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The Source of Swift Boat Anger

August 23, 2004

Editorial published in Buzzflash
In verifying the accuracy of the ads of the now notorious “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” the media has quite rightly focused on the details of their accounts: how their attacks on John Kerry contradict their own prior statements, official Navy records, and the accounts of Kerry’s crew.
But lost in the media hoopla is the motivation of these men.
[To read rest of Mark’s op-ed, go to Buzzflash or click below]

For those who funded and produced the ad, the motivation is simple: they are close associates of George W. Bush and his political guru Karl Rove, and they want to see Bush win the election. Having financed and directed the John McCain smears, these Bush money-men certainly won’t pass up the chance to vilify John Kerry.
For those who star in the ads — the actual swift boat veterans who began this process and wrote the anti-Kerry book “Unfit for Command”– the evidence points to a darker motivation: revenge on John Kerry for revealing in 1971 their indiscriminate killing of Vietnamese civilians.
Thirty-three years ago, Kerry told the world about the American policy of establishing “free-fire zones,” where a solider was ordered to shoot anything that moved, combatant and non-combatant alike. Kerry discovered upon his return to the United States that such zones and other inhumane tactics routinely practiced in Vietnam violated the Geneva Conventions regulating the laws of war.
While free-fire zones are not “war crimes” in the classic sense of Nazi death camps, they do raise an important question as to America’s understanding of its moral character. Are there limits to conduct in war? If so, should violations of these limits be reported or covered up? The fury directed at Kerry, both in 1971 and today, is largely fueled by the knowledge of many of these vets that they – like the Abu Gharib prison guards – were ordered to act outside international norms of humanity.
As these soldiers were “just following orders,” John Kerry’s intention was not to publicly lambaste them. In fact, Kerry even labeled himself a “war criminal,” to show solidarity with his fellow vets rather than point the finger at them, so as to focus his criticism on then-President Richard Nixon and the other policymakers who issued the questionable orders.
This distinction was unfortunately lost on the otherwise intelligent and articulate John O’Neil, the current co-author of “Unfit for Command,” who was hired by Nixon in 1971 to take on John Kerry. (The other co-author, Jerome Corsi, notorious for calling Kerry a Communist and for slurring Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and gays, has been wisely kept hidden from the talk show circuit by the anti-Kerry crew.) Debating Kerry in 1971, O’Neil conceded that he, like Kerry, participated in “free-fire zones,” but he insisted the problem was not the policy itself; it was the person who revealed it publicly: John Kerry.
But Kerry was not after O’Neil. Kerry was out to change the policy. In Vietnam, Kerry and his crewmen complained to superiors so much that Kerry’s supportive commanding officer was transferred from the unit. Returning home, Kerry went before the Senate and publicly read veterans’ accounts of even more serious atrocities. (The second Swift Boat ad quotes Kerry’s descriptions of these atrocities — “raping, cutting off ears … heads” – without disclosing that Kerry was, in fact, reading from other veterans’ statements, not his own.)
Thirty-three years later, it is Kerry’s exposure of systematic inhumanity in Vietnam that continues to fuel the anger of these vets, not the faux-controversy as to how Kerry earned his medals during the war. From 1971 to 2003, none of these veterans — not even John O’Neil — challenged the Navy’s well-documented account of Kerry’s heroism and courage.
All but one of Kerry’s many shipmates have fiercely defended his “grace under fire,” swapping stories of how he risked his life to rescue Jim Rassmann, how he bravely faced down and killed a Viet Cong sniper, how he once saved forty-two Vietnamese civilians from starvation, etc. The exception, Steven Gardner, proves the rule with his reported “hair-trigger penchant for firing M-60s into the mangrove thicket” and Kerry’s purported threats to court-martial him if he did not curb his aggression. Even former admiral Roy Hoffman, a man described as “bloodthirsty” by fellow veterans, praised Kerry’s service as a “shining example” until he found out Kerry had disclosed to author Douglas Brinkley Hoffman’s fulsome praise of a soldier who killed thirty unarmed Vietnamese fisherman in a free-fire zone. Soon after, Hoffman founded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Projection is powerful psychiatry. A man fearing damage to his own reputation will often lash out at his accuser rather than examine the truth of the accusation. And for those aggressive veterans who continued to support the war in 1971, the needless loss of Vietnamese life was not the only charge that could be laid at their feet. John Kerry’s famous rhetorical question: “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” referred to American lives.
When Kerry asked this question in 1971, fifty-five thousand Americans were already dead, Nixon was withdrawing troops, and even John O’Neil had to concede the war was lost. But Nixon, O’Neil, and others continued to argue for “Vietnamization,” a continuation of the war so as to have “peace with honor.” Unfortunately, this strategy led only to three thousand more Americans dead, ten thousand more wounded, and still did not save South Vietnam.
That three thousand more names are inscribed on the Vietnam Wall for no other purpose but to preserve America’s “honor” must weigh heavily on O’Neil, Hoffman, Gardner, and the other “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” who so fervently believed in continuing the lost cause 33 years ago that they have turned their ire on Kerry today.
Mark Levine is a former Congressional legislative counsel and currently host of “The Inside Scoop,” heard on WAGE AM-1200 and

