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Swift Boat Attacks on Kerry Dismissed As Urban Legends

by RonChusid

With Pamela discussing the Swift Boat Lies once again, a couple of thoughts came to mind. As she notes, many right wing bloggers are continuing to bring this up, repeating the same lies which have repeatedly been disputed. This remains important for a number of reasons. There’s the principle Pamela discusses of standing up against such unfounded attacks on men who served their country. On a political level putting an end to these lies would serve a useful purpose as they distract from the real message. During the 2004 campaign George Bush was able to avoid defending his record by having John Kerry on the defensive for these and other lies.

An unfortunate legacy of the 2004 campaign is that for many people the first thing they think of is the Swift Boat Lies, even when they recognize that they attacks were untrue. This plays into the GOP line that Democrats have no ideas. If we had a clean campaign, instead of constantly hearing of these dishonest attacks, voters would hear about John Kerry’s plans for a strong defense against terrorism. They’d recall Kerry’s plans to reduce health care costs and help small business.

When conservatives continue their attacks, this is all part of a larger plan. Their goal is not just to attack John Kerry, but to distract the voters with the failings of their policies and keep them from hearing the real solutions offered by Democrats.

Recently when doing a google search for on line discussions of the Swift Boat Lies I found that this topic was discussed just where it belonged–at Snopes.com–the site for debunking urban legends.

Snopes has two entries on the Swift Boat Lies. The first evaluates the claim that “John Kerry’s Vietnam War service medals (a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts) were earned under “fishy” circumstances.” It flatly describes this claim as false and offers plenty of information to debunk it.

The second, which provides the opinions of the various Swifties, cannot be totally labeled true or false as it is based on people’s opinions. Despite these being opinions, Snopes finds plenty to debunk:

The important point to note here is that this piece presents only one side of the story:

Although the men quoted above are often identified as “John Kerry’s shipmates,” only one of them, Steven Gardner, actually served under Lt. Kerry’s command on a Swift boat. The other men who served under Kerry’s command continue to speak positively of him:

“In 1969, I was Sen. Kerry’s gun mate atop of the Swift boat in Vietnam. And I just wanted to let everyone know that, contrary to all the rumors that you might hear from the other side, Sen. Kerry’s blood is red, not blue. I know, I’ve seen it.

“If it weren’t for Sen. John Kerry, on the 28th of February 1969, the day he won the Silver Star . . . you and I would not be having this conversation. My name would be on a long, black wall in Washington, D.C. I saw this man save my life.”3

— Fred Short

“I can still see him now, standing in the doorway of the pilothouse, firing his M-16, shouting orders through the smoke and chaos . . . Even wounded, or confronting sights no man should ever have to see, he never lost his cool.

I had to sit on my hands [after a firefight], I was shaking so hard . . . He went to every man on that boat and put his arm around them and asked them how they’re doing. I’ve never had an officer do that before or since. That’s the mettle of the man, John Kerry.”3

— David Alston

“What I saw back then [in Vietnam] was a guy with genuine caring and leadership ability who was aggressive when he had to be. What I see now is a guy who’s not afraid to tackle tough issues. And he knows what the consequences are of putting people’s kids in harm’s way.”

— James Wasser

Many of Kerry’s Vietnam commanders and fellow officers also continue to speak positively of him:

Navy records, fitness reports by Kerry’s commanders and scores of interviews with Swift boat officers and crewmen depict a model officer who fought aggressively in river ambushes and won the respect of many of his crewmates and commanders, even as his doubts about the war grew.

“I don’t like what he said after the war,” said Adrian Lonsdale, who commanded Kerry for three months in 1969. “But he was a good naval officer.”

“I don’t know what conclusions you can draw about someone’s ability to lead from their combat experience, but John’s service was commendable,” said James J. Galvin, a former Swift boat officer . . . “He played by the same rules we all did.”1

How well all of these men knew John Kerry is questionable, and discrepancies between how some of them described Kerry thirty-five years ago and how they describe him today suggest that their opinions are largely based upon political differences rather than objective assessments of Kerry’s military record.
For example, Rear Admiral Roy Hoffman is quoted above, yet the Los Angeles Times reported:

. . . Hoffman and Kerry had few direct dealings in Vietnam. A Los Angeles Times examination of Navy archives found that Hoffman praised Kerry’s performance in cabled messages after several river skirmishes.

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