The Vermont butcher

Posted: Apr 05, 2004 12:00 AM
Senator John Kerry wants you to know that he participated in war crimes while serving in Vietnam.

Appearing on the Dick Cavett show in 1971, Kerry leaned toward the camera and offered this rousing confessional: I did take part in free-fire zones, I did take part in harassment and interdiction fire, I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these acts, I find out later on, are contrary to the Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty."

The remarks proved a real crowd pleaser (nothing plays in politics like the first person confessional of a former sinner who has found the error of his ways). This was Kerry's chief tact for launching his political career. Fresh back from the war, he embarked on a television tour where he confessed all manner of war crime and pleaded for redemption.

During a 1971 appearance on Meet the Press Kerry explained, "I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who. . .ordered us. . .are war criminals."

Other confessionals followed. Each stop resembled the other. His voice sinks as he recalls the horror of strangers being sent to kill strangers. Some intentionally graphic war stories follow. He confesses his own crimes. Note certain recurring phrases, "burning of villages," "atrocity," "war criminals." Intake of breath. Then the big finale. Kerry paints himself as an instrument of unjust leaders. Relief. . .Empathy. . .Cathartic cheers.

The great redemption tour of 1971 culminated with Kerry telling members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his fellow Gi's had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."

The images were intentionally vivid. They summed up the brutal and arbitrary nature of war. With heaps of pity and horror, Kerry distilled the confusion of war into an easily identifiable sound bite: "war crime." Along the way he impugned the honor of his fellow soldiers by summing them all up as "war criminals," thus encouraging savage personal attacks on soldiers returning home from Vietnam.

It did not matter. This was Kerry's aria, and he sang it with aplomb.

This is not to suggest that he lied (though some of Kerry's former comrades have done just that). It does however suggest that Kerry is unfit to serve as our president. After all, the Geneva conventions that Kerry was so fond of invoking require soldiers to report war crimes. This is common knowledge. The obligation to examine orders for legality, and the duty to disobey unlawful orders is made unmistakably made clear to all officers during their training. As a former Vietnam vet recalled , "This was hammered into us, and is the basis of individual culpability in war crimes cases. The individual, especially an officer, can not hide behind the 'instrument of policy' defense and claim that he is innocent, or blameless, but the policy is a war crime."

Yet that's precisely what Kerry spent the better part of 1971 doing. He claims to have participated in the arbitrary slaughter of innocent Vietnamese, but neatly shifts all blame for the massacre on to his superiors. I was just following orders, he confesses (Hmm, heard that before).

That message was a real crowd pleaser in the 70's and it's a tune he continues to tote to this day. When asked last month by CNN's Judy Woodruff whether he had accused his comrades of committing war crimes, Kerry shot back, "No, I was accusing American leaders of abandoning the troops. And if you read what I said, it is very clearly an indictment of leadership. I said to the Senate, where is the leadership of our country? And it's the leaders who are responsible, not the soldiers. I never said that."

That explanation doesn't hold water with the Vietnam vets I talked to. As one former vet put it: "It is hard for me to believe that during officer training for wartime that the requirements of the Geneva Conventions would have been glossed over or ignored. I think Kerry understood what war crimes were and what were not.

It was irresponsible of him to sensationalize his case against the war by claiming widespread, in fact daily, observance and participation in acts that meet that definition. Furthermore, were those things committed he would have had the duty, not to obey such orders or to initiate such orders himself. Rather than running for Congress in '72, he should have presented himself to a tribunal for trial if he truly thought this way."

I herewith suggest, it's not too late.