Memorizing Politics of Ancient History

|

Here's an explanation for Kerry's Cambodia claims that might make sense. Or might not. Don't look at me, I'm not a military historian.

NEXT: Kerry vs. the Vets

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. He got confused about his thirty-year-old memories? He forgot which mission he was on that the Vietnamese were shooting into the air? Maybe it was the Christmas mission, maybe it was the missions during the Tet Offensive…if he can’t get all those dangerous missions straight in his head he’s no good to us as president.

    Meanwhile, Fearless Leader can’t remember if he showed up for his whiz quiz at the air conditioned barracks in Alabama. Did he accomplish that mission or not?

    No matter how this plays out, Kerry has the upper hand, for the excellent reason that no one denies that he was there, in a combat role, and that his outrage when he returned was real. He earned the right to it, and it is contemptible the way the chickenhawks are trying to muddy the record. But they have a long history of this. It’s really astonishing how little shame they actually have.

  2. James, a number of points:
    “and it is contemptible the way the chickenhawks are trying to muddy the record. But they have a long history of this. It’s really astonishing how little shame they actually have.” Really, so the Swift Boat Vets for Truth are CHICKENHAWKS? So only serving ON Kerry’s Swift Boat allows one to count oneself as a veteran? Or is the category of “veteran” broad enough to include ANYONE who supports Kerry, of course it could not include any who question him.
    Next, the “Chickenhawk” argument is very old and tired… I shall repeat the trashing of it. Are you saying that only VETERANS may comment on things military? So, only tax payers may comment on tax policy? Only home owners on issues relating to housing? Are you saying that only women may comment on women’s issues? No, I thought not… so fundamentally this argument is flawed. Next, only about ~6% of the US populace have served since 1972. And you know what I bet 55-70% of them support the Iraqi operation and a majority of vet’s OPPOSE KERRY. So within your argument, you’d find yourself silenced and/or outvoted.
    Or is what you’re really saying is, “You can’t SUPPORT the war unless you’ve served, but I can express MY opinion even if I didn’t serve.” Sorry that dog doesn’t hunt here. So, give me your real name, your DoB, your branch of service, and service dates, and I’ll check your military records, and then within your own argument you can comment… Otherwise STFU, because the odds are 16:1 you never served! OR you can comment, but then so can anyone else, because my service or your service or mutual lack of service does NOT disqualify either of us or endow our opinions with any more veracity or insight.
    Then there’s “Meanwhile, Fearless Leader can’t remember if he showed up for his whiz quiz at the air conditioned barracks in Alabama. ” Well you know what? My President never said that the humiliation of showing up for a pee test was SEARED into his memory, never entered that into the Congressional Record, never advanced his “SEARED” memories as a reason to oppose Presidential actions, but John Kerry DID. You know what that makes it relevant to the campaign, ‘cuz Johhnie-boy made it relevant, and now we see that John F. Kerry lies… My candidate doesn’t tout his National Guard Service or claim that his actions from 1968-1972 make him fit to be Commander-in-Chief, but Kerry and his supporters make HIS experience a centre piece of his campaign. Like you, he wants it both ways, “I’m a hero vote for me” but when questioned, “Oh that’s the past and any way my opponent was only in the National Guard.” Which is it? Is his service important and then therefore subject to review and question or is it irrelevant?
    Lastly, I note you imply and someone said that Bush may have been AWOL, for a drug test. REALLY, and your proof is? That’s what I like about this debate, you can ACCUSE the President of many things, but when the shoe is on the other foot, a whole new standard of evidence is required. Sorry guys, Sauce Meet Goose, Goose Meet Sauce… The people who set the terms of this debate were Michael Moore and his ilk, I don’t think there’s much room to complain when things come around and bite Kerry on the arse.

  3. It is amazing anyone would believe Kerry’s story on Cambodia. It went from “seared” into his memory to changing every time we turn arund. It went from yes to no to maybe to three times just not at Christmas. When my 15 yr old son starts spinning tall a story that changes several times I bust him for lying. So you can pretty much guess what I think of Kerry’s story.

  4. There’s going to be more about Kerry’s war recollections.
    He was confusing Christmas and Tet? Hell it’s seared in my memory where I was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail the day Nixon was inaugurated in 1969.
    Now there was a holiday to remember!

