Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I stayed up late last night and read from cover to cover the book “Unfit for Command — Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” An impartial reader (if there is still such a beast in this election season) would have to conclude that either the book is a pack of lies or John Kerry is in fact a reckless, lying man who misrepresented the facts in order to receive medals he didn’t deserve, and is indeed unfit to command even a tug boat, let alone the United States military as president.

The book appears to be meticulously researched and reported. It is replete with copious footnotes, a detailed index and two appendices. First-hand witnesses are named and quoted verbatim to support each specific, shocking charge. Each charge of false heroics is logically presented. Theauthors quote the official Navy citation and then present the purported eyewitnesstestimony that refutes the official finding. The witnesses who are summoned forth are officers and men who served simultaneously with Mr. Kerry in Coastal Division 11 and purport to be eyewitnesses to the events in question.

And yet, there is another group of men, the sailors who served directly under John Kerry on the same boat with him — his band of brothers. They have traveled around the country with Mr. Kerry and have vouched for his description of his heroic, able and selfless service to our country.

One of these groups of men are lying through their teeth. This is not a case of failed memories. In a few instances, it could be a case of honest differences of perception of events. But considering all the testimony and evidence, John Kerry is either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. As of this moment there is about a 50-50 chance that we will elect, in the person of John Kerry, either a very fine man or a truly despicable man president of the United States.

Either group of men, if we knew nothing else, would seem to be credible, reliable witnesses. Both groups of men served honorably in Vietnam, gained many medals and have apparently lived respectable lives since then. Few if any of them have been politically active in the last 30 years.

The men making the charges are almost all of his fellow officers and the higher chain of command in Kerry’s coastal Division 11. The book points out that on John Kerry’s Web site he has a photo of himself and 19 fellow swift boat officers, taken while they were simultaneously serving in that unit. Of those 19 fellow officers, 11 have asked him to stop using their image with him. Of the remaining eight, two are deceased, four don’t wish to be involved and one is not a supporter of Kerry but didn’t have the opportunity to sign the letter calling for the photo to be taken off the Web site. Only one of the 19, Skip Barker, supports Mr. Kerry.

There has been some confusion about whether the witnesses against Kerry had an adequate view of his conduct, compared with the view of his supporters who were on his boat. The book explains that the swift boats usually moved in a pack of three or four on the same mission. They operated within yards of each other. Moreover, they all docked, bunked, ate and lived in the same camp.

If one compared their relations to an army company of men, the fellow junior officers who captained the tiny swift boats were the functional equivalent of squad leaders, each with their own handful of men under them. Squad leaders, operating on the same mission together, are in excellent positions to assess the performance of their fellow squad leaders. They are covering each other’s flanks. The book is filled with testimony of these men, describing what they claim they clearly saw John Kerry doing and not doing.

Of course, almost every presidential campaign has an outcropping of scandal charges. Usually it is by one or two people — a woman who claimed she met the candidate in a bar, some political opponent from a long forgotten campaign reprieving his shopworn, uncorroborated calumny. If a book is involved in such charges, the opposing party usually finds a hack ghost-writer.

But this scandal charge is by more than 200 respectable former naval officers and men. The primary author, John O’Neill, first started publicly challenging Mr. Kerry more than 30 years ago on the Dick Cavett Show. The co-author, Jerome Corsi, is not a political hack, but a college friend of Mr. O’Neill, with a Ph.D. from Harvard and a distinguished writing career.

The book has the ring of sincerity to it, and the mark of careful research and writing. If they are not telling the truth, all these men have exposed themselves to financially ruinous libel actions by Mr. Kerry — who has the private resources to prosecute such actions. Even as a public figure, he might well win such an action, if this book is the pack of lies the Kerry camp says it is.

If it is not a pack of lies, the nation needs to know that, too. I would encourage some of the major voices of the non-conservative mainline media — Tim Russert, Dan Rather, Leonard Downie Jr. of The Washington Post — to do as I did. Spend an evening reading the book. If they are not struck by the damning picture it paints of John Kerry and the credibility of the presentation, forget about it. But if they judge it as I did, then let their consciences be their guide.

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