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.
I didn't know that some of the documents referenced in To Set The Record Straight are being removed from the internet and library databases.I noticed that mainly with some recent online articles dealing with Iraq-related stuffstuff 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.
Brazen. Have you readBut 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.
But are they actually pruning the wayback machine! How do they expect to escape universal condemnation for that! It certainly sounds like anyone on the Internet should be able to verify your claim. Why don't you document it, posting an original article that you have a copy of and challenging people to find that article now? Best reference of all, perhaps, would be an article which still exists on the Wayback Machine version of FR but has been clipped from the wayback machine version of the original source. That would demonstrate that FR hadn't somehow jiggered its database to fabricate the article in question after the fact. I think you have a big story if you do that.
I also find "Orwellian" the MSM morphing "swiftboating" into a term meaning exactly the opposite of what the Swiftees actually did. The Swiftees were the truth tellers, God Bless 'em!
Absolutely. In fact, Newspeak abounds in our political discourse for the simple reason that we have a monopolistic Big Journalism establishment controlling the way terms are used and coined.
The bias of journalism is that journalism is all-important. To be all-important, journalism must be objective. Therefore (in Newspeak logic), journalism is objective. "Objective journalism" is one (Newspeak) word. In Newspeak there are several words for "good." "Objective" is one, but "objective" as I noted is part of the Newspeak word "objective journalism" and is not to be used to describe anyone (no matter how much they agree with journalism's perspective) not actually employed as a journalist. Indeed, if a journalist does not project the perspective of Big Journalism - well, strike that sentence because in Newspeak it is as illogical as speaking of dry water. Whoever does not project the perspective of Big Journalism is "not a journalist, not objective."
Other Newspeak words meaning "good" in Newspeak include, "liberal," "progressive," and "moderate." A person perfectly in accord with the perspective of Big Journalism but not employed as a journalist is accorded any Newspeak word for "good" which suits him - anything except "objective," that is. But let that same person - George Stephaopolis, for example - be hired as a journalist, and Shazam! Boom! Instant objectivity.
Just as the Newspeak word for "good" is not "good," the Newspeak word for bad is not "bad" - nor even, as Orwell had it, "ungood." Newspeak words for "bad" are "conservative" and "right wing." Or, for that matter, "Swift Boating."
Conservatives as FR knows and loves them are a strange breed of "conservative." They want to conserve - keep going - a revolution. In contrast to the French or Russian revolutions, the American revolution enshrined a plan for a continuous revolution. The American Revolution was about freedom - and freedom makes change inevitable. The conservative element in the American Revolution is the Constitution, and its definition of the ground rules which are to regulate change and, in a very real sense, maximize progress.
What it pleases Big Journalism to call "progressive" is in fact reactionary against the change which the American Revolution, operating through its rules enshrined in the Constitution, has unleashed. Environmentalism and its extreme form, regulation of the generation of a gas we all exhale, is patently a reaction against the development and the human expansion unleashed by American "conservatism."
I subscribe to Barzun's theory that the left and right have switched places. The left doggedly defends the status quo, statism and socialism lite, and advocates for more of it. It's the right that stands for real reform and change these days.
Definitely. I think it’s very important to remember these things and keep an eye out for history repeating itself.
As soon as the Rathergate forgeries got exposed, my next thought was, I bet the forgers will remember how they caught this time and hone their methods so they don’t get caught the same way next time. Keeping a step ahead of them is going to be a challenge.
Is that Evans book out yet? I’ve been waiting for it to come out for a while now, but the publication date kept getting pushed back. His articles that I’ve read look good. He picked up on a few things I’ve noticed in my own research that I haven’t seen anyone else cover, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the full-length treatment.
I’ve inferred that the Wayback Machine seems to have a policy that they will remove access to things under certain circumstances if the copyright owner or a party in a libel suit or other interested party requests it, because I’ve noticed them remove things on other occasions as well. In some cases there may be legitimate reasons for removing things, so I don’t assume there’s something amiss in all instances, but in this case I was surprised how frequently articles on the aforementioned group of topics were being placed out of access.
Oh, good, I just looked at your link and it looks like it is out! Thanks for the update on that, I’ve been wanting to get that for a while! :-)
Thanks for the ping and both your posts c_I_c. Outstanding review, fedora. Thanks so much for all of your work, research, posts.
As MMFA has previously documented, conservative historian Guenter Lewy claimed in his 1978 book, America in Vietnam, that a Naval Investigative Service report into the Winter Soldier allegations had discredited many of the witnesses and accounts, and in some cases impostors had assumed the identities of real veterans who were not present at the investigation. But Naval Criminal Investigative Service public affairs specialist Paul O'Donnell told (registration required) the Chicago Tribune: "We have not been able to confirm the existence of this report, but it's also possible that such records could have been destroyed or misplaced." And Lewy himself admitted to The Baltimore Sun that "he does not recall if he saw a copy of the naval investigative report or was briefed on its contents." Apart from Lewy's allegations, a search by MMFA turned up no other reports of evidence that any Winter Soldier witness was an impostor.
