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Derek Catsam ’93 has started a raucous discussion on the Kerry versus Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) controversy at his other blog.

I would suspect that part of the reason we have been so quiet on Rebunk of late is that the presidential campaign, a topic obviously close to all three of us, has recently devolved into a rather unseemly war of words over John Kerry’s Vietnam service, a war of words into which Tom, Steve, and I have simply not wanted to become involved. But I do not want silence on my part to constitute an implication of apathy.

I am astounded that Republicans are going on the attack to impugn Kerry’s service.

In the comment section, Derek accuses the SBVT folks and their supporters of “vitriolic lies.” He asserts that:

You are not willing to condemn ads, books, interviews that lie. That lie outright. That so warp and misrepresent the truth as to be useful for nothing other than partisan gain. It just happens that your party is benefitting, thus, apparently, the silence.

I am no historian (!), but this seems over the top. I don’t think that everything that SBVT claim is a lie. In particular, their claim that Kerry has misrepresented his Chistmas visit to Cambodia (see page 17ff of this pdf) seems well-supported. See here and here for other commentary in the blogosphere.

My claim is not that everything that the SBVT is the truth, nor that Kerry shouldn’t be President, nor that this whole controversy really matters. My point is that Derek is setting a bad example for future Eph historians everwhere. Does he have any evidence that the SBVT are lying about Kerry’s service in Cambodia and his representations of that service?

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Comments Disabled To "Vitriolic"

#1 Comment By Loweeel On August 30, 2004 @ 10:15 pm

This article certainly applies, (at least insofar as any 0th order approximation can apply to something like politics, as I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as Right, but neo-Libertarian) to Derek’s politics and baseball allegiance vs. my own

#2 Comment By Derek On August 30, 2004 @ 10:58 pm

So, let me get this straight: If there is even an element of truth in something, then even if the rest (and the part on which SBVT is mostly hinging their case — it is duplicitous to say the least to argue that the brunt of their case really rests on the Cambodia question, though more and more it appears that way as their larger case is being revealed for what it is) is nonsense, misrepresentations, obfuscations and lies, we cannot condemn it as untrue because there is some element of truth in it? This is peculiar. And in any case, the logic must go both ways. Since it is true that Kerry earned three Purple Hearts, or that he earned two medals for distinguished service, then everything he has said is true? In any case, The New Republic has pretty well eviscerated most of the case against Kerry. My favorite instance being when SWV”T” attack dog John O’Neil is caught saying one thing about his own Cambodia experience recently on tv and another in which he said the exact opposite thing to Nixon after his return. So, yes, hidden in the deep folds of grotesquerie there might be a point that Kerry was not in Cambodia precisely when he says he was, though he may have been there three months later. If this is what SBVT now claims as truth, the reed is even thinner than I thought.

#3 Comment By (d)avid On August 31, 2004 @ 12:10 am

1) I’m not sure this is the best thing to post on Ephblog. Writing something on an alum’s blog is a bit of a stretch of “all things Eph.”

2) “Setting an example for future Eph historians?” Is this a joke? Derek is writing on a blog. Blogs are (often) intended to be random thoughts that the author has an wants to share. A historian who keeps a blog does not need to “soak and poke” in archives for every entry.

3) “Everything that SBVT claim is a lie.” How low a standard is that? You can fill your ad with statements you know to be false as long as you pepper it with a couple of true statements?

4) I can’t believe a man with a PhD in economics from Harvard would give the SBVFT a second thought. The “controversy” either doesn’t exist or is based on falsehoods:
a) They claim to have “served with Kerry”, but none were on his boat under his command (one person was assigned to the boat after Kerry had left the service);
b) Most of the current statements directly contradict statement made by the same people years ago. Either the SBVFT were lying in the 70s and 90s or they are lying now;
c) The doctor, Lewis Letson, who claims to have operated on Kerry isn’t the doctor listed on the medical records;
d) The Navy records generally back Kerry’s version of the events (whether he was in Cambodia in January instead of Christmas — a claim he made once or twice in the 80s, I think — is a red herring and that is leaving aside the fact that John O’Neill, the author of Unfit For Command, told Nixon that he himself went into Cambodia);
e) Almost every major newspaper has agreed that the Swift Boat Veterans have virtually no credibility and the historical record is on Kerry’s side. Why should Derek provide evidence the SBVFT are lying when most investigative journalists agree?

The SBVFT have publicly stated that they felt betrayed when Kerry came home and organized an anti-war group and testified in Congress. Fair enough. They should be able to make the case that Kerry’s testimony after serving in Vietnam was unpatriotic or disloyal. But they shouldn’t be able to produce an ad that they know to be untrue and amounts to libel. Saying as much in a blog is not “over the top.”

Nor is this a discussion that really belongs on Ephblog. It doesn’t need to be apolitical, but the veracity of the first SBVFT ad is off-topic.

#4 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 6:56 am

To Derek:

My sloppy writing has failed me again. I do not mean to claim that if one thing that SBVT say is true, then everything they say is true. Instead, my claim is that at least some of the most important and powerful things that they say is true — or, rather, that I have seen no good evidence to the contrary. An example is the Christmas in Cambodia story. Another example would be their second add, about Kerry’s testimony to Congress in 1971.

My purpose, in all seriousness, is to engage you in a debate about the historical accuracy of these claims. One of the purposes of EphBlog — to my mind — is to provide a forum where alums with very different perspectives can engage in such debates.

Of course, I am being a little unfair by picking the strongest, IMHO, SBVT claims as the ground to fight over. I would, obviously, have a tougher time if the topic were SBVT claims about medals and purple hearts. But, since you made (and still make) some fairly sweeping claims about what the SBVT say, I think that it is reasonable for me to try to focus our dispute on one or two issues.

See my answer to (d)avid for more details.

#5 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 7:09 am

To (d)avid:

1) Reasonable people will disagree about what should go into EphBlog. I think that providing a forum for debating issues of the day is one of its purposes. In my (limitted) experience, there are very few places, on the Internet and elsewhere, where you can find intelligent people of goodwill and widely divergent opinions will to debate controversial topics in good faith. I agree that this is not the *primary* purpose of EphBlog, but I trust that you don’t mind if those of us who enjoy it do it.

2) I am not joking when I challenge Derek on this, in his professional role as a historian. A blog is, of course, a much more casual place for thoughts than a working paper or published article. Derek is under no obligation to debate me. But I do believe that his sweeping claims about the SBVT are unsupported and unsupportable. I have thrown down the gauntlet on this one.

3) See above. Of course, one truth does not negate a packet of lies. Since the SBVT have a lot to say, I thought that it would be useful to focus specifically on one or two of their claims. If Derek agrees with those claims, then we can move on to something that he disagrees with.

4) You write “I can’t believe a man with a PhD in economics from Harvard would give the SBVFT a second thought.” Well, not to be snarky, but you should get out more. Have you read their book? Have you read the free chapter that I linked to? Have you seen the adds (available from the website I linked to)? They make a powerful case. Perhaps I have not been skeptical enough about the material that they present, but I like to think that I have an open mind on the topic.

In any event, I’ll go through your other points in later comments.

#6 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 7:38 am

(d)avid writes:

a) They claim to have “served with Kerry”, but none were on his boat under his command (one person was assigned to the boat after Kerry had left the service);

This is simply not true. Stephen Gardner, a member of the SBVT and star of their 3rd add, served as gunner on Kerry’s boat for two months.

Moreover, I think that your use of the phrase “served with” is less than useful. For most veterans, you “served with” someone if you were in uniform and a part of his unit. An example would be William Rood who “served with” Kerry, although never on the same boat.

b) Most of the current statements directly contradict statement made by the same people years ago. Either the SBVFT were lying in the 70s and 90s or they are lying now;

This is just not true, at least for the “most” part. There are some examples involving SBVT members who said nice things about Kerry in his earlier Senate races, but these are small points. (If you want to cite any particular quote, I would be happy to address it.)

c) The doctor, Lewis Letson, who claims to have operated on Kerry isn’t the doctor listed on the medical records;

This is almost laughably uninformed. The Kerry campaign does not dispute that Letson was the doctor who “operated” on Kerry. The paper work was filled out by J.C. Carreon, a corpsman.

I don’t fault you for not following this debate closely, but you shouldn’t be under the impression that these talking points are at all accurate, or even still operative in the debate.

d) The Navy records generally back Kerry’s version of the events (whether he was in Cambodia in January instead of Christmas — a claim he made once or twice in the 80s, I think — is a red herring and that is leaving aside the fact that John O’Neill, the author of Unfit For Command, told Nixon that he himself went into Cambodia);

This is true, to some extent. Of course, Navy records are written by the Navy, which means Navy officers with knowledge of the events in questions, which, to some degree means Kerry.

The more important point is that it would be easier for Derek or you or I to investigate these matters if Kerry were to release all his Navy records. Alas, he has refused to do so. (He has released only a handful of the items needed to fairly determine how much the records “back” his version of what happened.)

e) Almost every major newspaper has agreed that the Swift Boat Veterans have virtually no credibility and the historical record is on Kerry’s side. Why should Derek provide evidence the SBVFT are lying when most investigative journalists agree?

Hmmm. Please provide a citation where the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal or report that the SBVT have “virtually no credibility”.

#7 Comment By (d)avid On August 31, 2004 @ 9:43 am

#8 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 10:15 am

You used the phrase “virtually no credibility.” I don’t think that the editorials you cite back up this claim. I would certainly agree with your (revised?) claim that the editorial boards of most major newspapers believe that the “weight of the evidence” supports Kerry over the SBVT.

But I think that it is most helpful to talk about *specific* claims and counterclaims rather than discuss everything in a confusing mish-mash. I suggested two specific items: SBVT claims that Kerry is lying when he claims to have been in Cambodia during Christmas 1971 and SBVT add #2 about Kerry’s Congressional testimony.

On these specific claims, I believe that the SBVT are correct. If you disagree, what evidence would you like to cite against them?

FYI, here is a section of the Washington Post editorial that you reference.

Mr. Kerry’s conflicting statements about where and when he was in Cambodia remain troubling. He has backed away from repeated claims that he spent Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia, a memory that, he said in a 1986 Senate speech, is “seared — seared — in me.” This does not undermine Mr. Kerry’s military bravery, but it does raise an issue of candor. It’s fair to ask whether this is an episode of foggy memory, routine political embroidery or something more. Indeed, the Kerry campaign ought to arrange for the full release of all relevant records from the time.

#9 Comment By Mike On August 31, 2004 @ 11:03 am

If anyone cares about what my take on this situation is: Regardless of whether Kerry “deserved” his medals or not (and I do understand how the facts that have been raised cause people to question the number and type of medals he received), Kerry deserves points in the mind of any voter for the fact that he served. It was honorable and regardless of anything else, Kerry was there and Bush/Cheney were not. At the end of the day this is but the most minor of points: Presidents should be elected based on their vision for the future and the more relevant record of what they’ve done as senators, governors, representatives, or in their careers. It’s ridiculous for the Democratic Party to start acting like war records matter cuz if they did George H.W. Bush’s second term would have been followed by 8 years of Bob Dole with McCain ahead by a gazillion votes this cycle.

And I think the point raised in the second Swift ad is one that Kerry really is obligated to answer. That is, upon returning to the U.S. the way in which the group he led fought against the war was utterly disgusting (http://www.perryonpolitics.com/archives/002143.html). If the Vietnam war was lost on the home front, I understand why some call John Kerry a field general for the force that defeated us.

#10 Comment By Sam Crane On August 31, 2004 @ 11:06 am

I am with Derek and (d)avid on this one (though I would disagree with the Yankees-Republican connection!). The SBV”T” smear is just that, a smear. It is a calculated plan on the part of the Bush campaign to assasinate Kerry’s character because, quite frankly, there is no other political strategy that they can find. The unfortunate truth is that negative campaigning works to drive up the negatives on a candidate’s polling. That has happened here. Let’s be clear: Kerry served honorably in Vietnam – and protested honorably on his return. The Bush people cannot allow the notion of honorable service to go unattacked because Bush did not serve honorably – he ducked out of fighting overseas and shirked the little duty that he had. At the same time, Bush is trying to make himself into the bigger patriot, but the only way to do that is to drive Kerry’s image down to his own pathetic level. That’s what this is all about.

At another level, this is about Bush’s failed presidency. His foreign policy is obviously the worst in the post-WWII era, the only debate is if it is worse than any of the twentieth century. His only economic thought is tax cuts, which will have serious medium and long-term effects, especially when coupled with the burgeoning spending he has done. Poverty and loss of health insurance and economic inequality: these are his domestic accomplishments. There is nothing there to defend, so the only thing to do is smear Kerry.

And it will get worse. The next couple of desperate months will see more and more inpugning of Kerry as a traitor and supporter of terrorists and closet gay who wants to kiss Edwards. It is depressing and disgusting but it just might work, and we will be stuck with another four years of domestic decline and international squalor.

#11 Comment By Mike On August 31, 2004 @ 11:36 am

Prof. Crane:

Could you explain why President Bush’s foreign policy is “obviously” worse than Jimmy Carter’s?

I can only imagine how safe we would be if on Sept. 11, 2001 President Bush had announced: “Today, our nation saw evil. As a result, we will boycott the 2004 Olympic Games.”

#12 Comment By Lee Altman On August 31, 2004 @ 11:52 am

I agree that you are taking this a little too far, stating that “My point is that Derek is setting a bad example for future Eph historians everwhere.” Derek did not publish these statements in a historical journal. The Rebunk Blog is an area for free discussion of ideas, which often veers into topics non-historical. Do we make a habit of trolling Eph Blogs looking for controversial statements to re-post here?

And is it standard practice on Ephblog, to hold our alums up as bad examples for their professions? If so, I’m sure we could dig up some examples of Ephs involved in financial scandals, etc etc. But that would be unseemly, not unlike the Swift Boat smear campaign itself.

As for the veracity of the Swift Boat claims, the SBVFT have destroyed their credibility by mixing several aims:
1. Questioning Kerry’s medals – This attack has been largely disproven by Navy records and additional witnesses.
2. Raising the “Cambodia story” – By no means clear-cut, see http://slate.msn.com/id/2105529 for example. Regardless, it is not on the same level as accusing him of lying to obtain medals.
3. Disparaging Kerry’s post-war activism – This attack is the least controversial. Sure, these guys have a right to dislike Kerry because he protested. Some of his statements are taken out of context for their second ad, but that’s a garden-variety negative ad tactic.

