Accidents Happen

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor stands in front of the door at the foundation headquarters Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, in Madison, Wis.
Commentary and analysis by CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer
I went to Vietnam as a reporter in 1965 and the first thing I learned is that war is not as it was portrayed in those old World War II movies where death was always noble, usually neat and bloodless, and everything went according to plan.

In Vietnam, I discovered death was never neat, injuries were often gruesome, almost nothing went as planned, and accidents happen.

I thought of all that when I watched the furor explode around Bob Kerrey, the Congressional Medal of Honor winner who confessed to an awful and tragic mistake. Before he won that medal and before his foot was blown off by a grenade, his small group of men was fired on in the dark.

Kerrey, about 1970.

He says they fired back only to discover they had killed innocent women and children. The confession came as another member of the unit said the innocents were shot on purpose.

For the record, I choose to believe Kerrey because I have known him to be an honorable person.

But there is a larger point here that goes beyond this episode. It should remind us of the awful burden that young people carry into war where they not only risk their lives, but find that every value they hold is tested.

We are humane people but John McCain, whose credentials are pretty good in this area, said the other day that we send our people into combat with conflicting expectations: we expect them to be good people and we expect them to kill.

Only as a last resort, only when all else has failed, should we ever put our young people in such a position. War is no movie and there is little good to be said about it.

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