Charles Kopp - Contributor
Kopp is a graduate of the New School for Social Research.
He is a composer and musician, and an ardent lover of poetry.
He has been a teacher and a systems analyst. In Lafayette,
California, he now designs websites and works on creative
projects. He can be contacted at email@example.com [go
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Swift Sword of Truth
Vets deserve answers, not attacks...
[Charles Kopp] 9/8/04
of us who have watched the Swift
Boat Veterans, and who have
For Command, these men have
motivations of their own. They have honorable credentials. Their
questions deserve answers. This much at least is simple truth.
As with any allegation against anyone, there are possible responses
of a tactical nature, such as “all the men who were in
the boat agree with Kerry” (not true) or “the ads
were paid for by Texas Republicans” (not relevant). But
these are not really answers. Kerry supporters (or Bush haters)
would be more impressive if they gained an understanding of these
veterans and made a meaningful reply.
and learned liberals of my acquaintance seem to believe quite
firmly the John Kerry assertion
that the Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth are a “fear and smear” campaign
orchestrated by the Bush campaign, probably by that evil genius-
Mr. Rove. None of these individuals have read Unfit
or watched some of these veterans on various interview programs
dating back to their initial press conference in May of this
year. This is natural. How many of us subject ourselves to thoughtfully
reading books with which we expect to disagree?
Clearly, combative responders such as Chris Matthews and James
Carville have not read the book, and they are working off talking
points from Kerry partisans. It is understandable that those
who hope for a Kerry victory are uncomfortable with the Swift
Boat Veterans. They would like to see these Veterans as conniving
political hacks. But they will never be able to make a persuasive
response, unless they first understand who these men are, what
they are saying, and how they feel about John Kerry.
are underestimating and misunderstanding these veterans in
several important ways. To begin with, when
from Vietnam, he did not only say that the war was wrong, or
bad policy, or not in American interests- he said that he and
his fellow soldiers were sadistic monsters. That war crimes were
casual everyday activities, endorsed by the whole chain of command.
If you yourself were one of the veterans about whom he was speaking,
how would you have felt? Add to this, perhaps, that you were
still in Vietnam fighting, listening to Kerry’s words on
the radio. Go even further, and imagine you listened to his testimony
on a radio provided by your tormentors in the Hanoi Hilton. How
would you have felt?
you think you’d need a conspiracy
of Karl Rove and Texas Republicans, to persuade you to take
offense to John
Kerry, under these circumstances? On the contrary, there is a
simple human basis for understanding the Swift Boat Veterans.
Here is a
second scenario to imagine. Suppose that you served in the
military decades ago. You had a comrade
you liked him, perhaps you didn’t. Suppose you served your
time, survived, went home and went on with your life. Thirty
odd years later your old comrade is running for the Presidency,
and he’s arranged with a biographer to publish his account
of the time you shared together, way back when. Suppose you read
this book, and discover that he has said things about you and
your actions. For example, in the March 13 1969 episode, he has
said that after one Swift Boat hit a mine which exploded, you
sped away from the scene in your boat. How would you feel, reading
these words? Especially if you had not fled the scene of the
explosion. Especially if it was your old comrade’s boat
that sped away from the scene.
In such a case, would you need a vast right wing conspiracy
to persuade you to respond to the charges he made against you
in his book? The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth can be understood
in this simple and plain light: the desire to let the truth be
known about events in which they were personally involved. They
feel Kerry misrepresented their actions, and want to set the
a third problem presented by the Swift Boat Veterans, and perhaps
this is the one that Kerry supporters
are most unwilling
to face. The Swift allegations are not harming Kerry because
they are campaign mud-slinging by conservatives who lack the
scruples and ethics liberals believe they exemplify. Americans
have heard volume upon volume of campaign accusations. These
allegations are harming the Kerry campaign because they ring
true. If you read this book, if you listen to these veterans
talk, and then you watch Kerry reply with indignation rather
than substance, watch the film Kerry took of himself in Vietnam,
watch Kerry’s Senate testimony, the truth is: a coherent
fit together. Kerry is a man with grandiose notions about himself
and his entitlement to privilege
and power, notions
that don’t readily fit together with the truth. I suppose
on some level all politicians have an unusual capacity for self-promotion,
but even among such as these, to ordinary Americans John Kerry
stands out. I do not understand the military process for awarding
medals, and I do not know what to make of these specific details.
But it is easy to picture Kerry and his typewriter, perhaps filing
himself the accounts which came to form the official Navy records
which Kerry has released so far.
I doubt that
John Kerry and his associates will ever attempt a sincere,
meaningful reply to the Swift Boat
much has been made of the President’s perceived awkwardness
in identifying his own mistakes, there is also here to consider
the quiet fact that John Kerry has not said he was ever wrong
about anything he has ever done or said. It is unlikely he will
start now. And perhaps he cannot reply, and still have any chance
for the Presidency. Perhaps he cannot sign a Form 180 because
of what he knows the still-hidden official records would show.
Team Kerry plans something quite the opposite of a reply. We’ve heard about the 1000 pages of “opposition
research” on the personal lives of the Swift Boat Veterans.
Clinton operatives are on board, who had practice persuading various
women in Clinton’s wake to keep quiet. It will not be so
easy to persuade these veterans to shut up; they’ve faced
worse things than James Carville.
I do know
what a reply would look like. First of all, Kerry would make
a sincere straightforward apology
for his 1971 Senate
Testimony, to all those veterans who clearly were deeply, understandably
hurt by his words. He would acknowledge that it was his own behavior
that created the animosity that has burst forth against him now,
and not a “fear and smear” scheme invented by Republicans.
Then, if he can do so, he would sign the Form 180. In one manner
or another, he would face questioning- not only from friendly
reporters. He would give meaningful answers and details, and
not evasions like “30 years ago the Navy decided to award
these medals.” After that questioning, he’d be within
his rights to decline to discuss these issues any further.
Until then, he will be on the defensive, and his failure to
answer will grow larger, until it is the deepest and truest thing
about him. CRO
2004 Charles Kopp