After veterans testified to John Kerry’s heroism and
leadership at the Democratic National Convention in August, one
would hardly think it necessary to make a movie chronicling the
presidential candidate’s role during the Vietnam War. So why
did George Butler, a long-time friend of Kerry’s, create
“Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” a film
that tells viewers information they already know?

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Read my lips … I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

The answer is John O’Neill’s group, Swift Boat
Veterans For Truth, which contests Kerry’s Vietnam stance. In
“Going Upriver,” Butler addresses these attacks against
Kerry and clears his friend’s name. Butler first depicts the
young Kerry as an unabashed American patriot, who volunteered to
fight in Vietnam after his graduation from Yale.

Next, he recounts Kerry’s experience on the Swift boats,
the metal crew boats that served as counter insurgency crafts in
Vietnam. Butler does an excellent job of transporting his viewers
to the scene with panoramic shots of Vietnam’s meandering
rivers and luscious greenery. Interspersed with these scenes of
natural beauty are images of destruction. At a particularly
powerful moment in the film, Butler captures a distant bombing; he
then inches his camera closer and closer to the explosion until
viewers feel as though a thick cloud of black smoke has enveloped
them. His portrayal of Vietnam as a kind of forbidden paradise is
reinforced by the words of Vietnam veteran and former Sen. Max
Cleland (D-Ga.), who remarked, “Vietnam was both dangerous
and beautiful.”

Butler then effectively documents Kerry’s transition from
a Vietnam supporter to anti-war advocate. After witnessing the
atrocities committed in Vietnam, Kerry returns to America feeling a
duty to speak out against the war. However, Butler portrays
Kerry’s participation in Vietnam protests as an extension of
his patriotism. The high point of the film is Kerry’s
emotionally charged 1971 speech before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, in which he says, “We could come back to this
country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not
tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens
this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and
not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten
it, that we have to speak out.”

Here we see a young, energetic John Kerry that seems so far
removed from the aloof Massachusetts senator, that it is difficult
to imagine that they are the same man. Although Butler could have
edited this footage more carefully so that viewers would not be
found glancing at their watches after five minutes, one would be
hard-pressed not to find Kerry’s words moving.

Butler’s film will not change any votes, because most of
his viewers will likely be Kerry supporters. To those few for whom
Butler is not “preaching to the choir,” the shots of
the presidential candidate in a helicopter, pensively surveying the
rivers of Vietnam, may seem like Kerry propaganda.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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