Saturday, September 18, 2004
Fisking Nicholas Kristof's NYT op-ed "A War Hero or a Phony?"
In Saturday's New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof offers an interesting op-ed entitled "A War Hero or a Phony?" Since only one presidential candidate has claimed to be a war hero, you'd be correct in inferring that it's about Sen. Kerry.
If you try to recall the state of public knowledge about Sen. Kerry's war record before the first SwiftVets ad appeared in early August, you'll recognize that at a minimum, the SwiftVets' campaign has had at least some success in knocking some of the burnish off that record. But if you've been following the controversy closely, you'll see from Mr. Kristof's op-ed that on important points, he — and by fair inference, most of the mainstream media — is still clueless.
Mr. Kristof is obviously trying to write a balanced, if brief, examination of the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy. He begins:
So is John Kerry a war hero or a medal-grabbing phony?
Each time that I've written about President Bush's dalliance with the National Guard, conservative readers have urged me to scrutinize the accusations against Mr. Kerry. After doing so over the last week, here's where I come out:
This is a good start, Mr. Kristof, that I only fault for the loaded term "dalliance" and for your failure to note that only Sen. Kerry has made his military service a cornerstone of his campaign. You imply an equivalency that is facile, but false, as you've elsewhere acknowledged yourself. Moving on (boldface in original throughout):
Did Mr. Kerry volunteer for dangerous duty? Not as much as his campaign would like you to believe. The Kerry Web site declares, "As he was graduating from Yale, John Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam — because, as he later said, 'It was the right thing to do.'"
In fact, as Mr. Kerry was about to graduate from Yale, he was inquiring about getting an educational deferment to study in Europe. When that got nowhere, he volunteered for the Navy, which was much less likely to involve danger in Vietnam than other services. After a year on a ship in the ocean, Mr. Kerry volunteered for Swift boats, but at that time they were used only in Vietnam's coastal waters. A short time later, the Swift boats were assigned exceptionally dangerous duties up Vietnamese rivers. "When I signed up for the Swift boats, they had very little to do with the war,'' Mr. Kerry wrote in 1986, adding, "I didn't really want to get involved in the war."
Again, the only quibble I have with this is that if one insists on drawing parallels between the candidates, it would only be fair here to also note that at the time Dubya signed up for the TANG, its units were flying F-102s in combat over Southeast Asia, and that Dubya unsuccessfully volunteered to join them there.
Did Mr. Kerry get his first Purple Heart for a self-inflicted wound? That's the accusation of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who say that the injury came (unintentionally) from a grenade that Mr. Kerry himself fired at Viet Cong. In fact, nobody knows where the shrapnel came from, and it's possible that the critics are right. It's not certain that the Viet Cong were returning fire. But the only other American on the boat in a position to see anything, Bill Zaldonis (who says he voted for Mr. Bush in 2000) told me, "He was hurt, and I don't think it was self-inflicted."
GONG! First major set of errors, Mr. Kristof. Everyone agrees that there were three men on the skimmer. There's a major dispute, however, regarding who else was there besides young Lt. Kerry. How can you possibly have missed Lisa Myers' and Bob Novak's interviews with Adm. Bill Schachte? And how can you have failed to learn that by regulation, "the key issue that commanders must take into consideration" in deciding whether to award a Purple Heart is "the degree to which the enemy caused the injury"? How can you have missed the facts that Kerry's commander, Lt. Cmdr. Skip Hibbard, refused to put Kerry in for a Purple Heart after the 02Dec68 mission, but Kerry somehow mysteriously was awarded one anyway in March 1969, and that none of the normal paperwork that, again by regulation, should back up a Purple Heart citation has been produced?
Did Mr. Kerry deserve his second and third Purple Hearts? There's not much dispute that the second was merited. As for the third one, the Swift Boat Veterans' claim that he received it for a minor injury he got while blowing up food supplies to keep them from the enemy. But documents and witness accounts show that he received a shrapnel wound when South Vietnamese troops blew up rice stores, and an injured arm in a mine explosion later that day.
You're right, Mr. Kristof, that the SwiftVets haven't seriously challenged the second Purple Heart, although it was for another trivial bandaid wound. But it wasn't "South Vietnamese troops" that blew up the rice pile, Mr. Kristof, it was Lt. Kerry and Lt. Rassmann, and they weren't under enemy fire at the time. As for the "injured arm," that's a bruise, Mr. Kristof — not even a bandaid for that one. These are important facts, and they're absolutely undisputed. How can you have missed them?
Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Bronze Star? Yes. The Swift Boat Veterans claim that he was not facing enemy fire when he rescued a Green Beret, Jim Rassmann, but that is contradicted by those were there, like William Rood and Mr. Rassmann (a Republican). In fact, Mr. Rassmann recommended Mr. Kerry for a Silver Star.
GONG! You're right, Mr. Kristof, that there is a dispute as to whether Kerry was under enemy fire when he plucked Rassmann out of the river. But Lt. Rood wasn't there that day — and no one has ever claimed he was. From Rood's ChiTrib article: "I was part of the operation that led to Kerry's Silver Star. I have no firsthand knowledge of the events that resulted in his winning the Purple Hearts or the Bronze Star." There are indeed eyewitnesses who say there was enemy fire and other eyewitnesses who say there wasn't. But none of the eyewitnesses who claim that there was incoming enemy fire have ever been able to explain how no one, and none of the five boats, were hit by it. Sen. Kerry's own version — that he braved enemy from both banks over a 5000 meter stretch — is almost certainly a gross exaggeration. Finally, Mr. Rassmann's credentials as a Republican are somewhat questionable — and mostly irrelevant, Mr. Kristof, unless you'd like us to ignore your op-ed based on how you've voted recently.
Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Silver Star? Absolutely. He earned it for responding to two separate ambushes in a courageous and unorthodox way, by heading straight into the gunfire. Then he pursued one armed fighter into the jungle and shot him dead. According to Fred Short, a machine gunner who saw the event, the fighter was an adult (not the half-naked teenager cited by the Swift Boat Veterans) who was preparing to launch a grenade at the boat. "Kerry went into harm's way to save the lives of the guys on the boat," Mr. Short told me. "If he hadn't done that, I am absolutely positive I would not be here today." Mr. Kerry's commander said he had wanted to give him an even higher honor, the Navy Cross, but thought it would take too long to process.