  5. I find it extremely hard to believe a devout Catholic could not differentiate Christmas from Tet.
    I’m an atheist and I can do it with one lobe of my brain tied behind my head.

  6. I don’t know about her conclusion but she’s the first I’ve seen to note the obvious point of the ARVN being mostly Buddhist. They may have segregated their units by religion/ethnicity, or there may have been more Christians in the south, but that’s speculation.

    I believe the Ist Cav stayed in the Central Highlands which was a different theater.

  7. Well, sure, many’s the time I’ve had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head right around Groundhog Day.

    The explanation seems to hinge on the fact that the Vietnamese were firing guns into the air during Tet, but firing guns is not a terribly unusual form of celebration. Heck, they do it in LA for most major holidays. Seems more plausible to me that Kerry put himself in Cambodia during Christmas to give his story more resonance. I mean, the man’s a politician. The most reasonable starting assumption is that he’s lying.

  8. Ruthless has it right….I give that author credit for a clever, Carvillian defense of Kerry, but he conveniently leaves out the “seared in my memory” quote, which crystallizes the lie and puts Kerry on the hook for every aspect of his statement, including details like the date.

    Kerry obviously lied for dramatic impact about Christmas Eve 68 because it accentuates the emotional impact of the “ordered here to die anonymously” blather. Invoking Christmas tugs the heartstrings, i.e., “that poor kid sent by evil Nixon away from his family.” He’s a politician…lies like that are stock-in-trade.

    The whole point is if were Bush, Rather/Jennings/Brokaw would be pulling Bobby Sands-like hunger strike duty on the white house lawn, demanding “the truth.” The NYT would be calling for resignation/impeachment every day until the election.

    Kerry’s campaign just says: On or near the border in Xmas 1968. Ho-hum, presidential candidate (in print!!!) is directly contradicted by his own campaign. No big deal.

  9. I’ve travelled through SE Asia for extended periods, and it is very easy to lose track of things like “Christmas” when you’re in a tropical environment for months on end, especially if you’re from the NE US and are used to the visual clues like snow, decorations, ubiquitous muzak, etc.

  10. Ok, that might make sense, though the dates don’t seem to quite add up. When was he supposedly actually in Cambodia? It mentions he supposedly was in there during “late January and early February 1969”, but I generally wouldn’t classify February 17th (Tet) early February…
    However, I really would prefer to hear an explanation from Kerry himself, along with an explanation as to why he changed the dates around. Is he so agnostic that he doesn’t know the difference between Christmas and Tet? Did he think it made the story juicier? Did he lie just for the fun of it? Or are we on the verge of electing president a man who is completely schizo?

  11. Well, vanya, great!! Then based on your subjective experience about “losing track of things” while travelling in SE Asia, then let’s wave our magic wands and dismiss that Kerry’s firsthand account of Cambodia Xmas ’68 was “seared–seared–into my memory.”

  12. Yawn. If you think this slimy crap is important or relevant, you’ve got crimson flames tied through your ears.

  13. vanya,
    I was in Vietnam on Christmas of 1968, and the very differentness of it is what seared my precise location into my atheist memory.

  14. Shouldn’t the Kerry campaign explain this for us? Why do we have to entertain theories raised by people totally unconnected to the events?

  15. vanya, from personal experience when you are in the military you know when it’s Christmas.
    I just read that Chad Clanton of the kerry campaign has call on the Swifties publisher to stop printing the book. Worst mistake on this matter to date. If true it will sink kerry (pun intended). /R

  16. “vanya, from personal experience when you are in the military you know when it’s Christmas.”

    I second that, and it’s especially true when you’re outside the U.S. In my experience it was just a big bummer & all you had to look forward to was that maybe there’d be a decent supper at the end of the day.

  17. Tom Berman,

    Actually, this may accrue to Kerry’s benefit by alleviating investigation re: his stellar senate record, e.g., his close relationship with that 80’s new wave band “Danny O. and the Sandinistas,” unilateral nuclear freeze, etc. etc.

    However, It may keep coming up, there’s no telling how many times he invoked Vietnam (in the 80s) to accentuate his gravitas as a self-styled oracle on the evils of the Reagan defense buildup.

