The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey

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9780312285470: The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey

On the night of February 25, 1969, an inexperienced, 25-year-old lieutenant, Bob Kerrey, led a commando raid on an isolated hamlet called Thanh Phong in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. While witnesses and official records give varying accounts, one thing is certain: around midnight, Kerrey and his men killed nearly two dozen unarmed women and children.

What happened that night and why? It's a terrible secret that Kerrey has borne for more than thirty years. Kerrey went on to do heroic things in Vietnam and later as a politician. Since World War II, he is only Medal of Honor winner to sit as a member of Congress. In many ways, Kerrey's life following that tragic mission has been a struggle for redemption.

So is Bob Kerrey a war hero or war criminal? Gregory L. Vistica, who uncovered the Thanh Phong atrocities in a widely-praised cover story for The New York Times Magazine, searches the entire span of Kerrey's life to answer that question.. From his rural boyhood in Nebraska, to his gut wrenching Navy SEAL training, to his aborted run for President, Kerrey's life will become a vehicle for understanding the Vietnam generation shaped in the 50s and sharpened by the tumultuous 60s.

The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey is an incredible story and a modern morality tale about a man of compassion and promise trapped by a horrible secret.

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Review:

Bob Kerrey has been many things in his long and successful career: Navy SEAL, Medal of Honor winner, millionaire businessman, governor of Nebraska, U.S. Senator, and presidential candidate. But is he also a war criminal? This is the disturbing question at the center of Gregory Vistica's absorbing book, based on over four years of research, including much time spent with Kerrey himself. The issue in question is a dark secret that remained buried for nearly 30 years: in February, 1969, Lieutenant Kerrey led a small group of SEALs on a raid in which 21 unarmed women and children were killed. The official version was that it was an unfortunate accident and that the SEALs were defending themselves against enemy fire. As Vistica began to dig, however, a remarkably different account surfaced--a version corroborated by one of the men involved in the raid, as well as by two Vietnamese eyewitnesses.

Vistica does an excellent job of presenting the psychological harm Kerrey suffered as a result of his experience and is particularly sensitive to the fact that Kerrey is considered a hero by many--in short, this is no hatchet job. At times, Vistica genuinely seems to wish that he had never discovered the story at all, despite the enormity of the scoop. Still, his desire to find the truth overrides all other concerns, and he manages to maintain his objectivity. Kerrey did his best to control the story and even to quash it by offering Vistica a job on several occasions. He also changed his story repeatedly: "After the many talks I'd had with Kerrey over two-plus years, I came to see that he regarded the truth as fluid--something that could be modified, mixed, or diverted to suit his needs at the moment." Vistica is remarkably frank about how he was almost drawn in by the charismatic Kerrey and describes how difficult it can be to accuse famous and respected people of heinous behavior. But in following the facts all the way to his conclusion, he has written a brave and important book. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

Gregory L. Vistica spent nearly three years researching and finally breaking the story about Bob Kerrey and that awful night in Thanh Phong. He is also the author of Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U. S. Navy, a book based on his award-winning reporting about the Tailhook scandal., which led to historic reforms in the military. He is a producer with 60 Minutes II and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Formerly the national security correspondent for Newsweek, Vistica is the recipient of the Peabody Award, a George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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