Derek is right to question the overall integrity of the SBVFT crowd, because they tried to combine all these points in an ad hominem attack. I.e., if John Kerry were actually a war hero, maybe his anti-war protests would be acceptable. But he’s no hero, because he lied to get his medals… Well, once the central attack is debunked, it starts to look pretty silly trying to defend the peripheral claims (i.e. Cambodia)…

Lee Altman, Williams ’93

#13 Comment By Sam Crane On August 31, 2004 @ 12:02 pm


It’s not even close. Carter’s initial policy toward the SU was to continue the Republican policy of detente. When faced with the invasion of Afghanistan, he had to change course. He did so by instituting econmic sanctions against the SU (which were largely thwarted by lack of international cooperation) and taking the symbolic gesture of not going to the Olympics in Moscow. What else should he have done? Invade East Germany? We were tactically and strategically in an inferior position in Europe. Attack Afghanistan? Don’t be silly: no one seriously considered military action against the Soviets for Afghanistan. Arm the mujahadeen? That became Regean’s primary policy response and it had major unforseen negative consequences for the US (the militarization of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan). Perhaps Carter was too easy on the Soviets at first, but he changed his policy when he saw it was not working.

Bush, on the other hand, has made many more, and more serious, mistakes. Let’s review:

Before 9/11, in an effort to prove to the world that he was not Clinton, he wasted time on North Korea (even ur-Republican Donald Gregg makes this argument) and fumbled on Taiwan (“we will do whatever is necessary to defend Taiwan.”). He also mishandled the Kyoto treaty (we can disagree on its substance, I am referring here to diplomatic process), needlessly alienating allies who might later prove useful in other foreign policy areas, say fighting a war on terror. And he was no better than anyone else, and possibly worse, on the rising threat of bin Laden (see Richard Posner’s cover story in this week’s NYT Book Review).

After 9/11 the initial invasion of Afghanistan went well. But then Bush walked away. Ask yourself: have we spent enough resources and time and expertise to make sure that the new central government in Kabul is viable, that the war-lord trade in opium has been eradicated (major source of terrorist financing), that the Afghan-Pak border is secure, that old Taliban and al-queda remnants have been mopped up, etc.? The answers are obviously “No.” We have not done enough in Afghanistan.

Then, Iraq. It was not a serious threat to the US or, even, the region. Its military was weakening under a sanctions regime that essentially worked. It had no ready capapbility in WMD and only the most tenuous and “non-operational” contacts with al-Queda. Invading it has been a supreme strategic diversion away from the focus on Afghanistan-Pakistan, and it has created a whole new territory for terrorist recuitment and practice. How is this a good thing? OK Saddam is gone, hooray. But is is quite possible that Bush has created a worse strategic situation for us. Does anyone seriously argue that Bush has done a good job in Iraq?

But if we make these sorts of criticisms, Bush and Co. say that we are unpatriotic, not supporting the troops, etc. Bush cannot face up the the failures of his policies. Whatever Carter’s failings might have been, he did.

That’s the short version. To continue to elaborate would undermine my host’s already strained forbearance.

#14 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 2:11 pm

To Lee:

Perhaps I should rephrase my statement to be: “Derek is setting a bad example for would-be Eph public intellectuals.” I think that Derek’s commentary both here and at Rebunk is a excellent. I often read it and link to it. I think that the quality of his comments with regard to the SBVT are not up to his usual high standards.

You ask: “Do we make a habit of trolling Eph Blogs looking for controversial statements to re-post here?” Well, yes. Or at least I read a great deal of Eph writing (some controversial, most not), in blogs and elsewhere, and link to and comment on it all the time.

You state:

And is it standard practice on Ephblog, to hold our alums up as bad examples for their professions? If so, I’m sure we could dig up some examples of Ephs involved in financial scandals, etc etc. But that would be unseemly, not unlike the Swift Boat smear campaign itself.

Ephblog posts anything and everything Eph related. When Ephs do well in finance and elsewhere, we post it. When they do poorly, we post it. You don’t need to do any digging since we had an entry about Ephs and financial scandals just last week. (Although if you know of other items, we would be eager to link to them as well.

If you find this “unseemly”, then you probably shouldn’t read EphBlog. Although most of the stories we link to are feel good ones with happy endings, some of them are not.

With regard to the Cambodia story, the Slate article that you link to is not impressive. I’ll address it below.

