Jewish World Review August 26, 2004 /9 Elul 5764
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Why does America continue to refight the war in Vietnam?
What if both sides are right? That thought comes to mind repeatedly as I try to hash out the battle between veterans who attack John Kerry's Vietnam War combat record and those who defend it.
Out of the fog of war, politics and old memories, long-ago events have become the focus of an ugly election-year mud fight as a group of swift boat veterans and others contend that Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, didn't deserve the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for various actions during the Vietnam War.
Watching and reading various conflicting accounts of what happened or didn't happen, of how brave Kerry was or wasn't, and how much he was hurt or not very hurt, I'm struck by one consistency: how his crews and others who were closest in proximity to Kerry during the war give the most support to Kerry's side of the stories.
A striking example emerged at the Chicago Tribune when William B. Rood, an editor on the metropolitan desk who was another swift boat commander in the operation that led to Kerry's Silver Star Medal, broke a 35-year silence to support the official account of Kerry's heroics in leading a 1969 attack against an enemy ambush along the Dong Cung River.
"The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us," Rood wrote in an essay published in Sunday's paper. "It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there."
Indeed, even those who were present during the actions in question seem to come away with differing accounts of details, such as whether there was hostile fire or whether Kerry was hurt by enemy fire or fragments from his own grenade launcher. But anyone who knows the courage it took to ride those 50-foot aluminum swift boats up and down the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta would have a hard time arguing that it did not take tremendous courage simply to report for duty every day.
As President Bush said on Monday, distancing himself from the Kerry attacks, "I think Sen. Kerry served admirably and he ought to be proud of his record."
So why are we chewing over a decades-old war when we should be hashing out more current issues like the Iraq war? The easiest answer is that it's between national political conventions and August is typically a slow month for news. In newspaper lingo "it's the "silly season," although this Vietnam controversy offers little to laugh at.
And, of course, Kerry brought this dust storm on himself by making his war record a central theme in his political campaign. In a crowded Democratic field, his dimming chances in the Iowa caucuses reignited after Jim Rassman, a Republican whose life Kerry saved in Vietnam, reappeared in Kerry's life to endorse him at a campaign rally.
But, "politics ain't beanbag," as Chicago writer Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley famously said. Inevitably, Kerry's longtime adversaries would come up with ways to turn his lemonade into a big fat lemon, which is not an easy task in defense of a president whose own history with the Texas Air National Guard has raised questions.
I suspect the real quarrel of Kerry's critics is not with his war record but with his postcombat peace movement record. He was a prominent leader in protests by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He recounted stories before Congress in 1971 that he had heard stories of American soldiers who "had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads ..." He also said he had "committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers ..."
A lot of Vietnam veterans felt betrayed by Kerry's testimony, although I have talked to others who were grateful that he exposed national leaders who the vets felt had betrayed them. Kerry more recently has acknowledged that some of those horror stories were later discredited, but he has not backed away from his central message that it was not the soldiers but the nation's Vietnam-era leaders who should be held accountable for the war's atrocities.
He has a point. As we later learned, projects such as the Phoenix counterinsurgency program authorized the use of brutal terrorist tactics against enemy combatants and sometimes civilians who got in our way in Vietnam's "free-fire zones." Such are the ugly memories that make Vietnam a hot, divisive topic that will haunt the Baby Boomer generation as long as they walk the earth.
Why are we refighting Vietnam? Because its questions remain unsettled in our national conscience. Now Kerry's big battle will involve turning the debate around from what he did during the war to what he can do to avoid more wars like it.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
08/24/04: A man for all racial reasons
08/03/04: Obama's drama and our dreams: Getting back on track as the United States
07/29/04: Quick refresher: Politics according to the Clintons
07/08/04: At colleges, immigrants are 'minorities' too
07/06/04: 40 years of opportunities
07/04/04: The 'no-sex' scandal
06/24/04: Freedom Summer of '64
06/17/04: When a diversity plan works too well
06/01/04: What Bill Cosby meant to say
05/18/04: Ashcroft has made murder of Emmett Till a federal case
04/29/04: A surprise running mate for Kerry: Calling Colin Powell
04/22/04: Did loyalty finally trip up Colin Powell?
