A Further Response to Jim Boyd

In today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, Strib editorial board member Jim Boyd writes that our analysis of John Kerry’s Christmas in Cambodia fable was “fraudulent.” He also calls us “smear artists,” and the Strib’s headline on his article says our analysis “can’t stand up to the facts.” When someone uses language that strong, you’d naturally expect him to have the facts to back up his words. Yet, for someone who purports to “fact-check” our article, Boyd’s tirade is remarkably fact-free.
First, the basics. We wrote that the Kerry campaign has had to retract Kerry’s oft-told tale of being in Cambodia on Christmas, 1968. Boyd does not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of John Kerry being in Cambodia in December, 1968, or at any other time. Boyd does not dispute this. We wrote that Kerry’s commanding officers have emphatically denied that he was ever sent into Cambodia. Boyd does not dispute this. We wrote that not a single crewman who ever served with Kerry has supported Kerry’s claim to have been in Cambodia, and several crewmen have specifically denied that their boat was ever, at any time, in Cambodia. Boyd does not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of Swift boats being used for clandestine missions, like the insertion of special ops, as claimed by Kerry. Boyd does not dispute this. We wrote that Swift boats were singularly unsuited for such secret missions, given their large size and extraordinarily large output of noise. Boyd does not dispute this.
Gosh, for fraudulent smear artists, we’re doing pretty well so far. Given that he can’t deny any of our main points, what does Boyd have to say? First, and most important, he alleges that Kerry was in Cambodia, but it was in January 1969, not December 1968. Thus, Boyd writes, ours is an “accurate but niggling criticism.” Of course, there is no more evidence for Kerry being in Cambodia in January 1969 than in December 1968.
But when Kerry told his famous story to the Senate in 1986–the story that he says was “seared–seared” into his memory, he was very specific about the timing of his life-altering experience. It was Christmas of 1968, and he heard President Nixon denying that we had troops in Cambodia while he himself had been sent there. It was this Christmas Eve experience, he said, that caused him to lose his faith in the American government. Throughout the years, Kerry has been insistent on the “Christmas in Cambodia” theme. In an October 14, 1979 review of “Apocalypse Now” in the Boston Herald, Kerry wrote:

I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.

If Kerry’s Cambodian adventure actually happened in January, why were the South Vietnamese soldiers still celebrating Christmas?
We pointed out that, as everyone in the blogosphere knows, Kerry’s account was false on its face, since Richard Nixon was not President in December 1968. In a laughably inept response, Boyd says that Nixon was then President-elect, so Kerry’s “discrepancy” was “understandable.” Obviously, however, President-elect Nixon was in no position to assure the American people that there were no troops in Cambodia.
There is a far more important point to be made, however. It was not just a slip of the tongue that caused Kerry to refer, repeatedly, to President Nixon’s statement that there were no troops in Cambodia. If he had attributed that statement to Lyndon Johnson, who was President in 1968, it would have made no sense. Johnson never said such a thing; the issue never came up during his administration.
But Richard Nixon did say that there were no American troops fighting in Cambodia. Our younger readers may not recall this, but Nixon’s statement to that effect was very famous, and very controversial. Richard Nixon said that we had no troops in Cambodia in a press conference on November 12, 1971, two and one-half years after Kerry had left Vietnam.

Q. What assurance can you give the American people that we are not sliding into another Vietnam in Cambodia?
A. … We have made a conscious decision not to send American troops in. There are no American combat troops in Cambodia. There are no American combat advisers in Cambodia. There will be no American combat troops or advisers in Cambodia.

So Kerry didn’t just make an innocent mistake. He referred to a well-known historical event, and he told a perfectly coherent story about a soldier who lost his faith in our government when President Nixon said, falsely, that we had no troops in Cambodia. But the story was a lie. There could have been a soldier who had that experience, but it wasn’t John Kerry. He had left Vietnam two and one-half years earlier.
The rest of Boyd’s “fact checking” is a combination of dishonesty and ignorance. We made the relatively insignificant point that Kerry’s claim to have been shot at by the Khmer Rouge is implausible, since they did not take the field until 1972. Boyd says, with no attribution or support whatsoever, that “The Khmer Rouge, military wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, began its armed combat against the government of Prince Norhodom Sihanouk in 1967.”
Unlike Boyd, we cite sources. We based our statement on the testimony of Andrew Antippas, the “Cambodia Man” at the United States Embassy in Saigon between 1968 and 1970, who wrote:

[C]oncerning the assertion that Mr. Kerry was shot at by the Khmer Rouge during his Christmas 1968 visit to Cambodia, it should be noted that the Khmer Rouge didn’t take the field until the Easter Offensive of 1972.

