February 4, 2004

Schrafft's ice-cream sundaes and expense-account call girls. The March issue of The Atlantic arrived in the mail yesterday. (There's only a summary online.) It's got some good letters responding to the December issue, which had a long excerpt from Douglas Brinkley's book "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War." The article included many quotations from Kerry's Vietnam writings and ended with this description:
I was amazed at how detached I was from the whole scene. I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn't see what I was firing at and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile while they went down to Schrafft's and had another ice cream sundae or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account. And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.

A letter to the editor--not currently on line-- from Thomas Martin Pflaum took Kerry to account for referring to Schrafft's ice cream sundaes and "call girls."
To anyone who grew up reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the style and sense of the passage is familiar, especially the references to Schrafft's ice-cream sundaes and fat little old defense contractors with their expense-account "call girls"--images that sound about right for 1920 or 1935, but to my ears are very dated if ostensibly reflecting the thoughts of a young American under fire circa 1969.

Pflaum does not conclude that Kerry is a phoney. He notes that many people pick up ways of speech from their reading, and concedes that he himself was not in combat. Plaum concludes:
I have no basis for judging, but it would be most edifying to learn if the passage rings true according to the bullshit detectors of other combat veterans.

The paper version of The Atlantic slyly follows Pflaum's letter with this one (which is on line):
"According to an excerpt from John Kerry's war diary, when pinned down by enemy fire, Kerry wondered about fat-cat war profiteers who charge call girls' fees to the cost of war materiel. Ordinary combat officers, when pinned down by enemy fire, tighten their sphincters and wonder 1) How the hell am I going to get out of this? And 2) What's the best thing I can do now for my men and my mission? One wonders what Lieutenant Kerry's men wondered while he wondered about higher matters." (Joseph R. Owen, First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), Skaneateles, N.Y.)

No comments: