August 24, 2004

Kerry's evolving story
Posted by Jon Henke

Despite the fact that John Kerry has called them "lies", the Swift Boat Veterans seem to be forcing the Kerry camp into quite a lot of retreats, rowbacks and other concessions. Captain Ed has been positively invaluable in documenting the ongoing story. A few things he's noted recently....

* The [Washington] Post Runs A Stake Through The Heart Of Kerry's Cambodian Fable

Add to that the other recent evidence--from John Kerry's own hand--that contradicts John Kerry's story in a variety of places. It is a bit surprising, isn't it, that the best critic of John Kerry is...John Kerry.

It's a bit less surprising that the media isn't paying more attention to these inescapable discrepancies in his story.

UPDATE: Somehow, Matthew Yglesias manages to address this story, accuse Muravchik of "ignoring minor facts", call it "largely debunked".....and never--not once--address the points made by Muravchik: that...
a) Kerry's own journal appears to indicate that he was never there
b) Kerry's shipmates do not corroborate his story.

What's more, Matthew writes--as fact--that "Kerry was in Cambodia a few weeks later". What is the basis of this? Brinkley's after-the-fact suggestion that Kerry was in Cambodia a few times? A suggestion, by the way, contradicted by the Kerry camp, which is now saying Kerry was in Cambodia once.

With no apparent irony, Matt writes, "Muravchik's supposed to be a "scholar" but here he is acting like a campaign operative. There's nothing okay about it." Well, that cuts both ways, Matt.

* Has Kerry Backed Off Of First Purple Heart Claim?

I'm anxious for the Kerry camp to confirm or deny what Peter Garrett claims here....that they are standing behind the original "enemy fire" story, or retreating to the Swift Vets contention that it was self-inflicted.

And if so, will Chris Matthews be half as apologetic as he was uninformed? Just asking.

UPDATE: Media Matters is still running with this...

Following Michelle Malkin's August 19 appearance on MSNBC's Hardball -- during which host Chris Matthews refused to accept Malkin's false accusation that a shrapnel injury Senator John Kerry (D-MA) suffered in Vietnam was a "self-inflicted wound"...

Guess they haven't gotten the memo, yet.

* Fact-Checking The Gray Lady


Very consistently good stuff at Captain Ed's. Read him daily.

UPDATE: With Kerry backpedaling on various stories, this seems like an opportune time for Kerry's supporters to call for an end to Vietnam-era allegations, and Ezra steps up to the plate, saying "Fucking enough".

That is, he's had "enough" of the focus on the SwiftVets Vietnam allegations that have "shone light on everything corrosive, everything vile, everything that turns off Americans not just from voting but from civic participation".

The Bush/AWOL Vietnam allegations? Well, just yesterday, Ezra wanted to focus the debate on "his time AWOL".

Cause that's just different.



Ed should be getting a medal or soemthing for his work. Of course, that would be touted by Kamp Kerry as an illegal connection between a blogger and the president... an unfair advantage....


Posted by: Bithead at August 24, 2004 10:09 AM

I believe that the 3rd PH, where Kerry blasted his own ass with rice from a sloppily handled grenade is also worthy of disavowal.

If one OR two of the PH's are recanted, he owes the US Navy another 8.5 months of active service.

That should handily accommodate a court martial for treason, given his personal negotiations with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegations in Paris, and advocating in their behalf on his return to the states.

All while a reserve officer in the USN.

Any person who--

(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or

(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly;

shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.

Let us not forget to mention Kerry's Silver Star's mysterious combat V appearing on his DD-214 discharge, strongly indicated that its a forged instrument publicly displayed on his website, which would make it a clear violation of Title 18, USC 498 - Military or naval discharge certificates [altered or counterfeit]. Maybe he should get acquainted 2B1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. People get charged with it. People go to jail for it.

Posted by: recon at August 24, 2004 11:00 AM

Recon: I think the "V" device is a non-starter. The possiblity is just as strong that its a clerical error that no one caught. The reason I say this is the Silver Star exists, we have the citation, we have the admission by the chain of command that it was submitted. We have the picture of Zumwalt pinning it on.

So its not a matter of a "fradulent" Silver Star in the way you find faked ones on faked DD 214s. Whether you agree with him getting it or not, it was, in fact, awarded and that awarding is documented.

Posted by: McQ at August 24, 2004 11:11 AM

Matt is one of the folks who thinks that because he said it, it's good enough.

Gee, you'd think those folks were getting worried?

Posted by: RW at August 24, 2004 12:00 PM

Matthew: "By ignoring minor facts like that Kerry was definitely very close to Cambodia on Christmas Eve, Kerry was in Cambodia a few weeks later, and Kerry was entirely right to say the US government was lying about sending troops across the Cambodian border"

Indeed, all three of his points appear to be true and were completely ignored by the AEI scholar. They also significantly emphasize that the discrepancy is Kerry's comments is largely a matter of a few weeks. For this, the "scholar" tells us we shouldn't vote for Kerry. That is, indeed, ridiculous.

Fred Kaplan, who's a relatively fair commentator, also makes some good points here:

Ezra is correct that many of the SBVT claims have been found to be baseless or grounded in extremely weak evidence. Kerry's positions on everything but Cambodia are clearly backed up by both records and eyewitnesses. SBVT has witnesses who in some cases can't prove they actually witnessed anything and in others are directly contradicted by their own military records and past statements. Given that, they have recieved far, far more media attention than they deserve.

Posted by: gordon at August 24, 2004 12:38 PM

This is a very good, balanced assessment of most of the SBVT charges. It's worth a look, no matter who you're more inclined to believe:

Posted by: Gordon at August 24, 2004 12:45 PM

Indeed, all three of his points appear to be true and were completely ignored by the AEI scholar.
Being "close" doesn't count...not in the least. It's like being pregnant. Besides, the entrances to Cambodia were walled off with patrol boats and concrete barriers. He'd *know* if he was in Cambodia.

re: "was in Cambodia a few weeks later"....I'm not sure that true. Or rather, if it is, somebody should probably produce the evidence that he was definitely in Cambodia at a later date. There's been nothing yet, aside from two contradictory claims from the Kerry camp and Brinkley.

I agree that the scholar should not have extrapolated voting preference from this incident, though. Similarly, Matthew should have addressed, you know, the points.

Ezra is correct that many of the SBVT claims have been found to be baseless or grounded in extremely weak evidence.

Actually, I agree. On the other hand, I think some of Kerry's claims seem to have been found baseless, or weak, as well. Oddly, though, those discrepancies are being completely ignored by Ezra and others.

Meanwhile, the Bush/AWOL thing is given currency, even pushed, by people decrying what this "vietnam thing" has done to political discourse.

I mean, gimme a break. Terry McAuliffe and Ed Gillespie would be proud of that kind of flackery.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 24, 2004 12:54 PM


This is a very good, balanced assessment of most of the SBVT charges

Thanks. We've read it. McQ addressed it at the time.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 24, 2004 12:59 PM

One of the Right's most potent weapons is that the Left, represented by Yglesias sorts, truly doesn't have a complete view of the whole picture nor, apparently, enough logical equipment to make sense of what it does see. Clinton, for all his negatives, did have this ability but he was more of an genetic defect who was, intellectually and psychologically, more naturally a moderate conservative. The problem with people like Yglesias is that are so certain they are right that they can never see when they are wrong and, thus, never able to self correct. They are sitting ducks in a war of movement such as the Swiftie thing has become. They are defending positions long since enveloped and expending resources on attacks irrelevant to the outcome of the issue. Part of this is due to the brilliance and timing of the Swifties campaign for it surely was SHOCK AND AWE and a beautiful thing to watch. But the beauty of the campaign was that it involved such detailed knowledge of their opponent as much as precise tactical execution. They could see through the PRESENTED picture of Kerry to the REAL Kerry and rested their design on what was REAL. The plan was built on solid rock. There was no defense from the beginning. It was not even in doubt. And, Kerry's nature (toally built on a LACK of self) is such that it could only contribute to the rout once started. The Kerry Campaign is in MELTDOWN and is not controllable by THEM. Press the attack BLOGGERS and take no prisoners, for they would surely not be merciful to YOU -- not for ONE second!!

