Skip to comments.Countering Kerry's Orwellian History: FReeper Review of To Set the Record Straight
Posted on 01/16/2008 11:34:59 AM PST by Fedora
Countering Kerrys Orwellian History
FReeper Review of Swett and Ziegler, To Set the Record Straight
I recently had the pleasure of reading Scott Swett and Tim Zieglers new book To Set the Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry (Foreword by John ONeill, New American Media Publishing, 2008, 389pp, hardcover $29.95, ToSetTheRecordStraight.com). As someone whose research is given an acknowledgment by the authors, I would like here to share some of my reactions to this important book.
The first chapter begins with a review of John Kerrys role in promoting Vietnam Veterans Against the Wars atrocity allegations against US troops during the Vietnam War. The chapter also highlights the medias role in publicizing these allegations. The next chapter then relates the lesser-publicized effort of Vietnam veterans and their supporters to challenge such allegations and other negative public perceptions of the Vietnam War and its veterans. This sets the stage for a chronicle of the battle between Kerrys supporters and critics during the 2004 campaign, which forms the heart of the book. The final chapter fills in events since the 2004 election, including controversies over recent atrocities allegations which echo Vietnam-era accusations.
For the sake of analysis, the books contributions to the historical record can be grouped under three headings: revelations about Kerrys activity during his Vietnam War period and about the Vietnam era, revelations about the 2004 campaign, and revelations about the state of politics today which remain pertinent during the 2008 campaign.
The book makes important contributions to the biographical record of John Kerrys activity during the Vietnam War and to the history of the Vietnam era. It records facts about Kerrys military service and antiwar activity which either did not receive much publicity during the 2004 campaign or were not available at the time. In the process it documents facts relevant to the history of the Vietnam antiwar movement and the Vietnam War.
Interviews with two new witnesses provide information on the events associated with the controversy over Kerrys third Purple Heart and his Bronze Star: Richard OConnor, who commanded a Special Forces unit working with Kerrys Naval team on a mission that day; and John Tackett, an Army pilot from a unit that provided aerial support to the mission. OConnor recalls seeing Kerry after the injury prompting Kerrys third Purple Heart, an injury OConnor believes was caused by his own subordinate Jim Rassmann inadvisably using a fragmentation grenade instead of a smoke grenade to destroy a rice bin. Neither OConnor nor Tackett--who had an aerial view of the scene--observed any enemy fire during the river mine incident that day that became the basis of Kerrys third Purple Heart and Bronze Star and transfer out of Vietnam.
The book further discloses new details about Kerrys antiwar activity, such as a report that his May 1970 meeting with North Vietnamese representatives in Paris was arranged by antiwar leader David Dellinger. This is an important detail that those familiar with Dellinger will find significant but not surprising. Dellinger, who was a key contact point between US antiwar movement delegations and foreign Communist nations in the late 1960s, had inherited this position from his mentor A.J. Muste, identified in 1957 FBI testimony to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee as having long fronted for Communists. Muste became one of the earliest American pacifist leaders to join the Vietnam antiwar movement in 1963, and began leading antiwar delegations to Saigon and Hanoi in 1966. Following Mustes death in early 1967, Dellinger took over his role organizing such delegations. As of 1970 Dellinger was coordinating communication between the North Vietnamese and American Communist groups through such conduits as the New Mobe and the Committee of Liaison with the Families of Servicemen Detained in North Vietnam (COLIFAM). Kerry evidently drifted into the orbit of the New Mobe through his work in early 1970 with the New Mobe ally the Vietnam Moratorium Committee (VMC) and with Congressional candidate Robert Drinan. This work was also what first brought him to the attention of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), which would work closely in 1971-1972 with a Communist-dominated offshoot of the New Mobe linked to Dellingers associate Rennie Davis, as well as with COLIFAM.
In addition to providing such details on Kerrys military service and antiwar activity, the authors also revisit the election-eve 2004 reporting of Thomas Lipscomb and Art Moore, who quoted Naval and Harvard Law School sources indicating that Kerry received a less-than-honorable discharge which hindered his law school admissions pursuits in the 1970s. This allegation came too late in the campaign to receive the same degree of publicity and scrutiny as other aspects of Kerrys career, but remains of interest to Kerry biographers.
Besides contributing to Kerrys own biography, the book contributes to the history of Kerrys antiwar colleagues with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Historical records on the VVAW not widely publicized or not available during the 2004 campaign are incorporated into the book to provide a more complete picture of the VVAWs ties to Communist groups and involvement in subversive activity. New or newly-publicized sources cited include a comprehensive 1972 FBI review of VVAW activity which documents the role of Stalinist and Trotskyist groups in creating and sustaining the VVAW; and two captured North Vietnamese documents illustrating collaboration between the Vietcong and a Communist front coalition the VVAW had joined in 1971, the Peoples Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ), descended from Dellingers New Mobe faction. Also cited are articles and original interviews quoting antiwar expert Max Friedman, who comments on the VVAWs alliance with Communist leaders such as Abe Feinglass. The VVAWs war crimes allegations against US soldiers are scrutinized against military intelligence investigations of the VVAWs charges and found wanting in substantiation. Army investigators scrutinized 46 cases of atrocities alleged by VVAW witnesses with the result that 3 witnesses could not be identified, 25 refused to provide factual data, 13 provided information that did not support the allegations, and 5 witnesses could not be located. Navy investigators likewise found that the VVAW used fake witnesses and failed to cooperate with investigators or provide corroborating details. In no known instance did VVAW witnesses provide any information that led to a criminal indictment.
The VVAWs war crimes allegations have relevance to the history of the Vietnam War era as a whole, a topic the book also bears on. The medias role in promoting the VVAWs unsubstantiated allegations reflects a broader pattern of distorting the record on Vietnam, a pattern documented in detail by the authors meticulous research. Different sections of the book explore the medias role in not only broadcasting unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against US troops, but also ignoring actual Communist atrocities in Vietnam and Cambodia, misreporting the Tet Offensive to the advantage of the North Vietnamese, and using unreliable sources to fuel the stereotypical image of the crazy Vietnam vet. In a foreshadowing of Rathergate, the authors recall a 1988 incident involving the CBS News documentary The Wall Within, which showed Dan Rather interviewing self-proclaimed combat veterans who claimed to have committed atrocities in Vietnam. These claims were later exposed as unsubstantiated by independent researchers who took the time to check the individuals claims against military records. Rather than retracting its story, CBS quietly withdrew videos of The Wall Within from circulation.
Although the book makes such significant contributions to Kerrys biography and the history of the Vietnam War era, it is primarily a chronicle of the 2004 campaigns battle between Kerry critics and defenders, and will bring back memories for anyone who followed that battle. It recounts the efforts of the Kerry campaign and its media supporters to suppress, deny, and downplay the evidence of Kerrys presence at a 1971 VVAW meeting where participants voted on an assassination plot against US Senators. It describes from an insiders viewpoint how Kerrys war crimes allegations provoked his critics to coalesce into the coalition that was spearheaded by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In the process it documents that the Swifties were not a creation of the Bush administration or the Republican Party, contrary to their critics charges. It describes how critics efforts to suppress the Swifties story forced the veterans to develop an innovative public relations strategy to outflank traditional media resistance by using the Internet, an independent publisher, and local television and film distribution. It records how the Kerry campaign responded to this effort with attempts at censorship, slander, and intimidation, none of which succeeded in suppressing the Swifties voices. It recalls how the Swifties exposed the implausibility of Kerrys claim to have spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia, and how the Kerry campaign attempted to divert attention from this with evasions, backpedalling, and counterattacks on critics. It analyzes the Internets role in the campaign and the factor it played in exposing the false claims of Kerrys associate David Alston and the Rathergate forgeries. It narrates how veterans organized the Kerry Lied Rally to answer Kerrys war crimes accusations, and how veteran Steve Pitkin was moved to retract his Winter Soldier Investigation testimony. It exposes how Kerrys supporters used intimidation tactics to attempt to suppress the anti-Kerry film Stolen Honor. The final chapter brings the reader up to date on post-2004 developments on such topics as Kerrys unfulfilled promises to release his full military records and legal disputes over Stolen Honor and the Swift Boat Veterans tax-exempt status.
The final chapter also broaches issues with implications that extend beyond the 2004 campaign and touch on the state of politics today. Echoes of the VVAWs Vietnam-era war crimes allegations resound in reviews of Dick Durbins comparison of US detention camps to Nazi and Soviet prisons, Edward Kennedys comparison of Abu Ghraib to Saddam Husseins prisons, Iraq Veterans Against the War cofounder Jimmy Masseys debunked atrocity claims, John Murthas denunciations of the Haditha Marines, and John Kerrys own characterization of US troops as uneducated. In reviewing the authors footnotes on these subjects, I discovered that many articles on these topics have been purged from the Internet and even libraries electronic databases in an apparent attempt to erase the publics recollection of some individuals embarrassing statements. This underscores what for me was one of the most disturbing themes of the book: an increasingly totalitarian tendency towards the suppression of free speech in todays political society. Kerry famously called the Bush administration Orwellian during the 2004 campaign, but for those of us who have actually read Orwell, the word seems more applicable to Kerrys own Stalinist efforts to silence his critics, efforts fully supported by the Democratic National Committee in 2004. As we face another election year in 2008, we should remain vigilant against Big Brother, and grateful for those like the Swift Boat Veterans who had the courage to speak up against the Big Lie.
Finally, this last topic highlights a ray of hope offered by the book: the ability of the new media to bypass the traditional medias censorship tactics. Swett and Zieglers account of the Swifties public relations campaign reminds us of the pivotal role the Internet, independent publishing, and independent TV-film production played in the 2004 election. Future campaign strategists will undoubtedly read this book as a case study in how to use these new communication tools effectively in todays political world. Future voters should do the same, with the awareness of the power and responsibility that Internet access brings. Everyone really can make a difference.
Any updates on the kerry-Pickens wager?
Definitely, there’s a doublespeak going on there. If a left-winger speaks out, it’s “whistle-blowing”, according to Kerry. But if a Kerry critic does it, it’s “swiftboating”.
Last I heard on that was back in November or so. Maybe others have more updated info? (Ping to Interesting Times on that one.)
Pickens asked for Kerry to provide some documentation, including his missing military records and his personal Vietnam diary. All quiet on the Kerry front since then...
Thanks for the update!
Great review! Now I know I have to read it!
As I remember, the Navy CIS has stated that they have no record of any investigation of the witnesses in Kerry's "Winter Soldier Investigation. The story that they did stems from only from the hazy memory of historian Guenter Lewy, with no supporting documentation.
Excellent review. I have this book and have started reading it - as someone who grew up in the mid ‘70s there is a LOT of stuff that I didn’t know. It really makes you MAD! Is Dellum related to Ron Dellum, and wasn’t he outed as a closet Communist?
oops, Dellinger must be a different guy. So many commies, so little time!
LOL, yeah, there’s David Dellinger and there’s Ron Dellums, two different “Del”s :-)
It’s worth reading! I can only touch on the broad picture in a review, but the details are fascinating. Being reminded of some of Kerry’s tactics will make you mad all over again.
Thanks for the review, Fedora. I wish everyone would read this book. So much history. So many dots connected.
I noticed that mainly with some recent online articles dealing with Iraq-related stuff—stuff relating to Haditha, Massey, Durbin, Murtha etc. I would guess that some of that might be libel/lawsuit-related. What struck me was that in some cases it was even being removed from the Wayback Machine. But in enough cases the originals were still around on FR or other news-clipping sites, or I had clipped them myself when they were originally posted, so I could document what was removed.
Yes, it fills in a lot of gaps in the record that future historians will need to attend to. Crucial reading for future histories of Vietnam and the 2004 campaign, IMO.
I’m glad that you and others are preserving original material that otherwise would go down the memory hole.
For sure, Dan Rather and the RATs wish they had removed the counterfeit National Guard memos from the CBS website before the FReepers found them.
And I’m sure there will be need to do that sort of thing during this election year.
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