Whether the tactics used that day were courageous or foolhardy is a subject of debate, but what's clear is that Kerry stayed on his boat during the first ambush, and all three boats offloaded a large contingent of South Vietnamese "Ruff-Puffs" to chase the bad guys in the first ambush; Kerry was in no more danger, and behaved no more bravely, than any of the other skippers or crew with respect to that ambush. With respect to the second spot where Kerry and Rood beached their boats, there were at most one or two enemy soldiers, and the one Kerry chased down was already wounded and fleeing. The "half-naked" allegation came not originally from the SwiftVets, but from reporting by Boston Globe reporter Mike Kranish, and it's absolutely irrelevant. And Adm. Zumwalt — who by everyone's version was eager to find some Swiftees to pin medals on — was basing his understanding of what happened on the after-action report written by Kerry that conflated the two ambushes, making it look as though (as the citation reflects) he led a team ashore under overwhelming enemy fire and against numerically superior odds. Kerry did his duty that day and was brave — but it was ordinary duty and ordinary bravery, not Silver Star-type heroism, and certainly nothing remotely justifying a Navy Cross.
Did Mr. Kerry exaggerate his exploits? Yes. For example, he has often said over the years that he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia as part of the secret war there. Others who served with him confirm that on Christmas Eve 1968 (not Christmas Day) he got very close to the border, and possibly even strayed across it. But it doesn't seem to have been, as Mr. Kerry has suggested, a deliberate incursion into Cambodia.
Close, Mr. Kristof! But there's absolutely no evidence — including from any of Kerry's "Band of Brothers" — to support the claim that Kerry ever set foot in Cambodia at any time. Yes, some of the canals he patrolled were within yards of the border. But he was never in Cambodia — and there's no evidence to show that he was except for his own tall tales (which you rightly admit were exaggerations).
What do those who served with him say? Some who served on other boats have called Mr. Kerry a hypochondriac self-promoter. But every enlisted man who was with Mr. Kerry on various boats when he won Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars says he deserved them. All praise his courage and back his candidacy. "I was there for two of the Purple Hearts and the Bronze and Silver Stars, and he earned every one of them," said Delbert Sandusky, in a typical comment. "He saved our lives."
Mr. Kristof, you've completely ignored the crewman who served the longest under Kerry, SwiftVet Steve Gardner. Did you somehow miss the third SwiftVets ad, which featured only him? And you've ignored, too, the fact that the Swift Boats almost never operated alone, but almost always operated in groups in which Kerry's fellow Swift Boat skippers had a better perspective from which to observe his ability to work together, to follow orders, to support the overall operations, than his own crew had. Those officers overwhelmingly support the SwiftVets' contention that Kerry is "Unfit for Command."
The bottom line? Mr. Kerry has stretched the truth here and there, but earned his decorations. And the Swift Boat Veterans, contradicted by official records and virtually everyone who witnessed the incidents, are engaging in one of the ugliest smears in modern U.S. politics.
What can one do but sigh and shake one's head in bewilderment at this? "Ugliest smears in modern U.S. politics"? Mr. Kristof, your own column has just demonstrated — you've just admitted — that the SwiftVets have succeeded in exposing Kerry as an exaggerator. But for their efforts, neither you nor anyone else would likely have had a second thought about John Kerry's consistent portrayal of himself as a latter-day Audie Murphy or Sgt. York.
Every American voter is entitled to reach his own considered judgment as to whether Sen. Kerry was, as you put it, "A War Hero or a Phony?" But Mr. Kristof, when you still are so badly deluded as to undisputed facts — such as the identities of major players in the controversy like Bill Rood or Bill Schachte or Steve Gardner — I respectfully submit that your considered judgment, as expressed in this op-ed column, is worse than worthless, it's deceptive and misleading. You should be ashamed, sir — any junior high school editorialist could do a better job of fact-gathering than this.
Mr. Kristof publishes email exchanges with his readers, and writes in one:
Many conservatives have told me to look at Kerry’s records, and his failure to execute an SF 180. I’ve been looking at the issue, and I’ll address it in a column soon.
Oh, I can hardly wait. Got that one calendared for November 9th or so, Mr. Kristof?
Update (Sat Sep 18 @ 11:20am): Captain Ed has an independent fisking that, unsurprisingly, notes many of the same fundamental errors I did.
Patterico's second update notes that Mr. Kristof's statement that "every enlisted man who was with Mr. Kerry on various boats when he won Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars says he deserved them" may be technically correct. I did not claim otherwise, but I did (and do) accuse Mr. Kristof of ignoring Gardner, who served longer under Kerry than any other crewman (but not, indeed, on any of Kerry's medal-winning occasions), and the overwhelming number of Kerry's fellow Swiftee skippers who participated in missions with Kerry on a daily basis and who've joined the SwiftVets' assessment of him as "Unfit for Command." Given the topic Mr. Kristof's paragraph — "What do those who served with him say?" — I think Mr. Kristof's focus only on crewmen who served under Kerry on his medal-winning days is ridiculously narrow. Instead, as phrased, Mr. Kranish's own question would embrace within its scope the hundreds of Swiftees who've joined the SwiftVets, most of whom claim no personal knowledge of Sen. Kerry's actions, but object to Sen. Kerry's mischaracterizations of their service in his antiwar activism. They are also in an extremely knowledgeable position to draw conclusions from second-hand information about Sen. Kerry's war service — much of which comes, indeed, directly from Kerry's own admissions and claims, or from his authorized hagiographer Douglas Brinkey, or from the biography written by the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish et al.
Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Fisking Nicholas Kristof's NYT op-ed "A War Hero or a Phony?" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:
» IF from PRESTOPUNDIT -- "It's a team sport, baby!"
Tracked on Sep 20, 2004 10:27:27 AM
Beldar: "Dubya unsuccessfully volunteered to join them there [Vietnam]."