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  • G.I. Joe August 28, 2004 9:26 am

    A Lizard By Any Other Name
    There are many people who don’t believe in the Phouc Yu lizard. Some don’t want to believe. Certainly the shrill cry of this oversized Asian chameleon is nature screaming a faux pas.
    Then there are some people who know the Phouc Yu lizard does exist. Day and night this little lizard banters a cheerful exchange, “Fok you…fok you…fok you…fok you,” is all the lizard can say as it balances on a leafy branch. “Fok you…fok you,” for all to hear. It has said nothing else all its life.
    The Phouc Yu lizard is as quick as it is vociferous and changes color to match its surroundings as it scurries from place to place within its jungle home under triple canopy.
    The little lizard looks like quite an inoffensive reptile, incapable of such foul speech; and yet the damnable thing continues, “fok you…fok you.”
    Sometimes many Phouc Yu lizards get together and create a resounding chorus. Oh, you know what it is…just go up a decibel or two.
    Those who have heard such choruses and can testify to the Phouc Yu lizard’s unique talents are comrades in a tainted right of passage that was, years ago, a struggle for survival.
    For these comrades-in-arms, the baleful cry of the Phouc Yu lizard was a matter-of-fact background noise of the environment in which they were imprisoned. It was a music bed for the plight they had to fight through.
    The lizard’s cry seemed to capture the sentiment of the environment, which was as malevolent to the young soldiers as the human enemy they fought.
    “Fok you…fok you.” Nature screamed in the soldiers’ ears as prickly, thorny branches and vines tried to grasp them; as frenzy-feeding, voracious swarms of mosquitoes pestered them incessantly; as large, black and red ants crawled on them and stung like bees.
    “Fok you…fok you,” the lizards cried, as black leeches, with amorphous, slimy bodies, grew fat as they clung to the soldiers and silently sucked the soldiers’ blood.
    Jungle rot broke out on the soldier’s skin. Day in, day out, “fok you… fok you,”the lizards cried.
    The soldiers’ cause for comradeship was the Domino Theory; but the soldiers were the dominoes that were falling. It was just kill or be killed. If the jungle didn’t kill the soldiers; the enemy would.
    “Fok you…fok you.” The lizards saw it all. They saw the pathetic pageantry of an ill-fated war.
    The soldiers sweated and died. There were so many ways to die, and those soldiers that survived were scarred, if not from physical wounds, from permanent, mental ones.
    The cry of the lizards is still with these survivors today.
    Once after a bloody firefight, a young soldier spotted a Phouc Yu lizard that was a victim of the turmoil. It was a crystalline figurine in solidified napalm, a perfect specimen, captured in time. It was now mute testimony to its own existence.
    It would no longer scream, “fok you…fok you,” and many people would say it never did.
    The young soldier, who picked the lizard off the branch and put it in his pack, knew the truth. He knew what the lizard had once screamed.
    It was something so simple then and yet is so seemingly, unbelievable now. Perhaps it is something that can’t be believed unless you hear it.
    There are some people who don’t believe in the Phouc Yu lizard.
    Then, there are some people who have heard its baleful cry and know it exists.

  • General Disorder August 26, 2004 10:05 am

    Please, Francis, don’t blame this smear campaign on Cann-sai–we are dealing with wily adversaries who, I fear, will stoop to most anything to stay in power–stay tuned for their next salvo–on the way…wait–they aren’t through. I’ll be watching the Republican Convention from close off shore with high-powered field glasses

  • Francis Jackowski August 26, 2004 1:10 am

    The lawyer advising the Swift Boats for Truth
    and the Bush/Cheyney 2004 Mr. Ginsberg has resigned from the Bush Cheyney Campaign effective
    immediately. That two people knocked out in this controversy and proves the strong connection the
    Bush/ Cheyney people have to those fringe groups in direct violation of the law.
    The individual who started all of this told
    then President Nixon(Nixoon the same old gas)
    that he served in Cambodia contradicting
    what he said that he was not in Cambodia.
    Somebody better stop eating that Texas Loco Weed
    and drinking Texas Tea brewed from that loco weed.
    I think those Republicans down in Texas and the whole Republican Party remind me of the National
    Socialist Party of the 1930’s in Germany.
    To act like a Nazi is not being a Republican
    and Abe Lincoln must be crying to see what his
    party has become a twisted low life mess.