Monday, August 23, 2004

There I was, There I was, There I was ... In the Jungle

I made the mistake of stealing my neighbor's Washington Post again yesterday, and I didn't make it past the first "news" item: "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete: Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry's Version of Vietnam War Episode." Proof once again that even when you ostensibly get away with petty crimes, you nevertheless do not go unpunished. Nothing like getting the facts, and just the facts, in the headline. How is this for straight news, describing the Swift Boat veterans who now stand against Kerry: "When they returned from Vietnam, they say, they were dogged by accusations of atrocities. While Kerry went on to make a prominent political career, they got jobs as teachers, accountants, surveyors and oil field workers." Don't you just love the "they say", just one step up from "alleged", as if it is a myth that the radical left didn't spit and jeer at those they regarded as war criminals (for which they could turn to the testimony of Kerry for support of that prejudice).

And ahh, yes, the subtext is that they are jealous of Kerry, because whereas he managed to marry enough money to ride his backstabbing comments and his defiant tossing of someone else's war medals over the White House fence to a "successful" political career, they merely became teachers. Hardly skid row, but nevertheless being a teacher doesn't much compare to being John Kerry, or being a writer for the Washington Post. And people wonder why there is an entire industry dedicated to critiquing a couple of newspapers and a couple of TV stations, who assume that because they are supposed to use words that are understood by seventh graders that the general public has the critical intelligence of a seventh grader.

The story makes one particular criticism of Kerry the centerpiece of deciding who is lying and who is telling the truth, but the Swift Boat Vets have levelled more than one charge, one of which has already led to a retraction on the part of the Kerry campaign, though not Kerry directly. The story's focus is whether or not Kerry's swiftboat was under fire at the time he received the Bronze Star for pulling another sailor out of the water after he had been thrown in the water by a mine that exploded under his swiftboat. Kerry and the sailor claim there was heavy gunfire from both sides of the river. The Swift Boat vets claim that is not true. Whether or not they claim that Kerry is lying is a different story (I don't know if they do with respect to this issue), because of course both might think they are telling the truth.

Such is the din of battle, readers, that men at the same battle often have a different recollection of the extent of the danger. God knows in the two hours of paintball I once played it was utter confusion. I also know, having once fallen out of the raft while white water rafting, that the rush of adreneline and panic is such that, had I been in a battle zone, I would have been sure that bullets were flying at me from both banks of the river.

So maybe there is an objective way to assess what really happened that day, and the Post could easily sort out the likelihood of the two conflicting scenarios. Turns out there is - one of the many Swift Boats in the area, as it seems, had three bullet holes in its hull, at least one of which the Post says was sustained in an earlier mission. So bullets are flying from both banks of the river at Swift Boats that are stopped dead in the water, not one sailor is shot during the incident, and at most two bullets are documented to have hit one boat, and the Post concludes that Kerry's version of the days events are likely true. So to believe Kerry is telling the truth, you have to believe that all of the Vietcong present couldn't hit the side of a barn. Which is not to say that Kerry is lying, mind you, only that his recollection of events is probably flawed.

The Post instead cites as the main evidence for believing Kerry's version the fact that the award citations for both him and one of his critics says that there was heavy gunfire. The Swift Boat Vets now claim that Kerry was probably the one who wrote the after-action report from which that information was gleaned, a fact which the Post could neither confirm nor deny (perhaps partly because Kerry wouldn't be interviewed).

We also learn in the article that Kerry earned one of his Purple Hearts that day due to injuring his arm when he got knocked against the boat. Without noting what the Bronze Star- worthy action implies about the merit of his Purple heart, the Post notes that Kerry pulled the sailor from the water with his bum arm. Now, anyone who has had one arm put into so much as a half nelson would probably have used their other arm to rescue someone from the water, so it is clear that there cannot be much merit to the Purple Heart, but don't hold your breath waiting for the Post reporter to connect those dots for you.

There is little mention of the lie that has already been exposed - where Kerry claims that he spent Christmas Eve 1968 ferrying a CIA spook up-river into Cambodia. The Hatcher was 5 months old at that time, and it turns out my memory of that time is more reliable than Kerry's (or he was a liar). If his memory was so bad, why does the Post give it credibility versus the memories of men who knew for a fact that he wasn't in Cambodia. Kerry didn't merely claim a vague memory of the day of the mission, he claimed it was "seared" into his memory, as one would imagine it would be if it was a strange one-time only mission taken on Christmas Eve. It no doubt made for a great pick-up story when he returned stateside - "there I was, there I was, there I was - in the jungle," but excuse me if I choose not to go to his room to see his fish tank.

No one, not even the Post or the Kerry campaign, holds to all of the facts of this lie, but they instead offer the lame cover that Kerry was near the Cambodia border during his four months, and such missions may have actually occurred. It follows, of course, that we should believe him.

