Tuesday, August 24

Atlanta J-C: "Detestable" and "Despicable"

The floodgates have opened. This from the heart of Georgia - a Red State:
Swift kick in the gut
It's detestable that vets who claim to be for 'truth' would stoop to cowardly tactics to discredit Kerry.

It occurred more often in rumor than in reality, but troops in Vietnam coined a word for it nonetheless. The word was "fragging."

As the stories went, U.S. soldiers would sometimes try to eliminate an American officer they didn't like by tossing a fragmentation grenade his way during the heat of combat, a cowardly attack against one of their own that was difficult if not impossible to trace back to its origin.

Today, John Kerry is being fragged, not literally but figuratively, by those who want to discredit his proud record of military service to this country and, by doing so, prevent his election as president of the United States. Those who have stooped to such ugly, craven tactics - and those who have assisted them in that effort - have shamed themselves, their cause and in many cases their own military service and sacrifice.

In essence, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claim that the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the three Purple Hearts awarded to Kerry during his own time as a swift-boat captain in Vietnam were undeserved, as was his reputation as a courageous, effective wartime leader. To bolster that claim, they have offered their own version of Kerry's time "in country" that directly contradicts the established records.

Ordinarily, events that are 35 years in the past might defy a definitive accounting, thus leaving room for doubt in voters' minds about what really happened. But in this case, using a historian's tools, it is relatively easy to establish the truth.

Historians who try to recreate the events of an earlier time have learned to lean on documentary evidence and records because such records don't change and are less vulnerable to the vagaries of memory. In this case, every bit of available documentary evidence from the Vietnam era, including after-battle reports, medal citations, journal entries, Kerry's personnel records and the assessments of Kerry's superiors tells the same story of heroism and leadership under fire on Kerry's part. There is no hint whatsoever of any doubt or controversy over his service.

Historians also give particular credence to contemporary accounts, the statements of participants and eyewitnesses that are recorded as close in time as possible to the events in question. They do so because memories are fresher at that time, and because agendas that might color later recollections have not yet had time to form.

In this case, every single contemporary account from eyewitnesses and participants in the battles in question confirm the official story. In some cases, those who are now trying to claim firsthand knowledge that Kerry acted less than honorably have been contradicted by their own signed statements of more than 30 years ago, in which they repeatedly describe him as an exemplary leader of unquestioned courage and judgment.

The motivation for this sad attempt at rewriting history is clear: Upon his return from Vietnam, Kerry became a leader of the anti-war effort. In testimony before Congress, Kerry also repeated stories told by other returning veterans about atrocities they claimed to have committed in Vietnam. (Kerry, while not backing away from the essence of his testimony, has expressed regret for some of the language he used back then.)

That behavior by Kerry, while honorable in many eyes, is also a perfectly legitimate subject of debate. Many veterans have seen it as an act of betrayal by a former comrade in arms, and they have every right to say so, especially since Kerry has given his Vietnam service such prominence in his campaign.

But rather than take that issue on directly, the anti-Kerry veterans groups have attempted to smear him by attacking what ought to be sacred to them - the military record of someone who volunteered to fight for this country and who, by any reasonable interpretation, fought bravely and well.

Even in a time when political discourse has been cheapened and coarsened, such behavior is despicable.