A charlatan?

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Nov 01, 2004 12:00 AM

 Men who have been in combat together often form a bond that lasts long after the war is over. It is hard to think of a single example of men who faced enemy fire side by side and who later publicly denounced each other. The glaring exceptions are the men who served alongside John Kerry in Vietnam.

 When Vietnam veteran John O'Neill contacted men who had served with Lt. Kerry in Vietnam, he was overwhelmed by their readiness to publicly condemn the Senator. Retired Navy Commander John Kipp was quoted as saying: "If there is anything I can do to unmask this charlatan, please let me know."

 John O'Neill reports that more than 90 percent of the Swift Boat veterans contacted signed a letter publicly condemning Kerry, well over a hundred men in all. Moreover, he points out, most of the still living commanding officers under whom Kerry served in combat likewise came out against him.

 Steve Gardner, a machine-gunner on Lt. Kerry's own Swift Boat, was on talk radio this past summer, denouncing as a fraud Kerry's report of an incident that won Kerry a medal, but which Gardner says would have led to an official inquiry by Navy brass if it had been reported accurately as it happened.

 On the very day when Gardner was saying this, Senator Kerry was saying that none of the members of his crew was among the critics denouncing him. No one in the mainstream media even questioned Kerry about the obvious falseness of that statement.

 Those of us who were not there do not know whether John Kerry was a charlatan and a fraud in all the various incidents he reported -- except for one. On a number of occasions over the years, Kerry has discussed an incident that he says was a "memory which is seared -- seared -- in me."

 That memory was of being in Cambodia on Christmas eve in 1968 while President Nixon was assuring the world that there were no American forces in Cambodia. It was a great story, like so many stories that Kerry has told, but we know that it was not true because Richard Nixon was not yet President in December 1968. He was elected a month earlier but he took office in January 1969.

 Does it matter what John Kerry did in Vietnam more than 30 years ago? It mattered enough for Senator Kerry and his supporters to trumpet it in his campaign and to use it to deflect criticism of Kerry's many Senate votes against military preparedness over the years.

 Senator Kerry's spinmeisters turned any criticism of his many votes to cut military spending and cut spending on the intelligence agencies into "an attack on his patriotism" -- for which critics should be ashamed, they said, since he was a combat hero wounded in Vietnam. The mainstream media echoed the same party line.

 If John Kerry had left the past in the past, there would have been little reason for anyone else to challenge his version of what happened. But he ran shamelessly on his Vietnam record, or at least his version of it. Now that those who served alongside Kerry in the same unit tell a radically different story about the same episodes, it is considered dirty politics.

 Media people who went ballistic for months with unsubstantiated charges about George W. Bush's National Guard service -- climaxed by forged documents used on "60 Minutes" -- have never demanded that Kerry sign the same official form that President Bush signed, releasing all his military records.

 If Kerry's military record was important enough for him to beat the drums about it at every turn this election year, then it is important enough for the truth to come out. But the mainstream media make no such demands on Kerry as they made incessantly on President Bush.

 What Senator Kerry has done in the three decades since he was in Vietnam seems much more consistent with the picture of him painted by those who served in his unit than with the very different picture presented today by the Senator and his campaign.

 After voting against gun owners in the Senate, John Kerry has repeatedly gotten himself photographed carrying guns this election year. After being for a weak foreign policy for decades, his speeches now ring out loudly with words like "strong," "strength," and "tough." It looks an awful lot like what a charlatan and a fraud would do.

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