Kovic Asks if Vietnam Taught Us Anything
by Steve Lopez
Ron Kovic comes toward me in his wheelchair before the doors of the elevator close. He reaches for my hand and squeezes hard. "Come on," he says, and we slip into the third-floor Redondo Beach apartment where he's been painting, writing, suffering through another war.
Kovic's home is strikingly neat, as if this is his way of bringing order to the world. His canvas paintings hang from the walls like Polaroids of disturbed dreams. They hang next to photos of him with Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise, who played Kovic in the movie based on his searing, angry and sorrowful book, "Born on the Fourth of July."
"The president says the terrorists hate us because we're free," Kovic says, bristling at the simplification.
Let's go get the terrorists, he says. But let's admit there's a backlash against decades of hypocritical U.S. foreign policy based on economic self-interest, and let's admit this country has bedded a long line of despots.
"People forget that we supported Saddam Hussein to begin with," Kovic says. "What's been missing after Sept. 11 is a national dialogue about all of this."
It's missing in the presidential campaign too.
"Democracy is loud, it's angry, it's spirited, it's passionate," Kovic says. "I love this country and care about the safety of every American, and for our future security, we have to talk about what happened, and why, and go on from there."
"People say, 'Yeah, I support the war, I support the president, I think we should be in Iraq.' Do they really know what it's like to be there? To be hit by a bullet? To live with your wounds for the rest of your life? Do they have any idea what parents go through?"
Kovic leans forward, eyes burning.
"Will these people who support the war be there when these soldiers come home? Will they be there on lonely nights five years later, 10 years, 20 years later? Will they be there when they're homeless because their lives have been ruined, or they're in prison because they were never able to adjust?
"I'm glad President Bush didn't have to suffer the way some of us did. I'm glad he didn't get shot and end up in a wheelchair and suffer all the awful consequences. I know what it means. I've been on the battlefield fighting for my life when another Marine came up to save my life and was killed.
"I know what it means to come home to a government that isn't prepared for all the wounded. I saw paraplegics and quadriplegics. I remember it, I can smell it and I will never forget it.
"This is a war we should never have fought to begin with, and it's becoming a catastrophe and a mirror image of Vietnam. Another guerrilla war, another senseless quagmire…. It can only make us greater targets of terror, and it can only harm the soul of America."
Kovic takes off frequently on these flights of rage, then almost seems to pull himself back. Don't get him wrong, he tells me. He's not a cynic, because he can't afford to be.
"I feel a lot of energy," he says. "This is a great challenge."
He looks down toward frail bent legs, smiles and says:
"How can I turn this into something wonderful? Victorious? It's important for me not to be a victim. Dignity over despair is what I tell myself.
"Dignity over despair."
Sunday, September 19
Funny How the People who Fought Aren't Crazy about Bush's War
Only armchair generals, uninformed (Fox News) lunatics and idiot faux tough-guys seem to be really rooting on the Iraq nightmare. You begin to see how freakish the Freeper mentality truly is when you read the continuing saga of Ron Kovic.
Posted by Howard Hoffman at 9:27 AM