Monday, August 30, 2004

Swifties vs KerryAgain, taken from Mr. Tarranto's always interesting and entertaining blog: Best of the Web Today, August 23. (If you don't get it emailed to you every day, you're really missing out!)

The Book Kerry Doesn't Want You to Read
Well, so much for freedom of speech. Check out this report from the left-wing Webzine Salon:

The Kerry campaign has told Salon that the publisher of "Unfit for Command," the book that is at the center of the attack on Kerry's military record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is retailing a hoax and should consider withdrawing it from bookstores. "No publisher should want to be selling books with proven falsehoods in them, especially falsehoods that are meant to smear the military service of an American veteran," said Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton. "If I were them, I'd be ducking under my desk wondering what to do. This is a serious problem."

Imagine the outcry if the Bush campaign were calling on Miramax to stop distributing "Fahrenheit 9/11," which really does have numerous proven falsehoods. By contrast, the Kerry campaign's claim of "proven falsehoods" in "Unfit for Command"--a book we got around to reading late last week--does not stand up, as we'll detail below.

The first thing that must be said is that by attacking co-author John O'Neill and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Kerry and his supporters have undermined the central rationale for Kerry's campaign--and this is true regardless of the truth or falsehood of the allegations in "Unfit for Command."

Kerry has based his entire campaign on the premise that he is fit to be president because he served in Vietnam. We've treated this as a running joke, and we doubt anyone disagrees that Kerry descended into self-parody when he opened his nomination speech last month by goofily saluting and declaring that he was "reporting for duty." But Kerry appears to be serious about this. He acts as if he really thinks that his Vietnam service is an answer to any objection anyone might have to his record--that it is sufficient to prove he is honest, strong, brave, decisive and wise about national defense.

The 250-plus men who make up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, however, also served in Vietnam. Indeed, unlike Kerry, many served a full tour of duty there. If Kerry's backers can attack them as liars, Republican stooges and so forth, they can hardly expect that their candidate's Vietnam service will insulate him from criticism. Furthermore, since Kerry has made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign, it seems unreasonable for him to suggest that no one may question it.

"Unfit for Command" is divided into two sections. There are four chapters (2-5) on his Vietnam service and six (1 and 6-10) on his activities as an antiwar protester. The latter section is, on the whole, more persuasive, though there are a few tendentious spots. One of those is Chapter 9, "Kerry's Communist Honors," which makes much of the appearance of a photo of Kerry that appears in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). According to the book, the Kerry photo is "in a hall dedicated to honoring war heroes who had helped the Vietnamese Communists win in their military struggle against the United States and later against the Chinese."

But a report last week in the New York Sun--hardly a pro-Kerry organ--offers a different view:

While the museum clearly honors opponents of the war from America and other countries, it is not clear that the photo of Mr. Kerry is part of that tribute. The picture of the senator hangs among a set of photos devoted to the restoration of diplomatic relations between America and Vietnam in the 1990s.

It was apparently taken as Mr. Kerry took part in a delegation President Clinton sent to Hanoi in 1993. Other photos nearby show visits during that period by former American officials who played key roles in the Vietnam War, including a Navy admiral who has since died, Elmo Zumwalt, and a defense secretary, Robert McNamara. A secretary of state during Mr. Clinton's term, Warren Christopher, is also shown meeting Vietnamese officials.

Still, for the most part O'Neill and co-author Jerome Corsi have Kerry dead to rights on his antiwar activities. He did accuse fellow servicemen of war crimes; he was a leader in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group headed by a fraudulent "veteran" who was a far-left ideologue; the North Vietnamese did use Kerry's public statements to demoralize American prisoners of war. All this has been widely reported in the past.

On the other hand, the chapters on Kerry's Vietnam service are inconclusive--with the exception of Kerry's Christmas-in-Cambodia yarn, from which he has backed away even though he once said it was "seared--seared--in me." O'Neill and Corsi quote various vets who served with Kerry and dispute his accounts of the events that led to his being awarded five medals (three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star). Others who were there, however, back Kerry's versions.

The Washington Post conducted an extensive investigation of the events of March 13, 1969, when Kerry won his Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. "Based on more than two dozen interviews with former crewmates and officers who served with him, as well as research in the Naval Historical Center," the Post concluded that "both accounts contain significant flaws and factual errors":

On the core issue of whether Kerry was wounded under enemy fire, thereby qualifying for a third Purple Heart, the Navy records clearly favor Kerry. Several documents, including the after-action report and the Bronze Star citation for a Swift boat skipper who has accused Kerry of lying, refer to "all units" coming under "automatic and small-weapons fire."

The eyewitness accounts, on the other hand, are conflicting. Kerry's former crew members support his version, as does Rassmann, the Special Forces officer rescued from the river. But many of the other skippers and enlisted men who were on the river that day dispute Kerry's account.

The discrepancy between Larry Thurlow's Bronze Star citation and his claim now that there was no enemy fire--on which the Post reported last Thursday--is the entire basis of the Kerry campaign's claim that "Unfit for Command" contains "proven falsehoods." But Thurlow published a statement on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Web site in which he said he stands by his story, and he told USA Today that he "left Vietnam shortly after the incident and didn't read the citation until he was back home in Kansas a few months later. 'If being under fire is a requirement for getting that medal, then I didn't earn it,' he said." So this is not a "proven falsehood"; it is still in dispute.

Given that there are conflicting eyewitness accounts, what are we to make of all this? We'd suggest that a fair-minded observer would have to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt and regard his version (which is also the official version) as authoritative absent proof to the contrary. But Kerry's detractors deserve the benefit of the doubt too. Their version may be true, even if they can't prove it; or their memories may be sincere but faulty. This, by the way, is exactly the approach President Bush is taking. He has described Kerry's Vietnam service as "noble" but ignored Kerry's demands that he denounce the veterans who disagree.

What "Unfit for Comand" makes clear beyond dispute is that a great many Vietnam veterans deeply resent Kerry. No matter who is right about his activities in country, he gave them plenty of reason to do so with his behavior after returning to Vietnam. "When I fought in Vietnam and fought for my country, I didn't give up my right . . . to participate in the debate," Kerry said in April 2003. Indeed he didn't--but neither did the men who make up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

You might also like to read Tarranto's continuing commentary on the kerfuffle here

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