Kerry vs. Vietnam vets

Posted: Feb 13, 2004 12:00 AM

The campaign season is still young, yet we already have a strong contender for what might be the most dishonest paragraph of this election year. It was spoken by Sen. John Kerry, by way of explaining how a candidate wrapping himself in Vietnam veterans made his public reputation by accusing them of war crimes.

In his famed 1971 anti-war congressional testimony, Kerry cited the so-called Winter Soldier Investigation, which gathered falsified testimonials of atrocities committed by American soldiers. Kerry regurgitated stories of rapes, beheadings, torture and pillaging ("in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan") as part of his indictment against the Vietnam War. So it is odd that Kerry would celebrate the "band of brothers" he now says are fighting on behalf of his candidacy the way they once fought for their country. Does that mean they will behead Howard Dean and pillage the John Edwards campaign headquarters?

Asked about the testimony the other day by Knight Ridder, Kerry said he relied on the Winter Soldier Investigation "because some of it was highly documented and very disturbing. I did in my heart what I thought was correct to help people understand what was going on. I've always honored the service of people over there. I never insinuated that everybody fell into one pot. I was looking forward to telling the truth about some of the things that were happening."

This is a statement shot through with mendacity. Let's take it sentence by sentence: 1) The Winter Soldier testimony was not "highly documented," but -- as Mack Owens of the Naval War College has reported -- totally unsubstantiated. The fantastic stories of atrocities should have been unbelievable to any Vietnam vet. 2) Kerry didn't "help people understand what was going on," but rather helped publicize lies. 3) Kerry didn't "honor" the service of vets, but said, "We are ashamed of ... what we are called on to do in Southeast Asia," and maintained that in the vets, America "has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence." 4) Kerry did insinuate that the atrocities were widespread, noting that they were "not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." These crimes tainted the nation -- "the crimes threaten [the country], not Reds," as "America lose[s] her sense of morality." 5) If Kerry wanted to tell the truth, he shouldn't have traded in falsehoods.

Dishonesty must be official policy at the Kerry campaign when it comes to his anti-Vietnam record. A Kerry spokeswoman has said that, back then, "he praised the noble service of his fellow servicemen and -women." Yeah, right. Are we to believe that Kerry thought they were "noble" beheadings? "Noble" acts of torture? Kerry was indeed an advocate for better veteran health care. But this was partly because he considered vets shattered wrecks destroyed by the immorality of their actions. He explained high alleged suicide figures among vets by the fact that "they have to face what they did in Vietnam." (Vietnam vets actually have the same suicide rates as the general population.)

Kerry wasn't just wrong about the vets, he was wrong about the big picture, too. He called Vietnam a "mystical war against communism." Given the massive aid to the North Vietnamese from the Soviets and Chinese, it was clearly a very real war against communism. "We cannot fight communism all over the world," Kerry declared. But in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan fought communism in hot spots all over the globe and won the Cold War.

Kerry will never reverse his opposition to the Vietnam War, but he should at least disavow his smear of Vietnam vets. He owes his "band of brothers" an apology, unless he still thinks they are a criminal gang. In which case, he should start looking for moral support from less compromised quarters.