August 6, 2004

Readers respond re: "Is Kerry a war hero?"

Yesterday, I wrote that I didn't think much of the new assertions that Kerry was not a war hero on the theory that if the assertions were true they would probably have come out back in the early 70s when Kerry was a prominent anti-war activist.

Several people wrote in to call attention to the episode of "The Dick Cavett Show," where another Vietnam Vet, John O'Neill, debated with John Kerry and strongly opposed him. I watched this show back in March when it was on C-Span (and took two photos), and O'Neill was not raising questions about Kerry's medals or heroism. The debate was about whether the war was wrong and whether war crimes were being committed.

The best point raised in the email was that Kerry was not claiming heroism back in the 70s. He was expressing shame about what he had done as he criticized the tactics used in the war. So the occasion calling for a response actually did not exist. Only the new version of the story, used in the Presidential campaign, paints him as a hero and motivates his opponents to respond with information they kept silent about before. Of course, his political opponents are also motivated to attack him.

Another good point readers made was that it would have been very hard for a vet who wanted to discredit Kerry to get media attention in the early 1970s. If the media were anti-war--and I believe they were--they would have been eager to give a forum to the thoughtful, articulate vet who was saying how terrible things were in Vietnam. As one emailer wrote: "People (most people) WANTED to believe Kerry and his ilk--they were the glamorous ones."

Then there's the notion [ADDED: emailed by Buddy Larsen] that the accusers in question would not, when they were young, have been the sort of people who would come forward (though, as older men, faced with Kerry's new presentation as a hero, they are behaving differently):
[T]here was a distinct inward-turning of many, many of the cohort in the 70s. The idea of going public for any reason would have been alien to these guys, and the idea of organizing to do so, with the aim of straightening out some part of an entirely bent universe, doesn't fit with these type guys, in that time.
Another emailer notes the difficulty, especially for a young person (especially if they were still in Vietnam), to find a way to make his voice heard. Kerry, as a young man, was an extraordinarily capable when it came to moving into the public sphere and becoming a spokesperson. We ought to remember that before asking why others did not become prominent.

Some have written that only the prospect of Kerry becoming President provided sufficient motivation for the new accusers to come forward. This seems to be the main point made by a vet who appears in the anti-Kerry ad who was interviewed on CNN the other day and asked why he did not come forward earlier: "For one thing, I did not know that John had been put in for a Bronze Star, a Silver Star or, for that matter, a Purple Heart on that day. I did not see the after-action report, which, in fact, was written by John. And as the years went by, John was not running for the highest office in the free world."

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