You provide a link to a Dallas Morning News article, but not any actual documentary evidence. The article mentions the fact that Bush signed that he didn't want to serve overseas. Did you have actual documentary evidence that Bush did, in fact, volunteer for Vietnam?
This is what documentary evidence might look like:
I request duty in Vietnam
(Note that Kerry's first choice is the Swift Boat, at the time used for coastal patrol, and but his second choice was for PBR, Patrol Boat River.)
Actually Zachriel, remember that Kerry's first choice was a student deferment so he could study in Paris. It's sad how Kerry now blasts Cheney for getting the same kind of deferment that he was denied.
Zachriel, you gotta read the whole article, my friend. The part about him volunteering starts at the bottom quarter of page 3 of the .pdf file and continues on to page 4. It refers to multiple witnesses who recall Bush volunteering, but not to any particular document; Pete Slover's still at the Dallas Morning News and has an email address published there, so I suppose you could ask him if he looked for documents to back up what his multiple witnesses told him. But I've looked on Lexis/Nexis, and have never found any refutation to this article anywhere.
And let's not be selective in what we quote from that article, eh? Re the checked box, the article also says that
Mr. Bush's application for the Guard included a box to be checked specifying whether he did or did not volunteer for overseas duty. His includes a check mark in the box not wanting to volunteer for such an assignment.
But several personnel officers said that part of the application for domestic Guard units routinely would be filled out that way by a clerk typist, then given to the applicant to sign.
If your standard is "there must be an existing document we can point to in a .pdf file somewhere to believe it," then poof there goes at least Sen. Kerry's first Purple Heart, huh? Of course, Kerry's problem is not only that there's no document to explain how he got that first Purple Heart, there's no witness to explain it either, and the one witness there is Skip Hibbard says he turned Kerry down for it.
I'm not surprised that you're surprised the notion of Bush volunteering is inconsistent with the "Bush was AWOL" or "Bush was a slacker" meme pushed by the MSM and Bush's political opponents. It's just that here in Texas, we've heard all that hogwash again and again, going back to Dubya's first run for governor when Ann Richards relied on it (and got her tail handed to her).
Beldar: "the notion of Bush volunteering is inconsistent with the "Bush was AWOL" or "Bush was a slacker" meme"
Actually, the "notion of Bush volunteering" for Vietnam is inconsistent with written evidence of the time. However, it is certainly plausible that he inquired about the "Palace Alert" program, a program that was apparently shut down before he could become qualified.
Bush gave more than some, less than others. He was honorably discharged. Everything else is just an historical curiousity. Here is a very interesting interview with Bush on the subject.
Bush: "I, like many others, became disillusioned."
On Kerry, here are the results of a U.S. Navy inquiry on his awards. "Our examination found that existing documentation regarding the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals indicates the awards approval process was properly followed."
Zachriel, I have to give you credit when you strip things out of context, you at least provide a link making it easy to demonstrate that you've done it:
I do remember I think it was the Cambodian bombing, where I began to become, it became apparent over time that decisions were made not in the best interest of our military. It became evident that this was a political war, not a military war. There was a certain predictability and so the military mission was not paramount. It was a political mission. And there was no clarity of purpose ... and it took awhile for that to sink in my way of thinking.
Lots of vets became "disillusioned" in that same sense frustrated because there seemed to be no plan to win, no will to do so.
And I've already written a few thousand choice words on the Navy Dep't inquiry here, my friend. Politely stated, for obvious reasons, the Navy Dep't decided not to start a formal investigation that would look behind Kerry's medals. I honor that judgment, although I disagree with it. But it doesn't in itself answer any of the questions that have been raised about those medals.
Now I'm sure you'll have some other argument and another link or two to throw up. I'll leave it to my other commenters to respond to you, if they choose. Opposing views are welcome here, when expressed (as yours have been) in a civil fashion and without profanity. But I can see that if I gave in to the impulse to match you comment for comment, I'd never write another post. Best regards to you, sir.
Do these "professional journalists" actually do research?
"Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Bronze Star? Yes. The Swift Boat Veterans claim that he was not facing enemy fire when he rescued a Green Beret, Jim Rassmann, but that is contradicted by those were there, like William Rood"
A first year law student could do a better job than this.
I'm really sick of seeing Journalists like this guy and Juan Williams flub the facts.
Have any of them actually read the darn book!?
(7) sammy small made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 9:31:31 AM | Permalink
While I can't provide documented backup, I do remember filling out an assignment form (like a "dream sheet") when I arrived for F-4 RTU training at Homestead AFB in 1973 which contained a check box for volunteering for an SEA (Southeast Asia) ssignment. The Air Force was primarily based in Thailand at the time. While I didn't end up there, a few buddies did and ended up involved in the Mayaguez incident, the last battle of that era.
Sue Bob, one might wonder whether (gasp!) they're making up their minds based on what someone next to them in the newsroom/bar/gym says, or on what they've read from another (equally ill-informed) MSM journalist, rather than on their own inquiries, huh?
Beldar "Zachriel, I have to give you credit . . . "
Thanks, Beldar. I always try to provide some additional information to encourage people to investigage further.
Beldar: . . . when you strip things out of context. . .
That's an unfair characterization as I specifically provided the full resource and made every effort to encourage people to read it in full. I'm glad you did.
The extended section you quoted shows that the quote was not taken out of context. Rather it shows that Bush just took longer to realize what others already knew--the government was lying about the purposes and course of the war.
(10) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 10:19:46 AM | Permalink
Zachriel, you ARE taking the volunteering out of context. The form with the checked box doesn't say anything about Vietnam. It is "overseas", and it is on the application to enter flight school. Which was Bush's goal; to become a fighter pilot. In 1968, at the peak of the fighting in Vietnam.
Bush wasn't qualified in 1968 to volunteer for anything except training. However, after he had his wings and his F-102 training, he was qualified to be in combat. And that is what he did, according to his IP, Maurice Udell, and Fred Bradley, who went to Col Killian alongside Bush and two other pilots to volunteer. Bush and Bradley were rejected, the other two accepted.
