Ed Koch has died at age 88 and after all his changes hardly anyone will remember when he was a liberal congressman from the Silk Stocking District in Manhattan's Upper East Side, but I have a particular reason to recall it.
In the late 1960's Koch gained a lot of prominence as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Because my high school, Regis, was in his district, he came to speak at our school one day. I think it was probably the spring of 1970, and many of us were demonstrating and organizing against the war so we were pretty excited about hearing him speak.
From conversations I've had since his death I know that I was not the only member of the audience to be bitterly disappointed with his speech. It's over forty years ago, but I remember clearly that literally the only thing he objected to about the war was the negative impact it had on the Americans who were being sent to die there. Nothing about American imperialism, nothing about killing the Vietnamese, nothing about My Lai, although Seymour Hersh had broken the story the previous November.
No, In Koch's view the biggest problem, the only problem he chose to talk about, was that the war was bad because it was bad for Americans. This is not to say that the effect of the war on Americans was irrelevant, but it was not by any means the most important reason to oppose the war.
As you know, Koch went on to follow his Silk Stocking District predecessor, John Lindsay, to the mayorship. Many people will remember his move to the Right, his involvement with corrupt officials, or his failure to respond to the AIDS crisis, but what will always stick in my mind is how he could be wrong about being right about Vietnam.