During an overheated speech before an adoring MoveOn crowd, Al Gore told a story perfectly calculated to laud the troops while lambasting the president. While “there was a high level of competence on the part of our soldiers,” it was lamentable that “their families have to hold bake sales to buy discarded Kevlar vests to stuff into the floorboards of the Humvees! Bake sales for body armor.” In the same vein, John Kerry assured Americans that “as president, I will see to it that we don’t have to have bake sales…to supply the troops of the United States of America.”
Though the slogan, “bake sales for body armor,” expresses the kind of faux
outrage appropriate to the political silly season, as far as I can tell, Gore and Kerry seem not to have their facts straight.
It doesn’t appear that any family-organized bake sales for body armor took place. Some New Hampshire families held a bake sale in early May to raise money for more “care package items” and to fund a coming-home party next year. The mother of one soldier was grateful to those who donated calling cards because calling cards, she explained, “are the most important thing.” In Tennessee, a chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars held a dance and a bake sale to support a Marine who had returned to their community from Afghanistan missing a leg. And police officers around the country have collected discarded bulletproof vests and shipped them to Iraq for the troops to use on the doors and floors of their Humvees, making them lightly armored vehicles. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re in favor of the war–the people over there still need our help and support,” the Michigan leader of one such effort said. Many Americans are inspired by similar sentiments.
A few, though, play on those sentiments for political gain–as Gore and Kerry have done. The Kevlar they refer to is the material used to line vests and Humvees, helping to protect soldiers from enemy fire. The material is heavy and deflects only shrapnel, not bullets. In 1999, the vests were modernized: The new armor, known as “Interceptor” body armor, is about ten pounds lighter and offers protection against machine guns fired at point-blank range. The new technology is also used to make removable ceramic plates that line both vests and Humvees, and was first used in combat operations in Afghanistan.
Since the Interceptor technology emerged in 1999, the military has been gradually replacing the older vests. At the outset of the war, about 40,000 troops lacked the new Interceptor armor, although every soldier on the ground possessed the older armor. According to Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, industries are producing the new armor “as fast as they can and as fast as they’re making it we’re getting it to Iraq.” Three manufacturers worked overtime to produce the vests and plates required to outfit everyone in Iraq by the end of the year, and by mid-January 2004, all troops in Iraq possessed the up-to-date vests. By mid-summer, sufficient numbers of armored Humvees will have arrived.
This is not to say that conditions and supplies were ideal. Before the updated armor arrived, many military families, worried that their sons lacked the best protection available, attempted to purchase the new ceramic plates and send them to Iraq. Some managed to track down the plates, while others found that the companies that produced the armor were overloaded with orders from the Department of Defense.
I found only two references to the bake sales supposedly launched to purchase this armor. The first was in Washington’s Spokesman Review; the reporter quoted a woman who claimed that “parents in the Midwest were doing carwashes and bake sales.” I was unable to contact her, but the reporter told me that he had not verified her claim, nor was he sure whether her reference was to bake sales for body armor specifically or to support-the-troops bake sales generally. The second bake-sale reference came from an editorial in the Amador Ledger Dispatch. Its outraged author cited the “several hundred bake sales by moms and wives to provide body armor for their sons and daughters, wives and husbands.” The paper’s editor, who himself wrote a story rebutting the piece in question, told me that he could not verify that one such bake sale–let alone “hundreds”–had taken place.
While Gore and Kerry mockingly decry the mythical “bake sales for body armor,” MoveOn itself has capitalized on the bake-sale concept. But not for the much-needed vests. Rather, MoveOn-ers valiantly attempted to “Bake Back the White House” by selling Beat Bush Brownies and No C.A.R.B. (Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Bush) Meringues at over 1,000 bake sales throughout the country. One cannot doubt their dedication. One MoveOn-er in Ithaca, New York made the ultimate sacrifice: “Normally I’m on the South Beach diet,” she admitted. “But today, well, I’m doing this for my country…. Democracy is more important than the size of my thighs. The weight on my scale at home is paltry to the weight of consequence in this next presidential election.” Those MoveOn-ers: You can criticize them, but don’t ever say they don’t have their priorities straight! As for Gore and Kerry, their first priority should be getting the facts straight.
–Eliana Johnson is an intern at National Review.