In his testimony to Congress in 1971, Kerry asserted a scale of routine war crimes unparalleled in American history -- his ''band of brothers'' (as he now calls them) ''personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads . . . razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.'' Almost all these claims were unsupported. Indeed, the only specific example of a U.S. war criminal that Kerry gave was himself. As he said on ''Meet The Press'' in April 1971, ''Yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free fire zones. I used 50-caliber machineguns, which we were granted and ordered to use.''
Really? And when was that? On your top-secret Christmas Eve mission in Cambodia? If they'd taken him at his word, when the senator said ''I'm John Kerry reporting for duty,'' the delegates at the Democratic Convention should have dived for cover.
But they didn't. So Kerry is now the first self-confessed war criminal in the history of the Republic to be nominated for president. Normally this would be considered an electoral plus only in the more cynical banana republics. But the Democrats seemed to think they could run an anti-war anti-hero as a war hero and nobody would mind. As we now know, a lot of people -- a lot of veterans -- do mind, very much. They understand that, whether or not he ever mowed down civilians with his 50-caliber machinegun, Kerry is responsible for a lot of wounds closer to home.
In the usual course of events, Kerry's terrible judgment in the '70s would render him unelectable. Instead, over two decades he morphed into a respectably dull run-of-the-mill pompous senatorial windbag. Had he run for president in the '90s or 2000, he might even have pulled it off. But the Democrats turned to him this time because the tortured contradictions of his resume suited an anti-war party that didn't dare run as such. Ever since the first cries of ''Quagmire!'' back in the early days of the Afghan liberation in 2001, the left have been trying to Vietnamize the war on terror. They failed in that, but they succeeded in the Vietnamization of the election campaign, and that's turned out just swell, hasn't it? Remember that formulation a lot of Democrats were using last year? They oppose the war but ''of course'' they support our troops. Kerry's campaign is a walking illustration of the deficiencies of that straddle: When you divorce the heroism of soldiering from the justice of the cause, what's left but a hollow braggart?