Kerry’s Vietnam Service

During the recent presidential campaign it seems that every time someone asks Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry his position on any issue, he discovers a new way to steer the conversation to his Vietnam War record. Ask what is position was with respect to Iraq and you would find out he won a Silver Star in Vietnam. Ask what his position is on taxes and you would learn that Kerry also earned a Bronze Star. Question Kerry about his position on gay marriage and you would find out that he earned purple hearts “thrice.” OK, he really is not that compulsive, but his war record is a reoccurring theme in his campaign. Frankly, if that is part of your biography, a candidate would be foolish not to exploit it to the point of bringing along your “band of brothers” on campaign stops.

To show you how much things have reverse themselves, Clinton ran twice against honest-to-goodness war heroes: George H. W. Bush and Robert Dole. Democrats had no problem asserting that draft avoider Clinton was a qualified Commander-in-Chief and Republicans where anxious to gleefully point to the war experience of their candidates.

Now a number of veterans who at least served in the proximity of Kerry have publicly called into question just how heroic Kerry was. Given the distance in time and the fog of war and barring the revelation of contemporaneous evidence, it is probably not possible to ascertain with any degree of certainty the details of those years. Since Kerry was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star officially, the only reasonable conclusion is to take those events at their face failure and cede Kerry the glory attendant those awards. Valor in service is at least peripherally related to anticipated service as Commander-in-chief.

The fact that parties and candidates have been limited in campaign spending has encouraged the formation of independent groups and some of these will continue arguing about Kerry’s war record. One of the negative and very much predicted consequences of campaign finance reform is that these independent groups can take over a campaign. Depending on one’s level of cynicism, an independent group can act as a proxy saying negative things about an opponent that a candidate’s campaign would not want to take responsibility for, or it can muddy the themes a candidate the group is nominally in favor of wishes to use.

Much of the current animosity of some veterans groups against Kerry has less to do with his service than the exploitation of his service to suggest that there were wide spread atrocities by American soldiers in Vietnam. Indeed, to make his point in 1971, Kerry admitted

“There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50 caliber machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages.”

Despite his admissions, Kerry is not a war criminal. At the time of the statement, emotions were high, Kerry was young and he was probably swept up in the excessive Left-wing rhetoric of the era. The statement is more a negative reflection on his tendency to opportunism than it is reason to drag him before a tribunal at the Hague.

Whether out of political wisdom or honest concession to Kerry’s military honors, the Bush Administration has distanced itself from those who question Kerry’s actual war service. Given the fact that Bush was honorably discharged and did serve as a National Guard pilot, the principled action on Kerry’s part would have been to grant the same presumptive concessions on Bush’s record. Instead, he cynically suggested that, “Those of us who were in the military wonder how it is that someone who is supposedly serving on active duty…can miss a whole year of service without even explaining where it went.”

One wonders if Kerry and Bush’s policy positions remained as they are now, but their war records would have been reversed, whether the Left, who now embraces Kerry, would have refrained from accusing Bush of being a war criminal and unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief. One can be certain that Michael Moore would now be calling Bush a war criminal. He likely would have cut-and-pasted out-of-context video clips to produce a “documentary” purporting to depict a vicious Bush as a gun-totting soldier murdering innocent civilians. However, it is not certain whether “mainstream” Democrats would have distanced themselves from such remarks or such a filem or would have had a hardy chuckle and sheltered their embrace of mendacity by saying that Moore only engages in “satire.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.