Thomas Sowell

Despite attempts to depict criticisms of John Kerry by the Vietnam Veterans for Truth as something whose sudden appearance during this election year can only be explained by a conspiracy orchestrated by the Bush White House, this is just the latest in Vietnam veterans' counter-attacks against John Kerry's sweeping depictions of them as wholesale war criminals, decades ago.

 John O'Neill, whose recent book "Unfit for Command" is the centerpiece of the current criticisms of Kerry, began criticizing and debating John Kerry decades ago. Their best known confrontation was on the Dick Cavett show back in 1971.

 If you get a chance to see re-runs of that debate, it is well worth watching. At the heart of the issues between the two men were Kerry's widely publicized charges that Americans fighting in Vietnam committed atrocities not only wholesale and on a daily basis, but that those atrocities were both condoned and directed by those at the highest levels of command.

 O'Neill repeatedly attempted to get Kerry to cite any evidence for these sweeping and damning charges -- and Kerry repeatedly sidestepped those questions and went off to discuss what he chose to define as the "real" issues. Kerry had that suave, smug, and condescending air that too often passes for intelligence and knowledge.

 Much the same air was apparent in Dick Cavett's question to both men as to whether they believed the "cliche" that there would be a "blood bath" if and when the Communists took over in Vietnam. Kerry downplayed that possibility.

 However chic it was among the intelligentsia to dismiss the prospect of a Communist bloodbath as a mere "cliche" in 1971, more than a million Vietnamese fled for their lives when the Communists took over. In their desperation, these refugees put themselves and their children on boats that were never meant for the high seas and about one-fourth of them died, either from drowning or from pirates who terrorized, robbed, raped, and slaughtered them.

 Meanwhile, back in Vietnam, the Communists created precisely the kind of bloodbath that anyone outside of the intelligentsia could have predicted. In Cambodia, the Communists killed at least one-fifth of the entire population. Against the background of that carnage, the smug condescension of Cavett and Kerry now look obscene.

 There is no sign that John Kerry and those who think like him have learned anything from having been so tragically wrong about the Communists, including Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh, whom Kerry likened to George Washington.

 Long before Senator Kerry, or even before there were Communists, the political left consistently avoided facing the brutal fact of deliberate evil that can only be defeated by force. Edmund Burke recognized their reluctance to confront evil back in the 18th century, when he said: "There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men."

 Yet even in our own times there have been those who recoiled when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and when George W. Bush spoke of an "axis of evil" consisting of recklessly belligerent Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

 Perhaps the most deadly menace in our history, a nuclear-armed North Korea, is headlined in the New York Times as "reaching out to the world" and the world as "reaching back," leaving the United States "isolated" in its inexplicable hostility. Not since The Times of London adopted a see-no-evil attitude toward Hitler in the 1930s has a major newspaper been so tragically blind.

 Senator Kerry has argued for a more "nuanced" approach to foreign policy and a more "sensitive" way of fighting international terrorism. People who cannot make hard choices often talk about complexity and nuance, about gray areas and twilight issues.

 There are of course gray areas. But not all areas are gray. And not all 24 hours of the day are twilight.

 There is of course complexity. But trying to square the circle is not complex. It is impossible.

 A President of the United States should know all sides of an issue. But he cannot be on all sides of an issue. He cannot keep flip-flopping like John Kerry.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate