Thursday, September 16, 2004

Guilt by Association

For the third straight day this week, "The Point" devoted itself to attacking the character of John Kerry. This has become standard operating procedure at Sinclair, given a lack of anything positive to say about the Bush administration.

This is also the third straight “Point” in which Mark Hyman has put on the mask of an “investigative journalist,” claiming to find hidden evidence that proves some sort of dastardly conduct on the part of Kerry. As we’ve noted often before, this is also part of Sinclair’s ongoing efforts to blur the lines between opinion and news. Mark Hyman attempts to assume the ethos of a newsman, but hides behind the cover of “commentator” when called on his partisanship.

This time around, Hyman goes after Kerry for his participation in the “Winter Soldier” investigation, which ultimately led to Kerry’s testimony before Congress. The tactic employed is guilt by association, tarring Kerry with the words and deeds of others. For example, Hyman claims that participants in the Winter Soldier investigation claimed that the U.S. committed atrocities on POWs, but that the North Vietnamese did not. It’s possible that someone, somewhere said something along these lines, but Kerry certainly did not, nor did anyone with any sense. The Winter Soldier investigation wasn’t about challenging evidence of Communist war crimes; it was about the circumstances that led some Americans to engage in similar behavior.

We also have a nod to Jane Fonda, who helped organize the Winter Soldier investigation (along with many others). Hyman trots out the photos of Fonda sitting on North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns as well as a photo showing Fonda and Kerry both in a large crowd at a rally. Hyman uses this as evidence that Kerry was somehow in cahoots with Fonda and that Kerry’s denials of meeting with Fonda personally are lies. For Hyman, having a photograph of two people at the same gathering makes one responsible for the misdeeds of the other. We’re just wondering, Mark: if that’s the case, what about this picture?

Despite Hyman’s protestations, the Winter Soldier investigation was not “anti-American.” In fact, the organizers specifically wanted the investigation to not pass judgment on America in general. The goal was to look at the circumstances that had led American servicemen to become so desensitized to indiscriminate violence that decent individuals were capable of committing monstrous acts. It was an indictment of the faulty war planning of the administration and the military establishment, not America.

If you want a firsthand account of the motivations and purposes of the Winter Soldier investigation, read
this overview by William Crandall at the University of Virginia’s online resource center on the Vietnam War. From this page, you can also find any number of other documents, both primary and secondary sources, related to Winter Soldier. The truth is out there; we don’t have to rely on Hyman’s self-serving distortions.

As for the validity of the charges of Winter Soldier, that atrocities were committed by Americans, there is, unfortunately, no doubt that such events occurred. The only debate is on how widespread they were. The non-partisan has
an analysis of the claims that Kerry “betrayed” America in his anti-war testimony that provides several sources that back up claims of U.S. atrocities, in addition to a helpful overview of Kerry’s testimony and his attitudes about it today.

The entire purpose of Winter Soldier in general and Kerry’s testimony specifically was not to condemn U.S. troops in the field, but warn of the costs of fighting a war in which the enemy is indistinguishable from innocent civilians. To fight such a war, soldiers are conditioned to accept a level of brutality and indifference to suffering that would be unthinkable in any other context. It creates conditions in which horrific events can happen. Given the images from Abu Ghraib, perhaps the Winter Soldier investigation still has something to say to us.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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