A distinguished veteran looks at Kerry and Bush

James Webb, Vietnam veteran, veterans’ activist, and author of a novel about Vietnam, seems well-positioned to discuss how his fellow Vietnam vets size up a Kerry-Bush race. In a USA Today column, he argues that these veterans aren’t likely to have much regard for either candidate. Kerry, says Webb, earned the disdain of veterans for his his activities as the leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW): “Kerry and his VVAW compatriots portrayed their fellow veterans as unwilling soldiers, morally debased and haunted by their service. . . Kerry’s own comments were filled with hyperbolic exaggerations that sought to make egregious acts seem commonplace. During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 1971, he testified that fellow veterans had routinely ‘raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.’ With those words, he defamed a generation of honorable men. No matter how he spins it today, at a minimum, he owes them a full and complete apology.” To make matters worse, “the view that Kerry remained on the ‘wrong side’ of the war was compounded by his failure to consult with leaders of America’s million-plus Vietnamese community while playing a dominant role in the normalization of relations with communist Vietnam during the early 1990s. Many Vietnamese-Americans believe Kerry has been an apologist for the Hanoi government on such key issues as human rights. Kerry personally has bottled up the Vietnamese Human Rights Act, which twice passed the House by wide majorities, so that it cannot even be debated on the Senate floor.”
As for the president, Webb notes that Bush’s record in the Air Guard “raises the eyebrows of those who took a different path in a war that for the Marine Corps brought more casualties than even World War II.” But Webb’s real beef is with Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, and his (alleged) attempts “to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with [that] decision.”
Webb’s column suggests to me that Kerry’s problems with Vietnam veterans far exceed Bush’s. His criticism of Kerry goes to the heart of what it means to be a veteran of that war, and thus creates a potential problem for Kerry with the vast of majority of such vets. Webb’s dislike of Bush is based largely on a policy disagreement, and thus will be shared only by Vietnam veterans who oppose our actions in Iraq. Those who oppose these actions are unlikely to support Bush whether or not they are veterans, and there is little reason to believe that Vietnam veterans view Bush’s Iraq policy less favorably than the voting public as a whole. In other words, Webb’s attack on Bush is somewhat idiosyncratic; his attack on Kerry strikes me as much more universal from a veteran’s perspective.

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