The big story currently in the media (those that aren't in the practice of turning big stories that aren't their stories into little stories and then dead stories) is the controversy surrounding presidential nominee John Kerry and the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. With Senator Kerry making his military service the centerpiece of his campaign, the 254 ex—servicemen this group comprises have come forward to contradict many of his claims in the book Unfit for Command, by Paul O'Neill and John Corsi. With accusations flying as much as Air Force One and the propaganda as thick as Heinz ketchup, some may not know whom to believe. So, let's see if we can winnow out the nonsense and get at the truth.
First, there are those who would like to stifle this debate altogether. Theirs is the argument —— embraced by erstwhile no—spin doctor Bill O'Reilly, who is spinning himself so much that he must be dizzy —— that the Senator's war record should be sacrosanct. The implication is that it's sacrilege to even question someone's war record because that person made great sacrifices for each and every one of us.
While this argument is rhetorically effective, it's silly. After all, the transgressing soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison were risking their lives and serving their country, but no one ever claimed that this bestowed any special dispensation from criticism upon them. On the contrary, they were given no quarter. Should their behavior have been immune from scrutiny? Of course not. The exalting of veteran status and reverence for it presupposes that during the tour of duty a person of honor comported himself honorably. As soon as the honor of the service is called into serious question, the military record must be examined.
There is also a serious contradiction inherent in the umbrage that some seem to take —— or feign —— when someone dares to suggest that the old soldier has no clothes. To question the veracity of a man's claims about his service is beyond the pale, goes the thinking. But the problem is that to believe the Senator is to disbelieve his critics, who are also veterans. And that's what it boils down to: if Kerry is telling the truth, the Swift Boat Veterans are lying. If the Swift Boat Veterans are telling the truth, Kerry is lying. The harsh reality is that a lying veteran, or veterans, is/are in our midst. And since one of these veterans wants to take the helm of our nation during the most dangerous time in our history, we'd better not let specious ideas about the sanctity of military service prevent us from uncovering the truth.
But what is that truth? Was Kerry the Audie Murphy of Vietnam, or the just the little man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz? Let's examine some of what O'Neill and Corsi tell us in their book about the John Kerry reality behind the John Kerry myth:
1. Senator Kerry has used pictures from his Vietnam days that make him seem glamorous and heroic, to help construct his war hero persona. However, we now know that some of those pictures were staged. We're told that after an event occurred, Kerry would re—enact a dramatized version of in front of a camera. One case in point: there's the Ramboesque picture in which Kerry is seen moving through the jungle and wearing bandoleers. However, this is remarkably incongruous since he and the other Swift Boat sailors were not in the jungles, but aboard boats — and they didn't wear bandoleers.
2. The above is not surprising, though, because of something else we now know. To whit: Kerry told some of his comrades in arms that he was going to be 'the next JFK.' Perhaps this explains why he wanted to be aboard a swift Boat, which is reminiscent of the PT boat that John Kennedy served on during WWII.
3. Something just as serious is the issue of whether Kerry received his war medals under false pretenses. According to O'Neill, Kerry's first and third Purple Hearts were undeserved because he received them for wounds that he not only inflicted on himself, but also mischaracterized. And military regulations dictate that you may not receive such a medal for any kind of self—inflicted wound.
Kerry also received a higher honor, the Silver Star. However, the facts surrounding the incident that was the basis for his receipt of this medal are even more damning than those pertaining to his Purple Hearts. According to Kerry's account of that incident, he spontaneously beached his boat in front of an enemy bunker after arriving first on the scene and, at great risk to life and limb, almost single—handedly prevailed against a numerically superior foe while under heavy fire.
According to Unfit for Command, however, Kerry's 'heroism' in this matter consisted of shooting a lone, fleeing, loin—cloth—clad, teenage Viet Cong in the back. There was no numerically superior foe. Kerry's boat wasn't the first one on the beach. There was no heavy fire. There was no brave John Kerry. There was, however, according to one crewman, talk prior to the operation about how it would provide a great opportunity to garner medals.
