John Kerry's Story Told by Douglas Brinkley

Roundup: Media's Take

Bob Minzesheimer, writing in USA Today (Jan. 15, 2004):

If the Democratic presidential race were judged by literary standards, John Kerry would not be lagging in the polls.

The Massachusetts senator is treated heroically in historian Douglas Brinkley's book, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (William Morrow, $ 25.95). Of the new books by or about the candidates, it's the most dramatic and revealing.

Not a typical campaign book, it deals with how a son of privilege enlisted in the Navy because it was his duty despite misgivings about the Vietnam War.

It describes his role as a 25-year-old lieutenant in the ill-advised Operation Sealords in the rivers of Vietnam, how he was wounded three times and honored for valor.

He emerged as an anti-war activist who asked a Senate committee in 1971: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Brinkley, who succeeded his mentor, the late Stephen Ambrose, as director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, says he isn't sure if the book will help Kerry's campaign. "There are still a lot of moral ambiguities about Vietnam," he says, which is why he finds it more interesting than the heroics of World War II chronicled by Ambrose in best sellers such as Band of Brothers.

Kerry gave Brinkley access to more than 1,000 pages of previously private diaries and letters from Vietnam that document his growing disillusionment with the war he was fighting.

Kerry saved them, intending to write a memoir. Instead, he gave them to Brinkley, who says, "I think he found them too painful to revisit himself."

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