Jewish World Review August 16, 2004 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5764
The Swift Boat blues
The partisans are running wild over this Swift Boat business, talk radio is crazy with it, and the smell of blood is in the air. John Kerry has made a major deal of his Vietnam War record, and now his opponents have opened fire on the senator's experiences. It's all tawdry and distasteful, of course, but let's examine things unemotionally.
First off, I believe Jim Rassmann when he says that Kerry saved his life by pulling him out of a Vietnam river while under fire. Rassmann is a former Green Beret, a former police officer and a longtime registered Republican until earlier this year. If he says John Kerry is a hero, nobody should doubt it. Rassmann has earned the right to be trusted, and insulting his testimony is way out of line.
But I also believe Steve Gardner, a former Navy gunner who was also present on one of Kerry's Swift Boats. He says the senator wrote up a false report, neglecting to inform the Navy that he, Gardner, had accidentally shot a Vietnamese child during a firefight. This is a tough one. Gardner is implicating himself and has no reason to do so. But perhaps Kerry was looking out for him by not reporting the incident. Only Kerry knows.
It is very possible to perform heroically on some occasions and do less than admirable things on others. All human beings are flawed, and we are capable of both valor and deceit. That's what I think happened here. John Kerry was brave but he was also calculating. His heroism impressed most of his Swift Boat mates, but his civilian anti-war activities and perceived grandstanding also alienated many other Vietnam vets. And so the battle lines are drawn.
What should we on the sidelines make of all this? Well, it's a judgment call. It is absolutely wrong for Americans to condemn Kerry's war record because he demonstrated provable valor. However, those who distrust him do deserve to be heard, although facts, not emotion, should be demanded.
I think the Swift Boat political advertisement calling Kerry a charlatan is in poor taste, and if this kind of thing continues, it might well backfire on the Kerry haters. Most Americans are fair-minded, and bitter personal attacks do not go down well with folks who are not driven by partisanship. Remember, General Wesley Clark was knocked out of the presidential sweepstakes when he would not disown Michael Moore's insane remark that President Bush was a "deserter." Mr. Bush received an honorable discharge from the National Guard. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt pinned a medal on John Kerry's chest. The record is the record unless rock-solid proof refutes it.
The lesson here is that blind partisanship is not an attribute. No person or candidate is all good or all bad. In America today, with both sides peddling lies and defamation and spin, it is alarmingly difficult just to get simple facts on which to base a responsible vote.
Somewhere Jack Webb is weeping.
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