For any of us who have ever watched "The Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," "Hamburger Hill," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," or "Casualties of War," we are well aware that the Vietnam War - and war in general, for that matter - is hell. And the job of a film maker, a writer, an artist, or a journalist who has experienced that hell is to depict it - realistically, surrealistically, whatever way they feel they are best able to describe their experience.
Knowing this, of course, the George Allen campaign has been forced to avoid doing what it would have liked to do, what it is EXPERT at doing, what it LIVES to do, namely to "Swiftboat" Jim Webb. Further complicating matters for the Allen campaign has been the glaring fact that George Allen never served his country in the military, certainly never seen combat, despite being old enough during the Vietnam War to have done so.
How to "swiftboat" Jim Webb, then, without directly "swiftboating" him, has been the overrriding question for the Allen campaign since Day #1. I can imagine that Dick Wad(hams) and Chris La"Swiftboat"Vita must have spent many a night pondering how to deal with this war hero, this man who has been praised to the hilt by no less than the Republicans' greatest hero, Ronald Reagan.
As we have seen with John Kerry and others, the standard operating procedure in the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove/Dick Wad(hams) school of vicious, smashmouth politics, is to torture your opponent's very strength until it actually becomes their greatest weakness. The only question for the Allen campaign, from the outset of this campaign, was how to do that to Jim Webb, a man who is nearly beyond reproach as one of the greatest living American Heroes.
The answer, of course, was to avoid going after Webb's service in Vietnam directly, but instead to attack Webb's "fiction" writings about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Call it "Swiftboating 2.0" - a bit more sophisticated than what Chris LaCivita and Company did to John Kerry, but "Swiftboating" - an attack on a person's core integrity, even on his greatest service to our nation - nonetheless.
Thus, the recent assault on Webb's war (and post-war) novels, in which Webb brutally and realistically describes what he saw in Southeast Asia, even if he didn't understand it at the time, and even if the observations disgusted him. For instance, in his novel "Lost Soldiers," Webb writes about a common cultural practice involving a boy's genitalia he observed while in Southeast Asia. The Allen campaign, to its eternal disgrace, has attacked Webb for writing what he saw in Vietnam. They should be ashamed of themselves, if they had any shame.
All this raises a broader question: does writing about something in a work of fiction mean that the writer/artist APPROVES of the act in question? Let's just put it this way; if that were true, than I'd hate to run into the author of "Silence of the Lambs" or, God forbid, Steven King in a dark alley! And I certainly wouldn't want to run into Joseph Conrad, Elie Weisel, Vladimir Nabokov, or any number of authors who have written about terrible or taboo subjects.
In the case of "Lost Soldiers," Webb is obviously curious and perplexed - as any writer, artist, or perceptive human being would be - by the cultural act he observed. Thus, Webb writes:
"Why did he kiss the little boy's penis?" wondered Dzung. "I do not know," said Manh. And then he shook his head, amazed at Dzung's serenity.
As we now know - the things we learn in political campaigns! - this type of behavior is not at all uncommon in Southeast Asia. And, as we also now know, there are numerous human customs relating to baby's genitalia that might make us uncomfortable but that actually exist.
For instance, there is a practice in some Jewish cultures called "metzitzah b'peh," in which the mohel (Jewish ritual circumciser) "places his mouth on the freshly circumcised penis to draw blood away from the cut." Does this practice, or even the discussion of it, make you a bit uncomfortable? A bit grossed out, or more than a bit? Perhaps it does, and perhaps it should. But things like "metzitzah b'peh" - as well as the act portrayed by Jim Webb in "Lost Soldiers" - are what actually happens in this wonderful world of ours. According to the George Allens of the world, however, we should never speak about such practices, never write about them, never report on them, and DEFINITELY never put them in works of fiction, that dreaded and dreadful thing created (no doubt) by - gasp! - liberals.
Speaking of "liberals," as it turns out, most if not all of Jim Webb's Vietnam War novels - including "Lost Soldiers" - were written during a time in which he had turned against liberalism and had become a Republican (aka, "Reagan Democrat"). Interestingly, the book that helped turn Webb into a Democrat once again - if not exactly a "liberal" - was a work of NON-fiction, the majestic, groundbreaking history of the Scots-Irish in America that Webb entitled, "Born Fighting." Strange how life works out, huh? Sort of like "fiction," perhaps?
Anyway, back to the main point, namely the Allen campaign's smear campaign against Jim Webb, American Hero and "George Allen's Worst Nightmare." Let's be absolutely clear about what's going on here: the Allen campaign is engaging in "Swiftboating 2.0" - attacking a Vietnam War veteran's service in a more subtle, more insidious way than was done to John Kerry. Here, the Allen campaign is not attacking Jim Webb's medals, but instead his memory, his honesty, his integrity, his truthfulness, his observations as he served, fought, and nearly lost his life in Vietnam. And that is a disgrace.
By the way, just to provide a bit of perspective on Allen's bogus "sound and fury, signifying nothing," here's a plot synopsis of the Vietnam War movie, "Casualties of War" (ironically, starring Michael J. Fox):
During the Vietnam war, a girl is taken from her village by five American soldiers. Four of the soldiers rape her, but the fifth refuses. The young girl is killed. The fifth soldier is determined that justice will be done. The film is more about the realities of war, rather than this single event.
Now, here's a plot synopsis for "Platoon:"
A gritty and emotional look at the lives of a platoon of American soldiers as they patrol, fight and die in the jungles of Vietnam as seen through the perspective of a young recruit. Two veteran sergeants clash when one of them precipitates a massacre of villagers.
Also horrible. We could go on and on, of course, through the list of great-but-horrible war movies. How about Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" or "Schindler's List?" Imagine if Spielberg were running against George Allen, what Dick Wad(hams) and Chris LaSwiftboatVita would come up with to smear him? The mind reels at the thought.
Here's the bottom line of all this. Let's not mince words. George Allen and his minions are terrified that they're going to lose. They're desperate. And they're doing whatever it takes to beat back the tremendous challenge by American Hero Jim Webb, even if that means attacking his service to our country, his integrity as an artist, and his values as a man. As Webb senior strategist Steve Jarding wrote yesterday, George Allen has "not earned the right to question Jim Webb's wartime experiences." For that reason, according to Jarding, Allen should "just shut up." Jarding continues:
And finally, to Chris LaCivita, who did serve. Your statement regarding Jim Webb's recollections of his war experiences, do not warrant a response. Shame on you.
The question is, do these people have any shame? How about those who support George Allen? I suppose we will find out on November 7.
Lowell Feld is Netroots Coordinator for the Jim Webb for US Senate Campaign. The ideas expressed here belong to Lowell Feld alone, and do not represent those of Jim Webb, his advisors, staff, or supporters.