Skip to comments.Eyes on the White House, Kerry Keeps Focus on Vietnam
Posted on 08/26/2003 5:21:50 PM PDT by Pharmboy
Senator John Kerry spoke of his
military experience on Monday
in an address to the Veterans of Foreign
in San Antonio.
SAN ANTONIO, Aug. 25 As he criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, Senator John Kerry assured thousands of fellow V.F.W. members today that should he become commander in chief, "I won't just bring to that profound responsibility the perspective of sitting in the situation room I'll also bring the perspective of someone who's fought on the front lines."
Next week, when he formally announces his presidential campaign in Charleston, S.C., Mr. Kerry will stand in front of a World War II aircraft carrier that was used in Vietnam and beside crew members from his tour of duty as a patrol boat officer in the Mekong Delta, where he won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Wherever Senator Kerry goes these days, he talks about his war record. In doing so, Mr. Kerry is identifying his campaign with his service in Vietnam more closely than others who have run, like Senator John McCain and former Vice President Al Gore. So far, he has skirted the controversies that surrounded that war, which he fought in and then marched against, as he uses it to present himself as a battle-hardened Democrat who can handle the national security challenges that each party believes will be central to next year's election. He is also seeking to show that he can withstand the kinds of attacks that Republicans have successfully made on Democrats in past elections over issues of national security.
Mr. Kerry's advisers say he is still introducing himself to the countless voters who do not remember him from 1971, when he wore his ribbons on his Navy fatigues and testified against the war on television, instantly becoming a national celebrity. They say it is an obvious way for him to reach out to veterans, a large constituency on whose behalf he has worked for many years in the Senate. And they say his constant recitation of his wartime experience is only natural in the world after Sept. 11, where national security has become a threshold issue and where some say the problems and perils of rebuilding Iraq are reminiscent of the quagmire that Vietnam became.
Above all, though, his allies are convinced that Mr. Kerry's wartime record will inoculate him against Republican attacks like those that depicted Michael S. Dukakis, his boss when Mr. Kerry was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, as weak on national security.
"Karl Rove will dismember every Democratic candidate based on their record of service," Henry G. Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor and cabinet secretary, said today at a breakfast with Mr. Kerry's local supporters. "He'll say they're not tough enough. They cannot do that to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts."
Similarly, Chris Lehane, an adviser to the Kerry campaign, said that its Internet traffic had spiked in April after Mr. Kerry defended his right to criticize the Bush administration by saying he had "fought for and bled for" the right to speak out.
"I think Democrats relish and revel in the idea that they all have a candidate who has the military background that John McCain has, who can then take it to Bush that he can directly challenge Bush, Cheney and the rest of the Republican gang who think they have sole and exclusive authority over patriotism."
Yet dwelling on one's war record carries with it potential pitfalls, as Senator McCain himself warned this year. "I think Americans want modesty," he told U.S. News & World Report in March, "and if it appears as if you're trying to use some past accomplishment, particularly one in combat, to further your own political ambitions, it's a little dangerous because the whole reason for your serving in the military is to ensure the safety and future of others and not yourself."
Another Vietnam veteran now in the Senate, Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, echoed that advice. "It's better not to talk too much about your military record," Mr. Hagel said today. "You should probably play that experience down to some extent not run away from it, but don't talk too much about it. The media will draw the comparisons and distinctions anyway."
But former Senator Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat and wounded Vietnam veteran, argued that the country needed Mr. Kerry's experience. "In an era when we have pretenders who say `Bring them on' and all that stuff, you need a person who understands war," Mr. Cleland said. "John's been there, and he has a few holes in his T-shirt to prove it."
Far from merely immunizing himself to attack, Mr. Kerry appears to be using his own record to highlight the shortcomings of his opponents in the Democratic primary, none of whom saw combat.
In a brief interview today, he stopped short of saying military or wartime service should be a prerequisite for the presidency, offering that a senator like Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, had he run for president, would have been qualified by virtue of his "broad foreign policy experience."
"But," Mr. Kerry added, apparently alluding to his rivals, "measured against people who have no experience, or very little of it, it's important."
He also said that his Vietnam experience was of special relevance in watching the rebuilding effort under way in Iraq: "Carrying a gun in a hostile territory, getting shot at from both sides? You bet it brings a perspective. Trying to distinguish between friend and foe? Knowing the difficulty of winning hearts and minds? That adds a whole other experience."
While Senator McCain's war record was widely known when he made his own presidential bid in 2000, it was not the center of his campaign, said Gary C. Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. "McCain's strategy, that he was the reformist, was the horse he was riding, it wasn't his Vietnam service," Mr. Jacobson said.
And 2000 was a vastly different context, he added; "if he were running now, we probably would hear more about his war record than we did then."
The difference is Sept. 11, said Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who also fought in Vietnam, and whose battlefield experience came back to haunt him when accusations arose that his team of Navy Seals knowingly killed civilians in a 1969 raid in Vietnam.
