Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry
by John E. O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D.
(Regnery Publishing, 256 pages, $27.95)
During the better part of the last three years we have endured an endless series of offerings from the Bush-Haters-Book-of-the-Month Club. These volumes have overexerted titles and overly verbose subtitles like Big Lies: The Rightwing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth or Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. They contain very little unique information from one to the next. Most are petty; some are demonstrably fraudulent, such as Joe Wilson’s The Politics of Truth. They are mostly written by people who are professionally distasteful of President Bush. All of them have been written by people who don’t know him personally.
Unfit for Command by Vietnam veteran John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi, an expert on antiwar movements, shares none of those characteristics. It is a book unlike other campaign cycle books in that it injects new information into the public dialogue, avoids redundant circular arguments about issues, and, well, it has a point. That point is summed up with Thomistic bravado by John O’Neill in the book’s first chapter: “I resolved that I would refute Kerry’s lies.”
The chapters in Unfit for Command are testimonies by swift boat captains and crew who knew current Democratic hopeful John Kerry personally. These men offer no insinuations. Their vignettes are not the paranoid ramblings of obese, low-budget filmmakers. The accusations are laid out in black-and-white for Sen. Kerry to read and respond to. That is, if anyone in the gaggle of reporters he travels with daily would bother to ask him about them.
O’Neill clearly loathes Kerry. He launches the book with a chapter highlighting their semi-famous debate on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, a debate in which a friendly audience slowly turned on Kerry, finally booing him by the end. O’Neill attributes Kerry’s lies about Vietnam to a hyperactive political libido. Indeed, during the debate, O’Neill predicted Kerry would use his newfound fame to launch a Congressional campaign in Massachusetts, which Kerry denied. A few months later Kerry announced his campaign for Congress in Lowell, MA.
THE SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS contain the meat of the book. The authors present two broad categories of concern. The first are legitimate issues of debate, such as: Did John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities provide aid and comfort to the enemy? Reasonable people can disagree about these. But the second category — his conduct during the war — places Kerry on perilous ground. For if the swift boat operators are correct — and it’s vital to note John Kerry has never refuted these charges — then John Kerry is a liar, an incompetent, a slanderer, and guilty of war crimes.
One officer shares his testimony of Kerry’s bellyaching in Vietnam: “He objected to the various operations, complaining that they were poorly thought out.” He is still doing so today, only the war in question is in Iraq. Kerry’s Vietnam journal is bursting with fabrications, not unlike the fantastic story he lately tells about a New Hampshire woman who was forced to work through her chemotherapy just to keep her health insurance. And Kerry concocted elaborate, hero-villain conversations with his superiors that never occurred, reminding us this man claims to have met with the United Nations Security Council before his vote to authorize the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein.
The authors provide a disappointing analysis of John Kerry’s anti-war star turn in 1971. Indeed, everyone has given us too little analysis of this period of Kerry’s public career. The only person to come close to grilling him is Tim Russert from NBC’s Meet the Press who broadcast footage from a 1971 interview in which Kerry charged the United States with genocide.
“Thirty years later, you stand by that?” Russert asked him.
“I don’t stand by the genocide, I think those were the words of an angry young man,” Kerry responded. And the issue was dropped.
BUT THERE IS NO applicable synonym for genocide. If Kerry is permitted to write it off as a poor choice of words, then his whole testimony before the Fulbright Committee, his every anti-war speech, becomes a lie. And yet, the section concludes limply that “Kerry should list the specifics of what he saw,” so that it can be investigated. “If John Kerry did not commit war crimes in Vietnam, then why is he lying?” the authors ask.
This is an insufficient condemnation if one of the more gruesome passages in the book turns out to be true. That is, one night in January 1969, Kerry and crew were patrolling the banks of the Cua Lon River when all hell descended. Kerry told quasi-official biographer Douglas Brinkley that many minutes of silent patrol had gone by when someone yelled, “Sampan off the port bow!”:
“Everybody froze and we slowed the engines quickly. But the sampan was already by us and wasn’t stopping. It was past curfew and nothing was allowed in the river. I told the gunner to fire a few warning shots and in the confusion all guns opened up. We moved in on the sampan, and taking one of the battle lanterns off the bulkhead shone it on the silhouette of the craft that was now dead in the water.”
But the presence of eyewitnesses betrays Kerry’s self-serving remake of the incident. According to gunner Steve Gardner, who “sat above Kerry on the double .50-caliber mount that night,” Kerry stayed in the pilothouse during the incident. Kerry failed to spot the sampan on radar and give warning; he didn’t join the crew when they heard an engine noise and saw the boat; he wasn’t there when they threw the PFC lights on; he did not order them to fire warning shots; and he wasn’t there when Gardner ordered the craft to stop.
What happened was that Gardner, spooked and in the absence of a commanding officer, believed that one of the occupants of the boat was reaching for a weapon. He opened up, as did others, killing a man and, unintentionally, his child. The gunshots finally roused Kerry who “ordered the crew to cease fire and then threatened them.”
The authors state this Kerry’s failure to spot the boat on radar is “hard to understand.” Harder still to comprehend is Kerry’s “absence as the officer in charge during the critical part of the episode.” This absence, one is compelled to repeat, resulted in the death of a two-year old child. But, as O’Neill and Corsi explain, that’s not all:
Kerry avoided any problem by filing an after action report in which the dead child simply disappeared from the record and was replaced by a fleeing squad of Viet Cong, some likely killed by Kerry. A terrible human tragedy was converted by another Kerry lie into another sterling triumph by the young war hero.
It’s hard to believe this could be the man the Democrats have nominated for as their candidate for President of the United States.