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Monday, August 16, 2004

The frying pan begins to sizzle, and Sen. Kerry's getting seared, seared

In Monday's Wall Street Journal, readers will find Robert L. Pollock's op-ed entitled "Holiday in Cambodia:  The most damning testimony on John Kerry in Vietnam has come from John Kerry."  Mr. Pollock declines to weigh in on most of the disputes between the SwiftVets and the Kerry camp:

Both sides strike me as sincere, but eyewitness accounts of fast-moving and stressful situations like combat are too unreliable for there to be much hope of getting at the "truth" here.

With this, I simply disagree.  One can and indeed should make allowances for differences in recollections, and one must admit that even were there agreement on all of the underlying facts and circumstances, men and women of good faith and good intentions could still reach contrary opinions.

But the process of gathering information — not just subjective and old recollections, but documents — is far from over.  And with due respect to Mr. Pollock, he's behind the learning curve, I suspect, as to just how much evidence has in fact already been gathered.  He doesn't mention, for example, whether he's read John O'Neill's just released book, Unfit for Command.  I haven't read it yet either — still waiting on Amazon.com, like so many others — but I think I'd like to give it a close look before throwing up my hands and saying, "Eh, who can tell?"

Still, Mr. Pollock must be commended for grasping — and relating clearly and briefly, in a mainstream media publication — the huge significance of the Christmas in Cambodia story, on which the Kerry camp is in clear retreat, and is likely to have to retreat farther:

[T]he political uses to which Mr. Kerry would later put his Vietnam experience are certainly fair game for criticism. Which brings up Mr. Kerry's claim — repeated in at least three different decades, and on the floor of the Senate —that he spent Christmas Eve of 1968 not in Vietnam but in Cambodia. He obviously considered it a point of some significance, since he used it to impugn the integrity of those who waged the Vietnam War.

This is how he described it to the Boston Herald in 1979: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies....  The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."

In 1986 Mr. Kerry argued on the Senate floor against U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras, again citing the 1968 Christmas in Cambodia and "the president of the United States telling the American people I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared — seared — in me." In a 1992 interview with the Associated Press the story came back: "By Christmas 1968, part of Kerry's patrol extended across the border of South Vietnam into Cambodia."

Trouble is, the person who appears to have been wrong here about Mr. Kerry's location was not the president — who was Lyndon Johnson, not Nixon, by the way — but Mr. Kerry himself. His commanding officers all testify to this fact, as do men who were on his boat at the time. And so now, reluctantly, does the Kerry campaign.

Even if the whole kerfluffle were to magically disappear right now — and it won't — the Christmas in Cambodia story is going to change some votes.  The effect will not be among the committed Angry Left, the dedicated Anybody-but-Bush crowd, but among some Gore 2000 voters — and some probably also some disillusioned Bush 2000 voters — who still remember 9/11 and who aren't quite sure whether Kerry's got the right stuff to lead the Global War on Terrorists.  The very same voters whom all that patriotism schtick at the Democratic National Convention was intended to influence are the same ones who are going to be muttering to themselves, "Wow.  That's really weird.  'Seared,' he said?  Twice?"  And some of those folks are going to conclude, "I don't think I can bring myself to vote for this drama queen to be Commander in Chief."

Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters and the good fellows at Power Line are continuing to gather and publish information on this controversy.  And PrestoPundit has a good aggregation of the latest news coverage as the ripples spread.  N.Z. Bear blogs about another major step toward mainstream media recognition of the Christmas in Cambodia story via Scott Canon's syndicated article for the Knight Ridder Newspapers chain.  McQ at QandO has a meaty review of Unfit for Command, and with his co-bloggers is also following media coverage of the controversy.  All of these blogs have multiple posts up, and they're updating frequently, so I highly recommend that if you follow my links to them, you also click up a level to their main pages for related posts.

I'm still betting on WaPo to be the first to swallow hard and dig in on the Christmas in Cambodia story, with NYT and LAT to trail them by a day or so.  This is going to be an interesting week.

Update (Mon Aug 16 @ 8:30am):  Jim Wooten of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — himself a Vietnam veteran — has a similar op ed (registration req'd) today that runs through the Christmas in Cambodia story and then makes a broader comment about the SwiftVets' claims regarding Kerry:

Does it matter? It does to those he accused of committing atrocities.

The nation may be done with Vietnam, content to treat the era as a campaign backdrop, with no further interest in whether the atrocities Kerry alleges were commonplace.

