Sunday, August 15, 2004

Apocalypse Now

Anyone who has been following the presidential campaigns this year has heard about the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and their allegations against John Kerry. Over 200 former Navy officers and enlisted men who served alongside Kerry in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam have gotten together to, in so many words, set the record straight. These former comrades-in-arms allege that John Kerry has continually and consistently "sexed up" his combat record, received unwarranted medals, and lied about his and his fellow sailors' actions during the war. One veteran, John O'Neil, along with co-author Jerome Corsi, has compiled all of the information presented into a book, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which is currently Number One on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites. However, the cover really blew off the story with the public airing of the anti-Kerry TV ad by the group in several key battleground states.

As would be expected, the Kerry campaign has come out swinging. They have angrily denied the charges, questioned the motives and political backing of the group, threatened to file lawsuits against any stations airing the group's ads, and called upon President Bush to condemn the group and their ad. However... a careful reading of the Democratic responses is very illuminating. Instead of a point-by-point refutation of the group's charges, the response is legalistic, ad hominem, and in my opinion disingenious.

Take, for instance, the letter sent by the DNC andKerry compaign to TV stations (link provided courtesy of The Drudge Report. In the letter, the Kerry campaign demands the stations refuse to air the ad since it contains falsehoods, yet the "falsehood" identified is a bogus misstatement of the ad's contents, charging that the Swifties' claim of "serving with John Kerry" is false because "they weren't on the same boat." Unfortunately, one sailor who did serve on Kerry's boat with Kerry has stood up with the Swifties.

Why don't the Democrats want this ad to run? Well, having seen the ad on the Internet (here is one source), I can see why. It is devastating. John Kerry has made his service in Vietnam the central theme of his campaign, and this ad attacks his campaign at the core. Either the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are lying, or John Kerry is lying. Certainly someone is lying.

John Kerry does have his "Band of Brothers," sailors and soldiers who served with him in Vietnam. However, his boat crew in the "Band" only served with him for the last two weeks of his tour, and the Swifties include a couple of Kerry's crew members who spent most of Kerry's tour under his command, who were along on the controversial occasions, and who dispute Kerry's account of those occasions. I can believe the "Band of Brothers" yet also believe the Kerry crew among the Swifties. It's like the story of the blind men describing the elephant: each person provides a different impression of the elephant's physical description based upon which part of the elephant they can reach. Similarly, I can believe Jim Rassman's sincerity in his telling of the events that led to his rescue by John Kerry yet also believe the skippers of the other Swift boats that were present; getting blown out of a boat, tossed into the water, stunned, and hearing the suppressive firing of numerous light and heavy machine guns (by the Swift boats in order to keep any potential snipers' heads down) would probably not leave one in the best state of mind to observe and understand what was occurring for a half-mile up and down the river.

I disagree with John McCain's assertion that the Swifties' ad, book, and tactics are "dishonest and dishonorable." Certainly Kerry's war record is part of his public record: Kerry has repeatedly emphasized his four months in Vietnam all out of proportion to his two decades in the Senate. It is arguable that Kerry owes his successful primary campaign over Howard Dean to his "Band of Brothers." If Kerry the man invented Kerry the legend, the public has a right to know, and to judge him accordingly. More important, the Swifties have earned their right to exercise free speech and McCain of all people should understand that.

The first crack in the Kerry armor appeared last week, when one of the charges leveled by the Swifties, that Kerry lied when he repeatedly claimed to be "5 miles inside Cambodia" on Christmas Eve 1968, was tacitly admitted to by the Kerry campaign. The story now is that Kerry was actually in Cambodia in either January or February of 1969. Of course, say Kerry supporters, Kerry didn't actually lie about this incident which was "seared in his memory" and repeated by him since the early 1970s. He just was mistaken about the date. Yeah, right.

Kerry could answer many of the Swifties' most devastating charges against him if he would just release his full military records, as he called on Bush to do during the brouhaha over Bush's service in the National Guard (and which Bush did). Why won't Kerry release his records?

Kerry's problems are just starting. Despite his campaign's best efforts, the story is gaining traction. The Cambodian flip-flop has boosted media interest. The New Yorker magazine has decided it will investigate the charges raised by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth extensively. Other news organizations are also looking into the story. If additional allegations against Kerry are proved true, the feeding frenzy will start and it won't be pretty. If the Swifties are telling the truth, their salvo may well end up sinking Kerry's campaign.

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