Last night we posted a long message that Alan Schlingenbaum had sent to the Minneapolis Star Tribune taking issue with our “Apocalypse Kerry” column. I think Alan’s lengthy message is a quibble with a column one of whose points is that John Kerry did not undertake a mission into Cambodia as he himself claimed on the floor of the United States Senate in March 1986 — and whose point has been conceded by the Kerry campaign itself.
Alan quarrels with our assertion that Swift boats did not undertake covert missions into Cambodia. In the column, I should have said “to our knowledge.” Alan cited a 1969 Navy press release that suggests Swift boats might in fact have undertaken missions into Cambodia. I asked Alan to let us know if he found any evidence suggesting that Kerry did in fact undertake such a mission, and poked fun at his silence in response.
Not understanding that we’re operating on Internet time here, Alan wrote just after midnight this morning and chided me for not giving him longer to respond. His response (in part):
I read a Navy press release that left me with the strong impression that Swift boats committed “incursions” into Cambodia. By all accounts, Kerry was on a Swift boat. He says he was in Cambodia. These observations amount to sufficient evidence to suit me.
Now there’s something I’d like you to do in return.
Will you let us know if you come across anyone who actually witnessed Bush performing duty in the Air National Guard, in either Texas, Alabama or anywhere, at anytime after May 1972? He claims he was there, and apparently he received some pay for this period. How come we haven’t heard from anyone who remembers serving with him?
I’ve done my best to help you with the mystery that preoccupies you. Now you can do the same for me. Deal?
In response I wrote to Alan that he seems to have missed the gist of our column, the contrast between the treatment of the mainstream media of President Bush’s National Guard service and its nontreatment of Kerry’s Kurtz chronicles. Alan states that he distrusts the mainstream media and disagrees with the gist of our column. Alan also had a more substantive response to the reader’s critique of Alan’s message that we posted this morning:
Thank you for reading my post.
“I think his error is made by assuming that the press release refers solely to the Mekong River” — I don’t think I made an error, and I fully understand that the press release does not refer solely to the Mekong River, and I never asserted otherwise. I think you misinterpreted me. I should have been more clear. I’ll try to do better.
I made two simple points: 1) waterways run along the border, not just across it (including waterways north of Chau Doc that are clearly part of the Mekong River system), and 2) Swift boats patrolled waterways that run along the border (exactly where, along the border, is a matter of interpretation, in my opinion).
I referred to a map to provide support for my first point. I think the map is sufficient to prove this point (in other words, this point stands without regard to any consideration of the press release). This is notwithstanding your remark: “he estimates parts of the Mekong river that could be visually interpreted as flowing ‘along the border.'” I don’t think “estimates” or visual interpretation are required. I think what the map shows is obvious (even to a non-cartographer), and I described this in detail.
My remark about smug journalists is completely with regard to my first point. I was objecting to, and I still object to, the flat assertion that “the Mekong doesn’t run along the Cambodian border” (as a WSJ writer recently put it). I think only someone who hasn’t bothered to look at a detailed map would make such a statement. I think this statement is so oversimplified as to be dangerously misleading. I was dismayed to notice (as I explain below) that you made such a statement yourself.
I offered the press release primarily in support of my second point (“Swift boats patrolled waterways that run along the border”). I’m well aware that the press release emphasizes Swift boat operations west of Chau Doc, in the area of Ha Tien. I’m also well aware that the press release doesn’t explicitly state that Swift boats patrolled the Mekong area north of Chau Doc (I probably should have been more careful and expressed this distinction, but my message was long enough as it is; in any case, I apologize to anyone who became confused because I wasn’t clear enough). You are correct to point this out. In my opinion, however, the press release also doesn’t rule this out (i.e., the presence of Swift boats north of Chau Doc). I think it’s a matter of interpretation. Also, events in war tend to defy neat, absolute categorization (“we’ll always keep all the red boats over on one side, and we’ll put all the green boats over on the other side”).
The press release is relevant to the broader discussion, since the argument has been made that Swift boats were simply not used in the area where the Mekong river crosses the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. “Unfit for Command” makes a fairly sweeping statement along those lines (Chapter 3): “Areas closer than fifty-five miles to the Cambodian border in the area of the Mekong River were patrolled by PBRs, a small river patrol craft, and not by Swift Boats