in many of his previous political races, and now again (as I've previously written about) in the fourth and fifth of the SwiftVets' ads.  I continue to believe that he has good reason to be defensive — that the symbolic act, though sincere and heartfelt, was profoundly foolish and offensive.  That it provoked young Kerry at the time to tears, and to seek comfort in his young bride's arms, however, actually speaks better of him to me than anything he has said or done since, although I don't know whether his mix of powerful emotions then included any shame or regret.  Michael Kranish et al.'s biography of Kerry tells us (at page 127) that just "days earlier, Kerry had been quoted in the Washington Post as expressing distaste over 'medals for nothing.'"  But the sight of Kerry weeping seems rather more consistent with the look of pride on Kerry's face in the first picture than such a cynical statement by him, even then, would suggest.

I'm not suggesting now that candidate Kerry should contrive an "Edmund Muskie moment."  Not everyone would react to this old picture with the same degree of sympathy that columnist Lehigh did in his above-quoted op-ed.  John Kerry continues to strike me as, on the whole, a particularly unsympathetic person.  But I will allow that this obscure second picture strikes a sympathetic chord in me.  It makes it all the more a pity that as he's aged and progressed through his political career, John Kerry has done so little to apologize to others, or redeem himself, for the symbolic act that brought him to tears in this second, obscure photograph, and so little to justify the honor that was being conferred upon him in the first, more famous one.

Posted by Beldar at 08:48 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 27, 2004 10:26:27 PM


(1) ctob made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 10:07:05 PM | Permalink

I have never been able to figure out how so many dramatic moments of this man's life have been captured on film.

(2) Palooka made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 11:00:32 PM | Permalink

You're too easy on him.

It's difficult for me to find a reason for him to be crying when the event was staged. What would be emotional about throwing someone else's medals away and pretending they were yours?

It was pure political calculation. If he those tears are genuine, then he's crying because he realized how shameful his actions were that day.

I would have more sympathy if had actually thrown his medals. Instead, it is but one of countless examples of the essence (or lack thereof) of Kerry--he will do or say whatever it takes to advance himself.

(3) Mike made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 11:09:52 PM | Permalink

Sorry, but I got a paycheck that says this was staged. When it comes to phonys like Kerry, it's hard not to be cynical!

(4) Mike H. made the following comment | Sep 26, 2004 11:19:21 PM | Permalink

Everyone in front of me. Hear, Hear!

He's just trying to be on both sides of
another argument.

(5) Ketchikan made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 2:56:09 AM | Permalink

Come on, this is the man who took a Super 8 to 'Nam. Butler is still "creating' the hero to this day.

(6) HA made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 6:08:16 AM | Permalink

I bet this photo was staged. Kerry is too corrupt to have such a genuine emotional reaction.

(7) dagny taggart made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 9:42:50 AM | Permalink

Indeed, I also believe that Kerry staged this photo. He is far too calculating to ever cry in public, unless it is to further his aims. More likely, he was moaning about not having received enough attention at the rally.

(8) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 10:10:38 AM | Permalink

I too have to fall on the cynical side here. Beldar makes an argument that would be tenable if not for all the examples of political calculation that emerge from studying Kerry. That Beldar is willing to consider Kerry might be sincere here says more complimentary things about Beldar than it does about Kerry.

(9) Mr. K made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 11:21:54 AM | Permalink

photos at www.sacredcowburgers.com are better.

(10) LBJ made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 11:39:25 AM | Permalink

Or it shows how Kerry is willing to throw away anything he believes in if it will keep him at the top and in the limelight.

(11) Jim Bender made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 3:49:31 PM | Permalink

These pictures help to humanize John Kerry. It was good to see the picture that showed he was overcome by the experience of throwing away his medals. John Kerry seems reluctant to let us see him as a person. In this campaign, we have only seen the "fake" John Kerry in manufactured scenes.

I have an idea that the "real John Kerry" is what we have glimpsed in his letters from the Gridley, were the concept of war bothered him.

He was the child of privilege and lacked experience with ordinary people. His service in the Navy probably was his closest encounter with average Americans of the day. My experience in the Navy through the 1970's gave me the complete "slice of life", so I imagine the John Kerry had some of that experience, as well.

Since then, he seems to have lived in cocoon.

(12) SueBob made the following comment | Sep 27, 2004 6:11:13 PM | Permalink

I. Don't. Buy. It.!

If this was a truly spontaneous moment of emotion, why did he choose to position himself so far from the rest of the crowd? Maybe to be the focus of the photograph?

Second, if you read Unfit for Command, it was made clear that he never bonded with his peers. He was a griper and only there for 4 months. From what well does he draw such emotion if not from the bonds of comradeship with his fellow swiftees which he never developed?

Given that he was there only four months and saw minimal action, what Vietnam experiences were so "seared" in his mind as to evoke tears?

I saw former law partner of mine who was an extremely tough ex-Marine captain, and is now deceased because of cancer that may have been caused by agent orange, tear up only one time in the 17 years I worked with him. That was when he was remembering the day his entire platoon (I'm unsure if this was the technical term) shot down around him. He held onto a couple of them as they died.

That's why this photo makes me sick with disgust.

(13) Zachriel made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 10:51:45 AM | Permalink

SueBob: "Given that he was there only four months and saw minimal action, what Vietnam experiences were so "seared" in his mind as to evoke tears?"

Perhaps because he lost friends in Vietnam, including his childhood friend, Richard Pershing (grandson of "Black Jack" Pershing who commanded U.S. forces in WWI).

(14) dennisw made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 11:30:33 AM | Permalink

He earned his medals through fraud and deceit. A wise ass Yale college boy gaming the system. No wonder he had low inhibitions about chucking them over the fence.

(15) dennisw made the following comment | Sep 28, 2004 11:34:16 AM | Permalink

John Kerry wasn't straight about earning these medals and he's never been straight about what exactly he tossed over the fence that day. Medals? Ribbons? Another guy's medals? He's told many stories about this.

(16) A Hunny made the following comment | Sep 30, 2004 9:21:20 AM | Permalink

If authentic, self-dramatizing moments like this are consistent with the incoherent self-righteousness and exaggeration that have characterized Kerry in the campaign. Sentimentality is the other side of the tyrannical bully.

It's also indicative of what Jungian psychologists call the failure of male initiation into the world of manhood. Wanna get really technical, it's called puer aternus. Emotionally shaky, leaning on strong women, complainers, blamers.

Muggers are sweet to their puppy dogs. It's not "humanizing."

(17) Leah Murphy made the following comment | Oct 23, 2004 9:17:15 PM | Permalink

I pray to God that John Kerry does not become the President of the United States. I truly believe that George Bush is the only man that has the faith and the God given strength to do what needs to be done to keep America safe. Please pray that "W" gets re-elected.

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