Monday, August 23, 2004

John Kerry, The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Why It Matters

John Kerry chose to make his four and one half months in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency. He finds a way to work the topic into almost every stump speech, and often flies several of the eight or nine veterans he served with who support him around the country to appear at rallies. When he took the stage at the DNC to give his acceptance speech, he began by saluting and exclaiming that he was John Kerry and he was "reporting for duty". His 55-minute speech was a walk down the memory lane of the Vietnam War with very few lines dedicated to his 25+ years as an elected official, including his 19 in the Senate.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth oppose John Kerry. They are a group of 254 Veterans, many of whom served at John Kerry's side in Vietnam and at least one who served on John Kerry's Boat. They assert that John Kerry lied about his record in Vietnam and that he was awarded several of his medals based on false information given to the Navy by Kerry. They also claim that John Kerry's anti-war statements after his return to the United States was a slander to the veterans of that war.

The debate on the merits of John Kerry's medals can be made by the Swift Boat veterans for Truth because many of them were present and saw first hand what happened. For others who were not there, and especially for civilians who have never served, the medal debate should be off limits. John Kerry has not released his journal from the war, nor has he, contrary to his own statements, released all of his military records. Even if the records were released it is unlikely that the medal debate would ever be resolved. The medal debate is a sidelight. The much more important discussion is of John Kerry's anti-war actions upon his return to the United States and his subsequent political career.

After returning from Vietnam, John Kerry became a leader of a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the war (click here for a timeline and history of the group, including John Kerry's actions). The group staged protests and anti-war rallies. It was as a member leader of that group that John Kerry famously threw his medals (although now he says they were actually not medals, but ribbons, and they belonged to somebody else) over the fence of the White House. John Kerry authored a book called "The New Soldier", the dust cover of which featured a group of longhaired and scraggly men in torn fatigues hoisting an upside down American Flag - an attempt to mock the famous scene of Marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. On April 18th, 1971, John Kerry appears on Meet the Press and admits to committing war crimes:

"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 calibre 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."

January 31-February 2, 1971 Vietnam Veterans Against the War held the "Winter Soldier Investigation" during which over 100 soldiers gave testimony of war crimes committed under orders and as a matter of policy. It was later found that many of those who testified were never even in the military, much less veterans of combat in Vietnam. It was further discovered that many of those who were actually veterans, who claimed to have been in combat weren't. Based on this "investigation" John Kerry testified, under oath, before the Senate on April 22, 1971. During this sworn testimony Kerry states:

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to 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.

It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told the stories at times they had 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 in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

We call this investigation the "Winter Soldier Investigation." The term "Winter Soldier" is a play on words of Thomas Paine in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.


I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned With a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.

It would be almost a full year after this testimony before hundreds of American POW were released.

On November 12-15, 1971 the VVAW meet in Kansas City where they debate and then vote down a plan to assassinate several pro-war US senators. John Kerry later denied being present at the meeting, but subsequent eyewitness accounts, meeting minutes and FBI files reveal that he was there. It is just after this meeting that Kerry resigns from the Executive Committee of VVAW, but he continued to represent the group at rallies and in speaking engagements.

John Kerry began his political career during this time, winning a primary for a congressional race but ultimately losing the seat to his Republican opponent in 1972. After graduating from Boston College law school in 1976 Kerry became a prosecutor for Middlesex County, Massachussets. He was elected Lt. Governor of Massachusetts in 1982, serving under Governor Michael Dukakis. His political career, rooted in his radical anti-war days had begun.

John Kerry ran for Lt. Governor in a race that featured former Massachusetts Governor Edward J. King running to retake the office he held four years before against Mike Dukakis. Kerry , unwilling to take a side, offered supporters a choice of campaign buttons: one that read "King/Kerry" and another that read "Dukakis/Kerry". Dukakis won the race, and Kerry won the LT. Governor race.

