Jewish World Review August 25, 2004 / 8 Elul, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Vets vs. Kerry on Vietnam, Part II | In addition to two key books about John Kerry -- Douglas Brinkley's pro-Kerry book "Tour of Duty" and John O'Neill's anti-Kerry book "Unfit for Command" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) -- there is another book that would be well worth reading -- if you can find a copy.

It is John Kerry's own book, written in 1971, titled "The New Soldier." It is out of print and Senator Kerry will not let it be reprinted.

The book's front cover shows protesters carrying the American flag upside down, and inside are photos of members of Kerry's group -- Vietnam Veterans Against the War -- with clenched fist salutes and some of the guys done up to look like Che Guevara.

Also included are photographs of Ramsey Clark, who was a lawyer for Kerry's group. Clark went to North Vietnam and returned to report that American prisoners of war were being well treated there. Those POWs who were finally released after the war told a very different and very bitter story.

No wonder Kerry doesn't want his 1971 book reprinted during an election year. It would not fit in with the image he is trying to create today.

Those in the media who are looking for some kind of political conspiracy to explain why so many Vietnam veterans have organized into a group that has come out publicly against Kerry are overlooking the very obvious fact of what Kerry himself said and did when he returned to the United States after his abbreviated tour of combat duty in Vietnam.

Kerry was not simply part of the "anti-war" movement of the 1960s. Many of us opposed the Vietnam war then for a variety of reasons. What Kerry did was accuse Americans still fighting in Vietnam of widespread atrocities on a daily basis, atrocities authorized all the way up the chain of command, atrocities committed for racial reasons, doing things to the Vietnamese that we would never do to Europeans.

This will no doubt come as some surprise to those Germans whose cities were fire-bombed to rubble in World War II. In John Kerry's speeches and public appearances, however, he said that Americans deliberately killed innocent Vietnamese civilians, raped Vietnamese women wholesale and had "free-fire zones" where troops were under orders to shoot anything that moved.

Decades later, Kerry is now trying to back away from some of those statements, saying that they were the words of "an angry young man." Anger is one thing. Lies are another. If what Kerry said was true then, it is still true now. And if it was a lie then, it is still a lie. His anger cannot change that.

Back then, many in the media repeated such sweeping charges without proof being asked for or given. They disregarded other Vietnam vets who flatly contradicted what Kerry and other activists were saying. The Senate committee that gave Kerry's testimony national publicity refused to allow John O'Neill, who served in the same unit, to testify with a contrary view.

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John O'Neill defines free-fire zones as "discretion to fire first if threatened or when confronting enemy forces," rather than waiting to be fired on first. Surely there is some official definition of free-fire zones and some military experts and military historians around to say what it has meant in practice. But the media show no interest in seeking such facts.

What John Kerry and many similar 1960s activists said, amplified by the media, created an atmosphere in which men who had risked their lives for this country in Vietnam returned to find themselves pariahs in their native land, denounced as "baby killers" and spat upon.

A veteran named William Franke said: "I will tell you in all candor that the only baby killer I knew in Vietnam was John F. Kerry."

Do you wonder that these veterans are bitter at what Kerry said about them and horrified at the thought that he might become President of the United States? Is it necessary to dream up some conspiracy theory to explain what they are doing?

America's reputation suffered lasting damage, making it harder to gain international cooperation in life and death struggles, then and now. But Senator Kerry seems to care no more about the repercussions of his words today than he did then.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) To comment please click here.


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© 2004, Creators Syndicate