Christmas in Cambodia?

Posted: Aug 16, 2004 12:00 AM

 ?Mr. President,? said John Kerry, addressing his fellow senators in March 1986, ?I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and having the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared -- seared -- in me. ...?

 This was not the only time during the last 35 years that Kerry has claimed that he was in Cambodia in Christmastime 1968. In an article in The Boston Herald in 1979, Kerry wrote: ?I remember spending Christmas eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.?

 Well, not quite real: Richard Nixon was president-elect, not president, in December 1968. In 1992, Kerry told States News Service: ?On Christmas eve of 1968, I was on a gunboat in a firefight that wasn?t supposed to be taking place. I thought, ?If I?m killed here, what will my family be told??? That same year he told The Associated Press, ?We were told, ?Just go up there and do your patrol.? Everybody was over there (in Cambodia). Nobody thought twice about it.?

 ?That memory which is seared -- seared -- in me.? Except that the story evidently isn?t true. Andrew Antippas, the foreign service officer in the Saigon embassy in charge of keeping tabs on the Cambodian border from 1968 to 1970, recalls only one ?river incident involving the Cambodian border or Navy actions inside Cambodia.? Adm. Roy Hoffman, the commander of the swift boats then, says that none of them went inside Cambodia. Steve Gardner, one of the crewmembers on Kerry?s boat, flatly denies that they were in Cambodia on Christmas Eve.

 You can discount, if you want to, Hoffman?s and Gardner?s testimony, on the grounds that they are members of the Swift Board Veterans for Truth, the group sponsoring the book "Unfit for Command," which mentions the Christmas-in-Cambodia claims but makes a much broader case against Kerry. Douglas Brinkley, in "Tour of Duty," the admiring book was written with Kerry?s cooperation, places him at Christmastime 1968 in Sa Dec, some 50 miles from the Cambodian border. Brinkley is reported to be writing a piece for The New Yorker saying that Kerry ?was mistaken about Christmas in Cambodia,? but that he was in Cambodia in January or February.

 On Aug. 9, Fox News?s Carl Cameron asked the Kerry campaign whether Kerry still claimed to have been in Cambodia on Christmas time -- the campaign had no comment. On Aug. 11, Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan said Kerry?s boat was ?in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia? on Christmas eve,? then ?headed north to the Cambodian border? and were fired on. ?Kerry?s was not the only United States riverboat to respond and inadvertently or responsibly cross the border.? A Veterans for Kerry spokesman said that Kerry was in Cambodia some other unspecified time and may have confused that with Christmas Eve. Those awkward responses are far from convincing affirmations of the memory that in 1986 remained ?seared -- seared -- in me.?

 Kerry?s Christmas-in-Cambodia claims were first noted in the widely read on Aug. 6. As this is written, on Aug. 13, not a word about them has appeared in The New York Times or The Washington Post, nor have they been discussed much or at all on ABC, CBS or NBC News. This is a vivid contrast with the treatment by these news organizations of the charges -- false charges -- by Michael Moore and Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe that George W. Bush was AWOL while in the National Guard. A double standard seems to be at work. But then, as Newsweek?s Evan Thomas said on "Inside Washington": ?Let?s talk about media bias here. The media, I think, want Kerry to win.?

 Kerry?s Christmas-in-Cambodia statements, made over many years, seem to be the kind of resume padding that routinely disqualifies political appointees and damages political candidates. His repeated tellings of this story seem more than a little weird, and usually we don?t want people who do weird things to be president. Perhaps by the time you?re reading this appears, the Times, the Post or the broadcast networks will have addressed this issue.

 If they don?t, it?s reasonable to ask why not.