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Friday, August 06, 2004
I can't remember when I have been more pissed off about a political attack than I was about the new advertisement and forthcoming book from a group calling itself the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth", supposedly a bunch of Vietnam veterans who served with John Kerry and contend that he is lying about his war record.

This is despicable on all sorts of levels-- the media has picked up on the fact that this is being supported sub silentio by the Bush campaign (it was funded by a major Bush contributor and Bush could stop it with one phone call, as Vietnam veteran John McCain has urged Bush to do), and that the people involved didn't really serve with Kerry, and that some of the Swift Boat vets are already retracting their claims.

But I don't think the media coverage has given the full picture of why this is such a base political attack. The fact is, John Kerry spent the Vietnam War taking fire and risking his life on behalf of his country. George W. Bush pulled political strings to get ahead of many other people on a waiting list to join the Texas Air National Guard, avoided going to Vietnam and risking his life, and may have also failed to show up for duty (this last fact has not been definitively proven, but no records establish that he really did show up for several months after he had been transferred to Alabama, and he has avoided definitively saying that he had reported for duty during that period). In fact, George W. Bush was probably a rather irresponsible rich kid, a hard drinker and party animal who didn't get his life together until he turned 40. Kerry was, in contrast, an extremely precocious 26 year old.

None of this is really news. And really, none of it should determine who should win the election. I don't support Bush for President, but I do admire that he turned his life around. I think that is one of his best personal qualities. But in order to accept the narrative that he turned his life around, we must also accept that before he did, things weren't pretty. And they weren't. Whatever Bush was doing during the Vietnam War, he wasn't a responsible adult back then. Kerry, on the other hand, was one. And that doesn't mean that Kerry is a better man now; it only means that he was a better man back then.

Nonetheless, Kerry is running on this issue, and Bush's political strategists are scared to their bones about it, because it's impossible to run their normal cheap political attacks against the patriotism of liberals when you are running against a war hero.

So that is the context for George W. Bush's contributors and the right wing media bringing us the Swift Boat vets. And you can tell the political nature of the thing by what the vets say. Let's be clear-- I could totally see Kerry overstating his wounds to get out of Vietnam early, or overstating his war heroism to get elected. I could see that both because he's a politician and because of what we have learned about John Kerry in this campaign.

But that's not what the swift boat vets say, and the reason is obvious-- a John Kerry who may have overstated his military record is still a John Kerry who went to Vietnam and risked his life while Bush didn't. In other words, it wouldn't neutralize Kerry's advantage on the issue, which was the point of this attack.

So what the vets had to do was actually turn Kerry into a coward and a criminal. Thus, they claim that he got his Silver Star for shooting an unarmed Vietnamese teenager in the back. And they claim he inflicted a wound on himself to get a third Purple Heart to get out of the war. And they claim that the man who claims that Kerry saved his life by pulling him out of the water under enemy fire-- an incident that caused Kerry to be decorated with a Bronze Star-- is a liar, and that in fact there was no enemy fire.

You can just see how unbelievable this all is. It would mean that the US Military knowingly and repeatedly decorated a coward and war criminal, and allowed a person to get out of Vietnam by means of a self-inflicted wound, and that further we should believe these fellow servicemembers who never formally protested or complained about the medals when they were awarded but only spoke up when Bush campaign contributors came calling.

So you have a facially unbelievable story, paid for by known Bush supporters, and with an obvious "too good to be true" element to it, i.e., a carefully written narrative that negates each and every element of the claimed war heroism of Kerry, and specifically goes farther than simply criticizing Kerry for being a lousy soldier, instead making him out to be even worse than those who didn't serve in Vietnam. I am sorry, but there is no way in hell that the things the Swift Boat vets allege really happened.

One more thing needs to be said about this attack. While the Swift Boat vets were in Vietnam, the radio talk show hosts and Fox News commentators who are carrying the ball for them were not there, for the most part. And, of course, Bush, the intended beneficiary of the attack, also was not in Vietnam. War service is not pretty. Horrible things happen. Civilians get shot. Young men (and now women) are afraid and sometimes do stupid, even atrocious things. If we are going to honor those who serve our country (and we should), we also cannot turn around and nitpick at every single thing that happens while they are under fire. It is not as though John Kerry ran the Abu Graib prison. I guess the short way of saying this is, I really don't care, in the larger sense, whether the bullets were really flying when Kerry pulled Jim Rassman out of the water or not. I don't care whether the wounds that gave rise to Kerry's Purple Hearts came from a Vietnamese gun or from friendly fire, and I don't even care that they were superficial wounds treated with Band-Aids.

If you go back and question everything that a veteran ever did in the war, and end up elevating the record of someone who never served (and thus cannot be subjected to the same scrutiny), you are no longer honoring veterans-- you are in fact trashing them. Because we ask young people to do awful things on our behalf in war. In the Vietnam War, we did not ask folks in the Texas Air National Guard to do these things. (In a cruel irony, George W. Bush now asks those in the National Guard to die in the line of fire, the very thing he avoided by joining the Guard during the Vietnam War.) The fact that a 26 year old John Kerry did those things, for us, does not make him a worse person than George W. Bush. And it is completely dispicable that anyone would suggest that it does, and try to take down Senator Kerry's honorable service to his country by claiming that he is worse than a draft dodger.

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Muy Señores Míos:

Algunos de nuestros comentarios incluyen vínculos rotos que bien pudieran llevar hoy a una tercera persona. Por tanto, le rogamos, por favor, que los deseche o desestime.

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