By rights, the second Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad should be more devastating than the first. The new ad focuses on John Kerry's 1971 anti-war congressional testimony. If the content of the first ad, questioning the circumstances in which Kerry won his medals and Purple Hearts, inevitably becomes a "he said-he said," the second ad is an inarguable "he said it." Look it up in the Congressional Record, Thursday, April 22, 1971, Pages 179-210.
One of the prisoners of war featured in the new ad, Paul Galanti, spent nearly seven years in captivity in Vietnam. "John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and my comrades in the prison camps in North Vietnam took torture to avoid saying," Galanti says. That is to say Kerry recited a denunciation of the U.S. war effort so sweeping and absurdly over-the-top that only a tortured American soldier or a North Vietnamese propagandist could have done better (or worse).
Recounting the work of the so-called Winter Soldier Investigation -- a since-discredited project that gathered first-person accounts of alleged atrocities from American vets -- Kerry spoke of "war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." In his telling, the American war was simply a criminal undertaking. Kerry said the men "relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do."
Now, of course, Kerry implicitly portrays Vietnam as a noble undertaking, featuring only great acts of bravery by great American men. In his convention speech, Kerry bragged of defending America as a soldier -- forgetting that it once was his deeply held conviction that the Vietnam War had nothing to do with defending America. Apparently someone in the Kerry camp thinks that having John Edwards testify to Kerry's gung-ho war exploits has more resonance than celebrating him in this way: "If you want to know John Kerry, spend three minutes with the men who were with him when he threw away his medals and called U.S. soldiers criminals."
Kerry's defenders argue that in 1971 he was only repeating stories told by other veterans. These stories should have been incredible to anyone with the least bit of respect for American soldiers, especially someone who had just served with them. But Kerry repeated the stories anyway in order to cast the war in the worst possible light. Even now he won't disavow them. Pressed on "Meet the Press" about the testimony, Kerry said, "I'm not going to quibble, you know, 35 years later that I might not have phrased things more artfully at times." Phrased more artfully?
Kerry refuses to admit that he burst onto the national scene by telling a shameful falsehood about American servicemen. In his testimony, he even traded on the notion that the vets had been made into war-damaged freaks -- the country has created "a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence." Kerry is perfectly happy to stand with members of this monstrous body of war criminals, victims and misfits now that they suit his political purposes. As for those vets who don't, they are "liars." The Swift Boat veterans seem unfazed by the charge, since they, after all, have been called worse by John Kerry.
Kerry is taking an enormous risk in basing his Swift Boat defense on a lie -- that the Swift Boat veterans are an arm of the Bush campaign. This is a civil war between Vietnam vets, one group of which is not going to forget what Kerry said about them 35 years ago. In 1971, Kerry said, "We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service [in Vietnam]." He owes the country an explanation of why, sometime between then and his need for footage for a campaign biography film, he changed his mind.