- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

Before visiting the American Legion conference in Nashville on Wednesday, John Kerry received a letter from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In it they urged Mr. Kerry to “Apologize for your conduct once you returned from Vietnam. Your exaggerated testimony before the US Senate; the blanket indictment of your fellow veterans … dishonored America and the armed forces. Your rhetoric and actions were not only wrong, they aided the enemy and brought great pain to POW’s, veterans and their families.” The letter also offered: “If you undertake these steps we will be satisfied that the American public has been sufficiently apprised as to these aspects of your career, and we will discontinue the media advertisements you have sought so fervently to silence.”

Mr. Kerry did no such thing on Wednesday. In fact, he ignored the swift boat controversy all together. This week, the swift boat vets released another TV ad, attacking Mr. Kerry for statements he made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971. The Kerry campaign responded to the ad by arguing that Mr. Kerry’s words are parsed and leave out an important line that they say distances Mr. Kerry from accusing U.S. troops of atrocities. While it is true that the ad does not include the line — “[Vietnam veterans] told stories” — does the line itself excuse Mr. Kerry’s comments?

Hardly. Throughout his association with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Mr. Kerry participated in, sponsored and spoke at numerous antiwar rallies that accused Vietnam veterans of exactly the same things that Mr. Kerry told to the committee.

Consider, for example, a four-day VVAW rally held in September 1970 called Operation Rapid American Withdrawal. Mr. Kerry was a co-sponsor as well as a speaker at the event. His official biographer, Douglas Brinkley, describes Operation RAW in his book, “Tour of Duty,” in this way: “The idea behind Operation RAW was for Vietnam vets to march eighty-six miles between Revolutionary War sites — Morristown, New Jersey, and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania — engaging in guerrilla theater along the way.”

On the surface, this is correct, but Mr. Brinkley conveniently leaves out an important detail. While the vets staged mock “invasions” in certain towns along their route, they left behind leaflets that read: “A U.S. Infantry Company just Came Through Here! If you had been a Vietnamese — We might have burned your house; We might have shot your dog; We might have shot you…; We might have raped your wife and daughter; We might have turned you over to your government for torture; We might have taken souvenirs from your property; We might have shot things up a bit…; We might have done ALL these things to you and your whole TOWN! If it doesn’t bother you that American soldiers do these things every day to the Vietnamese simply because they are ‘Gooks,’ then picture yourself as one of the silent VICTIMS. Help us to end the war before they turn your son into a butcher or a corpse.”

Veterans are very keen on Mr. Kerry’s VVAW days, much more so than the general public. And doubtless many were already well aware of Mr. Kerry’s past before he, then the swift boat vets, brought it up. It makes sense then that Mr. Kerry received a lukewarm reception in Nashville. Some veterans even walked out.

Yet if veterans are sensitive to Mr. Kerry’s radical days, then they are equally sensitive to his future commander in chief days. In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry once again altered his position on Iraq — though some would say refined. Last month, Mr. Kerry said he would still have voted to go to war even knowing what we know now about Iraq’s weapons systems. When commentators, and the president himself, rightfully wondered how this new stance differed from the administration, Mr. Kerry retreated. “When it comes to Iraq, it’s not that I would have done one thing differently, I would have done almost everything differently,” Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday. Most of those differences amounted to a list of Bush administration failures. Fair enough, but what about policy and strategic differences? “We need to bring our allies to our side, share the burdens, reduce the cost to American taxpayers … That’s what I’ll do as commander in chief,” he said. How? If France and Germany refuse your overtures, Mr. Kerry, what is left of your Iraq policy?

And throughout Mr. Kerry has the gall to say that on Iraq he has been “clear.” Clearly, Mr. Kerry on any given day can pull off a powerful declaration of where he stands on Iraq. Clearly, Mr. Kerry’s forever-changing Iraq policy has divided Democratic voters, as a recent Rasmussen poll found. It’s just as clear that 61 days before the election, Mr. Kerry still will not dare to be decisive.

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