  18. In Kerry’s defense, In much of Asia and especially places with lots western influence like Vietnam, non-Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday much like Halloween is celebrated in the Christian West. Asian’s also like to celebrate with fireworks and if they don’t have any on hand military ordinance will do. I find it very creditable that on or around Christmas 1968 Kerry nearly got fragged by Vietnamese celebrating Christmas.

    I don’t find it creditable that the incident occurred near or across the Cambodian border. Vietnamese illegally across the Cambodian border would not have called attention to themselves unnecessarily. Even the region near the border was “bandit country” so even during a nominal truce, I find it unlikely that soldiers there would be so lax.

    I think the incident happened further East near the sea coast where witnesses and the historical record place Kerry at the time. Kerry shifted the location to add ironic pathos to his story.

    “I was nearly killed by half-wit ‘allies’ while on an illegal covert mission!” make for a better story.

  19. Thanks for the Dylan reference, Jesse!

  20. Shannon, it makes no difference if you are in CONUS or at Camp Stevens on the Korean DMZ or in the Mekong Delta the military ensures you know it’s Christman and also April 15th. /R

  21. Once we’ve reached a consensus on Kerry’s Vietnam exploits, and Bush’s Alabama National Guard exploits, we should probably turn to other pressing issues of the late 60’s/early 70’s. What do you guys think of this plan going through Congress to create an environmental protection agency? And, in keeping with concerns over sex and violence in the media, what do you guys think about Led Zeppelin?

    Oh, and Watergate? Can we debate that one.

    I think we should save the invasion of Iraq and the Medicare prescription drug bill for the 2036 election 😉

  22. thoreau: 2036 is abt right. by then we should have figured out how this trickle-down economics thing works and how to defeat the communist menace.

  23. I agree with Shannon (which surprises me) except for “Vietnamese illegally across the Cambodian border would not have called attention to themselves unnecessarily.” One of the things about being an “urban pioneer” here in Chicago, and living in a neighbor hood in which the only occupation that paid more than 15,000 a year (except for us pioneer’s who worked downtown or in the burbs) was drug dealer. There was an actual topic of conversation I overheard at a Golden Nugget (late night scary dinner, a lot of fun here in chi when you are done dancing at 4:00 am) in which two dealers were complaining about just this kind of behavior from a partner. He kept shooting people, and things, for little reason, attracting the cops. So basically, even when it was in their interest (like the supposed SV) they still shot their guns for little reason.

    BUT…

    Real question:

    A. I hypothesize that all politicians, so lying alone is not a reason to differentiate one from another.

    B. One candidate is fudging the details, but was “in the shit” and can document that he served honorably. Even if we can’t quite get hour hands on just how honorably.

    C. One candidate didn’t. Probably went AWOL from even his cushy sinecure (possibly because he couldn’t pass a drug test).

    Why is B worse than C? No, I mean really. I don’t mean this as some kind of leftist jab. They are both liars (politicians) America has long ago excepted that politicians lie. So, really, why is lie B worse than C?

    Maybe I had too many older friends who served in Nam, and that is what slants me towards C being worse. Help me out folks, I really don’t get it. Draft dodgers always bothered me more than people who embellish their war stories (It might also temper me that I used to Volunteer at the local Legion hall when I was in high school-they had a shooting range that they let me use for free-but they ALL embellished)

    Help me out here, please…
    This is not a joke question, I am just trying to understand where everyone is coming from.

  24. I like Led Zeppelin.

  25. Skeptikos-

    Are you suggesting that the nice young man who won those medals and testified before Congress about the Vietnam War might have embellished war stories? My God! Well, I hope he doesn’t ever go into politics then. I hear he’s going to start law school soon.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Zeppelin concert to attend.

  26. As further qualification:

    I have total respect for those who went to Nam, and those who went to jail to avoid Nam (like Clay (Ali), and those left the country permantely, NEVER to come back.

    But I don’t have any respect for the garden variety Draft Dodgers (those who went to Canada and wanted to come back, those who just got out of it, like Clinton, Quayle, Bush, Cheney)

  27. I think the argument isn’t that he was confused between Christmas and Tet at the time, but that he conflated different memories when looking back years later. In other words, that he got his searings crossed.

  28. Actually thoreau, I am suggesting that this might matter. In the really big picture. Just maybe…a little more than a rock and roll band. (no matter how many times I sat in rapt attention watching Song Remains the Same, stoned, in rapt attention at the midnight showings at the Norton at the birth of the Reagan era)

  29. Shannon Love,

    Vietnamese illegally across the Cambodian border would not have called attention to themselves unnecessarily.

