Sunday, February 29, 2004

War Criminal In Chief

Bulletin from the front: Candidate Kerry served in Vietnam. The Senator's proud of his military record. So proud that when critiqued on defense and security issues, Kerry claimed President Bush and other Republicans were impugning his patriotism--and the patriotism of all Vietnam Vets.

Democrats have a history of deliberately misconstruing legitimate inquiries about national defense. As Fred Barns writes in the current Weekly Standard (subscription only):
Accusing Republicans of raising doubts about their patriotism has become standard fare for Democrats, especially Kerry. The tactic is designed to tar criticism as extreme and ill-motivated. Kerry prefaced his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations last November with this comment: "I know what the Bush apologists will say to this--that it is unpatriotic to question, to criticize, and to call for change." Neither before nor afterwards has anyone accused him of being unpatriotic.
But this year, I doubt Kerry will convince anyone. Hugh Hewett is right that "Kerry's rather desperate posturing on his past radicalism tells us a lot. He wants to turn every question into an attack on his patriotism, a transparent and ineffective dodge."

More serious is Kerry's ever-changing view of the war. When campaigning, he reiterates--again and again--his Vietnam heroism, with a Silver Star (America's third-highest award for valor) and three Purple Hearts as proof. Yet in 1971, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee American soldiers in Vietnam "personally 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 in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam." Kerry first ran for Congress as a war hero. Yet he soon repudiated his Navy service, throwing his medals onto the Capitol lawn claiming the Nixon Administration "forced us to return our medals ... These leaders denied us the integrity those symbols supposedly gave our lives." Except it turns out the medals weren't his--Kerry's medals hang proudly on the wall of his Senate office. And recently, Kerry spokesmen insist he always "praised the noble service of his fellow servicemen and -women."

So which is real Kerry? Both perhaps--but unquestionably an opportunist. (Leftist cartoonist Gerry Trudeau's been mocking his fellow-Yalie's shameless self-promotion for more 30 years.) Accordingly, as Naval War College Professor Mac Owen writes, the Senator must explain:
[T]he issue goes far beyond theatrics. If he believes his 1971 indictment of his country and his fellow veterans was true, then he couldn't possibly be proud of his Vietnam service. Who can be proud of committing war crimes of the sort that Kerry recounted in his 1971 testimony? But if he is proud of his service today, perhaps it is because he always knew that his indictment in 1971 was a piece of political theater that he, an aspiring politician, exploited merely as a "good issue." If the latter is true, he should apologize to every veteran of that war for slandering them to advance his political fortunes.
Friday's New York Sun provides a partial answer. According to Thomas Lipscomb, Kerry's heroism was real enough--but so was his insincerity. Despite opposing the war in college, Naval officer Kerry was a medal-hound: "Mr. Kerry was assigned to Swiftboat 44 on December 1, 1968. Within 24 hours, he had his first Purple Heart. Mr. Kerry accumulated three Purple Hearts in four months with not even a day of duty lost from wounds, according to his training officer." Worse, says Fletcher School of Diplomacy professor W. Scott Thompson, while Kerry slandered fellow veterans without any proof, his 1971 war crime claim may accurately describe Kerry himself:
"[T]he fabled and distinguished chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, told me -- 30 years ago when he was still CNO -- that during his own command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam,just prior to his anointment as CNO, young Kerry had created great problems for him and the other top brass, by killing so many non-combatant civilians and going after other non-military targets. 'We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control,' the admiral said. 'Bud' Zumwalt got it right when he assessed Kerry as having large ambitions -- but promised that his career in Vietnam would haunt him if he were ever on the national stage." And this statement was made despite the fact Zumwalt had personally pinned a Silver Star on Mr. Kerry.
Senator Kerry is all things to all people. Depending on the circumstances, he's appeared anti-war and a brave officer; a whistle-blower but maybe a war criminal; uninterested in national defense but patriotic. These positions are impossible to reconcile. So, with a nod to Watergate, I ask: "Senator, are you lying now or were you lying then?"

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