04/15/04: Kerry needs a vision to win votes for the presidency
04/09/04: As much as our American presidents say "Never again" with heartfelt passion, the reality too often has been, "Yes, again," to mass killings
04/06/04: Finding hope in America's bleak racial statistics
04/05/04: Pop star's thriller on Capitol Hill
03/31/04: Pressure building to warm up cold case
03/26/04: Authentically self-hating: Today's standards of being cool on a destructive path
03/23/04: To get its groove back, the religious left needs to come up with some new ideas and a new vision for curing persistent social ills
03/16/04: Jayson Blair's new career: Scandal star
03/11/04: Blacks eye that John Kerry guy
03/04/04: In this instance, life should imitate art
02/12/04: What a friend Bush has in Sharpton
02/10/04: Unspoken conflicts: America's blacks and Latinos are struggling with a new racial paradigm for the new century
02/03/04: When pundits blab, blab, blab
01/29/04: Reparations on trial briefly: Now it's time to address blacks' biggest problems
01/15/04: If MLK lived, would he still be a hero?
01/08/04: GOPers would be wise to woo blacks those who vote and don't
01/02/04: Vicious, vicious Dems
01/02/04: It was a banner year for the pompous and peculiar
12/24/03: Al Gore's new campaign pal
12/12/03: Going for the political heavy hitters: Can Gore's new pal survive the veep's endorsement?
12/09/03: When is force excessive?
12/02/03: Medicare reform: A real turkey of a package
11/25/03: Colleges helping student athletes score diplomas
11/18/03: Soccer moms vs. NASCAR dads
11/13/03: Hunting 'terrorists' in Vegas strip clubs
11/11/03: America's peculiar 'passing' fancy
11/06/03: Dean waves wrong flag, Dems see red
10/28/03: No more excuses for the parents
10/23/03: Box Cutter Kid did us a favor
10/17/03: So long to a misguided gag rule on the medicinal use of marijuana
10/14/03: Does the election of Ah-nuld mean anything more than the obvious?
10/02/03: The wages of luck in a 'jobless recovery'
09/30/03: Looks like Clark should go back to basic training
09/18/03: The amazing clout of lobbyists swarming around Capitol Hill
09/16/03: Hearing hip-hop's pathetic message
09/12/03: What teenagers really want
09/09/03: Lessons from an anthropologist
09/02/03: Put term limits on airport security rules
08/14/03: Schoolchildren of all races at risk without parental guidance
08/08/03: Colin Powell is the 'odd man out' again
08/05/03: Black parents must teach their kids to succeed
07/22/03: Presidential politics: A time to pander, a time to push away
07/15/03: Deeper realities of Baker's dust-up
07/10/03: Formerly aloof, Bush now embraces Africa
07/08/03: Wrestling with the Q-word in Iraq
07/01/03: If you are reading this column, you aren't being filtered!
06/10/03: The 'Industry of Hillary' raises bucks for both sides
05/30/03: Dems grope for glimmer of hope
05/28/03: Reefer sanity vs. puritans in the White House
05/22/03: Turns out race was a factor in the NYTimes scandal a very big one
05/06/03: Closing the college graduation disparity
04/22/03: Fighting for privacy in an era of terror
04/22/03: Don't mis-underestimate the prez: Give him the 'props' he deserves
04/21/03: Sitting on scoops at CNN
04/15/03: After Saddam? Watch out, Syria
04/11/03: 'Hammer time' for Castro
04/08/03: Post-Hussein: Winning the true peace
04/03/03: Right story, wrong TV station
04/01/03: Remembering Moynihan's mind
03/27/03: A fog of war words: Shocking and awesome
03/21/03: A Moranic moment bites peace movement
03/18/03: Viewers beware when tv networks don't care
03/14/03: Powell's battle for Bush's ear
03/10/03: 'Embedded,' but not 'in bed with'
02/28/03: Bridging the black gender gap
02/19/03 Braun vs. Sharpton: A Dem dilemma
02/14/03: Bush's clean-up man
02/11/03: How feds fooled marijuana trial jurors
02/06/03: Time to re-think space shuttle's value
01/31/03: Why corporations like diversity, too
01/28/03: Shaq vs. Yao, a new world diss-order
01/23/03: Affirmative action will be remarketed under new name
01/13/03: Bond movie offers clues to Korea crisis
01/07/03: Dr. Frist to the rescue … of his party
01/02/03: Feeling a 'draft,' but not much
12/17/02: To rob a burning cross of its power
12/03/02: Closing black-white test-score gaps
11/19/02: Uncle Same wants your data
11/15/02: Marriage vs. 'player' impulse
11/11/02: How Oz can help the Dems
11/05/02: We reserve right to be complicated
10/22/02: What the pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby have in common
10/18/02: Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS