- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

Bob Kerrey is innocent of war crime. I know so because one soldiers testimony that Mr. Kerrey lined up old people and children and said "kill them" is outweighed by challenging testimony from five others that he did not. I know it because no trial that could convict him has been held or a hearing on whether a trial would be proper and decent, instead of simply a political posse howling after him three decades later.
And, most important to me, I know no testimony will be believed by all people, even in his own country and that any American who does believe him should say so.
That is how all Americans who have reached a personal verdict one way or the other came to our decision by what we believe about American law and life, about what we ever thought about the war in Vietnam or about Americans who left home to fight when called by democratic decision of a democratic society, or volunteered to fight, as did the boy from Nebraska. And it is about what they know about the first and only rule of hand-to-hand guerrilla warfare. Good guys die first, and take the men of their squad with them.
I was in Vietnam the first time, but only for a few weeks, before at least two Americans, I and the then president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, realized America was in the war.
The South had two enemies at its throat the communist regime in the North, and in the South itself two Vietnamese mercenary armies paid and armed by the French. France thought of the United States as the real enemy because it was replacing France as the Western influence in the South. French soldiers had a way of spitting when Americans walked into bars. Russia, then China, were the allies of the Northern government of Ho Chi Minh.
In those late 50s, almost all Americans seemed content that the U.S. take over from the French and not leave Vietnam to the Soviet bloc. Eisenhower had sent a few hundred U.S. officers to advise the South Vietnamese. He never acknowledged that those officers would turn out to be Americas entry into the war.
I supported the South as soon as I entered the country. The reason was that from my first day in Saigon that the South was full of refugees fleeing the Communist North. No Vietnamese I knew of were fleeing North to the communists.
As the years went by, I understood in America that despotism and corruption were deep, South and North. We could not win knowing the South stood for real freedom in Vietnam. But my detestation of communist or fascist regimes, which are basically killer regimes, has never weakened.
In my trips to Vietnam as reporter and then editor, I learned that first rule of guerrilla warfare. One night as I walked to my hotel from the cable office, I heard a heavy thump.
A block on I came to my hotel and saw what I had heard. I boy on a bike had passed the terrace where foreigners had twilight drinks. He tossed a grenade and a number of foreigners, including American officers, were lying, blown apart. The boy had ridden on.
The accusations against Mr. Kerrey by one man in his detachment fighting the guerrilla war against guerrilla warriors is that he ordered execution of old people and children who had been driven out of a hut. One of his men has said so, in the New York Times magazine and on CBS. Mr. Kerrey says he ordered fire because he received fire which is not a crime but a duty. He says he did not see the bodies until afterward.
A defense lawyer would be horrified by the statements of respect he says he still has toward his accuser. To me, his candor, his hesitation and refusal to condemn anybody including his accuser, are how real people might testify, not actors.
He is a brave and intelligent man. I believe and respect him and the five men of his squad whose testimony supports his, as clearly as men can talk and remember three decades after they had to shoot into a hut, for fear that otherwise bullets and the knives would enter their own bodies or, a few days later, the bodies of other American soldiers.

A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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