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May 3, 2004
Bad-Blood Brothers

John Kerry may take more pounding on what supposedly is the strength of his presidential-candidate resum -- his service in Vietnam. CNS News reports that a band of Kerry's brothers in the service, which includes all of his former commanding officers and most of his colleagues during his in-country service in Vietnam, have formed a group which plans on declaring that Kerry is unfit for office:

Hundreds of former commanders and military colleagues of presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry are set to declare in a signed letter that he is "unfit to be commander-in-chief." They will do so at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.

"What is going to happen on Tuesday is an event that is really historical in dimension," John O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy as a PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boat commander, told . The event, which is expected to draw about 25 of the letter-signers, is being organized by a newly formed group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"We have 19 of 23 officers who served with [Kerry]. We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam. They all signed a letter that says he is unfit to be commander-in-chief," O'Neill said.

Kerry had appeared extensively throughout the early Democratic primaries with a small group of fellow vets which he called his "band of brothers," but Kerry obviously has family he's not introduced. John O'Neill, who relieved Kerry in Vietnam, leads the SBVT and is no stranger to Kerry. O'Neill once squared off against Kerry in a debate televised by Dick Cavett on his talk show in 1971. Since that time, O'Neill left the debate behind until Kerry won the nomination for President. Now a successful attorney, he has launched himself back into the politics of today -- and really, the politics of three decades past.

"We are going to be presenting a letter that deals with Kerry's unfitness to be commander and chief that has been signed by hundreds of swift boat sailors, including most of those who served with Kerry," O'Neill explained.

"The ranks of the people signing [the letter] range from admiral down to seaman, and they run across the entire spectrum of politics, specialties, and political feelings about the Vietnam War," he added.

The CNS report proceeds to name some of the signatories, such as Rear Admiral Roy Hoffman, who had been in charge of the swift boat units, and Kerry's former CO, Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard, who had already questioned Kerry's first Purple Heart.

If the group tries to take on the minutiae of Kerry's medals, they will get shot down in short order. Regardless of Kerry's fitness to serve as President, he earned those medals according to the judgment at the time, and that judgment should not be called into question now. None of these signatories should have much to say about Kerry's in-country service anyway, and it's best left as it stands now: he served his country honorably under fire. Any attempt to minimize that only reflects poorly on his critics. I say that as a civilian who believes that service of any kind, if viewed as honorable at the time, should remain honored afterwards. I certainly wouldn't want anyone disparaging my father's service (Army, Korea, 52-53) or my late father-in-law's service (Marine pilot, Pacific 44-45, Korea 51-53) in that manner.

However, this band of irate brothers stands on solid ground when basing attacks on Kerry's character on his activities after returning to the US. Kerry may well have had sincere misgivings about the war in Vietnam on his return home; many veterans did, for many different reasons. What they didn't do in most cases was to appear on camera a multitude of times and claim their "band of brothers" to be war criminals fighting a criminal war of annihilation, while their colleagues were still under fire from the enemy. Most did not accuse them of being murderers, rapists, and pillagers in rhetoric which caused an entire nation to revulse at their return instead of rejoice. And even amongst those who did so, some at least have acknowledged their egregious error in doing so. Kerry won't even admit to it, claiming that he called them war criminals only to indict the American government who sent them there.

These men have a legitimate reason to oppose Kerry and to organize against his election. Hopefully, they will retain their focus on that reason and not let themselves get distracted by silly questions about the extent of some injuries, which only open themselves to charges of irrelevance.

UPDATE: Jon Henke at QandO notes:

You know, I did a lot of things in my mid-20s that probably would not reflect well on me. I would sincerely hope that my "fitness for office" would not be judged by what I did when I was much younger. I'd imagine the image of that long-haired bachelor would not mesh well with an honorific like "The Honorable...."

While there is certainly room for argument over whether Kerry slandered all US soldiers, or just repeated tales of the sort of incidents that did occur in Vietnam - and there's also room for discussion on the merits of one or two of John Kerry's Purple Hearts, I don't think one can judge whether a candidate for President in 2004 is "unfit for office" based on mistakes he may - or may not - have made when in 1970-71.

I respectfully disagree, though, on both counts. First, any debate on the first Purple Heart was made irrelevant by the second and third PHs. Kerry was wounded twice under fire at the least, and any minimization of that is irrelevant and petty, and more to the point, political Kryptonite. In regards to Kerry's politics in 1971, they formed the basis of his entire political career, and also Kerry has repeatedly campaigned on his Vietnam experience as his main qualification for the presidency. If he does that, then his immediate post-Vietnam political experience cannot be considered a "youthful indiscretion" but a critical component of what he claims as his credentials. George Bush did not campaign on his fighter-pilot experience in the National Guard. That's the difference.

By the way. QandO has added Dale Franks to its roster and implemented a mild face-lift. Now more than ever, this is a daily must-read blog.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 3, 2004 12:43 PM

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