With the heavy drumbeat of war deafening the world and the U.S. quick marching to conflict, it might be wise for some in Washington to read Gregory Vistica's The Education Of Lieutenant Kerrey.By any standard, Robert Kerrey is an extraordinary politician: a self-made millionaire who dated actor Debra Winger; a man with movie-star good looks who became governor of his home state of Nebraska; a senator who tried for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, only to lose to Bill Clinton.
Kerrey lost a leg during his stint as the leader of a commando group of very tough Navy Seals and was the first Seal in the Vietnam War to be awarded the Medal of Honor. All he would become was founded on his reputation as a hero. But since 1969 Kerrey had been carrying a secret. Robert Kerrey was, and is, a war criminal.
On the night of February 25, 1969, Kerrey led a small group of Seals downriver into Viet Cong territory hoping to ambush a meeting of enemy officers. Instead, he found a small village populated by women, children and a single old man.
Kerrey, fearing ambush if he let any of the villagers go, told his men to kill everyone. More than 1,200 rounds were fired at the women and children.
The last part of the book deals with how Vistica uncovered Kerrey's war crimes. It's a fascinating look at how a man known for his bravery in other battles became a coward, lying and betraying friends in order to save his own political skin.
When he was in the Senate, Kerrey was one of the most vocal members pushing for force against Saddam Hussein and Serbia. As Vistica notes, "When he found himself on the other side, that of the accused, he claimed ignorance of the very laws to which he used to hold war criminals like Milosevic accountable."
The Education Of Lieutenant Kerrey should be a lesson to everyone. Write Books at email@example.com
The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey by Gregory L. Vistica (St. Martin's Press), 296 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN