Film Reviews

GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY

By • Oct 1st, 2004 •

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QUOTE: John Kerry’s side of the Vietnam controversy told in a compelling way.

But first, my trip to Israel…

Jerusalem is filthy.

Four hours before our departure for a month long trek in Tibet, our tour was canceled. The Maoist rebels blocked the only road into Tibet from Nepal and were setting off bombs in Katmandu. There was a 2 P.M. curfew in the city. So my husband and I decided to go somewhere peaceful: Israel. Our ten-day tour included four days in Jerusalem, with two full days on our own. Except for the Mea Shearim district (the ultra orthodox Eastern European Jewish quarter), we walked all over Jerusalem: the Old City (comprising the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter) and New Jerusalem. Jerusalem is filthy and (likewise Tel Aviv, The Coast, and Galilee) unfriendly. No one offered to help my husband dope out the Jerusalem street map unless he paid for directions.

There were no tourists in Israel. No matter that all the Quarters were suffering from lack of tourist currency, we were not welcomed. Children stuck their tongues out at us. In the short time we were in Israel there was a strike at the airport, a suicide bombing at a bus stop (the seventh female bomber was identified as Zayneb Abu Salem, 18 years old), more bloodshed in Gaza, a pushing-shoving-shouting incident at the men’s side of The Wailing Wall involving my husband’s guide, Esther Madonna’s Kabbalah visit*, and men shouting at us – after leaving the Mosque of the Ascension – “Ugly Americans.”

All this did not matter to me: The Holy Land is spectacular but in decline.

It has been a life long dream to walk in Jesus’ footsteps along the Via Dolorosa and spend time in Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. I walked along the Sea of Galilee. In Jerusalem I spent each day alone kneeling in the tomb of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most spiritual events of my life. However, I was appalled at the heaps of garbage outside each of the outer Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa traces the last steps of Jesus and weaves through the various Quarters of Old Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa is crumbling.

There is no Catholic presence in Jerusalem. I’m not even going to get started on the Birthplace of the Virgin Mary (The Son of God’s Mother). Perhaps, as a friend suggested, Mel Gibson could spring for the upkeep at Station No. VII along Via Dolorosa? Maybe The Vatican could hunt around the basement for a medieval painting to sell to maintain Jesus’ path to Golgotha? Or should we start an “Adopt a Station of the Cross” campaign?

It took us 35 hours to return from Jerusalem to Las Vegas. I read the shocking book “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror” by Anonymous. If I had read it before going to Israel, I might have suggested Morocco instead. “Imperial Hubris” is a brilliant, riveting analysis of al-Qaeda’s prominent influence on reshaping the world.

Many things have been made crystal clear since September 11. One is that no American criticism of U.S. policy will be tolerated. Any criticism of the U.S. adventure in Afghanistan and the war in, and occupation of, Iraq is un-American. We must support the men and women who have their feet on enemy ground regardless of how they got there or who put them there.

Is it any wonder that the German citizenry kept their mouths shut and never once said: Hey, what’s really going on at Auschwitz?

Every man and woman who had their feet on the ground in Vietnam have a right to be heard about what they saw and experienced. If not them, who should be qualified to truthfully report what happened? Those men and women who did not participate in or see atrocities are in the solid majority. GOING UPRIVER is the story of the few who did.

GOING UPRIVER is the account of John Kerry’s service in Vietnam after his impressive Yale education. The documentary, assembled by director and close friend George Butler, confronts the issues head on. Kerry’s much contested service is presented from his point of view: Kerry’s Swift Boat duty was meant to entice the Vietcong to fire on them. Was this the type of soldiering the privileged were assigned? The men he served with make a harrowing claim: The loud noise of the swift boats announced their arrival. This was dangerous work. The enemy had the advantage of the jungle terrain they knew well.

Whatever Kerry did or did not do to deserve his medals, saw or allowed to happen, one thing is clear: He returned from active duty and decided, with other veterans, to form Vietnam Veterans Against the War. For a man who has been accused of orchestrating his military service for a future in politics, how could he imagine such an unpopular stance would catapult him 35 years later into the forefront of American politics?

It is clearly demonstrated by GOING UPRIVER that Kerry was sincere. In fact, he looks rather uncomfortable being thrust into the anti-war limelight. Kerry appears to be a reluctant spokesperson.

Does speaking out against a U.S. war make someone anti-American? Voters will decide in November.

Butler shows us veterans testifying at the 1971 congressional hearings about the atrocities they saw and even committed. Most of the men shown in the archival footage are devastated and guilt-ridden. These hearings, and the throwing away of ribbons and medals, was a cathartic gesture of healing and a renunciation of a war they felt was unjust and un-called for.

Butler’s expert compilation of the Vietnam footage, and current interviews with the men who served with him, is meant to show Kerry’s dedication and principles. Butler uses cinematic devices to keep the audience involved. His choice of music and images are effective. Kerry’s emergence at the forefront of the Vietnam veteran’s protest is not shown as a device to garner national attention but an honest attempt to bring the harrowing war, which cost over 58,000 lives, to a close.

While UPRIVER will not change one of President Bush supporter’s views, it will give pro-Kerry supporters a firmer ground to discuss the Swift Boat controversy, the rescue of Jim Rassmann, and Kerry’s supposed manipulation of the political system for his own glory and self-aggrandizement.

* Madonna proclaimed in Israel: “I realize now that it is no more dangerous to be here than it is to be in New York.”

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