Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Swift Implosion of Swift Boat Vets for "Truth"

Since my last blog on the subject of Kerry's military service, the Swift Boat vets have been in the process of a slow collapse. It's been quite a sight. Let's review the bidding:

1. John O'Neill, head of the Swifties, claims that it was absurd for Kerry to even claim that he went to Cambodia. He claimed that any Swift Boat skipper would have been court-martialed for doing it, and that gunboats would have turned away anyone that tried. He also claimed that he had never been to Cambodia himself.

But that's not what he said in 1971, when he talked to President Nixon:

O'NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

NIXON: In a swift boat?

O'NEILL: Yes, sir.

2. A persistent claim is that Kerry never came under fire when he pulled Jim Rassman out of the water, which was the "courage" justifying Kerry's Bronze Star. Of course, Rassman himself has always stood by Kerry, but Swiftie Larry Thurlow has repeatedly insisted there was no gunfire.

Except that (1) Thurlow got a Bronze Star for that same day, a fact that he has hid; (2) his own Bronze Star record shows enemy gunfire; and (3) the unit's Task Force Report shows that the boats were taking enemy gunfire.

Thurlow "stands by his story" even though the contemporaneous records undermine him.

3. It's starting to turn out that some of these Swifties have no first-hand knowledge of Kerry, but are merely repeating the claims of the others as hearsay. For instance, a prosecutor in Oregon was more than happy to have people believe that he was a witness -- "I know for a fact he is lying about his record" -- when in fact he was merely taking the other Swifties' word for it.

In another discovery, harsh Kerry critic Steven Gardner has received a lot of play because he served on Kerry's own boat (as opposed to the other Swifties, who were merely in the same region at or near the time). But he has recently been forced to admit that he saw none of the incidents being used to criticize Kerry, and that it was wrong for him to claim that the "boat never left dock when I wasn't on it" or words to that effect.

Yet those that actually saw the events are coming out and saying that it was exactly as Kerry said -- enemy gunfire flying at Kerry as he pulled Rassman to safety.

4. The Swifties are outrageously partisan, which is the answer to the question "Why would they be lying about all this?" Follow the connections here. The newest discovery is that the Bush campaign has been coordinating with them in some areas, and that the Swifties were advised by Bush's outside lawyer. (In contrast, the left-leaning 527s like MoveOn have not coordinated with the Democrats, they are not funded by Democratic operatives, and they have acted through PACs that are regulated by the campaign laws.)

5. If you are upset that Kerry received Purple Hearts for relatively minor injuries, Bob Dole did the same thing, according to his autobiography:

"As we approached the enemy, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. I took a grenade in hand, pulled the pin, and tossed it in the direction of the farmhouse. It wasn't a very good pitch (remember, I was used to catching passes, not throwing them). In the darkness, the grenade must have struck a tree and bounced off. It exploded nearby, sending a sliver of metal into my leg--the sort of injury the Army patched up with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart."

The only objection is that it was somehow unseemly to accept such a medal, or to suggest one's entitlement to it. He definitely met the requirements of the Order of the Purple Heart -- as Dole's own statement attests.

6. Kerry chased down and shot a VC. That VC soldier had a rocket launcher loaded and ready to fire, and was running for cover from which to fire at the boat. Thus, if Kerry had not chased down the VC, his boat would have been fired upon with a rocket. The soldier was indeed a young man (of unknown age) in a loincloth, and was fleeing. Kerry denies shooting him in the back, but the Swifties disagree. The Silver Star citation supports Kerry's version of events, as does Kerry's crew.

7. The Swifties are the same folks that tarred McCain with the allegation that he was mentally unhinged from his time in the Hanoi Hilton. That isn't a metaphor: literally, the same people are behind both smears. And it is just as untrue this time as the last.

If you want to hate Kerry, here is a list of factual things that you can be mad about:

1. He has lied when he said he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968. Kerry was near Cambodia, and was in Cambodia in January 1969. That was when Nixon's denial of our intervention in Cambodia was "seared" in his mind. His lie is more minor than it has been portrayed by the Swifties, though that does not excuse it.

2. He did not refuse the Purple Heart when he became eligible for it, and may have even make it known to his superiors that he would very much like to receive one. Others chose to refuse the Purple Heart for injuries that they believed were more superficial. But there is absolutely no doubt that Kerry was entitled to receive the Purple Heart each and every time he received it. Even if you choose to believe the Swifties' account of things, there is no "substantial injury" requirement, nor is there a requirement that the would be inflicted by enemy weapons.

3. He chose to take advantage of a Navy policy that let officers transfer out of harm's way after they received three Purple Hearts. Others chose to stay with their unit instead. Thus, he did indeed get out at the first possible opportunity. Yet Kerry had volunteered for duty in Vietnam, and he volunteered for Swift Boat duty after spending a year off the coast of Vietnam in safer circumstances, so the appellation "coward" certainly doesn't apply.

4. When he returned to the U.S., he became an anti-war activist and testified before Congress that: (a) he had heard others testify at the unofficial Winter Soldier hearings about specific war atrocities including decapitations, rape, maiming, and shooting of civilians; and (b) that he (Kerry) had personally committed "atrocities" in that he had participated in "free-fire" zones, and had killed civilians. His testimony was used as propaganda against our P.O.W.s in North Vietnam. But (a) his statements were absolutely true, and the factual underpinnings would have been used by North Vietnam even without Kerry's testimony; and (b) his statements regarding his own particular "atrocities" are a common testimony by Vietnam veterans. For those who doubt this last statement, I recommend Stanley Karnow's "Vietnam: A History" or the heartbreaking stories told during the "Vietnam: A Television History" PBS series. In a land where you don't speak the language, yet are fighting an insurgency, it is hard to know friend from foe.

5. Kerry probably did not go to Vietnam out of a sense of patriotic fervor. Kerry was a born politician, who probably went to Vietnam because he knew it would impact his later political career. Does this mean that his purposes were dishonorable? Compare to Bush, who pulled strings to leap ahead of others to get into the "Champagne Unit," and then deserted his post; or Clinton, who used an ROTC opportunity to shield him from the risks of standing for the draft.

6. Objectively speaking, Kerry looks a lot like Lurch.

So, decide for yourself.

 9:17 AM

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