NationStates Jolt Archive

Kerry needs to revisit '71

27-08-2004, 01:16
Race to the Swift
John Kerry and moral courage.

By NR Editors

EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial will appear in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review.

Speaking on behalf of Vietnam veterans in his Senate testimony on April 22, 1971, John Kerry said, "We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service..." Thirty-three years later, it's clear that his plea fell on deaf ears. Kerry recalls his Vietnam service in virtually every campaign speech he makes. At the Boston convention, his four-month stint in Vietnam was repeatedly invoked as his primary qualification for the presidency.

Kerry's problem is that those who served alongside him haven't forgotten either. Many Vietnam veterans remember that Kerry slandered their service when he claimed they were responsible for widespread atrocities. These veterans include 250 of his Swift boat comrades, whose organization, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has taken to the airwaves to accuse him of lying about his record and betraying his fellow veterans. In particular, they say that in telling the U.S. Senate about non-existent American war crimes, he did something that our POWs refused to do under torture.

The book that has thrown Kerry on the defensive is not Unfit for Command so much as Tour of Duty, the authorized biography written by the pro-Kerry historian Douglas Brinkley. Until the book's publication in January, Kerry's fellow Swift boat veterans were unaware of his exact version of their alleged atrocities and his alleged heroics. Some of them had come to Kerry's rescue in the past, when he was accused of committing war crimes of his own (these statements are now used to challenge the Swift boat vets' consistency). The vets intended to refute Kerry's allegations of atrocities, but found that their eyewitness accounts contradicted Kerry's version of his exploits.

Why should it matter? First, there is the fact that Kerry has put his Vietnam experience at the center of his campaign. If it turns out that his account of that experience is based on exaggerations or lies, it is a damning indictment of his candidacy, on his own terms. Even if Kerry had not made Vietnam such a large part of his campaign, this controversy would be important, since dishonesty (even relatively minor incidents of it) with regard to war stories and decorations has ruined careers. Finally, there is Kerry's 1971 testimony, which he has never retracted and which still stands as testament to his belief that the American military was a criminal force in Vietnam. The Swift boat vets can be forgiven for asking whether someone who believes this country would order such crimes, and that its men in uniform would "routinely" carry them out, is fit to be commander-in-chief.

The merits of the charges about Kerry's service and how he won his Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars are difficult to disentangle (see Byron York's piece in the September 13 issue for a thorough evaluation). Kerry seems to have lied when he repeatedly claimed to have spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia, an event allegedly "seared" in his memory. His campaign now allows that his memory was faulty. There are also legitimate questions about whether two of his Purple Hearts were awarded for wounds that were accidentally self-inflicted. The Purple Hearts matter so much because Kerry used them to take advantage of a Navy regulation that allowed him to leave Vietnam after four months of combat. Kerry's story about how he received his Silver Star — dashing ashore to shoot a wounded Viet Cong — holds up better. Finally, there is doubt whether, in the Bronze Star incident, he really rescued Jim Rassmann from the water under a hail of enemy bullets, as the Kerry campaign and Rassmann have repeated ad nauseam.

The "fog of war" no doubt explains some of the conflicting accounts, which may never be resolved. But we still don't have all the information. For months, the Swift boat vets have been calling on John Kerry to authorize the release of his complete Navy records, only selected portions of which have been made available by his campaign. We should still see his full personnel file and his medical records. For good measure, Kerry should release his wartime journals and his films of himself from Vietnam. The press can do its part by not acting as though its sole job were to discredit the Swift boat vets, and by reporting instead on the substance of their allegations (as Michael Dobbs recently did in an evenhanded front-page Washington Post story on the Bronze Star incident).

Kerry so far has hoped to get away with falsely charging that Bush is responsible for the ads and calling the Swift boat vets "liars," an accusation that hasn't affected them much since they have been called much worse by John Kerry. The contradiction at the center of Kerry's political persona is that he now wants to pretend that Vietnam was a noble war populated by American heroes, when he made his name by smearing it as an unworthy war waged by war criminals. Kerry can probably never fully resolve that contradiction, although he could make a start by repudiating and apologizing for his 1971 remarks. But that might require more moral courage than Kerry has ever mustered, in Vietnam or after.
Chess Squares
27-08-2004, 01:47
the swift boat veterans against kerry are liars and cheap republican lap dog scum, it's been proven, get over it and move on
27-08-2004, 01:51

Fucking SBVFT... They are scum. Imagine having people say that you lied about an experience like Vietnam... That would make me fucking furious. To have done all those things, just to have somebody lie that you did not. It's ridiculous. Fucking ridiculous.

NB: I'm not pro-Kerry, just EXTREMELY anti-Bush. But this is one thing I sympathize with Kerry about.
27-08-2004, 02:11
Oddly enough the head of SBVFT, a man named Thurlow, won a bronze star in the exact same engagement he critisizes Kerry for lying about. Hmmmm...
27-08-2004, 02:12
I want to find out who first said Kerry's center of his campaign was Vietnam. Its just one aspect he talked about, I'd say Fox news but i'm not sure.

He hurt his arm, his butt, and some where else so yeah there goes that one argument it was same place.

Kerry said, "I've heard that..." He said that he was told by some Vets what happened and reported it. Some vets did do atrocaties and he blamed leaders not soldiers for Vietnam problems.
27-08-2004, 02:17
Kerry should ONLY release his records ONLY under the condition that Bush explains his AWOL status during Veitnam (which is far worser then anything Kerry did or didnt do in nom)