That was the question posed in a recent review of Democratic front runner John Kerry’s record on Vietnam. Writing for the National Review, Naval War College Professor Mac Owens reminds us that Kerry was a poster boy for the anti-war movement in the early 1970s. In particular, Owens and others credit Kerry with promoting the image of America’s experience in Vietnam as “one big atrocity.”
Kerry now says he is proud of his service in Vietnam and that the country should “celebrate the nobility of young Americans” who were willing to die for their country. But as Owens notes, Kerry told a very different story in his now famous appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971. Kerry was one of the stars of a march by disaffected veterans on Washington; it was during this march that Kerry threw somebody’s medals and ribbons over a Capitol Hill fence.
Kerry horrified members of the Committee with tales of atrocities committed by GI’s in Vietnam. Rape, murder, torture, baby killings, burnt and destroyed villages ? all the particulars of the anti-war movement’s bill of indictment of American servicemen in that war. Kerry told them that these crimes were not isolated occurrences, but were committed almost daily. Kerry’s testimony was so powerful that he continues to be cited as an authority on American atrocities in Vietnam. As AIM has reported, in December 2003, an article in the New York Times cited Kerry’s 1971 appearance as proof of the Times’ assertion that such atrocities were commonplace.
Except, as Owens points out, much of that testimony was based on lies told by men who either had never served in Vietnam or had no involvement in the tales they told. As recounted in B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley’s Stolen Valor, much of the so called “eyewitness” testimony cited by Kerry was thoroughly debunked by none other than the Times’ own Vietnam correspondent Neil Sheehan. To Sheehan, all this represented a “new McCarthyism ? this time from the left. Any accusation, any innuendo, any rumor is repeated and published as truth.”
Owens also reminds us of Stolen Valor’s account of just how Kerry came to be an anti-war poster boy. Burkett and Whitley cite friends and acquaintances of Kerry recalling that he hadn’t come back from the war a “radical antiwar activist.” Their account suggests that Kerry opted to ride the wave of anti-war feeling, prevalent in the country at that time, into public office.
And then there is the controversy surrounding Kerry’s performance as the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs in the early 1990s. In April 2000, Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Sydney Schanberg accused Kerry of helping suppress information about “unaccounted-for prisoners” from the war during his tenure on the committee. He also helped block the Vietnam Human Rights Act from coming to a vote. Former POW Michael Benge charges that Kerry “has fought harder for Hanoi as an anti-war activist and a Senator than he did against the Vietnamese communists” during his Vietnam service. Professor Owens thinks reporters should be asking Kerry about all this. So do we.