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August 25, 2004





'Swift Boat Vets' evoke Nixon's ghost

My View: reader commentary

The first weekend of the month marked both the 40th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the 30th anniversary of the disgraceful resignation of a very slippery GOP president named Nixon. And now Nixon's ghost appears in the current smear job by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against my good friend, longtime comrade and fellow Vietnam War veteran, John Kerry.

This group is deflecting criticism of George Bush's bellicose presidency by lies, lies and more damnable lies. Unleashed by Karl Rove and company, this attack ship of fools is having its third cruise around the truth in a futile attempt to besmirch Kerry's military service record. These GOP attack dogs now need to be muzzled by the truth.

Some of these attackers are veterans of the black propaganda used against such prior targets as Sen. John McCain, whom they called "The Manchurian Candidate" in 2000.

Then in 2002 they turned their sights on Sen. Max Cleland, a triple-amputee veteran of the Vietnam War whose patriotism they attacked - and got away with it.

Sen. McCain called these attacks on Kerry "dishonest and dishonorable" and called on George Bush to condemn their ad. Regrettably, George Bush has refused to do so.

So who are these men who insist they are "not affiliated with any party"?

A report filed July 15 with the IRS shows initial funding for the group came from Houston home builder Bob R. Perry. Perry is a staunch GOP fund-raiser and donor of millions of dollars in Texas to the GOP, especially to the president's campaign as well as that of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Last year Perry gave $600,000 to 23 GOP candidates for the Texas Legislature, helping lift the GOP to its first takeover of the Texas House since Reconstruction. Perry gave $200,000 to the Swift Boat group.

The group has launched ads in key states, stating falsely that its members served with Kerry and "know him," and calling his combat valor into question. Lt. j.g. John Kerry served on three vessels, including two swift boats - PCF-94 and PCF-44. Each boat had a six-man crew - so the total universe of Kerry's real wartime comrades consisted of a band of a dozen brothers.

Tom Belodeau of Massachusetts, a close friend of John's, is now dead. All remaining members of the crews in No. 94 and No. 44 are onboard the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Not one of these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth actually served with Kerry at all!

Here is the Nixonian flashback, to 1971: John O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran and author of the soon-to-be-released book attacking Kerry's Vietnam service, did not serve on a swift boat at the same time as Kerry. Kerry was back home in the United States by the time O'Neill took command of his first unit.

But back in 1971, Richard Nixon needed to counter anti-war groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War, of which Kerry and I were members. He tasked Chuck Colson (of Watergate infamy) to form an attack group against Kerry, led by the young John O'Neill. Yes, this is an old, bitter fight.

The main round of Kerry v. O'Neill occurred in June 1971 on the "Dick Cavett Show." O'Neill spent most of his airtime attacking Kerry's patriotism for criticizing the Vietnam War, rather than discussing the issues of war and peace.

A newly released tape of Nixon's conversation with Kissinger, his national security adviser, reminded us that we had another corrupt GOP war president who sacrificed American lives by extending a war for the sake of his own campaign. Nixon said three months before the 1972 election: "South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway. ... We also have to realize that winning an election is terribly important. It's terribly important this year."

So the war that John O'Neill defended on Cavett's show and that George W. Bush supported but chose not to serve on active duty comes down to not telling the truth to the American people. Nixon drew out the Vietnam War for political expediency. Thousands more died or were wounded by lies.

O'Neill was rewarded for his efforts by receiving a clerkship to Nixon's favorite Supreme Court justice, William Rehnquist, and became a law partner with Lezar Harold, a former speechwriter for Nixon.

So now we have President George W. Bush, who lied about how a perceived threat in Iraq would harm us. And now we have the media trumpeting the war, with thousands of young Americans wounded and almost a thousand dead - for political expediency. Just as in Vietnam, the war is being eclipsed by other stories and the news of its dead and wounded fall farther back in the newspaper pages.

We who have personally known John Kerry and all of his crew members stand up for our country and urge Democrats, independents and Republicans to dump Bush in November. Our best bet is to hire the vet.  On the Great Seal of the United States, a bald eagle faces us.  In one talon are clutched arrows and in the other, olive branches.  This president just clutches arrows.  But a President Kerry, who fought heroically in a war and then, like the great silent majority, spoke out for peace, will bring back the balance to our country.  Semper Fidelis, John Kerry.

Joe Bangert of Brewster is a Veteran for Kerry.

(Published: August 25, 2004)