Friday, August 20, 2004

The News Hour's Segment on Kerry And Vietnam; And, Why We Are Fighting The Vietnam War Yet Once Again

This is a news show I wish I had seen, but here's the link to a transcript. Jim Lehrer is a well-respected and fair journalist of long-standing, and I think this is a balanced report. Here are some interesting tidbits, beginning with this exchange:

OLIPHANT: And we keep going in this endless cycle of, see, I put this
out there, I made this accusation, I made this charge, but held to a higher
standard, I'm not saying your... That this didn't happen or that something did
happen, I'm saying that you haven't come within a country mile of meeting
first-grade journalistic standards for accuracy.

JOHN O'NEILL: I'll tell you this, there isn't a jury in the United
States, Mr. Lehrer, that will read this book and look at the evidence that
wouldn't conclude this man lied over and over again in Vietnam, not one.

Part of the problem here is that O'Neill is a trial lawyer (and a respected one in the Houston area), and Oliphant is a journalist (well, a columnist). Those two disciplines approach questions like Kerry's Vietnam service in a different way. Tom Oliphant might as well be from the Kerry campaign, given his stout and caustic defense of the Senator.

Nothing was said about the Christmas in Cambodia story, which is one yarn that Kerry has had to recant. Maybe that will be covered elsewhere.

Viewing this matter somewhat globally, here's what I find most remarkable about it. John Kerry is making us revisit the Vietnam War yet again, something I think few of us who lived through that era really want to do. And yet we should have seen this coming.

Just look at the overall picture: Kerry served just over four months in country, then left. He was highly decorated during that time period and received three Purple Hearts in those four short months, none of them for major injuries. Then, after leaving almost a year early, he became a famous (or infamous) critic of the war, leading Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), testifying before Congress, appearing on television, throwing medals back, and so forth. He made statements about what U.S. soldiers did in Vietnam that, to say the least, were remarkable for their inflammatory nature. (That may be the greatest understatement in the history of this blog.) Now running for president, he has made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign-- to the point that even his supporters have found themselves occasionally rolling their eyes.

In light of all that, how could we have ever hoped to escape the present vitriol and debate? No one should be surprised; it was inevitable.

Frankly, however, I am surprised anyway. I thought we'd be talking a lot more about the Iraq war, not one that ended 30 years ago.

This is not helpful to anyone, including President Bush, who served in the National Guard and has to face uncomfortable questions about that service.

I think you had to live through the Vietnam war and be of draft age then to understand this discussion fully. Anyone who was alive and paying attention during that era knows that many, many men served in the Guard. It was just part of life. So was ROTC, conscientious objector status, and enlisting-- as John Kerry did. The Air Force and Navy were the first two choices for enlistment, since service there was more likely not to put the enlistee in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Kerry himself admits that he did not expect to be in combat, and that he signed up for swift boat duty because he did not think it would put him in combat. (I don't have the time to find the link to that interview, but it's not disputed that Kerry said that.)

This does not mean that anyone who made any such choices was a coward or morally inferior in any way. It was just the way life was in those days, and part of the strangeness of the Vietnam era.

I do blame John Kerry, however, for the current nastiness. He had a very unusual war record and post-war record, and now he has based his campaign on that record-- not on all of the record, but on the heroic part he wants to emphasize. He does not want to talk about his VVAW efforts, only the Bronze Star and the Purple Hearts. He was never going to get away with that, and it's amazing that he thought he would.

The presidential campaign now has "Vietnam Redux" written all over it, and that is because of John Kerry.


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