Friday, July 30, 2004

Slander by Proxy

The Counterpoint is just wondering: why did Mark Hyman bother going to Boston?

Yet again, Mr. Hyman invoked dusty and inaccurate talking points in his commentary on the final day of the Democratic National Convention. Using the occasion of a “shadow” convention of sorts held by a cadre of anti-Kerry activists, some of whom are Vietnam veterans, Hyman again used his trademark techniques to rehash the “Kerry-Wasn’t-Really-That-Much-Of-A-Hero” charges that have been a staple Bush backers.

Relying on using quotations from participants in this “convention” (so as to lend an air of reportage to what is essentially an attempt at character assassination), Hyman quotes a number of individuals, including the organizer, Steve Sherman, who Hyman quotes as saying, “He (Kerry) called us baby killers.”

Kerry said nothing of the kind. In fact, at the Senate testimony he gave after returning from Vietnam, Kerry did not make any accusations himself about the actions of fellow soldiers. Rather, he reported what he had heard other veterans say they had done during testimony at a meeting sponsored by the “Winter Soldier” organization, a group of Vietnam veterans critical of both the war itself and the way soldiers were being used and abused by those higher up in the chain of command. The actual passage of Kerry’s testimony from which these charges of his “slandering” of fellow vets come reads as follows:

“I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.

It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”

(If you’d like to see Kerry’s complete testimony rather than relying on characterizations of it, go here.)

This passage has been creatively edited, rewritten, and simply remade in order to fit the hamfisted charges of anti-Kerry activists.

Then falling back on his favorite rhetorical trick, Hyman quotes a former Vietnam POW Mike Benge who recounts his horror at seeing a female aid worker left to die by her Vietnamese captors. What does this have to do with Kerry? Hyman never explains, but by throwing in the emotionally wrenching image of a woman dying in a faraway jungle, he attempts to link Kerry to the disgust that the scene evokes. No logical connection is necessary.

It’s intriguing that Bush supporters feel an almost irresistible drive to attack Kerry’s war record. On the other hand, it’s not terribly surprising. After all, it was the Bush machine that attacked Vietnam vet and POW John McCain during the Republican primaries in 2000, suggesting (among other things) that he had been brainwashed by his captors. (In fact, the person behind the McCain smear, Ted Sampley, is a founder along with Benge, of “Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry,” the group behind this “shadow convention.”

Sampley also was behind the creation of a fake photo that supposedly showed John Kerry executing an American MIA. Given this, The Counterpoint will leave it up to the reader as to how much stock should be put in the “sources” quoted by Hyman.)

And of course Republicans are only too happy to question the patriotism of any Democrat, no matter how clear his devotion is. Max Cleland found this out when the GOP used television ads juxtaposing his face with that of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein during his unsuccessful bid for reelection to the Senate from Georgia. The fact that Senator Cleland had left two legs and an arm in Vietnam apparently didn’t cause a moment’s hesitation for his political opponents in demeaning his sacrifice for the country.

What seems nearly inexplicable about this tactic, however, is that even if one takes as unsympathetic view of John Kerry’s service record as one can given the facts, and puts this up against as sympathetic a view of George Bush’s air national guard service as one can (again, given the facts), Bush’s service record still pales in comparison to Kerry’s. But rather than making the more sensible argument that what happened 35 years ago isn’t relevant to the decisions a Commander in Chief will make today in the fight against terrorism, Bush supporters are drawn moth-like to a debate on the respective service records of the candidates, a debate they have no chance of winning.

John Kerry spoke out passionately against the war in Vietnam after having served heroically in that very war. For some (at least those who currently hold political beliefs that are at odds with Kerry’s), this by itself is something to hold against him. That is their right. But when it comes to assessing John Kerry’s war record itself, The Counterpoint modestly suggests that perhaps those who are best equipped to judge are those who served with him on his Swifboat in Vietnam, and the Green Beret whose life he saved. To what extent his war record makes him a desirable candidate for president is a matter of opinion, but the quality of his service is not.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.