Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

May 2, 2001

Spinning away the truth

Democrats defend him because he's one of them: Republicans defend him for ideological reasons; liberals like Robert Scheer give former Senator Bob Kerrey, accused war criminal, a pass, but use the occasion to condemn America as the epitome of human evil; neoconservatives like Mona Charen give Kerrey a pass, and use the occasion to re-fight the Vietnam war: "We fought to give Southeast Asians a chance at freedom," Mona bibbles, "but it was turning tail that morally compromised us, not fighting in the first place." Scheer abjures any discussion of the known facts, and pontificates that Kerrey and "other young warriors were deliberately lied to by leaders who knew better." Who herded those 13 women and children together – supposedly attending a "Vietcong meeting" in the tiny village of Thanh Phong – and mowed them down? Not Kerrey, says Scheer – the poor boy and his fellow "Raiders" may have been "confused" – the real culprits are "four Presidents": Eisenhower, Kennedy, [Lyndon] Johnson, and Nixon. It's no surprise that the idea of individual responsibility is alien to a leftie like Scheer – but what about Charen, the alleged conservative?


Individual responsibility is left out of Charen's equation, too, because, you see, during the Vietnam war "Americans never knew when a 'civilian' they came across might pull a gun and kill them." Therefore, there should have been no attempt to distinguish between combatants and civilians, eh, Mona? Oh, but "they'd seen it happen to friends." I guess this would qualify as a "revenge killing" – just like the Anglo-American media's popular description of what has been going on in Kosovo since "liberation." "And if Americans therefore killed more civilians than they otherwise would have," she avers, "that guilt lies with the Vietcong." Oh, you're so right, Mona: why, how dare those nasty Viet-cong guerrillas not wear easily identifiable uniforms – perhaps something in a nice bright red. You know, like the British at Lexington: and can someone please tell me why they insisted on hiding in those nasty old jungles? Why couldn't they fight out in the open, like Real Men?


Particularly galling is Ms. Charen's scoffing at the credentials of those "pampered journalists" who get to critique, some thirty years later, the actions of rough-hewn he-men like Kerrey: she wonders aloud "whether the journalists pepper-spraying former Sen. Bob Kerrey about his conduct on a moonless night in Vietnam 32 years ago have ever faced anything more harrowing than air turbulence between New York and Washington." Of course, La Charen, being a mere slip of a girl in 1969, has the perfect out: this was way before they took chicks (we called them "chicks" back then) in the military, so she didn't serve, yet has a perfect right to take a stance. But, please, no criticism from the (male) peanut gallery.


Sorry, Mona, but it won't wash: if you have the right to cheerlead from the sidelines, then I have the right to condemn Kerrey – provided, of course, that the facts are there. Are they? That is the only question journalists ought to be asking: instead, we are getting long accounts of Kerrey's "anguish," and his "feelings" – yes, but what about the extinguished feelings of the god-knows-how-many women, children, and old men slaughtered that night? Do they count for nothing?


Besides discounting the idea of individual responsibility in wartime – a concession not granted to politically incorrect soldiers, such as Germans (during World War II) and Serbs (today) – both touchy-feely liberals and hard-nosed conservatives also ignore what is known about this incident. To begin with, Kerrey lied about the civilian casualties, and only came clean when faced with exposure. Recently declassified reports documenting the Thanh Phong massacre make no mention of any civilians killed in what is depicted as a battle with Vietcong guerrillas. Kerrey claims that his written report did mention civilians: if so, then where is this report? We'll never know if Kerrey's Senate ex-colleagues – Mad John McCain, Chuck "Bomb Belgrade" Hagel, and Senator John Kerry – have their way. All three came out against any official inquiry. Kerry, the Massachusetts DemocRAT, averred: "``To now talk about an investigation, it seems to me, is just the wrong way to go. If the Pentagon asked me, I'd say no." Never mind the evidence, we need to get beyond this: so just move along, because we need to "heal." Oh please – where-oh-where have we heard this jive before?


The media campaign being waged by Kerrey is a real killer – of the truth, that is – and, according to Neal Travis of the New York Post's "Page Six" column, no expense is being spared. Kerrey has hired a pricey Washington public relations firm to attend to his damaged public image, and the whole thing "was planned, you could say, like a military operation," notes Travis. Yeah, but who's paying for it? Travis says that the 5 members of "Kerrey's Raiders" supporting Kerrey's ever-shifting version of events were flown in from all over the country, and put up at the ritzy Lowell Hotel in New York City. Ah yes, the Lowell, where Hollywood's elite don shades and assumed names whenever they feel Garbo-esque. The group then repaired, professional spinners in tow, to Kerrey's cool Manhattan digs – provided courtesy of the New School University, where Kerrey has just been appointed president – to get their story straight. Meanwhile, the verdict is nearly unanimous: Kerrey is off the hook, at least so far, and all this before the chief witness against him – Gerhard Klann, a veteran Navy SEAL and a member of "Kerrey's Raiders" – even gets a chance to tell his side of the story on CBS tonight.