(11) Todd made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 10:54:15 AM | Permalink
Zach's a fun guy, like GT and Chris are as well. Facts aren't important to him, so he fits in well with the rest of the Left.
What's interesting about Kerry is that he got 4 deferments to attend school at Yale, and then enlisted in the Navy Reserves and was placed on inactive status when his request for a fifth deferment was denied so as to avoid being drafted. The "reluctant warrior," indeed.
As far as Kristof's article goes, he's embarrassingly poorly-informed, but maybe Burkett can forge an after action report for Kerry's first Purple Heart and give Kristof something else to write about.
Patrick R. Sullivan: "Zachriel, you ARE taking the volunteering out of context."
Hmm. If you are making an oblique reference to Beldar's comments about context, we were discussing Bush's "disillusionment" with the Vietnam War.
In regards to your comments about Bush "checking the box" that he was not interested in serving overseas: Considering it was the height of the Vietnam War, this is certainly an indication that he didn't want to be sent to the war theater. He did have a choice. On the other hand, there is anecdotal evidence that he inquired about joining the "Palace Alert" program, but it ended about the time he qualified.
As I have already posted, Bush gave more than some, and less than others. During the Vietnam War, the Guard was used as a refuge for the sons of the rich and powerful. Bush received an honorable discharge, and probably benefited from his service. Everything else is just of historical interest.
Todd: "Facts aren't important to him, so he fits in well with the rest of the Left."
Your overgeneralization about the "Left" leads you to make unwarranted simplifications about my point of view. Perhaps your definition of fact is faulty, too. This is a fact:
This is also a fact:
"the senior officers who awarded the medals [to Kerry] were properly delegated authority to do so. In addition, we found that they correctly followed the procedures in place at the time for approving these awards."
Todd: ". . . his request for a fifth deferment was denied so as to avoid being drafted."
Considering that Kerry had strong doubts against the war, it would not be unthinkable for him to avoid the war. Meanwhile, I've been looking for documentation that Kerry applied for a deferment after his graduation from Yale.
(14) Fresh Air made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 11:39:58 AM | Permalink
I've been looking for documentation that Kerry applied for a deferment after his graduation from Yale.
Geez, you didn't look very hard.
"He wrote to his local recruitment board seeking permission to spend a further 12 months studying in Paris, after completing his degree course at Yale University in the mid-1960s."
(15) Al made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 11:42:44 AM | Permalink
Those records didn't come directly from the military - they came through Kerry.
Sorry, I've developed an allergic reaction to third hand copies of copies with a tenuous chain of custody lately. Even if they do at least appear to be typewritten.
(16) Al made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 11:57:24 AM | Permalink
Oh, and if you grant the document's authenticity*, then you'll note that this particular one is after he's already an Ensign. Putting him in almost exactly the same position as Bush - he got trained first, then allegedly requested to leave American soil.
(17) Fresh Air made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 11:59:30 AM | Permalink
Great fisk. One of the major problems linear thinkers on the Right have with the Left is their inability to grasp and apply logic and facts. Take the canard that William Rood's account debunked the Swift Vet's version of the Silver Star account. The only significant difference in the two stories is that the man Kerry shot was an adult in pajamas, not a "teenager wearing a loincloth." And, contrary to what Rood said, he was wounded, as our good friend Bandit reveals in this recently discovered after-action report. Even more important, it conclusively reveals Kerry wrote the report.
Kristof's failure to closely read Rood's account or even cursorily review Unfit for Command reveals plainly his ears and eyes are plugged. The reason he and others on the Left will be so devastated after this election is that they fail to understand that character matters. Kerry, the supposed reluctant war hero, is nothing but a braggart who exaggerated or made up his own exploits at the expense of his fellow men. The people can see this, even if Kristof cannot.
Fresh Air, Thanks. I was aware of the article. I was looking for the actual deferment request rather than the third-hand news report. Such a document may not be available. I do not doubt the plausibility of such a deferment request, though. Considering Kerry speaks French, I wouldn't be surprised he would want to continue his studies in Paris.
(19) Fresh Air made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 12:08:57 PM | Permalink
I don't begrduge Kerry (or Cheney, Clinton, et al) the deferment(s) either. What I object to is ex-post embellishing of the facts.
Al: "I've developed an allergic reaction"
Good choice of terminology. That's where the body's immune system, which is meant to attack false cells, overreacts and attacks the true ones instead. For your convenience, here is a link to a non-partisan site, Findlaw.com, with the same document.
(21) Al made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 12:35:56 PM | Permalink
There's no notice there of where they received those documents. Several news outlets have said that their FOIA requests end up with just six pages - the vast bulk of those documents presumably comes from... John Kerry.
They also lay out his service as 1968-1969 instead of the range listed by the documents: 1966-1978, but that's minor.
I'm not claiming falsehood of course - just pointing out that there is a filtering process between the raw data and the eyeballs.
Just a pet peave:
We would have to imply something about Kristof. Kristof himself inferred the thing.
The last comment was supposed to be a question.
I looked it up--after posting.
/egg on face
(24) Todd made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 3:47:18 PM | Permalink
Zach, I have no problem whatsoever with Kerry's applying for 5 deferments. My problem with him begins when he conveniently omits that and says that he volunteered for service in Vietnam "because it was the right thing to do." That's disingenuous. Kerry volunteered to serve in the Navy Reserves because he didn't want to be drafted and face something possibly far worse. It's as simple as that. Again, I have no problem with that, as long as Kerry doesn't continue to misstate what occurred.
Regarding Kerry's requested deferment so that he could study in his favorite country, I have no idea where the documentation is for that, but it was reported in the Harvard Crimson on February 18, 1970 in an article called "John Kerry: A Navy Dove Runs for Congress," by Samuel Z. Goldhaber. I don't have a page number, but this is the cite given in "Unfit for Command."
As for the Navy's finding that Kerry's rewards were properly awarded, your cite says everything that needs to be said about the Navy's "investigation." The fact that Kerry lied in the reports he sent in isn't undermined by the Navy's finding that Kerry's superior officers had the authority to award him medials. I never thought the Navy investigation would amount to much anyway, so at the moment the Swiftees' allegations against Kerry remain very much unrebutted.
