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Duped at Foggy Bottom

John Kerry reporting for duty.

By From the March 2013 issue

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I recently received a concerned e-mail from a troubled citizen in the gentle state of Alabama. He was in understandable distress over the choice of one John F. Kerry to head the venerable Department of State, replacing the beleaguered Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom liberals hail as the greatest secretary of state since Thomas Jefferson as they size up the rock at Mount Rushmore.

My new Alabama friend remarked on the sudden timeliness of chapter 17 of my book Dupes, which regrettably relates the sustained dupery of our new captain of Foggy Bottom, Secretary Kerry, who has reported for duty to the sound of rapturous cheers by the liberal faithful. They failed to get Kerry in the White House, but, thanks to getting Barack Obama in the White House, now have Kerry at State.

The friendly Alabaman generously wrote: “The Senate may want to call Dr. Paul Kengor to testify at the hearings considering John Kerry’s confirmation and have chapter 17 of his book entered into the congressional record.”

Well, I was flattered—but no thanks. I would rather have attended a NARAL dinner as the date of Barbara Boxer than been summoned to Kerry’s hearings. Besides, I assured my friend, such testimony would not matter. The Senate would vote for John Kerry regardless of his past, much as the citizens of Massachusetts have long done.

Nonetheless, for the sake of history, and for the benefit of the fine readers of The American Spectator, I thought it might be worthwhile to recount the sordid and sundry details of what I reported three years ago in the infamous John Kerry chapter of Dupes.

JOHN KERRY HAS LONG had a record of saying dismal things about America and its loyal troops—awful statements that have frequently served our adversaries. This began some 40 years ago, when he returned from his service in Vietnam, and specifically when he testified on the conduct of American troops.

The story of that sad saga ought to begin not with Kerry’s ignominious testimony, but the witness of Ion Mihai Pacepa. In the late 1970s, Lt. Gen. Pacepa became the highest-ranking intelligence official to defect from the Soviet bloc. He had served as the right-hand man of Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu. Pacepa escaped, but not unscathed. Ceausescu and his goons placed a death sentence and a $2 million bounty on Pacepa’s head.

Fortunately, Pacepa survived and thus has served as one of the most powerful witnesses to the evils and idiocies of the Communist world, as well as its duped accomplices among the American non-Communist left.“

During the Vietnam War,” said Pacepa, “we spread vitriolic stories around the world, pretending that America’s presidents sent Genghis Khan–style barbarian soldiers to Vietnam who raped at random, taped electrical wires to human genitals, cut off limbs, blew up bodies and razed entire villages. Those weren’t facts. They were our tales.”

Nonetheless, he said, millions of Americans “ended up being convinced their own president, not communism, was the enemy.”

According to Pacepa, it was the odious Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, who conceived this dezinformatsia war—disinformation campaign—against the United States. The Soviets devoted exorbitant spending to that cause. Andropov told Pacepa and his fellow KGB officers that people are “more willing to believe smut than holiness.” Certainly that was often the case for the American left.“

As far as I’m concerned,” said Pacepa, “the KGB gave birth to the antiwar movement in America.”

Pacepa probably gave too much credit to the KGB and not enough to LBJ. It was primarily the horrendous war management by Lyndon B. Johnson that sent all those angry college kids into the streets in the first place. That said, the KGB certainly looked to exacerbate the discontent as much as possible. It already had a helping hand among American Communists busily agitating throughout the nation. And here, it saw a golden opportunity.

What KGB propagandists needed for their disinformation/propaganda campaign was American suckers, and they got them in spades from the non-Communist left: those peace-loving liberals who, as always, were far more suspicious of anti-Communists than Communists.

ONE SUCH AMERICAN, who seems to have inadvertently repeated the precise line dished out by Soviet disinformation experts, was, of course, John Kerry. In his infamous headliner testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, Kerry dropped verbal napalm on American troops:

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command…. They told stories [of how] they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

This was just the start. Kerry’s blistering testimony and subsequent answers to the questions of committee members took a full two hours. The Senate room was jam-packed with reporters and clicking cameras. The testimony scandalized America and its soldiers.

Even worse was what Kerry claimed to represent. He said that he was speaking not just for the “small” group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War, of which he was the only representative to testify, but on behalf “of a very much larger group of veterans in this country.” He was there to represent “all those veterans.”

In fact, Kerry arguably was not representing those veterans well, and certainly not the troops in the field. His testimony came at a moment when at least seven legislative proposals relating to Vietnam were under consideration by Congress. In other words, continued funding for the war hung in the balance. Whether that funding was increased or decreased would signal whether the United States tried to win or opted for withdrawal, and whether the boys crawling through the rice paddies got more or fewer weapons to fight the enemy and defend themselves.

Kerry’s statement hit Vietnam vets like a carpet bombing. He had compared some of their actions to those of no less than Genghis Khan, a brutal metaphor, as Khan is the human embodiment of tyranny, widely considered one of the worst beasts in all of history. His words made headlines across America and throughout the world. Overnight, his face was everywhere. He was inundated with media requests, which he unhesitatingly accepted, speaking to the likes of Meet the Press and being profiled by 60 Minutes. He was an instant celebrity, discussed at NBC, CBS, the Washington Post, and even the White House.

President Richard Nixon was soon discussing Kerry with aides, as we now know from the released “Nixon tapes.” In one telephone call with Chuck Colson, Nixon talked of Kerry being a “phony.” In a meeting with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Nixon gave Kerry a backhanded compliment, distinguishing him from the other “bearded weirdos” in the antiwar movement, and conceding that he had been “extremely effective” in his Senate appearance.

At the same time, Nixon doubted not only Kerry’s medals for his service, but also the war crimes that he alleged. Told by Haldeman about allegations that gunboats would “shoot babies out of women’s arms,” Nixon, a Navy veteran himself, said dismissively, “Oh, stop that. People in the Navy don’t do things [like that].”The young John Kerry had made a huge impact. When the long-haired, big-mouthed, grungy hippies leveled such nasty accusations against American boys, it held little weight with Mom and Pop; they expected the radicals to make radical statements. But to hear an actual Vietnam veteran say such things? A decorated veteran? This was a serious wake-up call to Main Street.

Whatever one’s opinion on the war, one can’t deny that Kerry’s reports were deplored by America’s troops abroad. His words badly hurt their morale and mission. Moreover, they undeniably thrilled the enemy, from Ho Chi Minh City to Moscow. Of course, in Kerry’s defense, truth is truth, even if it hurts. But had John Kerry spoken the truth—or, more precisely, what he thought was truth? That was the rub.

JOHN KERRY'S TESTIMONY was vigorously disputed, beginning not during the 2004 presidential campaign, but immediately back in 1971.One of the most dramatic confrontations was a debate between Kerry and John E. O’Neill on the nationally televised Dick Cavett Show. O’Neill had taken command of PCF-94, John Kerry’s Swift Boat, after Kerry departed from its command. He forcefully countered Kerry’s allegations—and has never stopped.

So incensed was O’Neill that more than 30 years after his Cavett appearance, he would co-author a bestselling book titled Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. In it he laid out at great length where he and other Swift Boat veterans judged that Kerry had not only erred, but was “a liar and a fraud, unfit to be the commander in chief of the United States of America.” O’Neill and a group of roughly 200 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” called a press conference in Washington on May 4, 2004, where they read the riot act to Kerry. O’Neill released his book in the middle of the 2004 presidential campaign, aiming to torpedo the White House hopes of a man he long ago concluded had hurt American troops with vicious falsehoods. The group wasted no time following up with an extraordinarily effective TV ad against Kerry.

To be sure, I can’t resolve whether John Kerry manufactured abuses by fellow soldiers or was simply mistaken. It is possible that he reported false claims by others without knowing they were false. My objective here is not to pinpoint what John Kerry accurately or inaccurately reported. Rather, my concern is the level to which Kerry, now our secretary of state, a man whose judgment in foreign affairs is crucial to his job, was misled by our principal enemies.

This seems a case of dupery at some level. It might have begun with countless other left-leaning Americans of the era, who picked up disinformation from the Communist propaganda machine and unwittingly spread deliberate falsehoods as facts. In other words, Kerry may have picked up the lies from his liberal friends.