#15 Comment By Mike On August 31, 2004 @ 2:16 pm

Prof. Crane:

You’re completely right that Jimmy Carter’s initial policy was to continue the “Republican” policy of detente (detente was “Republican” insofar as we define “Republican” to mean pre-1976 Republican Party civil war). I have not, do not, and most likely will not ever defend detente. Indeed, I was very pleased when Prof. Shanks asked the Record for a file photo of Prof. McAllister so the photo of Kissinger could finally be removed as his faculty facebook photo (hopefully by throwing in a Williams connection, I can keep this thread upon a little longer… though at the end of the day (literally) that’s just going to make me have to stay at work later to finish a paper… *sigh*).

Yes, he put an embargo on the Soviets. The effect of the grain embargo was to hurt our farmers and not the Soviets as he allowed everyone else to sell to the Soviets without any consequence.

There was the matter of doing nothing when Iranian militants stormed our embassy until he finally got around to launching a disastrous military effort.

Panama, Taiwan, etc.

Anyway, I like a lot of the ideals of his foreign policy. He was just a disaster because he was utterly unwilling to do anything about them.

Onward to Bush:

Before 9/11: I just couldn’t disagree more on your assessment of Taiwan. If his policy actually were “we will do whatever is necessary to defend Taiwan” then he would have sold them Aegis cruisers which they very, very desperately wanted/demanded, but he did not. So I think your characterization is an unfair distortion of his actual policy. I guess we’ll just disagree on Kyoto, though if we’re talking about diplomatic process it seems worth mentioning that both Russia and China agreed to back our withdrawal from the ABM.

Afghanistan: The question becomes how many resources it would have taken to focus on Afghanistan the way you suggest we should’ve. Given the differences between Afghanistan and Iraq (lack of history of modernity, lack of infrastructure, lack of resources to help finance its own rebuilding,etc.) there’s plenty of reason to believe the job in Afghanistan would have been far, far more difficult than what we face in Iraq. And, despite your pessimistic assessment, there is a ton going very right in Afghanistan.

I’m not sure it’s worth arguing about Iraq, especially in such a difficult forum to persuade people as an internet chat board, as I doubt either of us is going to convince the other. The sanctions regime was not working. I think you can make a coherent and intellectually-honest case that you could have fixed the sanctions regime in the leadup to war given the fact that we were about to go to war (cf. Marc Lynch), but that too would have been a short-term solution as the international will simply was not there for a serious sanctions regime (just as it wasn’t there for war). Anyway, as was said last night by McCain, it was not a choice between a stable status quo and war, which you incorrectly posit it was.

Can you cite a specific example of your patriotism, or the patriotism of others like you being called into question? I’d find it easier to respond to a specific example.

#16 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 2:28 pm

Just a few random comments:
I am secure enough in my status as a writer and a historian not to worry about David’s (unintended, I think) cheap shot about my historical abilities. I will even stand on the original blog posts and comments, which were somewhat taken out of context. Indeed, I would encourage folks to go to the original post (I would love for you all to be reading Rebunk anyway) and see what I originally wrote and what the comments turned into. I agree with most that blogs have a different standard than scholarly work, but as important, that blog entries are different from the give and take of comment boards. I hold my blog to a high standard, and I think if you read it on a regular basis you’ll know that. But the comments become a bit more freeform, and yes, like anything visceral, the comments are not always up to standards I’d prefer. Nonetheless, I generally stand by what I have written both in my entries and in the comments. I encoirage you all to decide for yourselves.
If Republians and conservatives have decided that partisanship is all that matters, then they will continue to defend the SBVT campaign. If not many should speak up, as Andrew Sullivan has. If they don’t, I am curious why. Is it so important to impugn Kerry’s service when thus far the campaign increasingly hangs on flimsy accusations by folks whose credibility is itself suspect?
A quick comment about this nonsense that in the wake of 9-11 Carter would simply have boycotted the Olympics. Don’t take this personally, but that is just nonsense. It does not take much more than a modicum of historical knowledge to acknowledge that in fact Reagan picked up immensely on Carter’s program in Afghanistan. Of course that program ended up having the unintended consequence of fueling Islamofascism in Afghanistan, but to say that Carter was inactive is simply factually wrong. This is not a matter of interpretation, and you won’t get me spilling a lot of words in defense of the Carter presidency, but intellectual integrity would seem to compel me to defend us from ignorance, amen. People who make historical arguments probably ought to make sure that they are more than just ideological spleen venting. If you want to argue with me about historical facts and interpretations, I am more than comfortable with that.
But, conservatives, keep defending the swift boat claims as legitimate. Don’t distance yourselves from it. At this point, that says a whole lot more about you than it does about me. At least I have been consistent — I have decried much of Moveon.orgs demogoguery, I decried much of ANSWER’s piffle, I have defended the President against the loathsome and vicious claims that he is a Nazi or a fascist. That conservatives will not do the same, well, again, it does not speak to my intellectual integrity. I would have thought they’d have had issues on which they think they can stand. Perhaps not.
Finally, I am not certain anyone has the right (and I am not certain why they feel the need) to say what Ephblog is or is not, should be or should not be. I cannot help but point out to those who are saying that this is not a proper forum for us to do what we are doing that it happens to have engendered a great deal more conversation than any other posts in quite some time. How can that be bad for Ephblog?
Go Sox!