So, why did Kerry receive that Silver Star? Well, according to John O'Neill, who himself was a swift Boat commander during the Vietnam War,
'Kerry's star would never have been awarded had his medals been reviewed through normal channels. In his case, he was awarded the medal two days after the incident with no review. The medal was arranged to boost the moral of coastal division 11 [the division of which Kerry was a member], but it was based on false and incomplete information provided by Kerry himself.'
Moreover, O'Neill is vindicated in this assertion by Commander George Elliott, who wrote up the initial draft of Kerry's Silver Star citation. The commander has stated that neither he nor anyone else he knew of was aware of the actual facts of the event until 1996, and that had he been he would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star.
4. John Kerry's ability to weave a captivating yarn didn't abandon him upon emerging from the military either. Perhaps the best example of this is his 'Christmas in Cambodia' tale. This story is one that Kerry told on numerous occasions throughout the 1970's and 80's, and it usually went something like what he said on the floor of the Senate on March 27, 1986:
'I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared — seared — in me.' Moreover, on a different occasion Kerry included the following, 'The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.'
This is good melodrama, but, like so much of Kerry's military career, is fiction. Firstly, Richard Nixon wasn't president in December 1968. Secondly, there is no indication of any kind anywhere that President Johnson ever sent troops into Cambodia. Lastly, every single living commander in Kerry's chain of command has stated that Kerry was not in Cambodia at any time, nor was he ever ordered to go there.
5. Then there's the testimonial of George Bates, an officer in Coastal Division 11 who served in numerous operations with Kerry. Bates says that one patrol on the Song Bo De River has been forever etched in his memory, and it haunts him to this day. He states that on that day, their group of boats —— with Kerry in the lead —— approached a little hamlet that had a few grass huts. There were pigs and chickens roaming about peacefully, and as the boats approached, the villagers fled. Bates says that there was nothing about the little village that would raise a red flag; there were no flags or political symbols of any kind. He is convinced that military policy, human decency and plain old common—sense dictated that they should simply move on. But they did not move on. Instead, Kerry beached his boat in the middle of the village and ordered that the small animals be slaughtered with large—caliber machine—gun fire. Kerry then got out of the boat, went ashore, and burned the entire village to the ground.
6. Perhaps what incenses those who served with John Kerry the most is not his actions during the war, but those after it. After all, upon his return after his mere four months of combat duty, he became a vocal and high—profile critic of the very conflict that only a short while before had been a very convenient vehicle for achieving glory. Now, a soldier's sincere opposition to that disastrous war is not something with which too many would take issue. However, what has the Swift Boat Veterans so exercised is that Kerry exaggerated accounts of war crimes, thereby painting fellow soldiers in a bad light and frustrating the war effort. For instance, Kerry said that atrocities were being committed 'on a day—to—day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.' O'Neill contradicts this assertion and has challenged Kerry to produce affidavits from the soldiers who claimed to have committed or witnessed such atrocities. To this day none have been forthcoming.
This is no small matter, as Senator Kerry was among the voices that branded American soldiers 'baby—killers.' To level such charges without hard evidence is not only wrong, it's unconscionable. In our courts of law a man is innocent until proven guilty. But when it's a matter of accusations against our own soldiers, accusations that we know can lead to more American deaths in the field, the accusers should be held to an even higher standard.
John 'O'Neill believes, and I concur, that Kerry's anti—war activities were not motivated by the inklings of his conscience, but were simply the next chapter in his quest for national recognition. This, of course, sheds light on why he might have fabricated stories about American transgressions.
7. John Kerry edited a book titled The New Soldier, in which he once again impugned his fellow servicemen. The cover of the book features bearded renegades in uniform holding an American flag upside—down. Obviously, however, Kerry determined at some point that he had gotten as much mileage out of libeling American soldiers as he was going to and that the book no longer served his ends, because he decided to prohibit its reprinting.
