It is a painful reflection on the political atmosphere today that, in an era when nuclear devastation may strike American soil within our lifetime, courtesy of terrorists supplied with nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran, we are arguing about what did or didn't happen in Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
I don't know where John Kerry was on Christmas 1968. In fact, I'm not sure where I was that Christmas. Moreover, it shouldn't matter in a Presidential election in 2004.
Unfortunately, Senator Kerry himself has made it matter by incessantly parading his four months in combat long ago. There are men who served in combat for years, who have sustained devastating wounds in battle, and who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, who don't talk about it as much as John Kerry does.
Now other decorated combat veterans who served in the same unit as Kerry have come forward to give a completely different account of the same events that Senator Kerry has described. Who are we to believe?
There are discrepancies admitted on both sides, as might be expected about events so long ago. By and large, however, the stories being told are too sharply different for mere lapses of memory to be responsible. Somebody is obviously lying.
Those of us who were not there might just let the matter rest, except for what is happening today, in the media. Instead of answering the charges themselves, those in the Kerry camp -- and this includes people in the media -- are distracting attention away from the charges with tangential attacks on the other Vietnam veterans.
Liberal columnist Albert Hunt, for example, has said that the efforts of the veterans are backed by a "fat cat" who is making their book -- "Unfit for Command" by John O'Neill -- and their television ads possible.
This charge is wholly circular. When people like billionaire George Soros back liberal causes they are never called "fat cats." So anything on the other side that requires money will be backed by "fat cats," as the liberal media will call them, even if these cats are a lot leaner than George Soros.
On "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" columnist Tom Oliphant kept referring to the veterans' charges as a "tabloid" story that would not reach the high journalistic standards required to have it taken seriously.
Oliphant kept snidely repeating the "tabloid" line so often that eventually Jim Lehrer reminded him that the story was being covered on his program, which he obviously does not regard as tabloid. The Vietnam veterans have been on other programs that no one would call tabloid and whose journalistic standards are at least as high as Oliphant's.
These and other attempts at distracting from the Vietnam veterans' charges have to raise suspicions. Senator Kerry's demand that President Bush repudiate these charges against him ignores the fact that Bush was not there. Nor has Kerry repudiated gross insults against Bush, including those by Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and others.
Some have argued that an official government citation ought to be conclusive proof that Kerry is telling the truth. But what was that citation based on, other than Kerry's own report? Others who were on the same scene say that there was no enemy fire and that none of the other officers filed any report of enemy fire.
The same people who now say that an official government report should be conclusive proof did not regard George W. Bush's honorable discharge from the National Guard as conclusive at all as to whether he had fulfilled his service obligation.
The distraction tactic extends far beyond this controversy over two versions of what happened in Vietnam decades ago. Indeed, Senator Kerry's constant invoking of Vietnam is itself a distraction from his own record in the Senate during the many years since then.
In an age of international terrorism, Senator Kerry's years of voting repeatedly to cut the military budget and the budget of the intelligence agencies are very relevant, despite all attempts to distract attention from that record by talking about Vietnam or by loudly repeating words like "strong," "strength" and "tough."