donderdag, augustus 26, 2004

Kerry's rehabilitation of the Vietnam War

It is plain that the attacks on John Kerry by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group are false, or at least unprovable. The New York Times and other publications have done a fairly thorough job of debunking the accusations. Far from the independent veterans who just want to set the record straight that they claim to be, the group has deep and long-standing links to the Republican party going up as high as Bush's right-hand chubby succubus, Karl Rove.

From the NYT:

'A series of interviews [with the Swift Boat Veterans] and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.'

The veterans are keen to undermine Kerry's bravery through attempts to minimise the wounds for which Kerry won the Purple Hearts and the now many-times-recounted Vietcong attack that led to the Senator's Silver Star.

From the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth website, Dr. Louis Letson's version of events:

'What I saw was a small piece of metal sticking very superficially in the skin of Kerry's arm. The metal fragment measured about 1 cm. in length and was about 2 or 3 mm in diameter. It certainly did not look like a round from a rifle.

'I simply removed the piece of metal by lifting it out of the skin with forceps. I doubt that it penetrated more than 3 or 4 mm. It did not require probing to find it, did not require any anesthesia to remove it, and did not require any sutures to close the wound.'

Again, from the NYT:

'Yet Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry. Under "person administering treatment" for the injury, the form is signed by a medic, J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago.'

The NYT article then goes on to rebut the accusations concerning the awarding of the Silver Star:

'The Silver Star was awarded after Mr. Kerry's boat came under heavy fire from shore during a mission in February 1969. According to Navy records, he turned the boat to charge the Vietcong position. An enemy solider sprang from the shore about 10 feet in front of the boat. Mr. Kerry leaped onto the shore, chased the soldier behind a small hut and killed him, seizing a B-40 rocket launcher with a round in the chamber.

'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth describes the man Mr. Kerry killed as a solitary wounded teenager "in a loincloth," who may or may not have been armed. They say the charge to the beach was planned the night before and, citing a report from one crew member on a different boat, maintain that the sailors even schemed about who would win which medals.

'The group says Mr. Kerry himself wrote the reports that led to the medal. But [Swift Boat Veterans for Truth members] Mr. Elliott and Mr. Lonsdale, who handled reports going up the line for recognition, have previously said that a medal would be awarded only if there was corroboration from others and that they had thoroughly corroborated the accounts.

'"Witness reports were reviewed; battle reports were reviewed," Mr. Lonsdale said at the 1996 news conference, adding, "It was a very complete and carefully orchestrated procedure." In his statements Mr. Elliott described the action that day as "intense" and "unusual."'

Furthermore, the co-author of the Swift Boaters book about Kerry, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against Kerry," Jerome R. Corsi, has acknowledged that he has been a contributor of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments to a far-right web site.

Nonetheless, for all the debunking and reams of column inches devoted to the issue, ultimately the whole episode is a non-debate, or rather merely a bust-up between two former Yalies to see whose cock is bigger in a wartime election, to prove who is the strongest on the issue of national security. As the same NYT article lucidly notes:

'[The Swift Boat debate] illustrates what has been a critical dynamic in this campaign from the start: Mr. Kerry's ability to invoke his combat experience to challenge President Bush on issues of national security. Even Democrats say that Mr. Kerry has little chance of defeating Mr. Bush if he cannot present himself as a credible wartime president, and the attacks on Mr. Kerry's war experience go to the heart of that appeal.' [italics added]

Since the primaries concluded, Kerry has rarely used his anti-Vietnam war activities as a selling point, and attempted - most notably in the "we will DESTRAH yuuuuuu" speech of running mate John Edwards - to present a hawkish image and use his time in Vietnam as proof that he's no girlie-man. But the horrifying product of this discourse is that through it, Kerry is transforming the Vietnam War into a noble and just war. It is remarkable, but it shouldn't really be surprising, that it has taken a Democratic presidential candidate to rehabilitate Vietnam - a war that killed two million Vietnamese.

'The guy he killed was in a loincloth!'

'No he wasn't! He was a commie bastard!

Oh, well, that's all right, then.

Imagine a similar discourse taking place between two German parliamentarians campaigning in, say, the 1960s:

'My opponent didn't kill Norwegian resistance fighters during World War Two, as he claims. He killed a girl on a bicycle!'

'No I didn't! The partisans may have been on bicycles, but they were armed with dynamite and were going to blow up trains headed for Birkenau!'

No, of course you can't imagine it, because the discourse is so ridiculous. There could never have been such a debate because both acts would have been seen as crimes - as are both versions of what John Kerry did in Vietnam. Whether he killed a Vietcong soldier or a kid in a loincloth, the war was immoral and no part of it should be held up as a point of honour, let alone a reason why people should vote for Kerry.

One cannot condemn a soldier for taking part in an immoral war, but one should never praise him for doing so. Those anti-war Vietnam veterans were right to have thrown away their medals, for they knew, and said so at the time, that they were awarded for their having taken part in a genocidal (what is the murder of two million, but genocide?) war.

While it is appropriate that the accusations of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth be debunked, the only purpose the whole discourse serves is to endorse the revisionist 'noble' history of the Vietnam War that Republicans have until now unsuccessfully been trying to promote for thirty years.

Since Kerry and others in the 1970s originally made the accusations of what American soldiers had actually done in Vietnam, the Swift Boat veterans have been trying to undo this image of themselves as a gang of blood-thirsty baby-killers and rapists.

Now Kerry is doing it for them.