Going Up River: The Long War of John Kerry
Going Up River: The Long War of John Kerry (Director: George Butler)
I was actually surprised to find out that I've seen two other Butler docs, 1977's classic Schwarzenegger film Pumping Iron and 2001's IMAX spectacular, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure.
This is a documentary about Vietnam. It is about how this year's presidential nominee John Kerry went to Vietnam and came out of it needing to protest against it. Despite the release of this film, which is obviously a political move, this movie has little to do with his political aspirations. It has mostly to do with his leadership of Vietnam veterans who felt like he did, who felt that the war had good intentions in the beginning but then became a losing cause and was fraught with atrocities, and was still being fought for the wrong reasons, namely, Richard Nixon not wanting to be the first U.S. president to lose a war, and being unwilling to pull out and admit a mistake. The John Kerry in this film is completely different from the polished, Washington-worn Presidential hopeful that we see today. The man in this movie speaks with utmost clarity and conviction--in other words, you know what this man stands for.
It's a detailed look, through the men who served with Kerry, what these Vietnam veterans experienced. It contains testimonials that Kerry was a true patriot, that some believe they would be dead today if it were not for him. Most of Kerry's service came from those infamous swift boats we've been hearing about lately. These are boats that mainly went out to search and destroy, and had an alarming casualty rate. Think of the dangers of the swift boat in Apocalypse Now.
The powerful moments come from the Vietnam vets telling their stories at a 1971 gathering called Operation Dewey Canyon III, one of which echoes a small scene in Full Metal Jacket where U.S. soldiers were told that anyone that moved was a VC, and anyone who didn't move was a well-disciplined VC. Kids being killed for no reason. A woman raped in front of her family. Then there's the controversial medal-throwing, beginning with a sound bite I had heard many times in Ministry's "Thieves" off of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste album, "Power to the people!" The many who testify in this film explain that the decision to throw the medals over a wall at the Capitol was a difficult one. They had simply become weary of the war, the reasons behind it, the reasons we still were there--ultimately becoming completely fed up with the government and not believing those medals meant anything anymore.
The whole thing leads to Kerry's testimony in front of the Foreign Relations Committee, a fabulous scene. This is Kerry becoming a leader in front of leaders.
It's funny, in Jim Ridley's capsule in the Nashville Scene, he remarks, if only this John Kerry was running for President. I happen to agree. The 20-year senate run has changed Kerry from a man of solid principles, as seen here in this documentary, to a man offering up the standard politician rhetoric, impossible to tell how much is true and how much is utter, total bullshit. Then again, following the KW model, no entertainment is 100% unfiltered, so this documentary could possibly be skimping on some things. In any case, the man in the film is a better candidate than either of the men running.