"Democrats understand that unlike in '96 or 2000 or even in '92, one of the things Americans are looking at is how well can you do the job of commander in chief," Mr. Kerrey said today from New York. "It's become a part of the assessment process. It wasn't there before. I think Bill Clinton would've faced a much different opponent in George Bush in 1992 if the U.S. had been attacked by terrorists even in the fall of '89. He would've had to prove he could be a better commander in chief."
An open question is just how Mr. Kerry's role in opposing the war will play, more than three decades later. Though Senator Kerry says he is confident that "most people have come to the conclusion that the war was a mistake," he said the attention to the protest movement could rekindle a debate that has never entirely died out.
"But he's got credibility on both sides of the argument," Mr. Kerrey said, for having fought despite his opposing the war.
It is also possible that that seemingly contradictory stance might be used against Senator Kerry, if only to foreshadow a recurring criticism of him as a senator: that he likes to straddle both sides of an issue.
But Douglas Brinkley, the historian and author of a forthcoming biography of Senator Kerry, said Republicans would be unwise to attack him on that ground. "As soon as you're arguing about John Kerry's war record, you're on his turf," Mr. Brinkley said.
"When you get into the Kerry story, the fact that they were sending 50-foot aluminum boats up canals along the Cambodian border to get shot at, it's very similar to Iraq, where every other day, somebody gets picked off," he said. "Clearly we were the invader in a very foreign culture, and we had no real exit strategy except Vietnamization. If our exit strategy from Iraq is Iraqization here, Kerry, who knows what it's like to be shot up in a war that Americans forgot about, is a pretty good messenger to talk about the arrogance of power."
She told me he NEVER made any disparaging comments about our troops serving in Viet Nam and also told me that the Senator had served in Viet Nam........
I expressed amazement at her outright lie and ended the call by saying that I had no idea Kerry was a Viet Nam veteran.
Gee, why doesn't he say that more often? Some people may not realize he's a war hero...
[The following is an official quote from Kerry's OFFICIAL website]
Vietnam didn't threaten US; US war crimes did
Many very highly decorated veterans have testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.
They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war.
We call this the Winter Soldier Investigation. The term Winter Soldier is a play on words of Thomas Paine's in 1776 when he spoke of the summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough. We feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come
Source: Winter Soldier speech to Senate Foreign Relations Cmte Apr 23, 1971
[For some reason, the last sentence is not finished. Here it is, from the actual speech]:
"We could come back to this country, we could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, not the reds, but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out...".
Vietnam war was criminal hypocrisy and tore apart US
There is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
[Although most of this sentence is standard communist rhetoric, of the day, I cannot figure out what the phrase " which those misfits supposedly abuse," means, or to whom it refers. Any ideas? The entire speech (I assume) is found here]:
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from colonial influence. We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime.
Source: Winter Soldier speech to Senate Foreign Relations Cmte Apr 23, 1971
These ideas STILL represent Kerry's official position on Vietnam. He is, in essence, condemning ALL Viet Nam veterans as war criminals. Based on the "Silver Star Episode," I wouldn't be surprised if Kerry, himself had engaged in actions he, himself considered "war crimes." It is standard behavior, for (some) people who are carrying a large load of guilt, to turn to radical leftism. The radical left motivates people by drowning them with guilt, then promising a sort of anti-christian "absolution" of that guilt. All you have to do is join THEIR movement, (religion).
In the past, joining the forces working for the enemy was considered being a turncoat, perhaps a traitor. Now it gets you elected to High Office. GRRRRR....
p.s. [holding up both hands in peace/Victory "V"....] "I AM NOT A WAR CRIMINAL"
Uh, wrong, idiot. Weak is weak. Weak is having bad policies, not whether you signed up or were drafted when you were 19. If you sell out USA, aid and abet enemies with back-stabbing comments, or turn away from tough choices - YOU ARE WEAK.
DE OPPRESSO LIBER
I understand perfectly, being a member of several Veteran's organizations (including the VFW). In general, they exist to lobby for more hand-outs from the Federal Government for vets- and the vast majority of members, their hair-raising war stories notwithstanding, were cooks, truck drivers, dental technicians, etc. (I except the Special Forces Association and the Ranger Association from this comment).
In any case, you won't be at a VFW Post or an American Legion bar long before someone starts whining about their lack of medical benefits, the malfeasance of the VA in not granting them 100% disability benefits for life for an ankle they sprained in 1962. A lot of these folks spent their ENTIRE CAREERS going on sick call and building up HUGE medical records- to take to the VA when they retired.
I have real and permanent injuries from a career of jumping out of airplanes and fast-roping out of helicopters- but I will NEVER go begging to the VA as long as I can still work and support myself.
Bottom line- Clinton promised them more than Bush did- so he got the rousing reception.
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