Tim Russert interviewed John Kerry on Sunday. The transcript is at the MSNBC website. There's a nice long bit at the end where Russert presses Kerry on some stuff he's said in the past about Vietnam. Here's Kerry from the 1971 Meet the Press appearance:
There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.
When Russert now asked Kerry about that statement and if he really thinks he and all those other U.S. soldiers committed atrocities, Kerry gave the following response:
SEN. KERRY: Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me. You know, I thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word. I think it's an inappropriate word. I mean, if you wanted to ask me have you ever made mistakes in your life, sure. I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. It was honest, but it was in anger, it was a little bit excessive.
MR. RUSSERT: You used the word "war criminals."
SEN. KERRY: Well, let me just finish. Let me must finish. It was, I think, a reflection of the kind of times we found ourselves in and I don't like it when I hear it today. I don't like it, but I want you to notice that at the end, I wasn't talking about the soldiers and the soldiers' blame, and my great regret is, I hope no soldier -- I mean, I think some soldiers were angry at me for that, and I understand that and I regret that, because I love them. But the words were honest but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top. And I think that there were breaches of the Geneva Conventions. There were policies in place that were not acceptable according to the laws of warfare, and everybody knows that. I mean, books have chronicled that, so I'm not going to walk away from that. But I wish I had found a way to say it in a less abrasive way.
He thinks his way of putting it was wrong. Why? You have to read between the lines a little to get his reason, but it seems to me that his excuse for putting it that way is that he was being honest, i.e. telling what he believed (and still does, if I read him correctly) to be the truth, just using inappropriate words to do so. What's inappropriate about it? If the honesty excuses it, then it's not as if the words he was using are misleading. After all, he was being honest. It's not misleading if it's honest, is it?
The only other reason I could think of for saying the choice of words was inappropriate is that people would be offended by it. But that pretty much amounts to saying it's unfortunate simply because it would later be politically damaging (well, there is that stuff about loving his fellow Vietnam vets, but he did make it clear in the original speech that he didn't blame them but the higher-ups who OKed it). People didn't like it the way he put it. That's what seems to have affected how he now views the comments. He now wishes he'd been less abrasive. Does that mean he wishes he'd been less honest?
So if I'm reading him correctly, he's being honest yet again, this time with his view that it's ok to sugar-coat the truth for political purposes. Most politicians don't admit that that's what they're doing. Unfortunately, however much this honestly would normally impress me gets counterbalanced by the fact that he seems to think it would have been a good thing for him to tone down his rhetoric and be less honest. What he's being honest about is a view I find troubling.