Posted by: JingoJim at August 24, 2004 02:25 PM

Interestingly enough for all the back and forth the Kerry people must feel a deep frustration that they can't let go of things and are compelled to keep this issue alive hoping somehow to come out on top. Old saying..."When you find yourself in a hole its a pretty good idea to stop digging....". Now we see that Kerry's own notes in some cases undermine his claims. Most entertaining to watch is the Herculean effort of the Kerry camp to try gamely to force Bush to make a specific statement regarding a few of the actual Swifty TV spots. Of course if He did so he would immediately be "involved" with this outside group. His backers are far too smart to let that happen. The Kerry pinheads know full well that it is actually against the rules for a sitting president to comment directly either against or in support of 527's. The Dems have sat back for over 10 months watching with folded hands and innocent looks while their political Ninjas such as and crazy screaming Dean have said about every possible libelous disrespectful thing possible about Bush/Cheney while spending over 60 million through the 527 pipeline. Now the Reps spend less than a million and attack the Dems darling in his supposed strength and the Kerry wienies cry like a bunch of three year olds. The real problem underlying all this nattering BS and smoke is the Dems have nowhere to go from here. They can't run Kerry on his congressional record. They got next to nothing in terms of a bounce from the non-issue based Dem convention. The Reps have the convention and the debates coming up and will absolutely hammer on the past voting record of little lord anti-everything Kerry. Then there are other annoyances adrift in the land of Kerrywood. Nader is busily moving onto as many state ballots as he can get through the courts even while the Dems desperately endeavor to throw legal road blocks in his way. Again the whines from Kerry supporters have more to do with bitching about those bastard Reps who are helping Nader than why his running is such a threat to their luckless Walter Mitty . Additionally in that vein, some Dems are really worried they have hitched the electoral wagon to a candidate suffering from the same malady as Gore, "serial exaggeration".

Posted by: Hunter at August 24, 2004 02:36 PM

Kaplan's usual disingenuous crap flies for those who do not, or will not, pay attention to the full issue at hand. But for those following closely, like Hugh Hewitt, we know it's well... crap.

Posted by: HH at August 24, 2004 02:52 PM

the original "enemy fire" story, or retreating to the Swift Vets contention that it was self-inflicted.

Let's note for the record that even if it was self-inflicted, that does not preclude a PH issuing. Even a self-inflicted wound will qualify if it occurs during contact with the enemy.

I defer to no-one as regards the depth of my distaste for Kerry, but we need to do a better job than the left on making sure our facts are right. They are forgiven any distortion while even a tiny mis-statement from us is seized upon as proof we're intentionally lying and our arguments can therefore be dismissed. So, yes, Kerry's (apparent) admission that that medal "may" have come from a self-inflicted wound does represent a step back from previous claims, but not such a large one as to invalidate the medal.

Posted by: Dodd at August 24, 2004 03:35 PM

Dodd: You're correct. However, that's under the "friendly fire" provision of the PH reg and it requires there be "hostile fire". Per everyone there they were not under hostile fire (or according to some, they don't know if they were under hostile fire). His own journal notes his depature a few days later to his new base and comments that he and his crew have yet to be fired upon.

The PH reg very specifically points out that those who wound themselves through negligence are not eligible for a PH. So his first and his third (especially his third) appear to fit the "negligence" criteria and not the "friendly fire" provision. The third (shrapnel in the rear) was definitely not a result of "friendly fire" but of negligence when he threw a grenade on a rice cache in an attempt to destroy it (which, for the life of me I don't understand ... that's not how you would destroy a rice cache).

Posted by: McQ at August 24, 2004 03:45 PM

Dodd/McQ: So noted. And thanks for adding that.

Speaking for myself, I would not begrudge him a Purple Heart, regardless of the origins of the shrapnel. My beef is with his story, and not with his service.

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 24, 2004 03:47 PM

Jon: Understand, but I do begrudge it.

That's not what Purple Hearts are awarded for ... they're awarded for wounds suffered in combat with a hostile force ... not blowing yourself up trying to frag some rice. While Kerry's wounds weren't intentional, they were certainly a result of negligence, and in at least one case, certainly not sustained under hostile fire.

There's no reason to have criteria if any wound will do.

Posted by: McQ at August 24, 2004 04:04 PM

So which is it? Was Kerry's Vietnam War record "honorable" as Bush says? Or was it dishonorable and a fraud as SBVT says? It can't be both. If it's honorable then Bush has an obligation to denounce the ads specifically. Not a legal obligation of course (and don't give me any crap that him denouncing a 527 would be a legal violation. That's absurd sophistry - the law says no "coordination" not no "comment"). But a moral one. Just as Kerry has a moral obligation to denounce any MoveOn ad he disapproves of. Bush would be in his right if he said that by not explicitly condemning a MoveOn ad Kerry is tacitly approving it. It's not about 527s. It's about a specific and central campaign message. If Bush agrees with the content of the SBVT then he needs to stop lying and start saying that he thinks Kerry's service was dishonorable and fraudulent. If he continues to do both: say that his service was honorable and then refuse to condemn the content of the ad offered on his behalf then he is a duplicitous coward.

Posted by: Elrod at August 24, 2004 08:30 PM

False choice, Elrod. Kerry is not either a "hero" or a "liar". The truth may lie somewhere in between. The SBVs may--as seems to be the case--be wrong about some things, and right about others.

At this point, we don't know. (although, partisans from both sides are being far too quick to claim they do)

Posted by: Jon Henke at August 24, 2004 08:39 PM

Not really a false choice because the sides (Bush vs. SBVT that is) offer such starkly different value judgments. One says he is "dishonorable and fraudulent" and the other says he is "honorable". The SBVT aren't just niggling with a few details, or pointing out a few moments of Senatorial grandstanding about Cambodia. They're presenting a comprehensive case that Kerry's entire service is a fraud. That his medals were not deserved. That his after-battle reports were written with a political career in mind. That he ran from the scene of danger. That he was far from heroic and any time he was in Vietnam. And this is just the medals attacks - which form the basis of the first SBVT ad. If the SBVT are to believed then Kerry is a dishonorable fraud, plain and simple. Sure, one can say that Kerry is right on the merits on everything but Cambodia - which you seem to be doing. But that doesn't mean his service is dishonorable - even if he is guilty of embellishing there on Christmas in Cambodia. Bush could jump in on the Cambodia story too without being inconsistent on the honorableness of Kerry's service because the Cambodia issue really isn't about his service (no medals are at issue) so much as his Senatorial theatrics during the Nicaraguan war. (And let's be honest: the only reason we still talk about the Cambodian story is that out of dozens of different SBVT attacks it's the only one that can't be categorically disproven.) But on the core case - Kerry's service record for which he received 3 purple hearts, a bronze star and a silver star - there really is no grey area here. It is these medals that form the foundation of Kerry's "honorable" service. Without them he is merely a common soldier, courageous enough to have volunteered for Vietnam but certainly not especially heroic - or exceptionally honorable. Thus the SBVT ad - especially the conclusion offered in the ad - must be either accepted in toto or rejected.

Posted by: Elrod at August 24, 2004 09:35 PM


(And let's be honest: the only reason we still talk about the Cambodian story is that out of dozens of different SBVT attacks it's the only one that can't be categorically disproven.)