#17 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 2:32 pm

To Derek, (d)avid, Sam and Lee:

Let me try to get back to a single specific. I believe that the following are true:

1) Kerry claimed to have been ordered to go into Cambodia in late Decemeber 1971. Kerry claimed to have followed the order.

2) The SBVT claim that Kerry was neither ordered to go to Cambodia nor did he go there in late December 1971.

3) No member of Kerry’s crew claims to have been inside of Cambodia at anytime.

4) The Kerry campaign has backed away from this claim.

I want to focus on this single issue because I think that the SBVT (and their supporters) have made a very good case here, both on the historical question — what did happen 30+ years ago — and on the substantive question as to why it matters. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27211-2004Aug23.html for a longer take.

The Slate piece that Lee linked has been largely taken over by events. That is, the author Kaplan provided all sorts of reasons for why it was plausible to believe that Kerry was in Cambodia in December 1971 before the Kerry campaign undercut him.

#18 Comment By David Kane On August 31, 2004 @ 2:39 pm

Just to be absolutely clear, I did not intend my initial comment to be a “cheap shot,” at Derek’s talent as a historian or anything else. If I didn’t respect what he has to say, I wouldn’t bother reading it, much less linking to it.

Whether he is right or wrong about SBVT, he has not (yet) provided me with good evidence as to why what they claimed happened 30 years ago is farther from the truth than what Kerry (and others) say.

My claim is that, at least with regard to Cambodia, SBVT (in the book) were closer to the truth than Kerry (on the floor of the Senate).

#19 Comment By Sam On August 31, 2004 @ 2:47 pm


Yes, we will disagree. Your reference to Panama and Taiwan for Carter? Are you suggesting that we are in worse shape strategically since the canal was retro-ceded? How, exactly, have we been hurt there? And, further, do you also mean to suggest that the US should not have granted diplomatic recognition to the PRC? Has not an open relationship with the US been central to the transformation of China in the past 25 years? Has that, too, hurt us strategically? What would have been the alternative?

Back to Bush: In Afghanistan, the central state apparatus does not control the territory it claims, it is hardly a “state” at all. And what are we doing about it? The initial policy was not to put peacekeepers anywhere else in the country except Kabul. So we, and Karzai, have no capacity to counter the drug-growing and smuggling that finances al-Queda, nor can we stop the continuing insurgency. To do so would require a much larger commitment of international military force, but no one will deal with us because of Iraq. Rumsfeld does not want to deal with it because it does not fit in with his ideology of “revolution in military affairs.” It is worse than a job half-done.

Iraq was an unnecessary war which has now brought down on us disastrous consequences. The “major hostilities” demonstrated just how weak Saddam was militarily, a weakness that was certainly caused, in some part, by the sanctions regime. Moreover, he had no WMD (an embarrassing point to remember for war supporters, to be sure), a fact in itself which demonstrates that UN weapons inspections, too, worked. All Saddam could do was kill his own people, which he was depressingly good at. He did not pose a threat to us or any other country. The only reason, then, to invade, was to turn the regional strategic calculus in a more favorable direction, and that is precisely what appears to be blowing up in our face. The growing power of radical Shi’ite forces serves Iranian interests very well; disaffected Sunnis seem intenet on continuing the violence in the “Sunni triangle”; and the Kurds have not bought into key provisions of the provisional constitution: it is a matter of time until they pick up their toys and go home. Great. A three-way civil war. Or, if not that, simply a disintegration and Lebanonization. How does that serve our interests in the region?

#20 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 3:10 pm

Dave —
Yes, we get it — there is a gap in Kerry’s Cambodia story (hint: were he not in Vietnam, he would not be able to mix up what dates and times he may or may not have been in or near Cambodia. Luckily, I guess, the President does not have to worry about the vantage point from which he could be shot in 1971.) just as, tellingly, there is a gap in the same exact story of one of the accusers. But as I’ve said, it is highly disingenuous if you are maintaining that this is the case that has been at the heart of the SBVT campaigns. It now is, of course, because the rest of the campaign by and large has been revealed for what it is. This is the last time I am going to repeat this; that there is a nugget of truth amidst manifest falsehoods does not redeem the whole stinking bog. So congratulations. If your standard is now that somewhere in the muck the SBVT managed to cobble together some words that created sentences that were not lies and misrepresentations, then Huzzah! Good work. It’s quite a platform: “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth: Because Sometimes We Don’t Lie!” But keep defending it, folks. Keep defending it.