(25) Mark made the following comment | Sep 18, 2004 7:03:57 PM | Permalink
The 2/18/70 Harvard Crimson article by Samuel Goldhaber is on their website's archives:
(26) Todd made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 1:01:09 AM | Permalink
Thanks for the assist, Mark.
Todd: "My problem with him begins when he conveniently omits that and says that he volunteered for service in Vietnam "because it was the right thing to do." That's disingenuous. Kerry volunteered to serve in the Navy Reserves because he didn't want to be drafted and face something possibly far worse."
You are conflating two events. Even assuming that Kerry did apply for an additional year's deferment to study in France (we still don't have first-hand documentation of that, but as I mentioned previously, it is certainly plausible), his volunteering for reassignment in Vietnam happened at a later date. Unlike the situation with Bush, Kerry made a request that had a very reasonable chance of being accepted.
Kerry: "I request duty in Vietnam. My billet preference is "Swift" boats [Patrol Boat Coastal] with a second choice of Patrol Officer in a PBR Squadron [Patrol Boat River]."
the man Kerry shot was an adult in pajamas
There's a great item to take out of context. Seems like adults in pajamas have been striking back of late.
(29) Todd made the following comment | Sep 19, 2004 4:11:00 PM | Permalink
Zach, I'm not conflating events. Kerry's "I volunteered to go to Vietnam," while strictly true, is misleading. It implies that he joined the Navy and volunteered to go Vietnam out of the goodness of his heart. How effective would the "Kerry as war hero" mythology be if Kerry instead said, "My request for a fifth deferment to study in Paris was denied, so I enlisted in the Navy Reserve so as to avoid being drafted. I later volunteered for service in Vietnam when it appeared I could do so without facing combat." Would that have the same "war hero" effect?
Todd: ". How effective would the "Kerry as war hero" mythology be . . . I later volunteered for service in Vietnam when it appeared I could do so without facing combat"
Are we arguing appearances or reality? As I have said repeatedly, Kerry did more than some, less than others. He did his duty, and received an honorable discharge. The rest is only of minor historical interest. Nevertheless, he did volunteer to serve with a patrol squadron in Vietnam, either coastal (PCF) or river duty (PBR).
These unarmored, but heavily armed boats relied on maneuverability to survive encounters with the enemy. Before Kerry volunteered for duty on these boats, PCF were already engaged with enemy smugglers trying to resupply the South by sea, and were also sometimes destroyed by mines. The first PCF lost in Vietnam was sunk in 1966, killing four. Hardly avoiding combat.
Interestingly, the Congress gave the President extensive war powers in response to an alleged naval encounter--in the Gulf of Tonkin.
(31) rastajenk made the following comment | Sep 20, 2004 7:08:14 AM | Permalink
It is just about unbelievable how the left/Kerry/lib community complains about getting off the issues, and then keeps coming back to this topic continuously. I love watching a veteran pol like Pat Caddell go on a slobberous rage about the idiocy of his party. It backfires on both offensive and defensive fronts. No possible good, politically or socially, comes from this rehash of Vietnam-era experiences.
A lot of the comments, as well as Beldar's original post, miss the forest for the trees. The forest, as I see it, is this:
1. George W. Bush did not want to risk his life in the Vietnam War. He joined the Guard, and everyone knows that the Guard was what you joined if you DIDN'T want to go to Vietnam. (Only about 8,000 Guardsmen ever served in Vietnam.) If Bush wanted to go to Vietnam, he would have just enlisted in the regular service, not the Guard.
2. John Kerry probably didn't want to go to Vietnam either (and shouldn't claim that he did), but that doesn't make his service there any less honorable.
3. Whether or not Kerry's wounds were inflicted by friendly fire is not important-- friendly fire is one of the risks of being in a combat zone.
4. If Kerry didn't deserve some of his medals, the U.S. Navy, and not Kerry, is responsible for that. (Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Kerry actually authored the reports that the medals were based on; those reports bear someone else's initials.) There was plenty of "medals inflation" in Vietnam; again, that is not Kerry's responsibility.
5. The Swift Boat vets are not trustworthy. They hate Kerry because he protested the war and talked openly of war crimes. Further, to believe the Swift Boat vets is not only to disbelieve everyone but one person on Kerry's boat and a boatload of documents, but also to believe that EVERY SINGLE HONOR (except perhaps one Purple Heart) that Kerry earned was fraudulent. In other words, the Swift Boat vets' story is too carefully crafted to be true.
6. In any event, anyone who endorses George W. Bush for President is effectively conceding that what one did during Vietnam (and generally what happened 35 years ago-- Bush really didn't get his life together until he was 40, while Kerry was precocious) isn't that important to the election; Bush supporters cannot have it both ways by then trashing Kerry's past.
(33) dennisw made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 4:44:09 AM | Permalink
Posted by: Dilan Esper
You are woefully misinformed. A very lame stab in the dark.
(34) Infidel made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 11:39:37 AM | Permalink
"... remember that Kerry's first choice was a student deferment so he could study in Paris."
His second choice was the Naval Reserve since it was almost guaranteed he would get a state-side duty station.
Also, GWB volunteered for the "Palace Alert" program which was a Vietnam combat duty assignment.
(35) Infidel made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 11:56:57 AM | Permalink
One last thought:
"“What about medals? Has he ever said anything about medals? Are medals important to him?”
“To Bob Lee? Let me tell you something, son—were you in the war or anything?”
“No sir, I wasn’t.”
“Well, son, the only people that are interested in medals are the ones that are fixing to run for office some day. I went from one side of Burma to the other with General Merrill’s Marauders in 1943 and 1944, and the only man I ever saw who wanted a medal or cared about a medal later became the only governor of Colorado to be impeached."
Stephen Hunter, “Point of Impact”, Bantam Books, 1993
Infidel, I don't read much into "Palace Alert". Bush had the opportunity to enlist to go to Vietnam. Instead he chose the Guard, and very probably used connections to get in (there was a waiting list, after all). Bush also checked a box specifically indicating that he DID NOT want to serve overseas.