The site above loves Kerry and wants to discredit the Swift Vets and wintersoldier.com, but I think they have this one detail correct - no NCIS report available so far.
I looked into this before, and the quote from Paul O'Donnell is real. I ran it by "Interesting Times" (Scott Swett: wintersoldier.com), and he didn't deny it, defending Lewy as a respected historian.
But respected or not, no one other than Lewy has claimed to have seen the report, and Lewy later said he couldn't even remember whether he saw the report or was just told of its conclusions by someone.
I welcome updating and correction. Perhaps the NCIS report as surfaced by now.
I have no doubt that Lewy accurately reported the contents of the NCIS report, regardless of whether he read it or was briefed. MMFA is just blowing smoke and casting aspersions, which is the purpose for which the organization was formed. Most archived NCIS material from the Vietnam era appears to have been destroyed after 25 years. Even if the report escaped that fate because of its political importance, there are still the Sandy Burgers of the world to consider...
The NCIS report may have been "Burgerized", but for whatever reason, only Lewy claims to have seen it. It would have had to have been destroyed after Lewy saw it or was briefed on its contents, yet no one else, including the investigators, has stepped forward to support Lewy.
As to the destruction of archived NCIS material, why do they do that? O'Donnell has cited that as a possible reason that NCIS can't find it.
How incredible that this wasn't a matter of intense national attention, from the moment Hatfield called for an investigation!
We disagree as to the emphasis that should be given to Lewy's memory.
But kudos again to you for wintersoldier.com.
You and some veterans have, without the NCIS report, thrown the WSI into serious question. I'm thinking first and foremost of "witness" Joe Bangert.
Thanks for the comments!
You’re aware that Lewy wrote “America in Vietnam” in 1977, right? It’s not a question of whether he remembers the report accurately after all these years.
Thanks for providing the quote. I had not seen that. I wanted to see whether it said they are denying the report or saying they cannot locate it today, which are two different things with different implications. It is not uncommon for government documents to get misplaced, I’ve seen this happen with World War II records that got filed in some obscure location and didn’t turn up for decades, for instance. Lewy is indeed a respected historian, but he wrote his book in 1978, so it is not surprising if today he does not remember whether his summary was based on seeing the report or an oral briefing. Saying his memory today is hazy is different than saying it was hazy when he recorded his original summary in 1978. The latter is what would be at issue here, but there is no reason to suspect the latter. I see nothing in the quoted statements here which would cast doubt on the accuracy of Lewy’s original summary, as Kerry’s defenders were apparently spinning it. Lewy is indeed a respected historian, and he had researched the Army report at the time he wrote his book, there is no reason to suspect he would concoct a corresponding Naval report out of thin air merely for the sake of mentioning it in passing, and indeed, it would be quite strange if the Army had investigated that and the Navy had not, which would require an explanation in itself. In contrast to Lewy’s credibility, Kerry and the VVAW have a track record of habitual fabrication, ranging from Kerry’s own well-known flip-flops to Al Hubbard’s fraudulent credentials to the holes in the Winter Soldier testimony which are at a minimum documented in the Army’s investigation. Clearly, if we are evaluating the matter from a historian’s perspective, Lewy’s professional historical opinion is more weighty testimony than the claims of the VVAW and Kerry’s defenders. Nonetheless, it would of course strengthen the case considerably if the NCIS report could be located today. It might be worthwhile to track down some of the investigative personnel from the time who would have had responsibility for the investigation to get some assistance locating the document and/or to get some oral history pertinent to the investigation for the record.
PS: I’ll be putting Lewy’s original quotes up on the thread in a few days, unless someone wants to beat me to it. I don’t have a copy handy tonight but I put an order in for it, should get it by Monday or so. I did check into Lewy’s background before I wrote the review but did not copy the original quote, as I was not aware it had been disputed.
Its not a question of Lewy’s memory, ultimately, but whether the disputed NCIS report surfaces. Citing it without mentioning the current Lewy limitation provides a “gotcha” moment for the WSI believers.
I expect that Lewy would agree.
Anybody who believes these tall tales is awfully gullible. Bangert worked for a light observation squadron - very little combat. The men worked like coolies, often 16 hours a day 7 days a week, servicing planes, refueling, rearming, preparing, cleaning, maintaining. Usually they did not fly. They did not get to wander off on secret CIA missions. They did not participate in the CAP program - these were separate small units who lived permanently in villages, protecting the villages from the VC. They did not get to wander around Quang Tri looking at deformed kids. He states on his first day he sees a bunch of kids murdered on Route 1 -- this the main thoroughfare through the area, not some remote area. Can you imagine the press coverage? He says the press saw the crucified bodies, but were wooed with booze and did not report on this. Come on, get real.
The real investigation has begun at wintersoldier.com.
The unqualified citation of an undocumented NCIS report detracts from that work, IMHO.
The level of detail indicates that Professor Lewy had a good understating of what was in the report at that time he published. The only alternative is that Lewy made up his summary, complete with quotes, and falsified the footnote. That is simply not credible, no matter what Media Matters would like to believe.