It's instructive to note that Unfit for Command is not some hastily compiled hatchet book. On the contrary, Tony Blankley, who wrote an op/ed piece about the book for the Washington Times, has read the work cover to cover and writes that it
appears to be meticulously researched and reported. It is replete with copious footnotes, a detailed index and two appendices. First—hand witnesses are named and quoted verbatim to support each specific, shocking charge.
And what I have enumerated in this piece are only a small percentage of those shocking charges.
So, what is one to make of John Kerry and his supporters and detractors?
To be sure, a few of those supporters are Vietnam Veterans who have supported the Senator publicly and whom he has placed front and center in an effort to negate the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But when you juxtapose these two groups, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that the preponderance of the evidence weighs heavily against Kerry. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth comprises 254 men, all of whom have been honorably discharged and sixty of whom have won Purple Hearts. Moreover, this number includes virtually all of Kerry's fellow officers and the higher chain of command in his division. If we are to believe the Senator is not lying, we must believe that the majority of these honorably discharged fighting men are lying.
What also strikes me about these events is how unprecedented they are. Normally, there is no group that will stand by you, through thick and thin, like men who fought with you in battle. Normally, there is no group that will be more loathe to utter a harsh word about you than the men who bled with you, the men who risked their lives with you. And we've had former military men run for president before, but I do not know of even one case where the former comrades of such a man have organized with a sense of urgency to sound the alarm about him.
But it has happened here and now —— for what could be the very first time. And I think that speaks volumes.
When I look at John Kerry's conduct —— or perhaps misconduct would be more appropriate —— during the Vietnam War, at how he seemed to be more concerned with hunting medals and photo—ops than Viet Cong, I recollect something that I believe explains his actions. Liberal icon George McGovern once said that we should beware of anyone who has wanted to be President from the time he was very young. Bill Clinton fits this profile, as he had wanted to be President since he was fifteen. Not surprisingly, so does John Kerry. For, as all who spent time with him in college will attest, he has wanted to be President his entire life.
It's in light of these facts that I will now make a couple of personal observations about the Senator. Now, were it not for his sordid past, these thoughts might have had to remain ensconced in the recesses of my mind. They might have had to occupy that realm of cogitations that one dare not express for fear of rendering oneself guilty of rash judgment and shameless character assassination. But a picture is emerging here, and as I have constructed the puzzle and have perceived the basic image, I see that only a few pieces are missing. And what follows fits a couple of the empty spaces like a glove.
I was listening to an interview with Kerry from 1971 in which he expressed his anti—war views. What struck me about the interview, however, was not so much what he said but how he said it. He had a brahminic New England accent that was so extreme that had I not known better, I would have assumed he was aspiring to be a member of the House of Commons and not a champion of the common man. I really don't know where in these fifty states one acquires such a speaking style, but I can only imagine the kind of rarefied environment necessary for the emergence of it. Be that as it may, that accent has now disappeared into the never—never—land of discarded political—career—hindering out—of—the—mainstream traits. Methinks that was no accident.
Lastly, this will no doubt get me in trouble, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kerry's nonpareil ability to marry wealthy women. The media hardly ever mention Kerry's first wife, Philadelphia heiress Julia Thorne. Her family was worth 300 million dollars, and Kerry tied the knot with her in 1970. Then, after divorcing her in 1988 and factoring in for inflation, he married a 650—million—dollar woman, his current wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Now, perhaps I could be persuaded to believe that Kerry married for love and not money if I believed in amazing coincidences, like marrying two women in succession who just both happen to be among the wealthiest women in the nation. Or, you might be able to prevail upon me if you could convince me that there was something in Kerry's psychological constitution that dictated that he could only fall in love with members of the caviar set. Until then, regrettably, I'll have to draw the obvious conclusion.
