Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Then Give Them Back
One of the things I learned this year about Sen. John Kerry that I never knew before is that he was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts for his performance in combat during the Vietnam War. I knew he was a decorated veteran who returned from action to become a youthful leader in the antiwar movement, but until he came into focus as the likely Democratic presidential nominee I did not bother to look into the details. Like most Americans who watched the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month, my first impression of the extent of his heroism came as his Swift Boat mates stood up for him and recounted his bravery under fire. The news did not make him “presidential” in my mind, but it certainly helped, just as I gave points to Republican Senator Bob Dole for the decoration he received for rescuing a mate under fire on a WWII battlefield. Evidence of “Leadership” does not require that kind of selfless bravery. If it did, Ronald Reagan would not have been the superb leader he was in his eight years as President, and Bill Clinton would not have excelled in his eight. We assume they would have done as much under fire, but they never confronted that situation on a battlefield.
Now there is this huge controversy about whether or not Kerry really earned his decorations. Several “anti-Kerry veterans” who served with him in Vietnam, although not in the same unit, have challenged the decorations. They insist he got his Purple Hearts for mere “scratches” and his Silver and Bronze stars for routine actions that involved no bravery. When I read their accusations, I was dubious on the grounds that Kerry could not have fooled enough people to warrant the five medals. One or two, maybe, but five? Still, I waited to hear the issue played out, trusting the news media to get it straight. It is now clear to me that even if Kerry was awarded no medals for his Vietnam conduct, his performance was admirable. In reading through the press accounts that have surfaced in these last few days, I concluded that Kerry is a genuine war hero. I also thought those Americans who have mentally stripped him of his decorations based on the allegations raised by the anti-Kerry votes should mentally give them back to him.
The most thorough account is by Michael Dobbs in today’s The Washington Post, “Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete,” which you can read at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21239-2004Aug21.html. One of the most scrupulous reporters in the national press corps, Dobbs says there are still a few questions open, which could be easily cleared by Kerry, who was not interviewed for the article. The facts in Dobbs account, though, should leave no doubt that Kerry deserves the medals he got. I was frankly astonished that Bob Dole, who appeared today on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, seemed so mean-spirited in suggesting that Kerry was not all that heroic. The clincher on Kerry's behalf, though, came from the Chicago Tribune editor who served with Kerry and confirms the account of the episode that produced Kerry’s silver star. You can read the NYTimes account at
What’s going on here, bottom line? It seems pretty clear that the Bush team, which has been pulling the strings on the campaign against Kerry’s heroism in uniform, really intends to focus on Kerry’s anti-war activities after he took off his uniform. In her NYTimes column today, Maureen Dowd is on the mark in her observation: “The White House must tear down his heroism before it can tear down his patriotism.”