Reporting for scrutiny

John Kerry's duty in Viet Nam is the service which keeps on serving him. Flinging those decorations (of disputed ownership) over the fence at the Capitol was the sort of dramatic visual image irresistible to television news directors. He parlayed the publicity of war—hero—turned—protestor into a leadership position in the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, and later into a political career, first as an anti—war hero, eventually dropping the 'anti' part when fashions changed, and portraying himself as a pure war hero.

But Kerry has already passed the point of diminishing returns in proclaiming his heroism, and is navigating his Swift Boat command down the river of self—parody. Even people who don't pay attention to politics know that those four months of combat far outweigh the twenty years in the Senate, in his self—presentation. If you yawned during his convention acceptance speech, you might have missed the Senate career entirely. Downing a drink every time he mentioned Viet Nam in the speech kept fraternity boys all across America interested in politics last Thursday night, and none of them stayed sober.

Beyond overkill, there is a deeper danger for Kerry in all this emphasis on his Viet Nam months. It legitimizes sustained inquiry into the details of his service. It is one thing to attack an ostensible war hero who modestly mentions his service in a campaign biography, as a bonus factor preceding a long and distinguished political career.  Most people would rather not hear criticism of any veteran's honors. Three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star buy a lot of respect, and that's a good thing.

But when those four months become the very basis of a campaign, overshadowing any real attention to the substance of the subsequent thirty—plus years, they become a legitimate campaign issue open to inquiry. And there are serious questions indeed about Kerry's tenure as the commander of a Swift Boat.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an organization of Kerry's peers, those who commanded Swift Boats while he was on duty in Viet Nam. Their website contains a devastating picture of the future candidate posing with his fellow commanders. Move the cursor onto the picture, and you will see those who support his candidacy (his 'band of brothers'), numbering three. All the other 11 living veterans proclaim him unfit for command.

The Kerry campaign's use of fellow veterans supporting his candidacy begs the question of how many of those who knew him then actually support him. Having raised the subject, he cannot legitimately disparage those who served with him and formed other judgments as to his character. They too deserve the honor of our respect for their service.

Kerry's 'reporting for duty' opening for his acceptance speech makes much of his volunteering for active duty, and implicitly disparages President Bush's service in the Texas Sir National Guard, where he flew jet fighters, a duty whose hazards have cost many a pilot his life. But before he signed on to the Navy, Kerry applied for a draft deferment, so he could spend a year studying in Paris. Only when this effort failed did he enlist.

Then there are those medals, the ones his second wife proclaims he won 'the old fashioned way.' The documentation released by the campaign on those medals is rather incomplete, it seems. Candidate Kerry could fill out Form 180  and clear up the gaps in the record, by authorizing the release of his complete military records. But he has not done so.

Having chosen to make his campaign rely so heavily on his military record, he cannot escape scrutiny of the complete record. Of course, the old media display no interest in these questions. Twenty years ago, that would be the end of it. But in the era of the internet, talk radio, and proliferating media, the lid will not stay on that pot forever.

The Bush campaign itself should steer clear of these questions, of course. It is up to the rest of us to raise these questions. The billionaires like George Soros and Peter Lewis, supporting moveon.org and other left wing 527 groups have shown how to do it. Support Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with your contribution. And ask questions of your friends and neighbors who support Kerry. This is an issue that must bubble up from below. And, given the three months of campaigning ahead of us, there is plenty of time for it to do so.

John Kerry's duty in Viet Nam is the service which keeps on serving him. Flinging those decorations (of disputed ownership) over the fence at the Capitol was the sort of dramatic visual image irresistible to television news directors. He parlayed the publicity of war—hero—turned—protestor into a leadership position in the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, and later into a political career, first as an anti—war hero, eventually dropping the 'anti' part when fashions changed, and portraying himself as a pure war hero.

But Kerry has already passed the point of diminishing returns in proclaiming his heroism, and is navigating his Swift Boat command down the river of self—parody. Even people who don't pay attention to politics know that those four months of combat far outweigh the twenty years in the Senate, in his self—presentation. If you yawned during his convention acceptance speech, you might have missed the Senate career entirely. Downing a drink every time he mentioned Viet Nam in the speech kept fraternity boys all across America interested in politics last Thursday night, and none of them stayed sober.

Beyond overkill, there is a deeper danger for Kerry in all this emphasis on his Viet Nam months. It legitimizes sustained inquiry into the details of his service. It is one thing to attack an ostensible war hero who modestly mentions his service in a campaign biography, as a bonus factor preceding a long and distinguished political career.  Most people would rather not hear criticism of any veteran's honors. Three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star buy a lot of respect, and that's a good thing.

But when those four months become the very basis of a campaign, overshadowing any real attention to the substance of the subsequent thirty—plus years, they become a legitimate campaign issue open to inquiry. And there are serious questions indeed about Kerry's tenure as the commander of a Swift Boat.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an organization of Kerry's peers, those who commanded Swift Boats while he was on duty in Viet Nam. Their website contains a devastating picture of the future candidate posing with his fellow commanders. Move the cursor onto the picture, and you will see those who support his candidacy (his 'band of brothers'), numbering three. All the other 11 living veterans proclaim him unfit for command.

The Kerry campaign's use of fellow veterans supporting his candidacy begs the question of how many of those who knew him then actually support him. Having raised the subject, he cannot legitimately disparage those who served with him and formed other judgments as to his character. They too deserve the honor of our respect for their service.

Kerry's 'reporting for duty' opening for his acceptance speech makes much of his volunteering for active duty, and implicitly disparages President Bush's service in the Texas Sir National Guard, where he flew jet fighters, a duty whose hazards have cost many a pilot his life. But before he signed on to the Navy, Kerry applied for a draft deferment, so he could spend a year studying in Paris. Only when this effort failed did he enlist.

Then there are those medals, the ones his second wife proclaims he won 'the old fashioned way.' The documentation released by the campaign on those medals is rather incomplete, it seems. Candidate Kerry could fill out Form 180  and clear up the gaps in the record, by authorizing the release of his complete military records. But he has not done so.

Having chosen to make his campaign rely so heavily on his military record, he cannot escape scrutiny of the complete record. Of course, the old media display no interest in these questions. Twenty years ago, that would be the end of it. But in the era of the internet, talk radio, and proliferating media, the lid will not stay on that pot forever.

The Bush campaign itself should steer clear of these questions, of course. It is up to the rest of us to raise these questions. The billionaires like George Soros and Peter Lewis, supporting moveon.org and other left wing 527 groups have shown how to do it. Support Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with your contribution. And ask questions of your friends and neighbors who support Kerry. This is an issue that must bubble up from below. And, given the three months of campaigning ahead of us, there is plenty of time for it to do so.