So, let's review what the John Kerry Young Opportunist's Handbook teaches us about cultivating a successful political career. First, believe that you're going to be the 'next JFK,' as a little confidence never hurts. Then, join the military and remain in just long enough to win some medals and have some pictures taken that portray you in a heroic light. Misrepresent your actions and stage events whenever necessary, and do a thorough job, because nothing pads your resume and serves as a political flak—jacket like being a 'war hero.' Next, as soon as you emerge from the service, start criticizing the war vociferously. Your decorated veteran status will lend you almost unassailable credibility and garner you national attention. Once you have done this you will have carved out an illusory reputation as a true leader who is willing to admit error, buck the establishment and take tough stands.
Now you must attend to the other prerequisites for a political career. Be sure to marry into as much money as possible, since political campaigns are expensive. As you do this, however, make sure that you purge yourself of all obvious signs that would betray your patrician roots, such as a high—brow accent, for instance. These things don't play well in Peoria. Once you've laid this groundwork, the rest should be fairly smooth sailing. Change positions when they become inconvenient, dodge questions when they become incisive, and lie when necessary. And don't worry about being called to the mat because as long as you embrace the mainstream media's agenda, they'll run interference and carry water for you. And always remember, politics is one percent inspiration and ninety—nine percent prevarication.
No doubt many will think I've been harsh, unfair and hasty in my judgments. Is it possible that one or two pieces of my puzzle may be misplaced? Perhaps. Is it possible that the Swift Boat Veterans may be mistaken on one or two points? Maybe. In a majority of the cases, each allegation would be insignificant in and of itself, like a jigsaw piece that is merely an indecipherable splotch of color when it stands alone. And if I had only one or a few random pieces, my theorizing about what the completed puzzle would look like would be most unjustified.
But when we view the aforementioned pieces in their totality against a backdrop of perpetual political prevarication, a picture starts to emerge. The result is a portrait of a man imbued with an unquenchable, all—consuming ambition to succeed politically that leaves no room for true heroism, bravery or virtue. A man whose every action seems to be animated by an opportunism that even intruded onto the battlefield. A man who is so bereft of principle and substance that even the thing that should be most integral to his being —— his religion —— is something for which he has hired a political advisor. A man to whom the Presidency would not be a public service, but the culmination of a lifetime in pursuit of ego—gratification and adulation. A man whose candidacy should give each and every one of us pause for thought.
Obviously, it's no secret who I'm voting for, and I have given you just a few of the reasons why my passions lie where they do. Some agreed with me before even reading this piece, others never will. Like when the Clinton scandals broke, the latter are trapped in the wilderness with a skunk as their only guide, and they will follow him no matter how noxious the odor, because it is their only hope of deliverance from the hated Bush. I call them the initiated.
But then there are those of you who are undecided. It's you whom I want to address, and I would ask you to remember that you are not so much on the fence as you are on a precipice. We live in the most dangerous time in American history. Should we make the wrong collective decision this November, we may soon after come to understand why those who hate us the most —— such as quasi—socialist European leaders and Islamists —— like Kerry the best.
Whether you view the Bush vs. Kerry race as a choice as between good and bad or simply the lesser of two evils, there is no question that Kerry is the lesser man. Of this you can be sure, because Kerry is the least of men. So, if you believe Bush needs to be replaced, wait four years and you will have a choice of two other candidates. After all, four years isn't really that long to wait. Unless, that is, we make the wrong choice on Election Day, in which case it may seem like an eternity.
Lastly, if you would dismiss me as merely someone whose head is clouded by partisanship, just listen to John Kerry's own running—mate, John Edwards. The North Carolina Senator has said, 'If you want to know about John Kerry's values, ask the men who served with him in Vietnam.' T'is good advice, and if you take it you'll find that among the members of that set who have weighed in on Kerry's character, the outcome is clear: Kerry loses in a landslide.