November 21, 2005
Senator Kerry, supposedly defending Rep. John Murtha, said, "I
won't stand for the Swift-Boating of Jack Murtha!" As one
of the 254 members of Mr. Kerry's unit in Vietnam who belonged
to Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, I found Mr. Kerry's
comments most ironic.
To us, Mr. Kerry's comments meant that no one should do to Mr.
Murtha that which Mr. Kerry did to all of us and our fellow Vietnam
veterans, living and dead. Mr. Kerry's disgraceful comments on
many occasions in 1971 (while we were locked in combat), claiming
falsely that we were "murdering" hundreds of thousands
of Vietnamese and committing rape and mayhem on a daily basis,
are a part of the public record for which he has never apologized.
This might be called "Kerrying" our soldiers.
In his own strange way, in his recent comments, Mr. Kerry was
trying by implication to compare himself to Mr. Murtha - the gravest
of insults to Mr. Murtha, who was given a standing ovation by
the House of Representatives (which then properly buried his immediate
pullout suggestion 403-3). Mr. Murtha's long military record stands
in stark contrast with Mr. Kerry's continuous self-promotion of
his short and controversial service in our unit. More importantly,
Mr. Murtha has never compared our troops in the field - now or
then - to the "Army of Genghis Khan" or claimed our
adversaries, whether the bloody communists and Khmer Rouge or
the butchers of Al Qaeda, were simply democratic reformers. Can
anyone - even in the cocoon of Washington or the incestuous world
of Mainstream Media - imagine either side of the aisle spontaneously
rising to clap for anything that Mr. Kerry ever did or said?
Mr. Murtha's distinguished military record does not mean he is
not wildly and completely wrong in his pullout proposal. Despite
Mr. Murtha's effort to present himself as speaking for our troops,
all serious data is to the contrary. Thus, for example, an Army
Times poll of October 3, 2004, found Mr. Bush beating Mr. Kerry
among active duty troops by 74% to 18%. Other polls were similar.
While there are a few active duty or retired personnel like Mr.
Murtha on the pullout side, they are not as numerous as, say,
Yankee fans in Boston. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority
of military personnel simply wish to be left alone by the Kerrys
and other politicians to finish a job which they believe is nearly
done and which they know the John Kerrys and Nancy Pelosis of
Washington are totally incompetent to direct and even understand.
The Democratic Party (notwithstanding its cynical expressions
of concern for the same troops it periodically seeks to label
as engaged in widespread crime) is regarded with intense distrust
by many active duty and retired military personnel. They have
been Kerried once too often. It was once the majority party that
stopped the Nazis, Fascists, and North Koreans and that in words
of a far different Kennedy summoned us "to fight any battle"
for freedom. Sadly, the party of Henry Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt
has become the party of retreat - from the Iranian Hostage Crisis
to the retreat from Mogadishu; to opposition to the 1991 Gulf
War; to the failure to avenge the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
or the USS Cole bombing or the murder of our own troops and embassy
personnel around the world. Indeed, this past Thursday night,
the nation watched the bizarre spectacle of a Democratic Party
speaking in favor of immediate withdrawal but too afraid to even
cast a vote recording for posterity these convictions. And the
drift from American values to the party of Mr. Kerry and Michael
Moore has been matched by its shrinking base. Recent polls, for
example, show vastly lower approval ratings - in the low 20s -
for Congressional Democrats than even the low rating of Mr. Bush.
As for many veterans and military personnel, they remember well
the politicians who voted to send us to war then "Kerried"
us while we were locked in combat, dishonoring both our service
and our dead.
And they ask - is this all to happen to our soldiers again? Are
the politicians like Mr. Kerry who led the campaign to send our
kids to war (when it was popular) now to withdraw support while
they are locked in combat and apparently succeeding because the
task is difficult or unpopular? Will Mainstream Media "Kerry"
our troops by portraying Abu Ghraib or isolated cases of prisoner
mistreatment as the rule to demoralize our troops and nation,
while ignoring the beheadings and butchery of those peacefully
praying in Mosques or shopping in a Bazaar? Will the press's selective
glorification of isolated figures such as Cindy Sheehan, Mr. Kerry,
or Mr. Murtha drown out the actual voices of the large majority
of our servicemen? I hope not. We pay our troops little and subject
them to considerable danger. We can at the very least support
them with stability of mission and honesty of reporting.
Likewise, we ought not to "Kerry" our troops with after-the-battle
second-guessing. The fog of combat produces in any war mistake
and folly. Both World War II and the Korean War began with wholly
avoidable military disasters - Pearl Harbor and the retreat to
Pusan. Likewise, the Iraq War has had its share of mistakes and
miscalculations (along with brilliant successes). But it simply
Kerries our troops in the field to elevate network newsmen (who
have likely never even spent a night in a tent) or self-promoted
Congressional military heroes with two months of 35 years ago
combat in a much different world into armchair Napoleons. That
is why we rely instead upon the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the best
professional military establishment in the world (when they are
left alone). And we should remember the words of Thomas Dewey
declining to make Pearl Harbor a campaign issue in 1944: "I
would rather lose the presidency and win the war than the reverse."
On December 23, 1776, with Washington's army freezing in tatters
at Morristown, Thomas Paine in "Common Sense" wrote,
"These are the times that try men's souls." He noted
many mistakes by the American army, but noted that "tyranny,
like hell, is not easily conquered" and that heaven charges
a high price for freedom because it is so precious. It was a time
when "the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot shrink
... " but those who stood firm would someday receive the
love and appreciation of the nation.
Our nation and our soldiers, who have shown their courage, decency,
and worth in desperate fighting on dozens of battlefields, deserve
our support for their mission and themselves. They deserve infinitely
more than summer soldiers, sunshine patriots, and armchair Napoleons,
whose determination and purpose melts with the first winter storm.
Mr. O'Neill, an attorney in
Houston, Texas, coauthored the no. 1 bestseller, "Unfit for
Command." After graduation from the Naval Academy, he served
as a Swift Boat officer in Vietnam, and later, as a law clerk
to Justice William Rehnquist.