As Lt. Governor John Kerry authored an executive order, signed by Michael Dukakis that declared that in the event of a successful nuclear strike against the United States, the state of Massachussetts would offer the Federal Government no help in civil defense efforts. The document read, in part:

"Whereas the existing and potential strength of nuclear weapons is such that nuclear war can neither be won nor survived, it can only be prevented; and Whereas the only effective defense against the horrors of nuclear weapons lies in their elimination and in the prevention of nuclear war or attacks, [the Commonwealth of Massachusetts] shall seek to ensure the safety of its citizens by pursuit of policies reflecting a serious commitment to prevention of nuclear war."

John Kerry's support of a nuclear freeze was only beginning. Paul Tsongas soon announced that illness would force him to give up his Senate seat, and Kerry soon jumped into the race, running on a nuclear freeze platform and calling for the elimination of such weapons as the B-1 bomber, B-2 stealth bomber, AH-64 Apache helicopter, Patriot missile, the F-15, F-14A and F-14D jets, the AV-8B Harrier jet, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, and the Trident missile system, the M1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Tomahawk cruise missile, and the F-16 jet. It was also in this campaign that Kerry first turned to his Vietnam Service for help in a political race. His campaign theme was "War and Peace", with the emphasis on the peace. With the help of Vietnam Vets who followed his opponent around the state looking for ways to pick fights, Kerry was able to defeat his opponent and win the primary and the Senate seat. (Taken from the series John Kerry: The Making of a Candidate from the Boston Globe )

Kerry won the senate seat and began opposing Ronald Reagan at every turn. He opposed the buildup of Pershing Missiles in Europe, a strategy employed by the Reagan Administration to counter the Soviet SS-20 missile placements in Eastern Europe and to force the Soviet Union into a crippling arms race. In 985, John Kerry introduced The Comprehensive Nuclear Freeze Bill, and sponsored two amendments to freeze the Strategic Defense Initiative- related nuclear development.

Kerry went on to support Daniel Ortega, the Communist Sandinista leader of Nicaragua - to the point of flying to Nicaragua in 1986 with Senator Tom Harkin - to meet with him. Kerry led the fight to stop the Reagan Administrations War to oust the communist government. Kerry called the contras, the anti communist forces fighting forces of Ortega, a “mercenary army” financed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In an echo of his accusations about U.S. actions in Vietnam, Kerry charged that the contras had been “guilty of atrocities against civilians".

Kerry was also opposed to the US invasion of Grenada after its fall to Marxist rebels, from the Boston Globe:

Kerry was scornful, for instance, of the Grenada invasion, launched by Reagan the previous October to evacuate US medical students after a Marxist-backed military coup on the Caribbean island.

At one point he likened it to "Boston College playing football against the Sisters of Mercy." Earlier, Kerry told The Cape Codder newspaper:

"The invasion of Grenada represents the Reagan policy of substituting public relations for diplomatic relations . . . no substantial threat to US interests existed and American lives were not endangered . . . The invasion represented a bully's show of force against a weak Third World nation. The invasion only served to heighten world tensions and further strain brittle US/Soviet and North/South relations."

Campaigning now for president, however, Kerry is rewriting that history. As he accuses President George W. Bush of hamhanded diplomacy before the invasion of Iraq, Kerry often lists Grenada among the US military incursions he says he has supported.
"I was dismissive of the majesty of the invasion of Grenada," Kerry says now. "But I basically was supportive. I never publicly opposed it."

John Kerry would continue his march on the wrong side of history by voting against many of the weapons systems we are currently using to fight the war on terror. He voted against the Patriot missile, the Tomahawk cruise missile and the B-2 stealth bomber, the Apache helicopter, the M-1 Abrams tank and a wide range of fighter jets. Senator Kerry also voted nine times against developing a missile-defense system envisioned to protect the United States from nuclear attack. He voted six times in the past 10 years to freeze or reduce defense spending. Mr. Kerry also cast two votes to loosen trade controls over "dual-use" technology such as U.S.-made high-speed computers that can also be used by enemies to build high-tech weaponry. In 1996 Senator Kerry authored a bill to cut the deficit. The proposal, which would have cut spending on defense and intelligence by $6.5 billion, never attracted a co-sponsor or came to a vote.

