it on, John
August 27, 2004
"Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question
my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded
attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about
our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: 'Bring it on.'" -- Sen. John
As usual, you have it wrong. You don't have a beef with President
George Bush about your war record. He's been exceedingly generous about
your military service. Your complaint is with the 2.5 million of us who
served honorably in a war that ended 29 years ago and which you, not
the president, made the centerpiece of this campaign.
I talk to a lot of vets, John, and this really isn't about your medals
or how you got them. Like you, I have a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.
I only have two Purple Hearts, though. I turned down the others so that
I could stay with the Marines in my rifle platoon. But I think you
might agree with me, though I've never heard you say it, that the
officers always got more medals than they earned and the youngsters we
led never got as many medals as they deserved.
This really isn't about how early you came home
from that war, either, John. There have always been guys in every war
who want to go home. There are also lots of guys, like those in my
rifle platoon in Vietnam, who did a full 13 months in the field. And
there are, thankfully, lots of young Americans today in Iraq and
Afghanistan who volunteered to return to war because, as one of them
told me in Ramadi a few weeks ago, "the job isn't finished."
Nor is this about whether you were in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968.
Heck John, people get lost going on vacation. If you got lost, just say
so. Your campaign has admitted that you now know that you really
weren't in Cambodia that night and that Richard Nixon wasn't really
president when you thought he was. Now would be a good time to explain
to us how you could have all that bogus stuff "seared" into your memory
-- especially since you want to have your finger on our nation's
But that's not really the problem, either. The trouble you're having,
John, isn't about your medals or coming home early or getting lost --
or even Richard Nixon. The issue is what you did to us when you came
When you got home, you co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War and
wrote "The New Soldier," which denounced those of us who served -- and
were still serving -- on the battlefields of a thankless war. Worst of
all, John, you then accused me -- and all of us who served in Vietnam
-- of committing terrible crimes and atrocities.
On April 22, 1971, under oath, you told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee that you had knowledge that American troops "had personally
raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable
telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs,
blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion
reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned
food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam."
And you admitted on television that "yes, yes, I committed the same
kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed."
And for good measure you stated, "(America is) more guilty than any
other body, of violations of (the) Geneva Conventions ... the torture
of prisoners, the killing of prisoners."
Your "antiwar" statements and activities were painful for those of us
carrying the scars of Vietnam and trying to move on with our lives. And
for those who were still there, it was even more hurtful. But those who
suffered the most from what you said and did were the hundreds of
American prisoners of war being held by Hanoi. Here's what some of them
endured because of you, John:
Capt. James Warner had already spent four years in Vietnamese custody
when he was handed a copy of your testimony by his captors. Warner says
that for his captors, your statements "were proof I deserved to be
punished." He wasn't released until March 14, 1973.
Maj. Kenneth Cordier, an Air Force pilot who was in Vietnamese custody
for 2,284 days, says his captors "repeated incessantly" your one-liner
about being "the last man to die" for a lost cause. Cordier was
released March 4, 1973.
Navy Lt. Paul Galanti says your accusations "were as demoralizing as
solitary (confinement) ... and a prime reason the war dragged on." He
remained in North Vietnamese hands until February 12, 1973.
John, did you think they would forget? When Tim Russert asked about
your claim that you and others in Vietnam committed "atrocities,"
instead of standing by your sworn testimony, you confessed that your
words "were a bit over the top." Does that mean you lied under oath? Or
does it mean you are a war criminal? You can't have this one both ways,
John. Either way, you're not fit to be a prison guard at Abu Ghraib,
much less commander in chief.
One last thing, John. In 1988, Jane Fonda said: "I would like to say
something ... to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I
caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to
help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was
thoughtless and careless about it and I'm ... very sorry that I hurt
them. And I want to apologize to them and their families."
Even Jane Fonda apologized. Will you, John?