The Soviets had created malicious lies intended to dishonor American servicemen and the United States as a whole, particularly the U.S. position in Vietnam. Ion Mihai Pacepa spoke to this precisely, zeroing in on the specific “Genghis Khan” claims by Kerry:

To me, this assertion sounds exactly like the disinformation line that the Soviets were sowing worldwide throughout the Vietnam era. KGB priority number one at that time was to damage American power, judgment, and credibility. One of its favorite tools was the fabrication of such evidence as photographs and “news reports” about invented American war atrocities. These tales were purveyed in KGB-operated magazines that would then flack them to reputable news organizations. Often enough, they would be picked up. News organizations are notoriously sloppy about verifying their sources. All in all, it was amazingly easy for Soviet-bloc spy organizations to fake many such reports and spread them around the free world.

As a spy chief and a general in the former Soviet satellite of Romania, I produced the very same vitriol Kerry repeated to the U.S. Congress almost word for word and planted it in leftist movements throughout Europe.

GENERAL PACEPA ALSO rightly suggested that the sources of John Kerry’s assertions should be tracked down. In fact, Kerry himself cited a source in his testimony: a 1971 gathering in Detroit by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. VVAW reportedly cooked up a number of stories related to the war, as seen in two particularly notorious events. The first was the infamous “Winter Soldier Investigation,” held in Detroit in January 1971, organized by antiwar activists Jane Fonda (Kerry attended at least one antiwar rally with Fonda, as we know from a surviving photo), comedian Dick Gregory, and JFK-assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane. This group claimed precisely the crimes that Kerry would later share with the Senate.

The second event was “Dewey Canyon III,” held shortly before Kerry’s Senate testimony, when VVAW representatives, including Kerry himself, marched all the way to the White House and Congress to deliver petitions. This display included the striking scene of veterans tossing their medals over a fence outside the Capitol Building. Kerry, too, hurled medals, although, reportedly, they might not have been his own (this is disputed). Only a few days later, Kerry placed himself before Congress in testimony viewed by millions of Americans on the evening news broadcasts.

Though Dewey Canyon III had theatrics for the cameras, it was the Detroit gathering in January that seems to have formed the basis for Kerry’s testimony. And that, in essence, was the fatal flaw. As noted by Mackubin Thomas Owens, a professor at the Naval War College who led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam from 1968–69, “In fact, the entire Winter Soldiers Investigation was a lie.”

The investigation had been inspired by Mark Lane’s 1970 book, Conversations with Americans, which claimed to relate atrocities committed by Vietnam soldiers. Owens notes that the book was panned by no less than James Reston, Jr. and Neil Sheehan, both ultra-liberals and hardly supporters of the war. Sheehan was especially hard on Lane’s book, maintaining that many of Lane’s “eyewitnesses” had not actually served in Vietnam, or at least not in the capacity they claimed.

And yet, that did not prevent Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), well on his way to becoming the most commonly duped Republican of his era, from not only taking the bait, but inserting the transcript of the Winter Soldier testimonies into the Congressional Record. Hatfield went so far as to request that the Marine Commandant personally investigate the alleged war crimes. The Marines were rightly offended by Hatfield’s request.

As Owens notes, this request led to subsequent scandal elsewhere. For instance, the Naval Investigative Service, which attempted to interview so-called “witnesses,” discovered that some of the most grisly testimony was provided by phonies who attempted to use the names of real Vietnam veterans. This libelous display was reported by Guenter Lewy in his work America in Vietnam. Owens, like Pacepa, agrees that John Kerry’s 1971 testimony included “every left-wing cliché about Vietnam and the men who served there. It is part of the reason that even today, people who are too young to remember Vietnam are predisposed to believe the worst about the Vietnam War and those who fought it.”

EVEN WITH SUCH STATEMENTS from knowledgeable sources like Pacepa or Owens, one can debate where and when Kerry got his information, and its legitimacy. What is undeniable, however, was the value of that expressed information to the Vietcong. In Unfit for Command, John O’Neill recalls the sad experience of one of his friends, Bill Lupetti, a Navy corpsman who had been stationed in Vietnam from 1969 through 1970 and had treated injured Swift Boat soldiers. Lupetti had served at An Thoi, the small base where both O’Neill and Kerry were assigned. For Memorial Day 2004, Lupetti returned to Vietnam, visiting Ho Chi Minh City, wandering through the streets and tourist stops, trying to piece together a period of his life that he had once tried hard to forget. He also earnestly tried to find out whether certain Vietnamese friends had survived the merciless takeover by the Communists.

