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Commentary on Kristol, on Kerry

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The Commons at Paulie World: Kristol on Kerry

Here’s a bit from William Kristol’s lead commentary at the Weekly Standard (subscription required).


And in this journey, I am accompanied by an extraordinary band of brothers…. Our band of brothers doesn’t march because of who we are as veterans, but because of what we learned as soldiers.

John Kerry
Acceptance Speech
Democratic Convetion
July 29, 2004

This is significant, really it is. Even for the casual reader or listener, Kerry explicitly bases his life’s work on the lessons he learned as a soldier. Because of this, his military record, must be examined closely. Not because of who he is as a veteran, but because of what he learned as a soldier [sic]. In his own words.

There must be something extraordinary in that military record, and there must be something extraordinary about the collective experience of those men. How else could Kerry claim such distinction for his band of brothers?

What Kerry learned as a sailor, according to his sworn testimony to Congress, was how to kill civilians, raze villages, and mutilate corpses. He learned how to coerce others to do the same, because, in his words, such heinous acts were the official policy of the US military. And he learned how to do so “extraordinarily,” with his band of brothers.

And yet he did nothing. He did not report the crimes when they occurred, he did not go to the IG when given these orders, he did not take actions to benignly neglect the orders. I only assume he gave the orders, extraordinarily.

I took an oath as an officer to defend the Constitution against all enemies, and to follow only the lawful orders of those appointed over me. I would have been duty bound, and no less honor bound, to report those who violated the spirit and letter of the law.

Yet Kerry, who alone of all those who served in Vietnam, did not lose his sense of morality, and his sense of duty led him to become an anti-war activist.

Kerry claims to have gathered a lifetime of lessons from his four months in Vietnam. If Kerry had derived such a depth of worthwhile – extraordinary – learning from his service in Vietnam, then his record bears close scrutiny. And the scrutiny is coming from the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth (Swifties).

Kristol writes:


This is not a trivial matter. It is as if Henry the Fifth, three decades later… had cited his experiences at Agincourt as a large part of his claim to lead. And then Exeter, Westmoreland, and Bedford had shown up to challenge his bona fides. The Agincourt Vets for Truth, might, for example, have accused Henry of ordering war crimes when he told Exeter to have “every soldier kill his prisoners! Give the words through….” And like Shakespeare’s audiences to this day, voters would have had to weigh [the] charge against Henry’s possible defense of himself.

As Kristol says, “No serious person thinks John Kerry was in any way a war criminal.” I don’t think any serious person believes that Kerry’s testimony was much more than grandstanding, then or now. Sure, there have been terrible incidents – notably My Lai – committed by all men under arms in all wars. But to claim an American policy of war criminality, to allege an American Einsatzgruppen is beyond the pale and never taken seriously.

Yet never once did he file any complaint with any of his military superiors. Nor has he named any specific individuals who have committed such atrocities, even as he spoke for “a very much larger group of veterans in this country.” Kerry instead chose to make public declarations, including sworn statements before a Senate committee.

Now there are two things that bother me: first, they were statements under oath, which means that the speaker must be convinced of their veracity, or suffer the full weight of the law. Our society is based upon citizens telling the truth. Kerry based much of his testimony on the Winter Soldier stories, which we now have found to largely fabricated. I am pretty sure that Kerry knew that his testimony was full of hyperbole. If not, then he was a dupe, and I don’t believe that for a minute. Secondly, when the Winter Soldier reports were found to be false, Kerry never changed his tune: “crimes [were] committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command,” crimes that “this country made them do” this country, the United States, that had “lost her sense of morality.” He has never recanted any part of his testimony.

Kristol states, and I agree, that it is more than fair to hold Kerry’s record to the closest scrutiny. He continues to base his public life on the “extraordinary” events of four months in 1968 and 1969. Most of us are convinced that Kerry played fast and loose with veracity to make a few political points. What happened in Vietnam should just stay there. It was a goofy situation, in many ways, a Catch-22 war of surreality. All warfare is like that sometimes. I think it’s how humans process episodes of killing. Kerry’s experiences, though, were seared – seared – into his memory and form the cornerstone of his political campaign.

Kristol ends his commentary with the real lesson, and identifies Kerry’s real Band of Brothers:

But the Vietnam War, and the antiwar movement, are relevant to understanding a possible Kerry presidency at least in this sense: It is clear from Kerry’s subsequent career that his real band of brothers – his political band of brothers – are the antiwar activists with whom he marched in 1971.

Kerry was hostile to the use of military power then, demonstrated quite stridently his loathing for military power throughout the 80s and 90s, and is against the use of military power now. “More than any presidential candidate since George McGovern, John Kerry is a creature of the anti-Vietnam War movement,” writes Kristol. The difference, according to Kristol, is that McGovern admitted such, while Kerry pretends the opposite is true.

I think that Kerry’s military service, like Bush’s military service, belong as a minor footnote to the campaign. I believe, like Kristol, that Kerry’s real band of brothers are the leftist anti-warniks. It is that “extraordinary” group, and Kerry’s participation with, that taught him what he “learned as [an ideological] soldier.”

Let’s take him at his word, folks, and bring it on.

This article was originally published at The Commons at Paulie World, Aug 28, 2004, all rights reserved.

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  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    Kerry’s testimony about what the Winter Soldiers told certainly was not discredited, not according to General Tommy Franks earlier this month:

    HANNITY: What does that mean to you?

    FRANKS: I think we had a lot of problems in Vietnam. One was the lack of leadership of young people like in — in John Kerry’s position. He was a young officer over there, and I’m not sure that — that activities like that didn’t take place. In fact, quite the contrary. I’m sure that they did take place. … Hannity interview with Franks, Part 3

    This supports the credibility of what Kerry was told. Where did you see it discredited?