    I hate to break it to you dear, but incursions into Cambodia by South Vietnamese troops were common from May 1967 onward – these were the secret and highly classified “Daniel Boone” missions. These missions tended to include two-three Americans and approximately a dozen South Vietnamese (generally from the hill people that lived along the border). A little knowledge of the Viet Nam war would help your arguments from time to time.

    I think the incident happened further East near the sea coast where witnesses and the historical record place Kerry at the time./i>

    Wasserman states that Kerry and his crew were very close to Cambodia around X-mas 1968.

  30. Jesse Walker,

    Well, that’s certainly quite possible; human memory is not a terribly accurate thing (as innumerable studies have demonstrated). Indeed, brain chemistry response to an event can have a terribly important impact on memory itself.

  31. Joe L.,

    Really, so the Swift Boat Vets for Truth are CHICKENHAWKS?

    *rolls eyes* The author neither explicity or implicitly stated they were chickenhawks. Indeed, the only individual he specifically named was “Our Fearless Leader” (meaning Bush presumably).

    Are you saying that only VETERANS may comment on things military?

    Well, the term “chickenhawk” does not apply to all non-veterans; so you’ve got some definitional problems to start with. A chickenhawk – as I understand the term – is an individual who avoided military service, yet who is gung-ho for the use of the U.S. military. Anyway, your definitional problems by themselves sink the rest of your argument.

    You know what that makes it relevant to the campaign, ‘cuz Johhnie-boy made it relevant…

    Who exactly claimed that his service record wasn’t relevant? James certainly didn’t; indeed, he trumpets the relevancy of his record as far as I can tell. Who exactly are you arguing against here? Yourself?

    …claim that his actions from 1968-1972 make him fit to be Commander-in-Chief…

    Neither does Kerry.

    Is his service important and then therefore subject to review and question or is it irrelevant?

    Again, no one has argued that his service isn’t subject to review; James did argue that Kerry’s detractors were “muddying [the] waters” however; but that doesn’t imply that James is arguing against review of his record, merely review based on false accusations (or what he would see as false accusations at least). Who again are you arguing against here? Or are you just trying to erect a bunch of strawmen to make your argument appear important?

  32. Joe L: It’s a meaningless debate, since no standard of proof is acceptable to the other side. It thus has all the hallmarks of a common media-scrum in which there are no winners, only losers. It was in this spirit that I offered the contrast to the gaps in Bush’s war stories.

    As to your insinuation that I claimed that no one who didn’t serve is fit to comment on the military, I dispute I said anything of the sort. Anyone is free to comment on the wars, the budget, even the structure of the military, since we’re paying for it, but before going after some individual’s reputation, I think you’d better have your facts straight. You made a big deal of supporting or not supporting the war, which was not mentioned in my post at all. As a matter of fact, Kerry supports the war. What does that mean? Precisely nothing in the context of the argument, which dealt with the ability of men in their fifties to remember events that occured thirty years ago and the glee that some people take in looking for errors and omissions that can be used to tarnish their reputations.

    I never cared for “your President,” but the smearing of Max Cleland as a terrorist and a coward was so vile and uncalled-for that I will never vote Republican again, even if Jesus Christ descended from the heavens to endorse the ticket. This isn’t the first time Bush and his ilk have played this particular trick and the “chickenhawk” comment refers to those who throw around casual charges of cowardice or insinuate a lack of patriotism even though they themselves found it expedient to look for other ways to serve their country. That they found veterans to front for them shows that they realize themselves the act is getting old. Why would these particular veterans want to make such an issue of his Bronze Star now? Political reasons, obviously, just as former war protesters are all too happy to grandstand on the National Guard issue.

    I don’t give a damn if Bush hid out in the National Guard or Kerry exaggerated the volume of enemy fire in order to make himself look better in the official report. Neither would be the first one. It bothers men that I was promised we would find ten thousand liters of anthrax and it turned out to be bogus. It bothers me that Kerry doesn’t care it was bogus. Those are the sort of lies that do lasting harm and I would rather have the press digging through THOSE issues than trying to investigate thirty-year-old records.

