Jewish World Review May 5, 2004 / 14 Iyar, 5764

Jack Kelly

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So who are these chickenhawks? | On April 22nd, six Republican Congressmen took to the floor of the House to criticize Sen. John Kerry for statements he made accusing soldiers in Vietnam of routinely committing grisly war crimes.

Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga), who lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, was scathing in his criticism of their criticism of Kerry:

"All these are, are a bunch of chickenhawks who never went to war, never felt a wound, but are so quick to criticize a man who went to war and got wounded doing it," Cleland said.

So who are these chickenhawks?

One is Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex). A retired Air Force colonel who fought in Korea as well as Vietnam, where he spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, in whose tender care he suffered injuries rather more severe than the three (very) minor wounds for which Kerry received his purple hearts.

Another is Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Cal), the first American pilot to become an "ace" in the Vietnam war by shooting down five MiGs, a rather more impressive accomplishment than shooting a wounded man who was running away, for which Kerry received his Silver Star.

Another is Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev). A fighter pilot during his 19 years in the Air Force, Gibbons fought in both Vietnam and the first Gulf War, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a rather more impressive decoration than the Silver Star. Another is Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Cal). Hunter was a paratrooper who served in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Another is Rep. John Kline (R-Minn), a Marine helicopter pilot for 25 years, including a tour in Vietnam.

The only one of the six who did not see combat was Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who spent 30 years in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

Some chickenhawks. Cleland's attack on the six Republicans was factually challenged, not just for his mischaracterization of their military service, but by his mischaracterization of their criticism of Kerry. They were criticizing not his military record (which was honorable and courageous, if over-hyped), but his antiwar activities, and his shifting stories about those activities.

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The purpose of Cleland's disingenuous assault was to deflect attention from the fact that Kerry has bungled what ought to have been a positive for his campaign into, at best, a wash. The Kerry campaign recently removed from its web site claims that Kerry took part in two battles that took place before Kerry took command of PCF 94 when Edward Peck, then skipper of the swift boat (who was wounded in one of the battles) complained.

More trouble is on the way. John O'Neill, who succeeded Kerry in command of PCF 94 after Kerry's abbreviated tour, is organizing other members of the swift boat squadron who have unflattering things to say about their former shipmate. Kerry has kept speculation alive that his military service was not all he has claimed it to be by failing to disclose all of his military records, as President Bush has.

Kerry's constant references to his Vietnam service (the coastline of Louisiana reminds him of Vietnam; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches remind him of Vietnam) have become a running joke. And by raising the profile of his Vietnam service, he raises also the profile of his antiwar activities, about which he is less eager to speak.

When Charles Gibson of ABC News questioned Kerry about his varying accounts of a 1971 demonstration in which he discarded combat decorations, Kerry's response was to lash out at Bush for his service in the Texas Air National Guard, which two months before he said he would not do. This doesn't clear up whether the decorations Kerry tossed were medals or ribbons, his or someone else's. But it does reinforce the perception that a Kerry commitment has the life span of a mayfly.

Most voters are less interested in what Kerry did or didn't do in Vietnam, or in antiwar protests afterwards, than in what he has done since (his emphasis on events that happened more than 30 years ago suggests not much), and what he would do about the war we are in now.

It remains to be seen whether Iraq will become a "quagmire," like Vietnam. But it is clear Kerry is sinking into a Vietnam quagmire of his own making.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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