One of the truly valuable voices in the world on military issues belongs to David Hackworth. Hack is one of our most highly decorated military veterans, from his days as an underage merchant marine at the end of World War II through Korea, where he was the youngest captain in the Army, and Vietnam, where he was the Army's youngest colonel. In 1971, having spent 5 years in combat in Vietnam, Hack returned to the US and, as an active senior military officer, publicly told the truth about that war - that it was a war we could not win and it was time to get out. Since that time, he has been a war correspondent, seeing many more conflicts as a commentator and observer, and a bestselling author. The one thing you can be sure of with Hack is that you're getting the unvarnished reality. He is fiercely loyal to the grunts on the ground, and harshly critical when the politicians and armchair generals let them down.
There is a new column up on his website about the political abuse of Vietnam that is now dividing the nation again. As usual, he is blunt:
Sure, Bush dodged the draft, along with a reported 14 million other Americans with the savvy to work out that Vietnam was a no-win, sorry war. But although he had the luck and the connections to land a spot in the Air Guard, he did put his butt on the line flying a machine for which he was entitled to hazardous-duty pay - and that's because zooming around in a jet fighter was and still is highly dangerous.
And sure, Kerry's campaign push on how he Ramboed his way through the war - for four months - rubs a lot of vets the wrong way. And it does take its toll on those of us who prefer our heroes to be modest, unassuming types like Alvin York - who stayed the course until it was "Over, over there."
But politics and style aside, Kerry did serve with distinction in Vietnam when he easily could have avoided that killing field. His service to his country shouldn't be diminished by the same despicable, politically motivated tactics visited upon Sens. John McCain in South Carolina and Max Cleland in Georgia, also Viet vets. This kind of gutter-bashing doesn't belong in American politics, and vets shouldn't allow themselves to be used as ammo for cheap shots at one of their own.
The stalwart Brown Water Navy warriors who fought at Kerry's side say he was A-OK, which is good enough for me. The muckrakers such as John O'Neill and his Swiftboat snipers - who didn't sail on his boat but served anywhere from 100 meters to 300 miles away - are now coming off like eyewitnesses when in fact not one of their testimonies would hold up in a court of law. A judge would call these men liars and disallow their biased statements...
McCain has already asked President Bush to distance himself from this "dishonest and dishonorable" attack. Advice that Bush should take one step further by ordering Vietnam draft-dodger Karl Rove and the rest of the character-assassination squad who zapped McCain and Cleland to back off. And then publicly stand tall and say that this type of behavior insults every vet who's served America in peace and war.
I keep waiting for someone to point out the obvious here, that the Bush administration, while making political hay of their patriotic fervor, do not behave like patriots. True patriots would not have outed Valerie Plame to get a little cheap payback on her husband, whether he was right or wrong about the yellowcake from Niger. They burned an important intelligence asset and put a lot of lives and an ongoing counter-proliferation project in danger.
And I don't want to hear any of that "if you say anything against us you're insulting the troops" nonsense from an administration that sent tens of thousands of American soldiers into battle without body armor, and with thin-skinned vehicles so vulnerable to roadside IED and RPG attacks that the soldiers were forced to take what few flakjackets they had and attach them to the outside of the vehicles and hope that would protect them.
Mr. Bush, don't give me weepy-eyed speeches about supporting the troops when you're sending them into battle so unprepared that a lot of them died in attacks they should have been able to survive. And don't tell me how patriotic you are when your underlings are burning national security assets to settle political scores. And don't give me that old song and dance about honoring our war heroes while your campaign attack dogs have dishonestly savaged decorated veterans. While you were partying it up back home in a cushy assignment your dad pulled strings to get for you, Max Cleland was winning a silver star and a bronze star before giving an arm and both legs for his country. Yet your party dared to attack his patriotism and put ads on TV with his face morphing into Osama Bin Laden. While you were bravely defending Alabama against the Vietcong, John McCain was being tortured as a prisoner of war. Yet you saw fit to smear him in 2000 because he was a threat to beat you in the presidential campaign. Don't talk to me about patriotism because your actions have already spoken far louder than your empty words can now.
And by the same token, Mr. Kerry, I don't wanna hear about your time in Vietnam anymore. It doesn't mean anything to me. It doesn't tell me anything about what you would do in office as president. As dishonest as most of the Republican attacks on your service has been, you are also guilty of exaggerating your heroism for political gain. You didn't volunteer for the "dangerous duty" as swift boat captain because when you began that duty, the swift boats weren't sent up the rivers, they only did coastal patrols and that was among the safest jobs you could have in the Navy during Vietnam. And it appears that your claim about taking your boat into Cambodia is complete fiction. So give it a rest, already. I don't wanna hear about what you did 35 years ago on the other side of the world, whether it's real or invented. I wanna hear what you've been doing for the last 20 years in the Senate, and I wanna hear what you'll do if you're elected president.