In January of 1991, John Kerry voted against the resolution that gave President George H. W. Bush the power to launch the Persian Gulf war against Iraq. He actually took both sides of that war, sending a letter of support for the war and a letter of opposition to the war to the same constituent:

“Rather than take a side--albeit the one he thought was most expedient--Kerry actually stood on both sides of the first Gulf war, much like he did this time around. Consider this ‘Notebook’ item from TNR’s March 25, 1991 issue, which ran under the headline ‘Same Senator, Same Constituent’: ‘Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition ... to the early use of military force by the US against Iraq. I share your concerns. On January 11, I voted in favor of a resolution that would have insisted that economic sanctions be given more time to work and against a resolution giving the president the immediate authority to go to war.’ --letter from Senator John Kerry to Wallace Carter of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, dated January 22 [1991] ‘Thank you very much for contacting me to express your support for the actions of President Bush in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. From the outset of the invasion, I have strongly and unequivocally supported President Bush’s response to the crisis and the policy goals he has established with our military deployment in the Persian Gulf.’ --Senator Kerry to Wallace Carter, January 31 [1991]” (Noam Scheiber, “Noam Scheiber’s Daily Journal of Politics, The New Republic Online, 1/28/04) (via George W. taken from the New Republic Online.)

As we know John Kerry has taken both side on the War in Iraq. He voted for the resolution to go to war. Then he later claimed to have voted only for the threat of force. In an early Democratic primary debate John Kerry voiced his support of the presidents decision to go to war saying:

George, I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity, but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the President made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him.” (ABC News, Democrat Presidential Candidate Debate, Columbia, SC, 5/4/03)

Later, on hardball with Chris Matthews he claimed he was an anti-war candidate:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: “Do you think you belong to that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war, the way it’s been fought, along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?” KERRY: “I am -- Yes, in the sense that I don’t believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely.” (MSNBC’s “Hardball,” 1/6/04)

More recently, when challenged by President Bush to take a stand on the war, Kerry said that he supported the war even though no weapons had been found:

"Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have."

Yet Kerry voted against the $87 billion funding supplement that supplied equipment to the troops fighting the war.

John Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, but is now against it, saying at a campaign rally:

“We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night. So it is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time. I’ve been a District Attorney and I know that what law enforcement needs are real tools not restrictions on American’s basic rights.” (Sen. John Kerry, Remarks At Iowa State University, 12/1/03)

John Kerry's entire political career has been an extension of the remarks he made, under oath, to the Senate upon his return from Vietnam. His statements were the outline for his political career. He has been on the wrong side of every national security issue since he left his Swift Boat after four months in Vietnam. He has supported Communist leaders in their struggle against the United States, he has voted against funding almost every piece of military technology we use today. He has been unable to articulate a position on Iraq or the greater war on terror. He has voted for the Iraq war only to vote against its funding, for and against the Patriot Act, for and against troop redeployment as announced by the President. To understand John Kerry you must understand that he is still the person who made the slanderous remarks against the Senate, which the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are now using in a TV ad. His disdain for the military and the men he called monsters has never subsided. He has opposed the US military with every political choice he has made in his long career. The United States is engaged in a global war, more dangerous and unpredictable that the Cold War. Decisions will have to be made, men will have to be sent in harms way, sometimes quickly and without the benefit of 100% solid intelligence. John Kerry has demonstrated from the time he stepped on American shores after the Vietnam War that he not the man to lead the country at this time. That is why his testimony in 1971 and the Swift Boat Veterans opposition to him are important and why his actions from that time are open to discussion and evaluation. The John Kerry running for President now is the same John Kerry that delivered those damning remarks to the Senate in 1971. He is the same John Kerry that led anti war protests, who supported Ortega, opposed the US invasion of Grenada and the Persian Gulf War. He is the same John Kerry that voted only for the threat of force and voted against funding the war. John Kerry is incapable of leading the United States through the war on terror and he has a lifelong record to prove it.

John Kerry's medals in Vietnam do not matter. It should be assumed by all who were not there that he earned them honarably. His actions after his return do matter. They matter because he has never apologised for his testimony to the Senate, nor has he retracted it. As a matter of fact his political career has been an affirmation of what he said that day. It matters because character counts. It matters because the ability of the president to lead the armed forces in the war on terror will determine the fate of our country.

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