- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Nineteen of the 23 officers who served with John Kerry and every one of his commanding officers in Vietnam have signed a letter that says he is not fit to be commander in chief. In a press conference yesterday, members of The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth released the letter criticizing Mr. Kerry’s slanderous statements about alleged widespread atrocities by American soldiers during the war. Being on the defense against fellow veterans could do serious damage to the Kerry campaign, especially as the country is at war again.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth could have impact because of the impressive number of veterans involved. Hundreds of Vietnam vets, from admirals to seamen, have signed the letter. According to John O’Neill, who was in Mr. Kerry’s unit during the war, “[The signers] run across the entire spectrum of politics, specialities and political feelings about the war.” This large group goes a long way toward countering the handful of veterans who have defended Mr. Kerry in commercials and on the stump.

The latest offensive comes as the Kerry campaign begins a $25 million advertising blitz touting Mr. Kerry’s “lifetime of service and strength” and his tour in Vietnam. Widespread opposition to his campaign by Vietnam veterans shows they have neither forgotten nor forgiven his disgraceful allegations against his fellow GIs. The resentment could grow into a serious political force. The VietnamVeteransAgainstJohnKerry.org Web site claims to have received more than 10 million hits in 90 days. Veterans groups across the country are organizing protests to target the candidate’s campaign stops.

Mr. Kerry’s problem with veterans comes at a time when his campaign is foundering. Prominent Democrats have complained that their prospective nominee is allowing the Bush campaign to control the agenda and successfully label Mr. Kerry as weak on defense issues. Of late, the senator has responded by getting increasingly personal in attacks on President Bush. Under these circumstances, going negative so early in a campaign can be seen as a sign of weakness. Taking incoming fire from veterans around the country should make Mr. Kerry feel even more imperiled as he attempts to become commander of America’s armed forces.

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