Monday, August 30, 2004

Refighting Vietnam

I have refrained from comment on the specifics of the John Kerry-Swift Boat Veterans controversy, and this will continue to be the case. I am far more interested in what John Kerry would or would not do as president, than in what he did on the Mekong 35 years ago. However, I do regard Kerry's actions after returning from Vietnam, especially his infamous 1971 Senate testimony, as very much a suitable topic for discussion. Amidst all the self-righteous indignation among many liberals over the Swift Boat Veterans campaign, it is important to remember one vital fact: it was John Kerry who chose to make Vietnam a centerpiece of this campaign.

It is Kerry who has responded to every question regarding his national security credentials by essentially saying "hey man, I was in 'Nam". It is Kerry who has managed to work in a reference to his Vietnam service practically every time he opens his mouth. It was Kerry who decided to make his nominating convention a virtual swift boat ride down memory lane. Finally, it is John Kerry who seemingly decided that his four months in Vietnam so qualifies him to be Commander in Chief that offering a credible alternative vision of how to wage the War on Islamist Terror is unnecessary.

In an August 26 essay for Opinion Journal, Herman Jacobs offered a lengthy and thoughtful analysis of how John Kerry has exploited Vietnam during this campaign:

But now we can't "let it alone." The reason we can't "let it alone" is that John Kerry won't let us "let it alone."

We can't let it alone because Mr. Kerry has pursued a strategy that sounds out old angers with a dissonant message that takes the two prongs of the domestic truce and makes them serve his own advantage. The domestic truce had required that those who served in Vietnam should receive honor. So Mr. Kerry now exalts that half of the truce--not humbly as befits a genuine war hero, but constantly and immodestly waving the bloody shirt of his Vietnam service in the faces of his critics whenever any connection, no matter how illogical, can be drawn between their criticism and Mr. Kerry's Vietnam service.

Thus, when Dick Cheney criticized Mr. Kerry's positions on national security (an obvious and fair target given Mr. Kerry's voting record on defense issues), Mr. Kerry responded by "saying it is 'inappropriate' for Cheney to criticize his military service when he 'got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do.' " The man who not long ago high-mindedly observed that it is wrong to "divide America over who served and how," now tells us:

"I think a lot of veterans are going to be very angry at a president who can't account for his own service in the National Guard, and a vice president who got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do, criticizing somebody who fought for their country and served."

(quotation marks added -DD)

Never mind that Mr. Cheney has never breathed a word of criticism of Mr. Kerry's military service in Vietnam. Also never mind that Messrs. Bush and Cheney have never even breathed a word of criticism of Mr. Kerry's antiwar activities. For them to criticize Mr. Kerry's antiwar record would violate the second prong of the domestic truce. So in questioning the service, or lack thereof, of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, Mr. Kerry attempts to turn to his advantage the curious fact, mentioned above, that although the domestic truce grants honor to those who fought in the war and grants amnesties to those who actively opposed it, those in the middle (like Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Clinton and Quayle) receive no protection.

So over the top has been Senator Kerry's exploitation of his Vietnam service that even John McCain has asked him to tone down the 'Nam references. Beyond the politics, though, there is something unsettling about Kerry's unceasing desire to discuss his military service. My late father spent a year as an infantryman in the Pacific during WWII, and he rarely mentioned his army experiences. He'd tell the occasional story about army life, but he almost never talked about his time in combat.

In an August 24 column for the New York Post, retired army officer and author Ralph Peters expressed the same sentiment:

Finally — and this is the one the pundits have trouble grasping, given the self-promoting nature of today's culture — real heroes don't call themselves heroes. Honorable soldiers or sailors don't brag. They let their deeds speak for themselves. Some of the most off-putting words any veteran can utter are "I'm a war hero."

Real heroes (and I've been honored to know some) never portray their service in grandiose terms, telling TV cameras that they're reporting for duty. Real heroes may be proud of the sacrifices they offered, but they don't shout for attention.

This is so profoundly a part of the military code of behavior that it cannot be over-emphasized. The rule is that those who brag about being heroes usually aren't heroes at all. Bragging is for drunks at the end of the bar, not for real vets. And certainly not for anyone who wishes to trade on his service to become our commander-in-chief.

Peters has been more than critical of George W. Bush and his administration, especially Donald Rumsfeld. Still, he comes to the following conclusion:

But we're at war. And for all his faults, Bush has proven himself as a great wartime leader. Despite painful mistakes, he's served our security needs remarkably well. And security trumps all else in the age of terror.

Kerry says many of the right things. But I can't believe a word of it. I just can't trust John Kerry. I can't trust him to lead, I can't trust him to fight — and I can't trust him to make the right kind of peace.

I have reservations about voting for George W. Bush. But I have no reservations about voting against John Kerry. And I'm not alone.


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