As for Kerry desiring not to go to Vietnam, I don't see why that's important unless your sole purpose is to tear down Kerry. Suppose Kerry was dragged kicking and screaming to Vietnam. So what? He still went and put his life on the line for his country when others didn't. Motives matter with respect to people who DIDN'T go to Vietnam. (A person who dodged the draft is on a different footing from someone who lucked out in the lottery.) But they don't matter at all with respect to those who DID go.
There may be ways in which Kerry has exaggerated his service, and I certainly understand that some people feel he shouldn't have protested the war-- or protested in the manner he did-- after he came back. But conservatives who believe that George W. Bush was just itching to go to Vietnam, and was sorely disappointed that he was deprived of the opportunity to do so, while John Kerry was a coward who took the first plane home he could, are living in fantasyland. That may be what some people would LIKE to believe, but it's just obviously not the truth.
(37) phwest made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 3:25:43 PM | Permalink
For what it's worth, while I'm sure Bush got into TANG in part because of his family connections, there is another reason for him to have done so beyond avoiding Vietnam. That is, like his father, he wanted to be a military pilot, and the Guard was a way to do that. My understanding (I'm not a contemporary) is that pilot slots were not easy to come by.
Supporting evidence for this view would be the fact that TANG pilot from Bush's unit were serving in Vietnam at the time he enlisted. If he volunteered once in the Guard that would also reinforce this view.
Phwest-- that's a reasonable theory, and I am sure that Bush DID want to fly planes, but he didn't want to fly them in the Vietnam War. First, remember that he checked a box when he signed up declining overseas duty. If his intention was to become a pilot and fly in Vietnam, he would have checked the other box. Second, despite having written about his Guard service in his campaign biography and having discussed it in numerous interviews, neither he nor any of his spokespersons has ever said that he wanted to go to Vietnam when he joined the Guard.
(39) TomB made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 7:27:23 PM | Permalink
1."George W. Bush did not want to risk his life in the Vietnam War."
Great. But he was perfectly happy to risk his life flying one of the most dangerous planes in the inventory at the time.
If he "did not want to risk his life", why didn't he use his connections to get a nice, safe desk job?
2."but that doesn't make his service there any less honorable."
That isn't the point. It was his lying testimony of widespread atrocities that was "less honorable".
3."Whether or not Kerry's wounds were inflicted by friendly fire is not important--"
To you it isn't, but to the regulations regarding the Purple Heart it is. A self-inflicted wound NOT in the presence of enemy fire is NOT ground for the awarding of a PH.
4."There was plenty of "medals inflation" in Vietnam; again, that is not Kerry's responsibility."
All evidence at this time points to Kerry putting himself up for those awards. The situation might be less cloudy if he would execute a form 180 and release the rest of his records.
As an aside, Oliver North turned down his third PH in order to stay with his platoon.
"Band of Brothers" indeed.
5."The Swift Boat vets are not trustworthy."
All 250 of them? Including all his superior officers? Do you realize how insane that sounds?
You mean trustworthy as compared to Kerry's testimony to Congress about the war crimes he witnessed and participated in?
6."Bush supporters cannot have it both ways by then trashing Kerry's past."
This is utterly ridiculous. Who is making his Vietnam service the absoulte centerpiece of his campaign? Bush never ran on his service record. You're saying that we aren't allowed to criticize Kerry's Vietnam record because it was so long ago, while at the same time Kerry talks about it continuously.
"But he was perfectly happy to risk his life flying one of the most dangerous planes in the inventory at the time."
There's two different types of risk here. The risk of combat is both of a different magnitude and of a different category from the risk of flying a plane. Put simply, flying a plane is FUN; being in close combat in the hot, sweaty jungle is not.
And by the way, I've heard a lot of conservatives repeat the meme that this was the "riskiest" or one of the "riskiest" airplanes out there. Does anyone have any actual casualty figures from F-102's in Guard units to back that up? Because pardon me if I really doubt that occasionally flying an F-102 in TRAINING is nearly as dangerous as spending four months in a Swift Boat in the Mekong Delta or just about any other combat assignment in Vietnam.
"That isn't the point. It was his lying testimony of widespread atrocities that was 'less honorable'."
If the issue is what he said about atrocities, why do so many people on the right keep on mentioning the fact that he didn't really want to go to Vietnam? Your side keeps on mentioning this fact; if it's unimportant, than they should stop mentioning it.
"To you it isn't, but to the regulations regarding the Purple Heart it is. A self-inflicted wound NOT in the presence of enemy fire is NOT ground for the awarding of a PH."
Three points: first, your use of the term "self-inflicted" is misleading. The allegations are that he was hit by friendly fire. A "self-inflicted" wound implies either intentionally or negligently shooting yourself. There is no evidence (other than the unreliable statements of the Swift Boat vets-- see below) that this happened.
Second, people regularly got Purple Hearts for friendly fire wounds in Vietnam, and for good reason. Friendly fire is one of the risks of being in a combat zone, and a wound suffered from friendly fire can be just as painful and debilitating as one suffered from enemy fire.
Third, even if you were right about friendly fire wounds suffered outside the presence of enemy fire, the evidence is that the wounds were suffered IN the presence of enemy fire. The only contrary evidence is the statements of the Swift Boat vets (see below).
"All evidence at this time points to Kerry putting himself up for those awards. The situation might be less cloudy if he would execute a form 180 and release the rest of his records."
I have resisted any ad hominem attacks here. I want a rational discourse. But your statement about "all evidence" is a baldfaced lie. The written reports bear the initials of SOMEONE ELSE, not Kerry. Only the Swift Boat vets seem to think Kerry wrote the reports, and they were not on his boat and there is no forensic evidence that supports their claim.
"As an aside, Oliver North turned down his third PH in order to stay with his platoon."
So what? I will grant that some who served in Vietnam served more honorably than Kerry. Does that mean Kerry doesn't have a right to be proud of his service to his country?