#21 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 3:13 pm

Dave —
It seems that with regard to thew non-cambodia stuff it is not that the evidence is not there, it is that you refuse to acknowledge it. these guys were not on Kerry’s boat. This is not a matter of interpretation. It is a fact. And it is a fact that, one might think, would give one pause. And so on. Almost all of the claims are demonstrably false, which is why we are talking about Cambodia.

#22 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 3:21 pm

By the way — you all should know that I do not take Dave’s words as anything but an attempt to get a conversation going, which has worked. Dave has supported my Red Sox Diary, has encouraged a Patriots version, and has linked to Rebunk (http://www.hnn.us/blogs/25.html — yes, I am shameless) frequently. I hope the rest of you think the same about what I write. No offense meant and none taken (but no prisoners taken, either).

#23 Comment By Lee Altman On August 31, 2004 @ 3:34 pm


Thanks for clarifying your intentions, and I am happy to see that Derek has not taken offense. And no, I do not intend to dig for dirt on fellow Ephs.

Look at it from my point of view. I discover EphBlog yesterday morning, add it to my Bloglines subscriptions, and today I already stumble into what appears to be a personal attack on my ’93 classmate. I’m glad that the appearance was false, but that’s how it looked to me.

In the spirit of constructive criticism, I think it would be more productive to mention that Derek has started an controversial debate on another Blog, and refer Ephs to Rebunk if they want to participate. By taking posts from Rebunk out of context and inserting your own opinion about Derek and his argument, you invite this sort of messy thread.

Thanks for putting up the site, and I hope to contribute in the future on something other than divisive political issues.

As for Cambodia, it’s quite complex. Tapes from Nixon’s White House have shown that John O’Neill claimed to be in Cambodia, yet today he claims he was not. This is relevant, when he is the author of a book saying that Kerry was never in Cambodia, based partially on the assertion that no Swift Boats were allowed across the border including his own. See http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=694&u=/ap/20040825/ap_on_el_pr/kerry_critic_swift_boats_1&printer=1.

I reiterate that the SBVFT chose to package their attacks together. If they had chosen to stick with the Cambodia story and the postwar testimony, this would not be such a huge controversy. It is very serious business to accuse Kerry of lying to obtain medals and fraudulently advertise himself as a war hero. You’ll have to excuse me if I show a little disgust, when they try to change the subject and effectively say “We can’t prove the bit about the medals, but he lied about being in Cambodia!” This coming from an author who himself lied about being in Cambodia.

#24 Comment By Loweeel On August 31, 2004 @ 4:13 pm

Re: O’Neill and Cambodia.

Listening to what O’Neill said, both then and now, in context, he never claimed not to have been in Cambodia. He merely said that they were not in Cambodia on Xmas. Out of all the swifties, only one served less than a year, and in his case, barely a third of a year, and we all know who that is… O’Neill admitted to being in Cambodia, however, it was after Kerry’s third injury, so Kerry was never in Cambodia.

There’s no contradiction in O’Neill’s statements unless and until one takes them egregiously out of context.

#25 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 7:07 pm

Loweel —
More slime, I see.
When you write: “We all know who that was . . .” What do you mean? Oh, I know, you were simply asserting that we are all so on top of things that certain facts do not need to be mentioned. Sorry — no go. This is the sort of sleazy crap that real conservatives, of whatever stripe, ought to be rejecting.. yes, after three purple hearts and a silver and bronze star that lucky bastard Kerry left after a brief period of time. Of course if you’d have bothered to have read the original Rebunk post and the article it references you’d note that one of the main points is that this irredeemably stupid argument that somehow Kerry’s relatively brief period of time diminishes his experience is worthless. But that does not prevent you from repeating it, as if it is worth anything in the current context. Bah. But this is what the GOP thinks they have, apparentlky, because rather than say “maybe this is not the wagon we want to hitch our star to” you continue to defend it.
And the “out of context” argument ranks among the lamer I have seen. It isn’t a lack of context. He said one thing once, with no microphones and no reason to lie, and then he says something else know when the filthy lucre is rolling in and the lights and cameras are on. It seems that the rest of us are providing what those of us who care about such things like to call “evidence,” now how about you showing the same courtesy — give us the full contexts, because as I saw it on the New Republic, in full un-ellipsed context, he said one thing then another now. Your ipse dixit comments notwithstanding, I’d like to see something backing your assertion.

#26 Comment By Sam Crane On August 31, 2004 @ 7:27 pm


I think the key point is that the GOP doesn’t have anything else to say accept this kind of smear. Iraq is a bust. The economy is not good. The only thing they can do is slime Kerry. We are on Cambodia now. Next will be his 1971 testimony. After that it will be something about Massachusetts (the anti-“Massachusetts liberal” thing will be too tempting to resist) and, finally, some wild distortions of Senate votes. It will be all negative, all the time. That’s my prediction.