That's not so. We still talk about the Cambodian story partly because the evidence against it was overwhelming and because Kerry had already told several different stories about it. (My own reason for talking about this comes after your next quote.) Also because Kerry said it was "seared--seared" into his memory, making any deviations from truth to be very close to a lie rather than an innocent mistake. And Kerry has now admitted through others that he had not been telling the truth, but has switched to several other stories which still conflict and for which he has no evidence. That's why the left avoids talking about this issue.

It is these medals that form the foundation of Kerry's "honorable" service.

I personally do not care about Kerry's medals. I accept that he served honorably. However, I do care very much what he did after the Vietnam war. That's why I focus on the "Christmas in Cambodia" issue--we are concerned about what he kept saying about it after the war. He made the story the basis of his argument in the Senate against the then-president, accused a former president of a lie, and kept telling the story in interviews. Kerry made it a big issue, not the right. Kerry and you cannot now complain that it is now being discussed.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did not focus only on Kerry's medals--I believe that about half of their book is about what Kerry did after the war. It seems that you are distorting the emphasis, not SBV.

Posted by: Rory Daulton at August 24, 2004 10:09 PM

I'll focus on your second claim because I largely concede your point about Cambodia. Kerry DID make the war a central issue in his campaign, absolutely. And it would be perfectly within the rights of SBVT to spend all their energy on Kerry's post-war activities. But this is about more than a small-run book from Regnery Press. This is about a coordinated media campaign including a TV ad and numerous appearances on the cable news shows where the central issue has been the medals. Everybody knows the post-war was the subtext. But the conversation on TV wasn't about 1971; it was about 1969. If SBVT wanted to emphasize the post-war among its complaints then it should have put out the second ad first.

Now I have a theory about why they put out the medals ad first. (You'll probably disagree but here goes). It's because they cannot accept the fact that what John Kerry said in 1971 might be true. Not that every person at Winter Soldier was legit, or that every soldier was a war criminal, but that the war crimes Kerry spoke of ever happened, that the war was fought on false pretenses and that the political leadership in America (both parties) continually misled the people about what was going on. Read the ENTIRE 1971 testimony and you'll see a lot more than revelations of war crimes. Now there are few who deny that these war crimes happened, even if "routine" was an overstatement. (Nor is it worth denying that the war crime allegations are the most poignant because they go to the heart of soldierly conduct). Even Tommy Franks admitted that Kerry's 1971 testimony was largely accurate. But for many vets it was unacceptable for somebody to say those things. So Kerry HAD to be lying in 1971 when testified as a decorated returned soldier. And to prove Kerry was lying in 1971 they wanted to show that not only was he lying in his testimony, he was a liar before that. In other words, his, and the entire anti-war movement, could be discredited if one of its own great heroes is revealed as a fraud. After all, if somebody exaggerates on their medals they'll easily exaggerate on war crimes. So SBVT felt that the best way to discredit Kerry's post-war protests, and reclaim their honor from the attacks of the anti-war effort, would be to show Kerry's heroism to be a complete sham. The problem is that it backfired. Eyewitnesses almost unanimously back Kerry. Instead of being revealed as a fraud Kerry looks every bit as heroic in battle as he and Brinkley portrayed. Even worse for SBVT, many people - especially those too young to experience Vietnam - will look at these vets as disgruntled liars and not as honorable men. Sympathy for men like Giganti who suffered horribly in a POW camp won't be as great because people just won't believe him. That's why the medals thing is so important - for SBVT, for Kerry and for Bush. It may have been only one part of "Unfit for Command" but it was far and away the most prominent part of the whole charge against John Kerry.

In every losing war this issue comes up - how do you differentiate the noble soldier from the ignoble or losing war. Ask a German vet from WWII (regular soldiers, not SS), or WWI, or look at what ex-Confederate soldiers had to say in the decades after the Civil War. The only way Southerners could reconcile defeat was to say either "all fought bravely" or "the lost cause was the just cause" or more commonly, both. After Vietnam there are few who talk about the heroism of soldiers in Vietnam, and even fewer who defend the cause. Vietnam vets faced ostracism back home like no other veterans group. Worse than insulted (soldiers of wars lost are often insulted, even if subtly, by the way) they were forgotten. It's that pain that lay at the center of the SBVT campaign. But it's also a pain that has never been harnassed in a way to generate deep sympathy - especially among those who grew up after Vietnam (like myself, born in 1973). All of this is why I, a Democrat, look on the SBVT effort with sadness and not anger.