"All 250 of them? Including all his superior officers? Do you realize how insane that sounds?"
It is not insane at all. They write about events they didn't witness. Their statements contradict the official records, as well as the statements of everyone save one person who WAS there. Their narrative is "too good to be true", i.e., it attacks every single military exploit of Kerry. For their narrative to be true, the U.S. Navy must have committed collossal blunders in giving this guy medals. (And conservatives claim that LIBERALS hate the military!) And the Swift Boat vets have two powerful motives to lie-- they want Bush elected, and they hate Kerry not for what he did during the war but for protesting after it. So, no, my claim is not insane-- in fact, it is the only plausible explanation of the evidence.
"You mean trustworthy as compared to Kerry's testimony to Congress about the war crimes he witnessed and participated in?"
That's a very misleading statement. He testified to two sets of war crimes. He talked about war crimes that other soldiers testified to at the Winter Soldier hearings. He never claimed that he witnessed those, only that he witnessed the testimony. Some of those claims may later have been proven false, but all Kerry was doing was recounting the testimony. As for the war crimes he participated in, he said he went into free fire zones and fired. Well, that is the truth.
Look, again, I understand that some people think the Vietnam War was a wonderful thing that shouldn't have been protested. But Kerry had every right to disagree with that and come back and protest it.
"This is utterly ridiculous. Who is making his Vietnam service the absoulte centerpiece of his campaign? Bush never ran on his service record. You're saying that we aren't allowed to criticize Kerry's Vietnam record because it was so long ago, while at the same time Kerry talks about it continuously."
Kerry's Vietnam record is open to criticism (but he should be criticized with facts and not with lies), but criticizing it while simultaneously denying that Bush's service in the Guard may be examined would be hypocritical. What happened 35 years ago is either all relevant or it all isn't relevant.
(41) Dimsdale made the following comment | Sep 23, 2004 11:04:07 PM | Permalink
In response to some of your comments:
Re: "Infidel, I don't read much into "Palace Alert". Bush had the opportunity to enlist to go to Vietnam. Instead he chose the Guard, and very probably used connections to get in (there was a waiting list, after all)."
From Beldar's own research (Wed Sep 8 @ 9:45pm):
"Regarding whether Mr. Barnes' unsolicited efforts had any effect, here's what the Dallas Morning News reported (.pdf of Lexis/Nexis download) in 1999 — still unrebutted to the best of my knowledge:
Records provided to The News by Tom Hail, a historian for the Texas Air National Guard, show that the unit Mr. Bush signed up for was not filled. In mid-1968, the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, based in Houston, had 156 openings among its authorized staff of 925 military personnel.
Of those, 26 openings were for officer slots, such as that filled by Mr. Bush, and 130 were for enlisted men and women. Also, several former Air Force pilots who served in the unit said that they were recruited from elsewhere to fly for the Texas Guard.
Officers who supervised Mr. Bush and approved his admission to the Guard said they were never contacted by anyone on Mr. Bush's behalf.
"He didn't have any strings pulled, because there weren't any strings to pull," said Leroy Thompson of Brownwood, who commanded the squadron that kept the waiting list for the guard at Ellington Air Force Base. "Our practices were under incredible scrutiny then. It was a very ticklish time." ...
According to several former officers, the openings in the unit were filled from a waiting list kept in the base safe of Rufus G. Martin, then an Air National Guard personnel officer.
In a recent interview, Mr. Martin of San Antonio said the list was kept on computer and in a bound volume, which was periodically inspected by outside agencies to make sure the list was kept properly.
Mr. Bush said he sought the Guard position on his own, before graduating from Yale University in 1968. He personally met with Col. Walter B. Staudt, commander of the 147th group.
In an interview, Mr. Bush said he walked into Col. Staudt's Houston office and told him he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
"He told me they were looking for pilots," Mr. Bush said. He said he was told that there were five or six flying slots available, and he got one of them.
While Guard slots generally were coveted, pilot positions required superior education, physical fitness and the willingness to spend more than a year in full-time training.
"If somebody like that came along, you'd snatch them up," said the former commander, who retired as a general. "He took no advantage. It wouldn't have made any difference whether his daddy was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Re: "If the issue is what he said about atrocities, why do so many people on the right keep on mentioning the fact that he didn't really want to go to Vietnam? Your side keeps on mentioning this fact; if it's unimportant, than they should stop mentioning it."
The issue is not whether "so many people on the right keep on mentioning the fact that he didn't really want to go to Vietnam," but rather, that Kerry cannot keep from mentioning that he did, all while embellishing the story (or allowing same) to make it look more "heroic."
It is Kerry and the DNC that keep this whole bygone issue floating to the top of the discussion, long before the Swifties ever got into the act. Both Kerry's and Bush's service record should have been a footnote in their resumes, and the discussion focused on their later, more relevant political careers, but the DNC attack on Bush and the reliance of Kerry on his Vietnam record to make him comparable as a "war time presidential candidate" simply prevented that. The CBS forgeries reignited the whole issue, and not to Kerry's benefit.
As you yourself state, "Kerry's Vietnam record is open to criticism (but he should be criticized with facts and not with lies), but criticizing it while simultaneously denying that Bush's service in the Guard may be examined would be hypocritical. What happened 35 years ago is either all relevant or it all isn't relevant."
I could not agree more, but the issue of Kerry's record being "open" is far from true. The WaPo itself (not to mention the Boston Globe since 1994) has remarked that the vast bulk of Kerry's record (unlike Bush's) is NOT open for inspection, regardless of claims otherwise. Kerry's refusal to authorize the records public release simply implies that he has something to hide. Given the political damage that he is suffering from the Swiftees, his failure to disclose these records to shoot down their allegations simple leads one to conclude that whatever is in the hidden record would do MORE political damage than the Swiftee allegations. The "interpretation" by his own doctor of his medical "wounds" in Vietnam was highly suspect for the same reasons, and if you read it, you had to suppress a laugh.
Re: "Whether or not Kerry's wounds were inflicted by friendly fire is not important-- friendly fire is one of the risks of being in a combat zone."
