Good Morning Vietnam

Loyal RWDB that he is, Professor Bunyip gleefully reproduces the American blogospherical right’s latest attempt to smear Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry over his Vietnam war service, while simultaneously putting an ingeniously innocuous spin on the fact that President Bush adroitly managed to avoid having any Vietnam service at all.

The latest anti-Kerry gambit by the Right is to claim that he may have been dishonourably discharged from the US Navy, and later had it converted to honourable status following the intervention of President Jimmy Carter.

I can only assume that Bunyip and his RWDB mates are relying on the probability that most of their readers will be too lazy or illiterate to read beyond the first few lines or follow the hyperlinks provided, and will simply register the unflattering information that Kerry had been dishonourably discharged and then covered it up. Because readers who actually bothered to read the full story would find that the claim is based on facts that cast events in an entirely different light:

NBC’s release this March of some of the Nixon White House tapes about Mr. Kerry show a great deal of interest in Mr. Kerry by Nixon and his executive staff, including, perhaps most importantly, Nixon’s special counsel, Charles Colson. In a meeting the day after Mr. Kerry’s Senate testimony, April 23, 1971, Mr. Colson attacks Mr. Kerry as a “complete opportunist…We’ll keep hitting him, Mr. President.”

Mr. Colson was still on the case two months later, according to a memo he wrote on June 15,1971, that was brought to the surface by the Houston Chronicle. “Let’s destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader.” Nixon had been a naval officer in World War II. Mr. Colson was a former Marine captain. Mr. Colson had been prodded to find “dirt” on Mr. Kerry, but reported that he couldn’t find any.

The Nixon administration ran FBI surveillance on Mr. Kerry from September 1970 until August 1972. Finding grounds for an other than honorable discharge, however, for a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, given his numerous activities while still a reserve officer of the Navy, was easier than finding “dirt.”

So, even if Kerry really was initially dishonourably discharged (which the article doesn’t establish anyway), it was because he was set up for a retributive payback by America’s most corrupt President and one of his senior aides who served time in prison over the Watergate break-in. It may indeed be a devastating indictment if true, but not of John Kerry.

Of course, what the Republican spin doctors are no doubt trying to achieve by leaking this stuff is to create enough interest in the story via non-mainstream media (blogs and dodgy right wing newspapers like the New York Sun) so that the mainstream media will feel compelled to pick it up. Despite the fact that the story itself doesn’t reflect adversely on Kerry even if true, the mere fact of its wide discussion would serve to highlight Kerry’s anti-Vietnam activism following his return from active (and courageous) war service. Kerry doesn’t hide his peace activist record, but he doesn’t feature it either, and the Republicans would like nothing better than to get traction for a story they could use in the last fortnight of the campaign to paint him as a traitorous, anti-American peacenick on Vietnam.

Personally I prefer this assessment of Vietnam by the late lamented Tim and Debbie from the early 80s ABC comedy show Australia You’re Standing In It:


Tim : Like, obviously, America wants Poland to become
Russia’s Vietnam, right, to distract attention
from El Salvador, which is America’s Northern
Ireland, bearing in mind that Northern Ireland
is Britain’s Vietnam.
Debbie : Right, um, but, er wrong, Tim.
Tim : Right, right, that’s what I was going to say.
Debbie : Because, like, I think it’s fairly well given,
right,…
Tim : Right, given.
Debbie : … that, um, Afghanistan is Russia’s Vietnam,
right,
Tim : Right.
Debbie : …and realizing that Vietnam’s Vietnam is
Kampuchea, I think that we should really say that
Poland is Russia’s Kampuchea.
Tim : Or Indonesia’s Timor.
Debbie : Which we won’t talk about…

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jason
Jason
2021 years ago

You really are starting to get the hang of this “make an assumption, then base an entire argument on that assumption being undeniable fact” style of blogging that Andrew Sullivan has so well perfected.

Kev
Kev
2021 years ago

to paint him as a traitorous, anti-American peacenick on Vietnam.

But he was and he supplied the paint and the brushes

While Tim and Debbie are very clever(or too clever by half)they do not add to your point. I think it’s a case of the Vietnam war was wrong – ergo, everybody who protested about the war were right. Treason is fairly well defined in the minds of reasonable men and Kerry clearly acted in a treasonous manner. The fact that the left made the war unpopular doesn’t detract from that fact, it just saddens us troops that the man is now being taken seriously.

