Politics & Policy

All Signs to 180

Only John Kerry can stop the Vietnam questions.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards leapt into the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy Monday with a slick bit of demagoguery. As Edwards told voters in Racine, Wisconsin: “The truth is, he [President Bush] is the one man who can put an end to these ads. And this is a moment of truth for the president. It is time for him to step forward and say three words: Stop these ads.”

Edwards should know that, even if he wanted them discontinued, President Bush cannot order the Swiftees to stop their ads anymore than John Kerry can tell MoveOn.org what or when to advertise.

Edwards, who presumably studied the Constitution in law school, surely knows that the First Amendment allows the Swiftees, MoveOn.org, and other independent “527″ groups to offer their opinions on Bush, Kerry, gymnast Paul Hamm’s Olympic gold medal, or whatever else floats their boats. This is not Communist Vietnam where politicians can tell people to shut up, then reeducate them until they think approved thoughts.

Nevertheless, there is shrewd political value in banging on Bush as if he controlled the 250-plus Swift Boat Veterans and the roughly 24,000 people who, following Howard Dean’s campaign model, have given them some $1.5 million in online contributions averaging $62.50. If the ads stay on air, that’s “Bush’s fault.” And if they suddenly vanished, Democrats would say that proved that G.W. Bush, Karl Rove, and Texas GOP donors orchestrated the whole Swiftee project. (Texas Republicans Bob J. Perry and Harlan Crow gave the Swift Vets $200,000 and $25,000 respectively. Presumably Alec Baldwin’s and Ben Affleck’s phones were busy when the Swiftees called.)

Meanwhile, key aspects of Kerry’s Vietnam biography appear to be taking on water.

Echoing the findings of Internet journalists such as WorldNetDaily’s Art Moore, Fox News Channel’s Major Garrett reported Monday on Special Report with Brit Hume that Kerry’s own contemporaneous journal seems to confirm his critics’ claims that he did not deserve his first Purple Heart.

As historian Douglas Brinkley explains on pages 188 and 189 of Kerry’s authorized HarperCollins biography, Tour of Duty], Kerry and his crew set out from Cat Lo, South Vietnam in Swift Boat PCF-44 in high spirits in mid-December, 1968. As Brinkley writes, Kerry “who had just turned twenty-five, on December 11, 1968–was a fine leader of his men.” At about that time, Kerry himself wrote this in his notebook: “A cocky feeling of invincibility accompanied us up the Long Tau shipping channel because we hadn’t been shot at yet, and Americans at war who haven’t been shot at are allowed to be cocky.”

Hadn’t been shot at yet?

Just days earlier, Kerry experienced what he called a “minor skirmish” with the Vietcong on December 2, 1968. The next day, Dr. Louis Letson removed a small sliver of shrapnel from above Kerry’s left elbow and covered it with a Band-Aid. On December 4, Kerry applied to Commander Grant Hibbard for a Purple Heart. Hibbard spurned Kerry’s request. Hibbard was unimpressed with Kerry’s minor wound (“I’ve seen worse injuries from a rose thorn,” he says on page 38 of John O’Neill’s and Jerome Corsi’s bestseller, Unfit for Command) and persuaded that Kerry injured himself with shrapnel from a grenade he hurled improperly. Somehow, Kerry secured a Purple Heart even though his commander threw him out of his office.

Purple Hearts are usually granted for injuries involving hostile fire. Kerry applied on that basis. Nonetheless, about two weeks later, he tells his own journal that “we hadn’t been shot at yet.”

Did Kerry forget within a fortnight that he had faced enemy bullets and ordnance, as is customary for Purple Hearts, or was there really no such fire, as his own words quoted in his approved biography seemingly reveal?

“Kerry’s campaign has said it is possible his first Purple Heart was awarded for an unintentional, self-inflicted wound,” Fox’s Major Garrett concluded.

The documents that could clear this up remain at least partially concealed. In his excellent article on Kerry’s controversial Bronze Star, the Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs wrote Sunday of his difficulties in obtaining all the relevant papers from Kerry’s military years. As Dobbs put it: “Although Kerry campaign officials insist that they have published Kerry’s full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records. A Freedom of Information Act request by The Post for Kerry’s records produced six pages of information. A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least a hundred pages.”

Six pages down, 94 to go.

John Kerry’s signature on a National Archives Standard Form 180 would release these and possibly other Navy documents that could answer many of the questions buzzing around Kerry like wasps. To paraphrase President Reagan: Senator Kerry, if you seek the American people’s mandate, open this file. Senator Kerry, sign that form!

Meanwhile, the Kerry camp apparently has abandoned the notion that he ever saw Cambodia in uniform. Most disturbing about this is that Kerry did not simply claim that he may have drifted into Cambodia or that he once thought he was there while actually in South Vietnam. Kerry’s memories–”seared–seared” into his mind, as he said on the Senate floor on March 27, 1986–included being shot at by the South Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Khmer Rouge while supporting clandestine CIA agents, all inside Cambodia.

Kerry even showed what he calls “my good luck hat” to the Washington Post’s Laura Blumenfeld for a June 1, 2003, article. Kerry keeps the green, mildewed headgear in a secret compartment in his briefcase. He said it was “Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia.”

So far, the Kerry campaign cannot produce documents, veterans, or any other witnesses to confirm his Cambodian field trip. As commentator Tom Lipscomb amusingly explains in an online American Spectator essay called “Swimming from Cambodia,” Kerry’s narrative has more contours than the Mekong River.

As Kerry’s conflicting accounts collide head-on into each other, it’s easy to see why he once told the Washington Post: “I wish they had a delete button on LexisNexis.”

Furthermore, as the New York Post’s John Podhoretz explained Tuesday, Kerry’s silence on Cambodia years ago belies his subsequent statements about being there.

“If Kerry is to be believed,” Podhoretz wrote, “then this leader of the anti-war movement remained silent in 1973 when he could have spoken out about how he was ordered to violate Cambodian neutrality as early as 1968. Which is why Kerry is not to be believed on this matter.”

Perhaps Kerry really was in Cambodia, deploying Green Berets in conjunction with the CIA. If so, the Kerry campaign should prove it, pronto. If Kerry, in fact, never went into Cambodia while a G.I., he either was spectacularly flummoxed about his whereabouts, deliberately lied about being there to advance his political needs, or truly believes he accompanied an elusive spy who gave him a special hat he carries as a souvenir of his illegal invasion of a neutral country.

Scatterbrain? Liar? Fantasist? Which of these would you like to see in the Oval Office?

Things have gone so sour for John Kerry that he actually called Bob Dole Monday to complain about the former Kansas Republican senator’s statement on CNN Sunday that Kerry should apologize to Vietnam veterans for his anti-war activities and comments he made after returning from Indochina.

“He said he was very disappointed, we’d been friends,” Dole recalled on Sean Hannity’s radio program. “I said John, we’re still friends, but [the Swiftvets] have First Amendment rights, just as your people have First Amendment rights.”

Dole, who grows wiser with age, says he gave Kerry a piece of advice which, had he followed it in the first place, might have steered him clear of the rice paddy in which his campaign is now mired.

“Everybody likes quiet heroes,” Dole told Kerry. He added: “John, everybody knows you were in Vietnam and the less you say about it, the better.”

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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