The Democratic Presidential nominee John F Kerry was a Vietnam veteran with three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star to his name. A war hero. However, when his tour of duty had ended and he returned to the United States, he brought with him claims that there were inappropriate activities occurring in Vietnam; that illegal missions had been sent to Cambodia and that war crimes were being committed on the battlefield. Although he knew he’d draw heat for doing so, he spoke out in public hearings, specifically about the activities of so-called Swift boats: small, fast patrol boats used extensively in the Vietnam war, which he said had often intentionally gunned down civilians. He had repeated stories by other soldiers claiming that they had raped people, cut off their ears, limbs and heads, attached electrodes to their genitals, shot cattle and dogs and poisoned food stocks.
Perhaps understandably, veterans of the Swift boats weren’t pleased when the man who had discredited them became a Presidential nominee, and formed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in order to discredit him. Their attack was three-fold: they claimed that Kerry’s medals had not been properly earned and that his military service record was overblown. Most importantly, they felt that someone who had criticised the activities of American armed forces should not be elected as President of the United States.
Four television advertisements were released; one stated that, “John Kerry claims that he spent Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia and that is categorically a lie. Not in December, not in January. We were never in Cambodia on a secret mission, ever.” They suggested that he had poor judgement, that he was an unfit leader, that he had lied repeatedly about his experiences in Vietnam. A book released by the group claimed, amongst other things, that he was not entitled to some of his medals.
In the finest American tradition, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth upheld truth and democracy with dishonesty. The Navy launched an investigation into Kerry’s medals, which concluded:
Our examination found that existing documentation regarding the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals indicates the awards approval process was properly followed. In particular, the senior officers who awarded the medals were properly delegated authority to do so. In addition, we found that they correctly followed the procedures in place at the time for approving these awards.Documents relating to Kerry’s military record were posted on his website; the Navy revealed that the group’s claims did not gel with their own records. Senator John McCain, a Bush supporter and fellow veteran of the conflict, came out with the statement regarding the Veterans’ political advertising during the election: “I condemn the ad; it is dishonest and dishonourable. I think it is very, very wrong.”
But the seeds had been sewn. Despite the dubious veracity of the claims, Kerry had been painted as a liar in the public’s imagination and his war hero credentials negated. Despite having dodged service and proven himself to be strategically inadequate during his multiple failed business positions, Bush once again looked like a solid candidate in a time of war. Meanwhile, more American soldiers died in Iraq during the latter portion of 2004 than any time since the start of the conflict in March 2003.
The Veterans attempted to paint themselves as a non-partisan group who were concerned that Kerry was being dishonest while running for President. In fact, their media officer was an advisor to Kenneth Starr during the Clinton impeachment and a press officer for the Reagan administration; her husband ran for lieutenant governor with Bush in 1994. Additionally, the Veterans were largely funded by major contributors to the Bush campaign. They were as partisan as they could possibly be without violating election law.
We at Rum and Monkey salute the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for discrediting a war hero and allowing the Project for a New American Century’s own poster boy to regain his position in November. Truly, they rank as some of the most outstanding people of 2004.