Standing in the US Senate and accusing us Viet Vets of rape and murder; sitting down at the same table as the North Vietnamese whilst his countrymen were still dying in Vietnam and all of this while he was still a commissioned officer in the Navy is very bad form and will not be forgotten.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

kev

I haven’t followed all this stuff very closely, but my general recollection is that Kerry didn’t actually accuse American servicemen of rape and murder. His words have been liberally spun by republican opponents.

And as far as anti-Vietnam activism goes, Kerry was active in 1971-72. By that time Nixon had decided to pull out of Vietnam and was withdrawing troops at a great rate. Meanwhile, he was also busily escalating the bombing of both North Vietnam and neighbouring countries Laos and Cambodia, to put pressure on the North Vietnamese to agree to a face-saving concession where they agreed to “co-exist peacefully” with the South Wietnamese regime set up by the Americans, so that Nixon could complete the troop withdrawal without it looking too much like the crushing military defeat it actually was.

Both sides knew that the “peaceful co-existence” concession was mere window-dressing to cover the American withdrawal, and that the North vietnamese would keep attacking as soon as the yanks moved out, and that the yanks wouldn’t come back once they’d left. And that’s precisely what happened. This extract from a PBS doco on the Vietnam war highlights the context of anti-war activism in 1971-72:

“HENRY KISSINGER (National Security Adviser)

We made up our minds from the beginning that we were going to try to disengage from Vietnam. And, all of the debate afterwards were really about, with the moderate critics, were about rates of disengagement, not about the fact of disengagement. So it had to be a high priority.

MELVIN LAIRD

The pressures were on as far as the American people were concerned. The pressures were on as far as the Congress was concerned and, if we wouldn’t have moved in the direction of Vietnamization, our whole military force structure would have been destroyed in the United States and we would not have been able to meet the NATO commitments and the other commitments which were treaty commitments that had been made but, had been made by the American government.

MORTON HALPERIN (National Security Council Staff)

The major preoccupation of Kissinger and Nixon was U.S./Soviet relations. They believed that world peace depended on getting the Soviet Union into a relationship with the United States so that it ceased to do things which threatened American security interests. And, it was in this context that they approached every issue from the Middle East to China to Vietnam.

Vietnam was important because the United States had made it important. Kissinger was always fond of saying that we inherited 500,000 troops in Vietnam. We didn’t put them there.”

The only way it’s possible to portray anti-war activism by that late stage of the war as “traitorous” is to completely ignore the facts.

That said, I strongly identify with the anger and disgust of Vietnam veterans (both American and Australian) who were indeed made to feel like pariahs and war criminals by some anti-war activists when they returned home after fighting bravely for their countries in a dreadful war whose parameters and significance few people really understood at the time. Quite a few of those veterans have been deeply scarred for life by their Vietnam and immediate post-war experiences.

Kerry and others were correct to campaign against the Vietnam war in 1971-72 given Nixon and Kissinger’s stance outlined above, but he and others no doubt regret some of the impetuous things they said at that time. But whether those now-distant events of more than 30 years ago have any legitimate place in the 2004 Presidential campaign, or whether they’re just Republican red herrings designed to smear Kerry and divert attention from more immediate issues, is another question.

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

So you’re telling me politicians should not be held accountable for their political history. Right, gotcha.

Oh, and who was reporting for duty again?

Face it Ken. They should have picked a better candidate. They didn’t and it will cost them.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Stan

Kerry said some impetuous things 33-4 years ago while justifiably campaigning against the Vietnam war after fighting in it. That doesn’t reflect adversely against his character, just his maturity when a very young man a long time ago.

Bush apparently engaged in some fancy footwork 33-4 years ago to avoid getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. So did a lot of others of all political persuasions. That doesn’t reflect adversely against his character either, just his maturity when a very young man a long time ago.

The absurd thing to non-partisan observers is the way the partisans determinedly ignore the youthful folly of their own candidate while exaggerating out of all recognition the significance of that of their opponent.

