The chief drama of David Skinner’s Weekly Standard article on John Kerry’s The New Soldier is provided by the difficulty of turning up a copy of the book. Once he tracks it down, he reports:
“The New Soldier” is a definite period piece. A dark photo of six soldiers planting an American flag, which is flying upside down, adorns the cover. The protesters camped out on the Mall that week (despite a cat-and-mouse permit dispute with Nixon’s Interior Department), and it shows. One can almost smell body odor coming off the page. The VVAW guys are hairy men, many with “Easy Rider” mustaches. They appear ironic in their uniforms, toting toy machine guns. As they sit on the grass and eat in the open air, their faces grow dirty for lack of facilities.
Anti-Kerry oppo researchers will be disappointed to learn that Kerry wrote very little of the book. It reprints his Senate testimony and includes a brief afterword from him. But the bulk of its pictures and first-person narratives come
from VVAW members. The idea for the march, according to Brinkley, was Kerry’s, though it grew out of the VVAW’s Winter Soldier project, in which Kerry played only a minor role. Along with radical chic royalty like Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, and supported by Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Fr. Daniel Berrigan, VVAW members met in Detroit and testified to atrocities they had committed or been witness to in Vietnam. Allegations included torture, intentional dismemberment, and gang rape (some excerpts are included in “The New Soldier”). The project operated under the thesis that American atrocities like the one at My Lai weren’t highly unusual but reflected the routinely criminal exploits of American military leadership and soldiers.
After Senator Mark O. Hatfield read the Winter Soldier testimony into the Congressional Record, he asked for an official investigation. When the Naval Investigate Service did just that, many of the veterans refused to cooperate (despite protections against self-incrimination). One soldier admitted that his testimony had been coached by members of the Nation of Islam; exact details of the atrocity he’d seen now escaped his memory. Several veterans hunted down by Naval investigators swore they had never been to Detroit and couldn’t imagine who would have used their identities. (Somehow this episode was left out of the “Winter Soldier” chapter of [Douglas] Brinkley’s [new] book [Tour of Duty, on Kerry’s Vietnam service, reviewed in the Standard by Andrew Ferguson last week], but the details can be found in Guenter Lewy’s “America in Vietnam” and in Mackubin Thomas Owens’s account in the latest National Review.)
John Kerry seems to have had a way of eluding the bad odor that clings to his old associates. On “Meet the Press” in 1971, he appeared with VVAW member Al Hubbard, a veteran who was exposed around this time for lying about his rank and combat experience (he had seen no combat). While this confirmed suspicions about the dubious identities of many of the winter soldiers, it didn’t keep Kerry from becoming famous. The young politician was able to have his cake and eat it, too, becoming the establishment, patriotic face of a radical, anti-patriotic movement. Quite a trick, really.
Skinner’s article is “The book on John Kerry.”