One can question Kerry's story of events, and should, since it was his decision to make his actions in Vietnam the primary focus of his campaign, which it most certainly has been. It would have been enough for him to let others point out his noble service in Vietnam, but instead he chooses to paint himself as the Horatio Alger of Vietnam. In my mind, it is fair game in understanding his character to assess the circumstances surrounding his actions in Vietnam. Doing less would be a disservice to those who served alongside Kerry.

But to my mind the bigger story from this era that attaches to Kerry is his post-war activities, which were despicably anti-American. Tomorrow, kids, I'll offer a history lesson on Cambodia, where John Kerry had visions of sugar plums that Christmas Eve. Actually, his visions were of a President lying to the American people and extending operations to a neutral country, and his fictitious recollection was used to warn against the same in regard to Cold-War conflicts in Central America during the 1980s. That is the larger story of John Kerry - deeply suspicious of American power, and naive about foreign threats.


Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

I don't know if we'll ever get the real scoop on Kerry's wartime activities. Maybe he was a real hero, or maybe he exaggerated his injuries & achievements. Maybe he committed atrocities, as he said. But we'll never know for certain. If he was dishonest, that should be exposed (Cambodian Christmas, anyone?). But I don't know if we'll ever be sure.

But one thing I believe for certain: to some extent, Kerry INVITED this criticism, since he's been using his Vietnam experience as one of his selling points. It seems as tho he's reminding everyone every thirty seconds that he fought in Vietnam. He does not talk about his disrespect of the vets after he came home. He does not talk about his voting record in the Senate--or his Horrendous ATTENDANCE record in the Senate. Vietnam was 30 years ago; what's he done since then? Bush 41 did not remind the world every 30 seconds that he was a hero in WWII. I think Kerry might be using his war experience to mitigate the fact that he is a son of priviledge, who married rich women Twice.

Lastly, do you remember Michael Moore or Terry McAullife calling Clinton a deserter or a draft dodger? Did Moore say, "I look forward to the debate between Bob Dole, the war hero, and Bill Clinton, the draft dodger?" If he did, I'd love to have heard it.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

This is one piece of information that is undoubtedly true. Bush and Kerry both grew up in wealth and priviledge. Bush, like most sons of top government officials in the Vietnam era, used family connections to avoid serving his country. (Sorry, if defending Alabama in the Air Guard counts as war service, I want my Purple Heart for the piece of chalk dust I got in my eye defending my students last semester from the potential hoardes of liberals that could pour across the Vermont border at any time!)

Kerry did not choose to use family connections to avoid war service. He fought for his country, and Bush chose not to. Whether he fought, or fought bravely, or fought very bravely, is a matter of only limited importance (although the U.S. military suggests he fought very bravely).

I can't remember the exact numbers at this time, but I remember these approximate numbers from a pre-blog exchange. Of the roughly 1,000 sons of U.S. Senators and Congresspersons in the Vietnam era, only about 50 actually went to Vietnam. (Gore was one, by the way.) Of those 50, only about a dozen actually saw combat. There is no question that our government asked the poor (of whom minorities are disproportionately represented) to fight a war for them while choosing not to risk their own sons for the glorious cause. Pretty dispicable.

Obviously, with today's all volunteer army, there is no such accusation to make nowadays. Indeed, it is probably the case that the U.S. military is among the least racist organizations around and provides better opportunities for minorities than most places.

As for Clinton, while Moore certainly never accused Clinton of being a draft-dodger, others certainly did. Each side has their propagandists. Moore simply levels the shrill playing field with Rush.

There is also a difference between Clinton dodging the draft and Bush doing the same thing. Clinton dodged the draft by winning the most prestigious scholarship in the country. Bush used his daddy's connections. Furthermore, I have a much better view of a person who is against the war who dodges the draft than one who favors the war who does the same thing. I can't stand the hypocracy of a person who thinks America should fight for Democracy in Vietnam (or Iraq) but feels someone else should do the dying (or the paying).

Bush, the guy who didn't even not-serve his country very well has now accused, in back-to-back elections, both John McCain and and John Kerry of cowardly actions in their Vietnam service. If Bob Dole (or JFK or Bob Kerrey or DDE) wants to make accusations, fine, but I find Bush's (or more precisely, Karl Rove's) actions pretty disgusting.

Finally, the eventual U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, which was caused at least in part by the actions of protesters like Kerry, may have saved the country from decades of fighting in the area and saved tens of thousands of U.S. lives. The protesters may have also given the Viet Cong a reasons to fight harder. It's hard to see what would have happened in the region without the anti-war movement. However, it is not unpatriotic to point out that you think your country has made and continues to make serious errors. There were real reasons to believe that Vietnam was unwinnable at reasonable costs in American and Vietnamese lives. Perhaps some of the information upon which Kerry made his judgements later turned out to be untrue or unreliable (of course that has never happened before or since), but it is not unpatriotic to protest U.S. actions. In fact, Jefferson thought it unpatriotic not to do so.

7:19 AM  

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