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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Wasting a Presidential Election Campaign
Issues? What issues?...
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 9/1/04

“America likes quiet heroes.” So said one of the quietest of them, former senator and presidential candidate, Bob Dole. To the detriment of his political campaign, John Kerry has been anything but a quiet hero, raising inevitable questions about the details of his heroism and inviting responses from those who, for whatever motives, question whether he deserves hero status at all.

When Kerry “reported for duty” at the Democratic convention in a conspicuous manner, evoking memories of Candidate Dukakis perched on top of a National Guard tank, trying to look like G.I. Joe, he symbolically inserted his combat service in Vietnam into his campaign. His campaign’s subsequent political ads elevated that service to center stage. This has not been a notably successful tactic for past presidential candidates, including such heroes as Generals Douglas MacArthur and Curtis Le May and they had full military careers as compared to Lieutenant Junior Grade Kerry’s hitch of less than three years.

I wrote in an earlier column that, based upon our year together onboard USS Gridley, I felt that Kerry was certainly intelligent and talented enough to serve as president but that he carried some excess baggage that would weigh him down, namely, his anti-war protest activities while his comrades were still fighting and dying in Vietnam. But the heaviest baggage of all was his outrageous, blanket assertions that our troops, himself included, committed widespread atrocities.

I spoke with several Vietnam veterans who were prisoners of war while Kerry was uttering these accusations before the Senate. I asked them if they had heard of Kerry’s charges while in captivity and if their lives as POWs were made more difficult because of them. They answered both questions in the affirmative. Kerry has since tried to downplay his words by describing them as somewhat “over the top”. Too late. The damage has long since been done. His words went way beyond expressing honest criticism of an unpopular war. There should be no doubt that they provided comfort to the enemy and harmed our servicemen in captivity, which, in my book, amounts to treason.

The protestors that John Kerry led thirty-five years ago, can perhaps be forgiven some of their youthful enthusiasm. It was, after all, in style at the time. But the fact remains that their actions did contribute to an American withdrawal under circumstances that were less than desirable for our country and disastrous for the South Vietnamese. Our hasty abandonment of a war in which our political leadership, starting with John F. Kennedy, should never have gotten us involved in the first place, resulted in a bloodbath in South Vietnam and massacres in the killing fields of Cambodia.

To be sure, Kerry’s protest activities and rhetoric regarding atrocities would have haunted him during the campaign, whether or not he had made his Vietnam service a centerpiece of it, but at least his hero status would have presented less inviting a target for the political opposition. In this regard, the attacks against Kerry’s service are, in my view, a discredit to all veterans. Challenging personal decorations awarded over three decades ago, is an attack on the entire system of military awards which, as everyone who served knows full well, were liberally dispensed in wartime. It calls into question every award given in that era. It’s best not go there. The subject often involves much emotion. Recall that Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Boorda took his life, reportedly depressed over allegations that a combat “V” device on his bronze star was not earned.

The real losers from all this misdirected campaign focus are the voters who deserve to have the issues of real importance discussed and debated. Instead, they are largely ignored by foolish news media, intrigued by medals, war stories, Swift boats and a miserable war fought over thirty-five years ago, now being relived. The real issues, in case the media have forgotten them, are the economy, jobs, tax reform, health care and who best to lead and defend us in the war on terrorism, the latter being of paramount importance. I say the rest is spinach and I say to hell with it, to recall an old New Yorker cartoon.CRO

copyright 2004 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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