Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Vietnam Boomerang

Wall Street Journal August 24, 2004
Vietnam BoomerangJohn Kerry's "war crimes" libel returns to haunt him.Tuesday, August 24, 2004 12:01 a.m.
The issue here, as I have heard it raised, is was he present and active on duty in Alabama at the times he was supposed to be. . . . Just because you get an honorable discharge does not in fact answer that question.
--John Kerry, questioning President Bush'smilitary-service record, February 8, 2004.
A good rule in politics is that anyone who picks a fight ought to be prepared to finish it. But having first questioned Mr. Bush's war service, and then made Vietnam the core of his own campaign for President, Mr. Kerry now cries No mas! because other Vietnam vets are assailing his behavior before and after that war. And, by the way, Mr. Bush is supposedly honor bound to repudiate them.
We've tried to avoid the medals-and-ribbons fight ourselves, except to warn Mr. Kerry that he was courting precisely such scrutiny ("Kerry's Medals Strategy," February 9). But now that the Senator is demanding that the Federal Election Commission stifle his opponents' free speech, this one is too rich to ignore.

What did Mr. Kerry expect, anyway? That claiming to be a hero himself while accusing other veterans of "war crimes"--as he did back in 1971 and has refused to take back ever since--would somehow go unanswered? That when he raised the subject of one of America's most contentious modern events, no one would meet him at the barricades? Mr. Kerry brought the whole thing up; why is it Mr. Bush's obligation now to shut it down?
Simply because some rich Bush-backers are funding Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is hardly an adequate answer. Some rich Kerry-backers are spending far more to attack Mr. Bush's record, and the Senator was only too happy to slipstream behind Michael Moore's smear that Mr. Bush was a Vietnam-era "deserter."
In any case, anyone who spends five minutes reading the Swift Boat Veterans' book ("Unfit for Command") will quickly realize that their attack has nothing to do with Mr. Bush. This is all about Mr. Kerry and what the veterans believe was his blood libel against their service when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the spring of 1971 that all American soldiers had committed war crimes as a matter of official policy. "Crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command" were among his incendiary words.
Mr. Kerry has never offered proof of those charges, yet he has never retracted them either. At his recent coronation in Boston he managed the oxymoronic feat of celebrating both his own war-fighting valor and his antiwar activities when he returned home. This is why the Swifties are so incensed, and this is why no less than World War II veteran Bob Dole joined the fray on the weekend to ask that Mr. Kerry apologize for his unproven accusations.
As Bill Lannom of Grinnell, Iowa, one of the Swifties, told the Washington Post last week: "He's telling untruths about us and his character. He's talking about atrocities that didn't happen. And then he's using that same experience to promote himself. He can't have it both ways."
We don't pretend to know the truth about how Mr. Kerry won his medals. There's no doubt that he pulled Jim Rassmann from the water (as Mr. Rassmann described recently in The Wall Street Journal), and that he put himself in harm's way and deserves respect for it. There's also little doubt that he has exaggerated some of his exploits--especially that Christmas in Cambodia sojourn we now know never happened--even to the strange extent of restaging events while in Vietnam so he could film them for political posterity. Modesty is not one of his virtues, in contrast to Mr. Dole and other modern veteran candidates (George McGovern, George H.W. Bush) who did not flaunt their noble service. But whatever doubts still exist could probably be put to rest if Mr. Kerry simply released all of his service records.

The "war crimes" canard isn't so easily handled, however. It relates directly to our current effort in Iraq, where U.S. constancy is as much an issue now as it was in Vietnam. Mr. Kerry's denunciation of the U.S. at that time presaged a career in which he has always been quick to attack the moral and military purposes of American policy--in Central America, against the Soviet Union, and of course during the current Iraq War that he initially voted for. It's certainly fair to wonder if Mr. Kerry will have the fortitude to fight to victory in Iraq if he does win in November. Or will he call for retreat the way he and so many other liberals did when Vietnam became difficult?
The irony here is that a main reason Mr. Kerry has focused so much on Vietnam is to avoid debating Iraq and the rest of his long record in the Senate. He wants Americans to believe that a four-month wartime biography is credential enough to be commander-in-chief. But a candidate who runs on biography can't merely pick the months of his life that he likes--any more than a candidate who makes Vietnam the heart of his campaign can confine the resulting debate to his personal home video.
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  1. Obviously my editing skills were lacking. If any explanation is needed, the title was "Vietnam Boomerang" and then the article began with "John ...."