The Not-So Greatest Generation

The Not-So Greatest Generation

How is it possible in this nation that a man like John Kerry can serve his country by going off to war and need to explain himself, while George W. Bush sits out the war and avoids any combat altogether, and gets a poll boost because of it?

The cause for this mind-numbing logic is the attention given in the media to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an anti-Kerry group claiming that Mr. Kerry is lying about his service. Never mind that the Washington Post has effectively debunked the group’s central claims, or that the New York Times has amply demonstrated the financial connections between the group and backers of Bush.

Instead of these actual facts countering the attention, we have 44% of vets and independents thinking that the group’s ads are somewhat believable. Given the above statements, you must forgive my apoplexy over the jaw-dropping stupidity of the American voter. Or perhaps it’s the way that once again, Republicans are smearing the armed forces (abetted from within) and getting away with it.

This is shades of both John McCain and Al Gore, but you need to admit, if a strategery works once, you might as well keep using the formula. During the 2000 race, operatives for the Bush campaign unleashed a torrent of smears and falsehoods against then-opponent John McCain, questioning his service and then, his sanity. This affected the McCain campaign a great deal -- much to the astonishments of free-thinking people, no doubt -- because here we had a candidate with an unimpeachable service record being ridiculed by cadres of men who never served. Yet the stratagem worked, derailing the Straight Talk express and resulting in McCain not only dropping out of the presidential race, but with twelve stab wounds in his back to show for his efforts.

Now we’ve come full circle. Unable to get any traction from the intern story, the Republicans have dusted off their favorite play: questioning the candidate’s character. Some Democrats have been critical over Kerry’s initial lack of response, culminating in a chilly reception at a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting. But you have to ask what is worse: that such a fraudulent case is being presented against a veteran, or that so many people are willing to believe it. It doesn’t help that Jake Tapper’s ABC News report of Thursday, 17 August, neither questioned the claims of the Swift Boat Vets nor presented a counter argument — indeed, if this were a story on Holocaust deniers, you’d walk away thinking there was something credible to “their side of the story.” Instead of investigating, the broadcast media has just helped themselves to a large plate of mud that they’re only too happy to fling.

Yet what’s more offensive is that no one in the public is asking for proof. Like sheep, a disturbing number of voters are accepting this deceit without question, reflected in poll numbers that show Mr. Kerry dropping as much as 18% among veterans. Worse, the non-issue has deflected what this election is supposed to be about: Iraq, terrorism, jobs, security, health insurance — you know, the issues that affect every one of us in the here and now. Instead, we are treated to a grudge match between a group of embittered, puny men throwing their veteran’s credibility to the wind and watching others follow suit. I have yet to see anyone demand the full release of Bush’s military record, or re-investigate the missing time he spent in what was called the Champagne Unit, where rich boys were sent by their fathers to avoid combat altogether.

That’s what is so morally repugnant about these smooth-tongued Swift Boat Vets and their lickspittle media enablers. We know that John Kerry served his country, yet it’s open season on him by questioning that service. The pathetic suggestion that he lied about his service, or somehow doctored reports of action isn’t taken to its logical conclusion: who else has lied? If Mr. Kerry is untruthful about his service, which he is not, then there is an entire chain of command that also lied and helped him, and that for over thirty years, this lie has gotten Mr. Kerry elected to Congress. It’s an impressive architecture, if only belonging to the realm of science-fiction.

I used to have a quiet respect for veterans, particularly those who served in Vietnam, but that respect is quickly eroding. Instead of being outraged that another veteran’s service is undergoing falsification, the silence of veterans is disturbing. At least in public, veterans like to hold themselves to a higher standard, based on their service and commitment to defending the country. One might think that such a high bar would demand an equally high threshold for impugning the integrity of a man who served in a combat zone. Instead, veterans are letting themselves be used by the Swift Boat Vets and accepting these proven lies without so much as a furrowed brow. Such complicity in face of outright fraud is a deep, wounding shame for those who beat others over the head with their moral superiority for having served, especially when the man who touts himself as the "commander in chief" cannot prove whether or not he fulfilled his own military requirement.

But no one should really be surprised. After all, Vietnam didn’t stop Republican chickenhawk Saxby Chambliss from maligning his rival Max Cleland, a triple-amputee whose service and commitment to America was questioned to the point where Mr. Cleland lost his congressional bid. It didn’t stop John McCain from being targeted and portrayed as mentally unstable, and it’s not stopping these bottom-feeders for trying it against John Kerry. The subtext is, of course, that Vietnam really doesn’t matter at all, and that you can simultaneously disdain the military while pretending to love it. Worse, the generation that went off to Vietnam is being grossly manipulated by those who never (and will never) serve in the armed services, all in the defense of president who likes to play soldier while sending real ones to die in a new conflict of his own making.