    Your point that Kerry made this an issue by emphasizing his war record is well-taken, but that merely leads us back to square one, and to my final comment: that is, that he was there and Bush was not, and any discussion of the matter inevitably returns to that point. Which leaves Kerry with the upper hand. The Swift Boat Veterans are not helping Bush.

  33. I just don’t understand the strategy behind the SBVFT attacks. This whole slimy attack is now going to be hanging around Bush and his party’s neck as a badge of dishonor for generations.

    Here a young man demonstrated courage, risked his life for crew, mission and country, sustained multiple injuries, and earned some of his country’s highest decorations for valor.

    So listen, there’s Uncle Sam asking young men to go to war. But remember, he says, if someday you oppose the GOP, be prepared for your record of service to be torn apart. Risk your life? Don’t worry, we will make it look like you were a coward. Sustain shrapnel wounds? We’ll make it seem like you meant to get injured. This is as vile and dishonorable a political attack as any in American history. Truly disgusting.

    Joe L and friends, I think you guys love the GOP more than you love America.

  34. The most reasonable starting position is not that he’s lying. That’s only reasonable if you actually want ot assume he’s lying.
    We had troops in cambodia. If anyone disputes this you should ignore them immediately because they are liars (or , alternatively, they simply don’t know what they are talking about).
    One can assume he’s exagerating (and something tells me that if Bush had done this, those who are so glibly calling Kerry a liar would howl and moan if we did the same to bush) but theres no evidence of that.Theres some chance he may well have been there more than once, and that these are similiar but different instances. Theres the possibility that after 20 years, his memory faded or that the trauma of the experience caused a memory that couldn’t be recalled in exact detail. It must be remembered that the difference in the dates is about a month, and that the reference to christmas may well have begun as a reference to the holiday season in general ad gradually become more muddled both in his own memory and in the story he told. To simply assume he’s obviously lying is to make an assumption based on your own personal prejudices.

  35. Joe L: It’s a meaningless debate, since no standard of proof is acceptable to the other side. It thus has all the hallmarks of a common media-scrum in which there are no winners, only losers. It was in this spirit that I offered the contrast to the gaps in Bush’s war stories

    What a bunch of horseshit.

    Kerry claimed, in Congress, to have been conducting an illegal operation in Cambodia on Christmas Eve of 1968. EVEN KERRY NOW SAYS THAT THIS DID NOT HAPPEN. This isn’t a matter of evidence not being accepted by one side or the other. The only “evidence” that *ever* existed for this alleged Christmas adventure was the testimony of Kerry himself. He has now retracted that testimony; case closed.

    that is, that he was there and Bush was not, and any discussion of the matter inevitably returns to that point. Which leaves Kerry with the upper hand.

    It doesn’t leave Kerry with the upper hand. Nobody gives a shit who fought in Vietnam and who didn’t.

    Nobody cares about past military service, either. Five out of the last six Presidential elections have been won by men who weaseled out of serious military service during a war, and every one of those men defeated a military veteran in the election. Reagan trounced Carter and Mondale, Clinton beat Bush and Dole, and Bush Jr. beat Gore (who — fancy that! — served in Vietnam).

  36. Subject: Kerry
    Date: Tue, Sep 2, 2003, 3:17 AM

    “Did I tell you that John Kerry and I played freshman ice hockey and double
    dated at Yale?

    We never liked him much…thought him a pompous, politicking, ass…

    …and his “war record” is pathetic…gets three purple hearts, all
    scratches, and puts in for rotation out of combat?

    …gets a silver star for beaching his PT and gunning down a 15 year old
    carrying an RPG ?

    I don’t buy it all, or him…sorry…”

    Above is from an e-mail exchange (dated) from an old Marine buddy of mine now living in Spain.
    Note this was written before either of us had any idea Kerry would be the Democratic nominee. And note this was written by an “Eastern Establishment Liberal.”

  37. Ruthless,

    I’d like your friend’s e-mail address and his phone number. Sorry, but this rings of a fake.

  38. Gary Gunnels,
    It’s not a fake. It’s just unusually on topic for the likes of me.

  39. Ruthless,

    The New Republic had a story a couple months ago about how unpopular Kerry was with his classmates at Yale and St. Albans. Seems he was too much of a striver, didn’t have the right sport coats – not their sort of people at all, dear.

    Frankly, I’ll take a prickly, calloused grouch who stays late at the library over the overgrown class presidents we usually get stuck with.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.