Diplomat, activist, and former presidential candidate Kerry (A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America, 2003, etc.) recounts a long life of national service.
First came the Swift boat, then the swift boating. The author explains the title, in relation to his service in Vietnam, as “an expression of gratitude for survival where others did not make it.” Of that experience, Kerry quietly notes, “I can’t say it was a process devoid of moral hazards.” Those hazards, in turn, prompted Kerry to turn against the war, running for Congress as an anti-war candidate even as he was still in uniform, helped along by an understanding admiral. The author evinces some bitterness on the whole matter of the war, and especially Robert McNamara, one of its architects, who “left the battlefield to slink off to the World Bank” and was never adequately called to task for his crimes. Kerry writes ably of the sausage-making aspects of politics, noting the importance of crossing the aisle to actually get things done, as when he and John McCain fought against bête noire Ted Sampley, “a self-appointed POW activist who sold T-shirts, flags, and newsletters on the Mall…[and who] profited grossly from the myth that prisoners were still being held in tiger cages in Vietnam.” Sampley would return in the swift boating business that cost Kerry votes in the presidential run of 2004—but less so, the author suggests, than voter fraud in Ohio: “I wonder how many countries have elections in which machines are privately owned and controlled,” he writes, “where the coding for tallying cannot be inspected or verified because it is ‘proprietary information.’ " Given that such books often signal a political campaign in the offing, one wonders whether Kerry is contemplating another run for office—despite protestations to the contrary. Whatever the case, this memoir makes for fine reading for politics junkies, especially those with an interest in how policy is made.
Wonky, as befits the author, but a smart look at not just his life, but also our times.