Different sources assign different dates to the beginning of military action by the Khmer Rouge; here, here, here and here are sources that say the Khmer Rouge insurgency began in 1970. By far the most reliable witness, we think, is the Cambodia man at the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam, but in any event, we’ve seen no support for the proposition that the Khmer Rouge were in the field (as opposed to existing as a political organization) in January 1969.
Boyd next wanders into the thicket of geography, which for some reason seems to be a difficult subject for liberals. Adopting one of the DNC’s talking points, he writes that:

[T]here was no established border. Both Vietnam and Cambodia claimed parts of the Mekong River delta, a watery area of rivers, tributaries and canals. It was quite easy to slip across, especially by boat (whether inadvertently or with a purpose — perhaps both).

In the first place, the idea that Kerry could have wandered into Cambodia “inadvertently” is utterly inconsistent with the story Kerry told. If he wandered there by accident, he would have had no reason to be disillusioned with the U.S. government. The entire point of Kerry’s story was that he was ordered into Cambodia, contrary to President Nixon’s assurance that there were no U.S. troops there.
Further, Boyd’s geographic musings are plausible only to those who don’t own a globe or a map of Southeast Asia. Boyd was echoing Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan, who placed the Mekong River Delta “between Cambodia and Vietnam” in an interview with ABC News. The Mekong Delta is not between Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodia is north and west of Vietnam, and the Mekong River flows to the southeast. It flows past the Cambodia/Vietnam border and continues on through the delta to the sea. Look at a map.
Boyd’s last “fact check” is especially outrageous. Instead of quoting us, he misrepresents what we said. Boyd writes:

H & J claim: Passage by Swift boats into Cambodia through the Mekong Delta from their base at Sa Dec was impossible. Fact: Clearly they have no knowledge of the delta. The Swift boats were stationed at Sa Dec precisely because of easy access to the Mekong River complex and the approaches to Cambodia.

This is just unbelievable. Put aside, for a moment, Boyd’s geographic confusion. We did not say that “Passage by Swift boats into Cambodia through the Mekong Delta from their base at Sa Dec was impossible.” We wrote: “On Christmas 1968, Kerry was docked at Sa Dec, 50 miles from Cambodia in an area from which the Cambodian border was in fact inaccessible.” We would have explained further, had our piece not been limited to 750 words. We based our statement that Cambodia was inaccessible on the testimony of Doug Regelin, who drove a Swift boat in Vietnam for a year (three times longer than John Kerry) in 1969, and who writes:

From the Cat Lo patrol area around Sa Dec, it would have been possible for a boat to enter Cambodia, except there were concrete barriers, river-assault group boats and PBRs guarding the entrance.

To sum up: Jim Boyd does not even attempt to deny any of the significant points we made. He simply assumes as true John Kerry’s revised version of his Cambodian fable, without acknowledging the contradictions among the various versions of Kerry’s story, and without noting that there is no support for the proposition that Kerry was ever in Cambodia, except for his own ever-shifting word. And where he challenges us on specific facts, Boyd is flatly wrong.
That’s a mighty weak basis on which to call us frauds, liars, and smear merchants. The hysterical tone of Boyd’s tirade shows, I guess, the desperation that has seized the Kerry campaign as the truth about their candidate finally begins to come out.
ONE MORE THING: If you think that the Star Tribune should run our response to Jim Boyd’s vicious, mean-spirited attack on us next Sunday, you can send a polite email to the editor of the Star Tribune’s editorial section, Eric Ringham, at eringham@startribune.com. If you would like to encourage Jim Boyd to act like a man and debate us face to face at the Minnesota State Fair next Saturday, you could make that polite suggestion to Mr. Boyd at boyd@startribune.com. Just a thought.

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