Saturday, August 28, 2004

Painted With the Same Brush

I remembered an incident in my own life that makes me realize, at least to a certain extent, how the Vietnam vets feel when they hear Kerry talking about atrocities committed in Vietnam.

Remember when the Rodney King video came out? He was being beaten by LA police officers and the incident was caught on tape. I was working in the Civil Process office of the Sheriff's Office at the time. Florida has what's called a Baker Act. This is a committment order, signed by a judge placing an individual into a psychiatric treatment center for up to 72 hours for evaluation to determine whether this person is dangerous to themselves or others. A father came into our office with a Baker Act order for his son. I went to the counter and was getting the necessary information when the father said, (and the words are seared, seared, into my memory..oh sorry, I guess I was channeling) "You're not going to Rodney King him, are you? I don't want him hurt."

Somehow, I was able to remain composed and reply, "Sir, this is not the LAPD. We know how to handle ourselves professionally." I can still remember the anger I felt, not at the father who was only concerned about the safety of his son, but at the fact that someone might think his son might be in danger because of actions taken by police officers 3000 miles away. (Okay, there was some anger at the father who was stereotyping all law enforcement officers as being capable of what had happened in LA.) I was also professional enough to refrain from adding, "Unless, of course, your son gets stupid and we have to take appropriate action to enforce the order." The key word, is of course, appropriate. I don't intend to get into a discussion about the Rodney King incident. That's not the point of this post. The point is, an incident in LA, 3000 miles away, effected my job. I realized that incident stereotyped every law enforcement officer in the country. The actions of a few cast a shadow over thousands of others.

Many Vietnam vets feel they were branded as war criminals by Kerry's words. Many people of the time disagreed with the war and used Kerry's words to denegrate the service of thousands of men and women who served honorably. I'm not saying there weren't atrocities committed and acts committed that would and should be condemned. Unfortunately, there are people who do things they shouldn't do (can we say Abu Grahib?). I do believe that Senator Kerry has the right to say what he wants to say, but the Swift Vets, and all Vietnam vets, also have a story to tell. And they also have the right to be heard.

Mr. Kerry started all this by making his Vietnam service the cornerstone of his campaign. Now, he has to live with the backlash.

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