Posted by: Elrod at August 24, 2004 11:27 PM


That's a good post, even if I disagree with parts of it.

You may be right about the motivations of SBVT. Many, but not all, of the group have said that Kerry's 1971 testimony is the reason they dislike him so much.

I don't know why their first ad was about Kerry's medals. And I admit this first ad is one reason why the cable shows focused on the medals. But that's not the only reason. I saw a couple of shows where the host tried to talk about Cambodia or Kerry's activities after the war but the Democratic operative insisted on shifting the conversation back to the medals. Each side tries to focus on their strong point: that's no surprise.

Posted by: Rory Daulton at August 25, 2004 03:18 AM


If they'd run the second ad first, it would have had zero impact. There'd already been a flap about flinging medals, Kerry'd admitted he shouldn't have used the word "atrocity," and called some of his testimony "over the top." It was old news. Kerry opened the door for discussion of his record at the Dem National Convention, and O'Neill, an accomplished trial lawyer, seized the opportunity. The first ad was essential to set up the second (which I think we all agree is their real issue).

Posted by: Cecil Turner at August 25, 2004 12:42 PM

After reading some comments on other blogs, I took a look at the John Kerry campaign website ( to see what was actually there in his military records ( I saw that the silver star citation is there as originally presented by Vice Admiral Zumwalt, Jr-- that citation contains a lot of specific information about the number of Viet Cong killed and wounded and the confiscation of combat essential supplies.

Scrolling further down on the military records page, there is a link to the silver star citation-- (
Look at that file and you'll see a modified citation-- curiously this is signed by Admiral Hyland. Continuing on down in that file, yet another citation-- number 3!-- is there, with yet another version of the events-- this one is signed by the Secretary of the Navy-- John Lehman. I understand that John Lehman denies any knowledge of the reissuing of this silver star-- Kerry claims it was reissued to replace the original lost citation. If that is the case, can someone explain to me why a copy was not made of the original citation-- by Vice Admiral Zumwalt, Jr. Isn't that the way replacements are usually made? I wouldn't think it would be time to "rewrite history" in getting a replacement citation.

One other niggling descrepancy came to light as I looked through John Kerry's records-- and that was the DD215 ( a form used to make corrections to the orignial DD214 that was created at his retirement. Among other changes, this document adds the Viet Nam Service Medal with 4 bronze stars. These stars represent involvement in specific campaigns in Viet Nam. If you were not there for the campaign, you don't get the star. The Navy has gone on record as stating that John Kerry only qualifies for two bronze stars, based on his short time in Viet Nam. Interesting. This DD215 was done in 2001. I suspect the update was done at John Kerry's request and the changes made should have been done only with documentation from John Kerry. It would be very interesting to hear from Kerry the rationale he used to make these additions to his military record so long after the fact.

I have not read anyone else making this point about the three versions of the citation and the change in his original DD214 to reflect 4 bronze stars. John Kerry can't deny the evidence-- it's all on his campaign website-- but I would sure be interested in hearing his explanation.

Posted by: Alan Moeller at August 31, 2004 10:29 AM

I did a search for SBVT and came up with numerous pro-kerry assault groups. I scrolled several pages and never did find the SBVT website. I think it is a concerted effot to ensure that people don't find the website and the facts about the self-named hero kerry.

I did reply to several of them because I was really disgusted with what I read. The SBVT is doing an awesome job. I have sent money to them and I just signed up to buy the book from the POWs.

Our country is forever in the debt of those real heroes for their work during war and their work to expose that traitor despite the DNC designed personal attacks against them attacking their character.

Posted by: army72 at September 11, 2004 06:57 PM