IT WAS John Kerry, not the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who picked this fight.
He was the one who made his long-ago stint in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign for president. He's the one whose running mate urges voters to take Kerry's measure by spending "three minutes with the men who served with him 30 years ago." He's the one whose campaign ads dwell on his combat heroics. He's the one who has repeatedly played the Vietnam card against critics and opponents. And he's the one who challenged anyone "who wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam to bring it on."
So the Swifties brought it on. Their scorching attack on his wartime record is so effective precisely because they, like Kerry, were there. They too went to Vietnam when so many other young men didn't. They too fought and bled for their country. If his wartime experience lends him a certain moral authority, it does no less for them....
On April 22, 1971, Kerry went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to indict the American war effort in Vietnam for horrendous war crimes. These were "not isolated incidents," he testified, "but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
He offered no evidence. Instead he trumpeted the charges of the "Winter Soldier Investigation," an antiwar gathering a few months earlier at which men claiming to be Vietnam veterans -- many were later exposed as frauds -- described the atrocities they had allegedly committed.
Kerry has never taken back his terrible slur against his fellow soldiers -- men he now calls his "band of brothers." The most he has been willing to say is that his words "were a little bit over the top" and that he could perhaps "have phrased things more artfully." He certainly doesn't regret the propaganda coup he handed the Viet Cong: "I'm proud that I stood up," Kerry told NBC in April. "I don't want anybody to think twice about it."
And therein lies the fundamental hypocrisy of the Kerry candidacy.
He came to prominence as a radical opponent of the war in Vietnam, yet now he runs for president on the strength of his service in that war. He portrayed the men who fought there as unspeakable savages, yet now he surrounds himself with Vietnam vets at every turn. He lent respectability to those who demanded that America cut and run, that it abandon a beleaguered ally, that it drop "the mystical war against communism." Yet now he insists that he would be a tough and vigilant commander-in-chief, one who would never disrespect allies, one in whose hands the security of the United States would be safe.