Nicholas Kristof purports to take an objective look at the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims in an op-ed for today’s New York Times, but instead mostly just mouths the Kerry campaign’s obfuscations instead. Kristof starts by taking aim at the easiest target for Kerry’s counterclaims — his supposed volunteerism for hazardous duty, a claim contradicted by Kerry’s own words in a 1996 interview:
Did Mr. Kerry volunteer for dangerous duty? Not as much as his campaign would like you to believe. The Kerry Web site declares, “As he was graduating from Yale, John Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam – because, as he later said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’ ”
In fact, as Mr. Kerry was about to graduate from Yale, he was inquiring about getting an educational deferment to study in Europe. When that got nowhere, he volunteered for the Navy, which was much less likely to involve danger in Vietnam than other services. After a year on a ship in the ocean, Mr. Kerry volunteered for Swift boats, but at that time they were used only in Vietnam’s coastal waters. A short time later, the Swift boats were assigned exceptionally dangerous duties up Vietnamese rivers.
Kristof also admits that Kerry is a serial exaggerator and also partially concedes the fiction of Kerry’s Cambodian Christmas, but with a Kristofian spin:
Others who served with him confirm that on Christmas Eve 1968 (not Christmas Day) he got very close to the border, and possibly even strayed across it. But it doesn’t seem to have been, as Mr. Kerry has suggested, a deliberate incursion into Cambodia.
No one who served on Kerry’s boat asserts that he ever got close to Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968. Three of the men reported that the closest they got to Cambodia was Sa Dec, which is 55 miles from the Cambodian border. Even Kerry’s own contemporaneous journals confirm that.
Beyond this, Kristof takes his arguments from Kerry HQ. For instance, there is this passage:
Some who served on other boats have called Mr. Kerry a hypochondriac self-promoter. But every enlisted man who was with Mr. Kerry on various boats when he won Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars says he deserved them. All praise his courage and back his candidacy.
That’s just a lie. Stephen Gardner, the enlisted man who served with him the longest on the Swiftboats, contradicts most of what Kerry has to say about his command on PCF-44 and is one of the Swiftvets opposing his candidacy. If Kristof did any kind of investigation into these issues, it would be impossible to miss Gardner; he’s appeared on numerous radio and television shows, and is heavily quoted by Swiftvets in support of their claims. Either Kristof is completely incompetent or is fronting for the Kerry campaign.
Did Mr. Kerry deserve his Bronze Star? Yes. The Swift Boat Veterans claim that he was not facing enemy fire when he rescued a Green Beret, Jim Rassmann, but that is contradicted by those were there, like William Rood and Mr. Rassmann (a Republican). In fact, Mr. Rassmann recommended Mr. Kerry for a Silver Star.
There were a lot more people “who were there” than Rood and Rassman; this incident involved seveal boats operating in close proximity on a small river. Rassman was under water for most of the action, such as it was. The only one not aboard PCF-94 who asserts that there was enemy fire after the mine explosion threw Rassman overboard. Everyone else involved has testified that the only fire came from the PCFs, initiating suppression fire at both banks in case the explosion was an ambush instead of a mine. The other PCF OinCs also say that Kerry’s PCF bugged out, only coming back for Rassman once it was clear that no engaging fire was forthcoming.
I note that Kristof has not addressed any of the Swiftvets’ claims about Kerry’s post-Vietnam activities, either. I guess that Kristof can only provide a finite amount of spin after all.
UPDATE: I mixed up Rood’s engagements. Rood wasn’t there for the Bronze Star engagement. That leaves … er … no one but the guys on PCF-94, who understandably might be inclined to support Kerry’s version of events. Hat tips to several readers who corrected me on this point.
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Fisking Nicholas Kristof’s NYT op-ed “A War Hero or a Phony?”
In Saturday’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof offers an interesting op-ed entitled “A War Hero or a Phony?” Since only one presidential candidate has claimed to be a war hero, you’d be correct in inferring that it’s about Sen. Kerry. If y…
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