Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Support The Troops?

Now the Bush/Texas/Republican smear machine has turned its battle tested sights on yet another candidate's veteran credentials. Apparently the mantra of "support the troops" doesn't apply to veterans, either in terms of benefits, which the Bush administration has been cutting relentlessly (interesting issue to draw the line of fiscal discipline - especially considering the spend-happy irresponsible Bush budgetary policy), or in regard to veterans who happen to hold different party affiliations or simply different aspirations in the same party.

First to feel the wrath was John McCain in the 2000 election who was attacked by the Bush campaign's surrogate,
J. Thomas Burch Jr., chairman of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition. He actually had the gall to attack McCain's record on veteran's issues, charges which Bush never disavowed or reined in. According to Burch in 2000, "He has always opposed all the legislation, be it Agent Orange or Gulf war health care, or frankly, the POW-MIA issue -- he was the leading opponent in the Senate. He had the power to help these veterans. He came home. He forgot us." Never mind the fact that McCain's record in the Senate did not comport with the charges, the damage was done in South Carolina, a state with a very large veteran population. In addition to an attack on his veteran loyalties, McCain was also subjected to an even more depraved smear when Bush campaign surrogates began calling potential voters and spreading the rumor that McCain's adopted Bangladeshi child was actually an African American child born out of wedlock. Nice touch, even if unrelated to his veteran status.

Then of course there was Max Cleland, the Vietnam veteran who left three limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam, who experienced the "support" from GOP patriots during his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2002. The most disgusting attacks he had to endure were the accusations leveled by Ann Coulter, that his injuries were suffered in an accident while drinking beer with some friends in Vietnam. "He didn't 'give his limbs for his country,' or leave them 'on the battlefield,'" Coulter said. "There was no bravery involved in dropping a grenade on himself with no enemy troops in sight."

Then he was accused of being soft on terrorism and an implicit ally of Osama Bin Laden for opposing the Bush administration's version of the homeland security legislation, despite the fact that Cleland had penned a Democratic version of the bill himself (ironically, the Bush administration initially opposed pre-9/11 attempts to pass a homeland security bill before it flip-flopped and pushed through a version of the measure). One famous TV ad actually juxtaposed images of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein next to the triple amputee Vietnam veteran in order to drive home the point of connection, while a narrator claimed that Cleland was soft on defense.

With this kind of track record, it should come as no surprise that John Kerry now finds himself taking some friendly fire from his fellow countrymen, albeit political opponents, regarding his decorated military service. The charges are broad in scope and varied in nature, from allegations that he didn't actually volunteer for service (which he did), and that he faked injuries to receive early dismissal from active duty (which the triple purple heart winner didn't), to claims that he re-enacted battle scenes while in Vietnam to further his political career down the road (a charge that has been discredited).

The latest bit of misinformation comes in the form of a a television ad by a group calling themselves "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth." This group, with
extensive financial support from some of Bush's biggest backers and the aid of Spaeth Communications - the same media group that placed ads attacking McCain in 2000, has produced an ad questioning the merits of Kerry's Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two of his three purple hearts. The ad even goes as far as to claim that the account given by Jim Rassman, the soldier who re-told the story of how Kerry saved his life during a battle, was false. Rassman, a lifelong Republican, responds to these allegations in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal.

In addition, a
careful examination of the military's own records by a non-partisan group shows the attacks in this ad to be without basis and contradictory of earlier statements by some that appear in the ad. The analysis is detailed and meticulous, and I encourage the reader to investigate further, but I will not publish the point by point refutation in this space.

Another familiar assault on Kerry's veteran bona fides comes in the form of the critique of his now infamous testimony before the U.S. Senate concerning the conduct of the Vietnam War. As I pointed out in a
prior post, most of the flak Kerry takes centers around his claims of atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers, including himself. Although Kerry has said that some of his language was over the top and colored by the extreme emotions lingering from his then recent return from the battlefield, some of his comments have also been misrepresented.

For example, some of the most unfair jabs claim that Kerry said that "all" soldiers committed atrocities. This is not what Kerry said though. He pointed out that atrocities were being carried out by some U.S. military personnel, in some instances at the behest of commanders. To counter this point, some conservative pundits have even gone as far as to claim that this was a lie, and that there were not atrocities committed at all, or if at all they were limited to the aberration of My Lai.

This historical revisionism is easily refuted, and Kerry's claims vindicated. In truth, atrocities were a part of Vietnam, as they have been a part of every war since the dawn of time. Furthermore, in guerilla/insurgency scenarios, atrocities are even more common because of the psychological stress of confronting an irregular difficult to identify enemy that blends in with the civilian population. Simply put, soldiers in these theaters tend to view all civilians as enemies, and often act accordingly which results in countless acts of atrocities.

For an example of the type of widespread and systematic atrocities that Kerry was talking about, and the psychology behind such actions, I recommend a
review of the work of three reporters from the Toledo Blade who were awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their efforts in uncovering the war crimes committed by the Tiger Force, a special unit made up of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne's 1st battalion/327th Infantry Regiment. These atrocities were documented and investigated by the Army, although the disciplinary action and publication of the findings was lacking in follow through.

I guess this should come as a warning to any soldier currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Should you decide to return to this country and seek political office, be you a Republican or a Democrat, "support" for our troops will only extend as far as political expediency allows, and last time I checked, that doesn't get you more than a long walk off a swif boat plank.

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