Jewish World Review August 24, 2004 / 7 Elul, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Vets vs. Kerry on Vietnam | Senator John Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, has said melodramatically: "Ask the men who served with him in Vietnam!" But now that men who served with Kerry in Vietnam are coming forward and contradicting Kerry's version of what happened there, Senator Edwards is calling it a "smear."

Apparently we are to listen only to those veterans who were hand-picked by the Kerry campaign.

One of the photos used by the Kerry campaign shows Kerry as a young Navy lieutenant, surrounded by 20 of his fellow service men in Vietnam — a "band of brothers." But now a new book says that a majority of the men in that photo have objected to having their pictures used in support of Kerry's candidacy for President.

Nearly 200 Vietnam veterans, including many from Kerry's old unit, have organized as Vietnam Veterans for Truth to actively oppose John Kerry and a new book titled "Unfit for Command" by John O'Neill (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) repeatedly contradicts Kerry's version of events in Vietnam.
There are of course other books with other views on the subject, notably "Tour of Duty" by Douglas Brinkley, with a pro-Kerry slant. If you enjoyed the movie "Rashomon," where different people had radically different memories of the same events, you will love reading O'Neill's book and Brinkley's book together.

The Kerry version of events begins with his volunteering to serve in the Vietnam war. The O'Neill version has Kerry's draft board rejecting his application for a deferment and Kerry then enlisting in the Naval Reserve — not the Navy, as in Brinkley's book.

Enlisting in the Naval Reserves is not very different from enlisting in the National Guard. The big difference is that John Kerry happened to get sent to Vietnam and George Bush did not. But those decisions were made by people far above them in the military chain of command.

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Yet some in the media and elsewhere have acted as if it was heroic for John Kerry to have enlisted in the Naval Reserve and cowardly for George Bush to have enlisted in the National Guard. But none has bothered to show what essential difference — if any — there is between these two back-up branches of service.

Both O'Neill's book and Brinkley's book have numerous footnotes to document what they say about very specific events. With all the investigative reporters in this country, someone ought to be able to track down many of the controverted facts and settle these things.

But with Beltway journalists favoring Kerry's election by 12 to 1, according to a New York Times poll, there may not be so much zest for facts this election year.

One discrepancy that does not require much research arises from John Kerry's statement that he was in Cambodia at Christmas time in 1968, while President Nixon was assuring the world that there were no American forces in Cambodia.

Richard Nixon was not yet President of the United States in December 1968. He had been elected in November but, like other Presidents, he did not take office until January 20th.

The ferocity of Kerry's media defenders was exemplified in Chris Matthews' browbeating of columnist Michelle Malkin on his "Hardball" program when she questioned Kerry's Purple Hearts. Matthews repeatedly demanded to know if she was saying that Kerry had deliberately shot himself.

That was never the charge made by the Vietnam Veterans for Truth. Those who were there say that there was no enemy fire, that Kerry on two occasions accidentally injured himself when shrapnel from his own grenades nicked him, and later an enemy mine also got him. The doctor who treated Kerry said that he removed a tiny fragment with tweezers, put a Band-Aid on the spot — and refused to certify it as a wound that merited a Purple Heart.

Kerry's commanding officer at the time likewise rejected Kerry's application for a Purple Heart, according to O'Neill. Later, Kerry got a Purple Heart through another commanding officer who knew nothing about the incident and took Kerry's word for it.

Maybe the media could put some of the energy that they spend trying to discredit Kerry's critics into finding out what the facts are. Or don't they dare risk finding out?

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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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