Does "friendly fire" include accidentally wounding one's self? That seems to be what Kerry did in PH1 and 3. #1 from a grenade launcher Kerry fired from the small boat of Admiral Schacte fame, and rice "shrapnel" from a grenade he and Rassman through at an enemy food cache.
Re: "The Swift Boat vets are not trustworthy. They hate Kerry because he protested the war and talked openly of war crimes. Further, to believe the Swift Boat vets is not only to disbelieve everyone but one person on Kerry's boat and a boatload of documents, but also to believe that EVERY SINGLE HONOR (except perhaps one Purple Heart) that Kerry earned was fraudulent. In other words, the Swift Boat vets' story is too carefully crafted to be true."
How do you claim that the SBVT are not trustworthy? They are all men of considerably more experience, and at least as honorable as Kerry purportedly is. Many are of higher rank, and some were Kerry's direct commanders. Those that witnessed Kerry in action have signed affidavits to that effect, while Kerry has not. Kerry and his cohorts have answered with smears alone. Zero facts. It is Kerry, and not the SBVT, that recently have had to retract "crafted" stories from Vietnam (Christmas in Cambodia and PH #1 admitted to likely be self inflicted). Kerry is the one with a Silver Star with a combat "V", an honor that the Navy admits does not exist (or never is awarded). Current lawsuits may clarify that issue. And again, Kerry steadfastly refuses to settle the issue once and for all by authorizing the release of his full military record. For someone with such a critical eye for Bush's military record, it does seem odd that Kerry will not put his own record up for similar scrutiny. For better or worse, Bush did. You can't "criticize him with facts" if he will not allow the facts to be examined. To me, this is the deal breaker. The preponderance of the current evidence indicates that Kerry is the one that is truth challenged.
And given the recent revelation of the Democrat's penchant for forgeries, I want to see the originals, not what little Kerry chooses to put on his webpage.
Prolly most productive media pressure is, on every press report, noting whether they explain that Kerry has NOT signed Form 180. So any papwerwork uncertainties could be reduced if he released his records, but he refuses.
Media that don't mention this are pimping for Kerry. This might get the voters concerned about what Kerry is hiding.
Dimsdale and Tom Grey:
Thanks for substantive and thoughtful responses.
First, with respect to the Form 180 business, Bush has NOT released all his documents. Specifically, Bush has NOT released his medical records from that period, which are directly analogous to what Kerry could release with a Form 180, and we all know why. (By the way, I admire the fact that Bush straightened his life out, found God, and got clean and sober around age 40. But let's be honest-- before then, it probably wasn't pretty and Bush has gone to great lengths to avoid talking specifics about what he was doing in that period.) I don't think that Bush OR Kerry needs to release private medical records from that period. But it's inaccurate to portray Kerry as less forthcoming than Bush on this.
Second, Beldar's research on openings in the Texas Guard is not inconsistent with the allegation of special treatment, given that a disproportionate number of those slots went to people "in the know". In other words, yes, there were openings for pilots, but those were filled by sons of the powerful; meanwhile, there was a huge waiting list for other slots.
Third, with respect to Kerry "wanting" to go to Vietnam, I still hold it doesn't matter and is not a major detail in Kerry's service narrative; if you choose to believe that it nullifies Kerry's courage in commanding that boat in a dangerous area because he would have rather not gone to Vietnam, you can believe that. But for me, it doesn't. (And yes, I will concede that Kerry has embellished his Vietnam War record in this and a couple of other respects. But no more than all politicians-- including Bush-- embellish things in their past. Ever read Bush's 1999 campaign biography? It doesn't jibe with even the current official Bush story about the Guard.)
But Dimsdale's main argument is about the Swift Boaters. He doesn't see how I conclude that they are lying. But note, first, that his post doesn't deny any of my facts. He doesn't deny that the Swift Boaters hate Kerry because of his protesting activities, and because he's running against Bush, and have powerful motives to lie. He also doesn't deny that the story is "too good to be true", i.e., it doesn't simply charge Kerry with embellishments but rather with cowardice. He doesn't deny that the Swift Boaters were not on the boat with him.
All Dimsdale says is that (1) they have signed affidavits, (2) that Kerry hasn't released all the records, and (3) that Kerry has been wrong on some minor issues like Cambodia and the Silver Star with the V on it.
First, you should understand that you are being spun with the bit about affidavits. An "affidavit" has no legal effect unless filed in court or with some governmental agency. The Swift Boat vets cannot be charged with perjury simply for signing a false affidavit to be used in a political campaign. (You will recall that Monica Lewinsky's affidavit was non-actionable for the same reason.) So given that they have no legal effect, the only reason these guys used the "affidavit" form was for spin. To me, that makes them MORE suspicious, not less.
The records point is dealt with partly above, but I would add this. The records that count are the medal citations and reports. Those are all out. And they ALL contradict EVERYTHING the Swift Boaters are saying. For the Swift Boaters to be telling the truth, the Navy must be lying. They like to make it sound like it's 250 of them vs. John Kerry (or maybe Kerry and the others on the boat). But in fact, it's 250 people who weren't on the boat vs. the United States Military. And they haven't come up with one plausible argument as to how the Navy could have possibly got these things wrong. You didn't address the fact that the after action reports WERE NOT prepared by John Kerry. The Swift Boaters said they were, but they don't have one shred of evidence to support that fact. The reports have someone else's initials on them.
Finally, was Kerry wrong on Cambodia? You bet he was. I am not sure I buy the Silver Star with the "V" on it, because there's no evidence that the Silver Star wasn't issued that way (i.e., that it was the government's error, not Kerry's), and no evidence that Kerry ever said that he was awarded the "V" insignia. But at MOST, that's two minor errors. In contrast, the Swift Boaters have been contradicted by the documents and eyewitnesses as to many major details of their claims.
One last point. If John Kerry was injured because he obeyed an order to throw a grenade into suspected enemy foodstuffs and took shrapnel (and that is NOT what actually happened, according the United States Navy documentation, but I'll assume it arguendo), why isn't that one of the dangers of warfare?
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