Mackubin Thomas Owens:
...At some point John Kerry decided that it was to his political advantage to no longer be ashamed of his service in Vietnam, but he has never said why. Maybe someone should ask him.
During his presidential campaign, John Kerry has sought to portray himself as a member of the first group--a veteran proud of his service in Vietnam. In his remarks on July 25 at the Democratic National Convention, Kerry said, "We [veterans] fought for this nation because we loved it. . . . I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president." But this sentiment is completely at odds with his infamous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, wherein he said he and those he spoke for were "ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia. .
. . 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 . . . is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy."
The fact is that most Americans have no idea how radical Kerry's views on Vietnam were. His April 1971 Senate testimony (reprinted in full on pages 9-12) could have been written by Chomsky or Franklin. But the larger reality is even more troubling.
In his indispensable America in Vietnam, Guenter Lewy notes the establishment of a veritable war-crimes industry, supported by the Soviet Union, as early as 1965. As Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Romanian intelligence chief, has recounted, the Soviets set up permanent international organizations--including the International War Crimes Tribunal and the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam--"to aid or to conduct operations to help Americans dodge the draft or defect, to demoralize its army with anti-American propaganda, to conduct protests, demonstrations, and boycotts, and to sanction anyone connected with the war."
Pacepa claims to have been responsible for fabricating stories about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and "flacking" them to Western news organizations. Lewy writes that "the Communists made skillful use of their worldwide propaganda apparatus . . . and they found many Western intellectuals only too willing to accept every conceivable allegation of [American] wrongdoing at face value." The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a small, radical group that never exceeded a membership of 7,000 (including John Kerry) from a pool of nearly 3 million Vietnam (and 9 million Vietnam-era) veterans, essentially "Americanized" Soviet propaganda. When he testified before the Senate in 1971, Kerry was merely repeating charges that had been making the rounds since 1965.
MANY OF KERRY'S DEFENDERS contend that anti-Kerry veterans have no right to criticize his speaking out against the war, especially in view of his service in that war. But it is not his protests against the war that anger veterans so much as his method of doing so. In a recent NPR editorial, James Webb, a genuine hero of the Vietnam war (Navy Cross), the author of Fields of Fire, the best novel about Vietnam, and secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, observed:For most veterans it was not that Kerry was against the war, but that he used his military credentials to denigrate the service of a whole generation of veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War was a very small, highly radical organization. Their stories of atrocious conduct, repeated in lurid detail by Kerry before the Congress, represented not the typical experience of the American soldier, but its ugly extreme. That the articulate, urbane Kerry would validate such allegations helped to make life hell for many Vietnam veterans, for a very long time.
There were many individuals who returned from Vietnam troubled about the war. Some were critical of U.S. strategy, operations, and tactics in Vietnam. Others came to believe the war was wrong on moral grounds. But most did not slander their comrades using language that mirrored Soviet or Vietnamese Communist propaganda. Most did not consort with the enemy in a time of war. It was possible to oppose the war without doing what Kerry did.