If you bona fide think Kerry’s conduct so long ago makes him an unsuitable candidate for President, you could only rationally reach the same conclusion about Bush. I think both candidates’ conduct is irrelevant.

Kev
Kev
2021 years ago

From the day LBJ declined to attack Hanoi and the Ho Chi Minh trail as “The North Vietnamese have more friends than I do”

Mork
Mork
2021 years ago

So, Kev, are you saying that what Kerry said in his testimony is untrue?

Kev
Kev
2021 years ago

Yes. Isolated instances would undoubedly have happened but Kerry left the people with the impression that these attrocitites were everyday events. I for one have never experienced one instance, even in heresay, and I was there for 13 months.

Mork
Mork
2021 years ago

Yes. Isolated instances would undoubedly have happened but Kerry left the people with the impression that these attrocitites were everyday events.

Spoken like a politician! A firm, one-word answer to start with, and then an explanation that completely undercuts the one-word answer.

So, in other words, Kerry told the truth.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Why do you think Kerry became an anti-war activist? Did it not take courage? Do you truly think it improved his future in the US?

Why do you think Bush couldn’t be bothered actually finishing his service, which in itself was a substitute for actually going?

Did it take courage?

You can dislike Kerry’s position, feel he should have kept his mouth shut and let both Vietnamese and Americans die for nothing, but you can still recognise that he had a spine.

Did Kerry fly to Paris to “help the Communists”, or to try and end the war? A war that was dragging on while evil, vicious cynical users of young men and their ideals tried to construct a scenario that didn’t make them seem so defeated.

This story about how the rest of us treated vets so badly after the war is persistently repeated, but rarely with any concrete details or evidence. I certainly remember, as a young person opposed to the war, that our mob had to endure social tension as well.

I believe it was the Left, to our credit, who supported the vets in the Agent Orange stuff, and helped with the Senate Enquiry. How much support did they get from the RSL?

From 1975 onwards, this country had a conservative government. A wartime Minister for the Army was Prime Minister. I didn’t notice vigorous action on his part to make sure that the vets were honoured. The treasurer in that government is now Prime Minister. I don’t see him vigorously embracing and defending the vets in this day and age.

I actually do think its a fair thing to bring up the previous military service of the current Presidential candidates. They are going to have to either run or continue to run a war.

And we really do have the right to say that almost all of Bush’s cabinet are both chickenhawks and completely gung ho for war. And the President himself not only avoided the war – as did tens of thousands of others in the college middle classes – but had a bloody good time doing it, until it became a teeny bit inconvenient.

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Re: your earlier comments Ken.

The difference between the two candidates is that one repudiates his earlier ” youthful follies”, whereas the other substantially does not.

You may argue that that is not the case, but it doesn’t really matter what you or I think, what matters is what the constituents think. I suspect that they think Senator Kerry still embraces his earlier postwar statements (some of which were quite excessive). It won’t be the constituents fault if there are wrong on this. It’s up to Kerry to make this clear. It is my contention that he has not.

As I said, the wrong candidate for the times.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

As`far as I can see, Kerry wanted to stop people being killed in a war which had lost whatever aim or meaning it may ever had had.

And we`really are living in a bizzaro world when someone who volunteered for combat when he could have got out of it is held up as more morally reprehensible than someone who did the exact opposite.

As`to his suitability as a candidate, I reckon Kerry’s as entangled in vested interests that don’t have the common good at heart as much as Bush is. But at least he doesn’t have to be wired for sound.

Russell
Russell
2021 years ago

NOTE FOR KEN,

Just a brief defence of the Bunyip. He does not imply Kerry received a “dishonourable discharge” – he simply notes that his initial discharge may have been less than honourable – the distinction is important. There are a number of possible levels of discharge.

A “dishonourable discharge” requires an adverse finding from a full court martial (generally a commissioned officer would be “dismissed” rather than receive a “dishonourable discharge”). A “general discharge” is a simple administrative matter which would indicate that the time in service has ended less than happily (officer resigns commission and leaves).

zoot
zoot
2021 years ago

Nobody has mentioned the trials at Nuremburg during the late forties. I believe there was a principle established that if service people are aware of their side committing atrocities they are obliged to try to stop them. Or have I misunderstood?

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

Zoot! Start following orders! That’s an order!