But the two groups — the swift-boat veterans and other Vietnam veterans who feel wronged by his characterizations — have earned the right not to be dismissed as cranks and partisans, at least until they are fully heard.

(Hat-tip to InstaPundit).  Of course, they can't be "fully heard" until the mainstream media airs their contentions.  But Mr. Wooten's op-ed is yet another step in that direction.

Posted by Beldar at 01:38 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to The frying pan begins to sizzle, and Sen. Kerry's getting seared, seared and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» A Matter of Honor from dislogue

Tracked on Aug 16, 2004 10:36:28 AM


(1) J Murphy made the following comment | Aug 16, 2004 9:17:49 AM | Permalink

When I first read Pollack's piece this morning I also thought he was behind in following developments in the story and too quick to dismiss the possiblity that an examination of all the evidence would shed light on the truth. Anyone who has worked with multiple witnesses to the same event expects to see some differences among the accounts, but this does not mean you can never ascertain the truth.

Perhaps Mr. Pollack's approach is a version of KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. The Christmas in Cambodia tale may be the easiest to show to be false. Kerry defenders may actually benefit if all the charges are lumped in to one large issue, because most people will get lost in the mass of details. If Kerry has to backpedal any further on the Christmas in Cambodia story, then the other charges by Kerry's Swift Boat Vet shipmates will have more credibility.

(2) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 16, 2004 10:59:53 AM | Permalink

The Boston Globe published Kerry's journal entry for 12-24-68 back in 2003. It's part of a six or seven part series by Mike Kranish. It makes very clear that Kerry knew he wasn't in Cambodia, but patrolling around Sa Dec.

(3) Jack made the following comment | Aug 16, 2004 2:23:56 PM | Permalink

For the WSJ to confront the My Cambodian Xmas story is progress, even if they will only dip their toes in the water.

I truly think the Eastern elite media is afraid to admit that Kerry is a weaver of tall tales. I can see how scared they are on the reporter-panel talk shows.

As a former political reporter, I know how uncomfortable your colleagues can make you if they think you "fell" for a story that diverges from the media's "line." You get shunned when you run solo, away from the pack.

Reporters try to pass themselves off as "professionals" like lawyers and doctors when they are no such thing. Reporting is a craft, and when it is done well it approaches the quality of a well-made piece of furniture or a well-plumbed home. No more.

(4) Roofer made the following comment | Aug 16, 2004 7:54:42 PM | Permalink

Dislogue, whose site is linked above, understands that this isn't about who did what, with whom and when in Vietnam. There's a forest in them there trees. Step back and take a look (the last sentence is killer):

"Kerry [did not run for] to the Senate based on his claims to have overcome in the struggle to sap our national will in combatting communists in Vietnam. He did not stand up and point to his achievements in protesting the war and encouraging more draft-dodging and violence here in the United States. He did not tout his televised speeches in which he claimed all United States forces in Vietnam were war criminals. He did not brag that American prisoners of war in Vietnamese prisons were forced to watch replays of his speeches. He did not proudly list his accomplishments in his meetings as a private citizen (in contravention of United States law) with Vietnamese communists in Paris while his fellows were fighting and dying in Vietnam. He did not then, nor has he since, pointed out how venerated and admired he is in communist Vietnam now, so much so that a room in a war museum is dedicated to this friend of Vietnam.

"No, he ran and runs on his "record" as a heroic riverboat sailor fighting (and thrice wounded) for his country. He runs as one of a loyal "band of brothers," without mentioning how he left them as soon as he could manage, and returned to the United States to spit on them, call them war criminals, and do his best to give aid and comfort to their enemy. He brings a very small subset of those with whom he fought into his campaign to lead the unsuspecting to extrapolate from them a broad support and respect from the United States military, when in reality his name is abhorred and vilified.

"The scariest part about the management of Kerry's image is the span of time over which it has been built and that it has never been subject to real scrutiny from the major media whose responsibility it is (they keep reminding us) to see to it that the American public, and by extention the American voter, is informed. For all the horror I feel at Kerry's campaign to achieve the Presidency, what shocks me more is them complicity of our major media outlets. Clearly they have redefined "truth" to be what serves them. That sort of truth will never set anyone free.

"I do not hate Kerry, not even knowing all this. But I am very fearful of what he would do (or not do) as President. Honor does matter to me. I want our Presidents to honor their commitments, honor the institution, and honor the Constitution. Kerry's record before the revelations of the Swift Veterans for Truth did not support the idea that he is that sort of man. Following those revelations I cannot see how any but the most willfully blind can believe that John Kerry is a fit candidate for President."

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