As per the 1971 testimony, let’s remember that bad things did happen in Vietnam. War crimes were committed. Americans do not like to admit that but there is a sad truth there. How many, how bad, we can’t know. We have My Lai. There is also the story of Tiger Force that is largely ignored (hooray for the Pulitzer people for giving it an award). One of the worst aspects of nationalism is the historical forgetting it enforces. Read this story and weeep:


#27 Comment By Loweeel On August 31, 2004 @ 7:55 pm


Calm down!

I never said that Kerry’s time makes his experience worthless, nor do I even imply that. My point in saying that is, shockingly, related to the rest of my point in the previous post – that there’s an obvious answer to the “conundrum” of O’Neill that seems to be stumping you. Just like with O’Neill’s testimony, you’re taking my words so out of context that you’re losing my meaning.

My point is this: the fact that Kerry served significantly less time than the others does make it obvious how O’Neill could have been in Cambodia while Kerry wasn’t – in that it happened AFTER Kerry went home.

That’s all I was trying to say. Feel free to leave my throat at any time.

#28 Comment By Derek On August 31, 2004 @ 9:43 pm

Loweel —
I liked you better when you seemed to have a spine. I was on your throat because of your comment, with ellipses, about Kerry’s truncated service. I called you on it. And now you are whining about me misrepresenting what you fully meant. At least when I assert something strongly I stand the heat for it and defend myself. I don’t claim to have been misrepresented. In this case, you are pulling a Charles Barkley and seem to be saying that you misquoted yourself. I am not taking your words out of context (you seem to like going to that well a lot, though). I am taking them in the context in which an honest version of you would fully admit that you intended them. Nothing’s “stumping me,” Loweel, and I seem to be acquitting myself rather well here in articulated arguments, rather than hit and run cheap shots at which some of us seem to excel.

#29 Comment By David Kane On September 1, 2004 @ 8:15 am

Lee and Derek,

I wanted to begin with the Cambodia issue because it is beyond dispute that what SBVT say in the book (Kerry was not in Cambodia in Chistmas 1971) is true while what Kerry said on the Senate floor (he was in Cambodia in Chistmas 1971) was not.

If you do not accept this point, then I want to fight about it until we reach some sort of conclusion — just on the historical facts of the matter, not on their importance.

*If* you do accept this, then we can go on. Of course, this single issue could be unimportant. Who cares if Kerry mis-remembered the date of something 30 years ago? Perhaps the SBVT are lying about everything else other than Cambodia. It is also reasonable to say: Who cares?

But I am interested in this dispute as an example of history-in-action, as it were. We all would like to know what happened 30 years ago and the evidence that we have to go on — including historical documents and eye witness testimony — is contradictory.

Let me grant you that if the only (true) things that SBVT have to say are about Cambodia and Kerry’s postwar testimony, then the whole affair is overblown. So, let’s us expand the debate to everything in chapter 3 of the SBVT book.

My claim, as an amatuer historian, is that the SBVT make a fairly strong case about a variety of issues here. Which specific claims do you think are false and what evidence do you have to back of this claim?

#30 Comment By Lee Altman On September 1, 2004 @ 9:59 am

Rather than an example of “history-in-action,” I would submit that this is an example of “politics-in-action.”

You reference an “Unfit for Command” chapter called “The Purple Heart Hunter.” In a single chapter, the SBVFT authors attack all three of Kerry’s purple hearts, his Christmas in Cambodia, and his visit to see Bob Hope. Yet you only want to focus on Cambodia.

I’m surprised the Bob Hope story hasn’t gotten more press, personally. Kerry “risked boat and crew” to see a washed-up comic. Strong stuff.

As for debating the details of Kerry vs. the SBVFT, here’s what I learned in history grad school: primary sources are god. And here, there are few primary sources. There are a few Navy records, some second-hand accounts remembered 30+ years after the fact, and a few snippets from John Kerry’s personal journals from Vietnam.

With such limited sources, I am obliged to rely on investigative journalists, who specialize in sorting out this sort of controversy.

Honestly the best objective source on the claims and counter-claims on Kerry’s medals, is Factcheck.org:

Factcheck.org includes scanned primary sources (affidavits, Navy records) along with a bibliography of journalism links.

As for Cambodia, I doubt we will ever know exactly what happened. But as with all lies, I think it’s useful to examine what would be gained from the lie. Was Kerry under oath in a court of law? No. Was he even trying to lie, or did he mis-remember a date? Hard to say. And did he gain some great political advantage from lying? Perhaps, he may have swayed some senators to vote against allowing Reagan to arm the Contras. Looking back on it, I’m not so sure that was a bad thing.

By contrast, the accusations about the medals are far more serious. If Kerry truly managed to fraudulently obtain medals, we would have a “Manchurian Candidate” situation eerily similar to the movie. And for such accusations to stick, you are going to need a much stronger level of proof than “You couldn’t rely on John Kerry” on a TV ad 34 years later.