Lupetti happened upon the War Remnants Museum. Inside, he came to an exhibit dedicated to “heroes” around the world who had helped the Vietnamese Communists win the war. A wall plaque at the head of the exhibit established the theme of the museum. Written in both Vietnamese and in English (and reproduced as a photo in O’Neill’s book), it was a note of appreciation from Vietnam’s Communist authorities: “We would like to thank the communist parties and working class countries of the world,” it said.

But the expression of gratitude did not stop there. The Vietcong also wished to thank “progressive human beings for their wholehearted support” and their “strong encouragement to our people’s patriotic resistance against the U.S.”Lupetti was not surprised to see American radicals from the 1960s among those represented in the pictures. A photo of Jane Fonda’s smiling face was exhibited in a separate Women’s Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, standing aside Madame Binh—two champions of the proletariat. Lupetti was staggered, however, at a photo of John Kerry.

It was a photograph from 1993, when the soldier-turned-senator was by then a celebrated Democratic Party politician. The photo captured Kerry in conversation with Do Muoi, former general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Vietnamese never forgot Kerry’s Senate testimony in 1971. And neither would Lupetti.

OF COURSE, John Kerry was far from finished. His career had just begun. Liberals loved him for his testimony, the start of a long romance. Thanks to the progressive citizens of Massachusetts, Kerry would become the state’s junior senator, alongside Ted Kennedy. He would go on to hold high office for decades to come, where he made a career of uttering statements that thrilled America’s adversaries.

In 1988, for instance, Kerry sponsored a bill to slash President Ronald Reagan’s request for Strategic Defense Initiative funding, a move that utterly thrilled the Soviets, and was an absolute lifeline to Mikhail Gorbachev in his incessant attempts to get Reagan to give up the missile defense program. No American initiative so terrified Gorbachev and the Kremlin; SDI was the preeminent bargaining chip for bringing the Soviets to the negotiating table. Gorbachev tried everything to get rid of it. John Kerry was more than willing to accommodate the Soviet general secretary.

That was the Cold War, of which this is but one small sample of Kerry’s deeds. Then came the War on Terror, where, once again, he framed the real threat as not our tyrannical enemy abroad but the Republican in the White House. “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq,” said John Kerry in April 2003, “but we need a regime change in the United States.”

Ayear later, Kerry added for good measure: “These guys [in the Bush administration] are the most crooked…lying group I’ve ever seen. It’s scary.”

In December 2005, he harkened back to the Vietnam days on CBS’s Sunday morning program Face the Nation, insisting to Bob Schieffer: “And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the—of—the historical customs, religious customs.”

In the War on Terror, John Kerry had suddenly, unilaterally reversed the terms: Who was guilty of terrorism? American troops. Just imagine how Kerry’s assessment served the interests of the true terrorists wreaking havoc inside Iraq. Kerry’s statement was worse for having been made against an American military committed to meticulously avoiding civilian deaths. And yet his assessment was remarkably similar to his Senate testimony in 1971.Much milder, but still hurtful, was Kerry’s highly degrading statement about American soldiers in Iraq in October 2006. Speaking to a group of California college students, he cracked this joke: “We’re here to talk about education. But I want to say something before that….You know, education, if you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

It is almost unbelievable to imagine such a crack coming from a former veteran, and a highly educated one at that.

Of course, this was actually an improvement for Kerry. In the past, he had compared American soldiers to Genghis Khan and terrorists. Now, he simply said they were uneducated morons.


THERE IS MUCH we could say about John Kerry’s long record of shocking statements and poor judgment. But of most concern now: Is this what we want from America’s spokesman and highest-ranking foreign officer? Is this who we want heading the State Department?

Well, this is who we have, because Americans re-elected Barack Obama.Back to my friend from Alabama: He concluded his e-mail to me with this plea: “If John Kerry was in fact duped at the time of his military service, what has changed to assure that he would not be duped as U.S. secretary of state?”

That’s a good question. To me, it is the central question. I see little that has changed in 40 years.

But, hey, America voted in November 2012. We deserve whatever dupes come our way.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.