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Saturday, August 21, 2004

Hey Swifties, Read the Testimony

OK, my previous effort to stay silent on this topic notwithstanding, here comes another post on the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and their new ad.

The commercial is intentionally misleading, taking a few words here and there from Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony to make it seem like Kerry was making the accusation that the US troops in Vietnam were committing all sorts of war crimes. That's not what he did, though. Kerry was actually reporting to the senators what some veterans themselves admitted they had done. Let's do something that the ill-informed ex-POWs in the ad should do and read the text of Kerry's remarks (with a few helpful boldings added by me):

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....

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.

These are stories people personally testified to, and we unfortunately have many accounts and much evidence of war crimes that took place during the Vietnam conflict (does My Lai ring a bell?). The fact that such awful things did occur, however, is not a blanket indictment on every man who served in Vietnam. On the contrary, it was still possible to serve honorably in that horribly misguided war, as many American soldiers did.

As Kerry has said before, we should stop conflating the soldiers with the war in which they fight. They deserve our support, regardless of the conflict, for heeding the call to duty, but that support cannot reasonably extend to countenancing any and all decisions on the part of our national leadership. As it was in Vietnam, so it is now in Iraq. To say that the Iraq war was a terrible mistake by our leaders is in no way to slander the brave men and women currently serving in that country.

This ad is actually a good development, in a sense, because it demonstrates that the allegations about Kerry not deserving his medals are really the product of these people being upset by what Kerry did after he got home. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to come to grips with the idea that a war you fought in--a war you may have been wounded in, a war in which friends of yours may have died--was unjust. But that's the plain truth here, and I give Kerry a world of credit for having the strength to come to grips with it. Not surprisingly, it's too much for others to handle, and so they seek to shoot the messenger.