That edition of Sixty Minutes II won't be broadcast until way after my deadline, but from the partial account given by Klann to Gregory Vistica in the New York Times Magazine, the two stories are so completely at variance that one of these guys must be lying. From the evidence so far, in my opinion it isn't Klann. For Kerrey's "defense" – it was a "moonless night," his squad was supposedly on the receiving end of some gunfire, their vision (as well as their reason) was obscured by "the fog of war" – doesn't even address the specific accusations made by Klann. Klann contends that they burst in on a "hooch" – GI vernacular for a Vietnamese house with a thatched roof – and dragged out an old man, who was unarmed but (for some reason) had to be killed. However, Klann couldn't do it alone. The old guy "refused to die," and fought back. Klann told Vistica that "Kerrey came over and helped push the man to the ground. Kerrey put his knee on the man's chest, Klann says, as Klann drew his knife across his neck." So, even if it had been a "moonless night" (more on that later), even if they had received incoming fire (Klann denies it), this old guy – a grandfather – was unarmed – and still Kerrey helped slit his throat.


What's more: Kerrey was the commander of this little band of American freedom-fighters, not some bystander who happened to be in the neighborhood: it stands to reason that he gave the orders, including the order to execute a grandfather whose name I can find nowhere mentioned in any of the published reports. (It's all part of the Kerrey public relations strategy: keep the victims faceless, and keep the focus on Kerrey's heroic "anguish.") And this does not even begin to address the rest of the atrocities that were committed that night: the throat-slitting was just a prelude to the real orgy of blood-and-guts to follow, when Kerrey and his merry Raiders fired into a crowd of women and children.


Kerrey's apologists aren't going to let a few bothersome facts get in the way of their making a point: to William Safire, this is yet another manifestation of the hated "Vietnam Syndrome," in which Americans foolishly hold back from napalming their overseas "enemies" because they are wallowing in pseudo-pacifistic "guilt." Never mind the Vietnamese witnesses to this atrocity: since they live in Vietnam, chafing under the heel of the Commie authorities, anything they say must be automatically discounted. How convenient. That leaves Klann, but Safire never so much as mentions his name, noting only that he is a minority of one among seven. "No hard evidence is offered to support this grave allegation," writes Safire – but just how "hard" does our evidence have to be? Many people have been executed for murder on the basis of a witness's testimony. Why should Kerrey be held to a different standard? "In our system of justice," avers Safire, "the burden of proof is on the accuser and a presumption of innocence belongs to the accused." Yes, but what if the accused is caught in a lie – isn't that ample reason to begin to doubt the purity of his "innocence"?


Kerrey claims he filed a report that mentioned the civilian deaths: but since there is unlikely to be an inquiry, he won't be forced to produce what he claims is a written report. The official reports, apparently based on information given to Kerrey's immediate superior, mention no civilian casualties, only the number of "Vietcong" killed. Secondly – and suspiciously – the stories on this all sound exactly alike, reflecting not only the conventional wisdom but utilizing the same imagery to make the point of Kerrey's essential innocence: virtually all of them mention that "it was a moonless night," implying that Kerrey was firing into pitch-blackness and just happened to have knocked off a bunch of civilians. This "moonless" guff is being put out by Kerrey, and dutifully picked up by his amen corner in the media, but it wasn't a moonless night. On February 25, 1969, the moon was two-thirds full: it set over South Vietnam at 1 a.m. (Check it out for yourself: go here for the phases of the moon, courtesy of the US Naval Observatory, and here for the time the moon set). According to Vistica's piece, the massacre occurred at midnight.


If Kerrey is lying about this, then what else is he lying about? Oh, but perhaps he wasn't really lying: what about this famous "fog of war" we keep hearing about? Not to mention the fog of time: maybe he just didn't remember correctly. After all, it was a long time ago. Yes, but what about the media – how come they picked up this non-fact and kept repeating it like a mantra, without bothering to check? Neal Travis writes that "by late Saturday afternoon, Kerrey was emboldened enough to claim that sections of the media were involved in a conspiracy against him." If there's any kind of "conspiracy" going on here, it's not against him but for a cover-up. It's kind of scary, frankly, when we at appear to be the only ones checking the (easily checkable) story Kerrey is handing out – scary, but all too true.

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