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Where’s Houdini

The Swift Boat controversy is enormously polarizing. I wasn’t going to comment on it because there are more important matters to debate in this election, such as Amendment 36, the amendment that would allocate Colorado’s electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote (a bad idea for a state with only nine electoral votes, but more on that in a future pre-election commentary). But the firestorm about John Kerry’s service record just won’t go away. The Swift Boat vets are as unrelenting in their attacks against the senator as are the multitude of attack ads against George Bush. I guess campaign finance reform needs more tweaking!Regardless of one’s position on the Swift Boat matter, John Kerry deserves credit for serving in Vietnam. Whether his motivation came from a sense of duty or a desire to create a resume suitable for framing in the U.S. Congress is irrelevant.Those who have experienced combat understand that the fog of war clouds memories. Nevertheless, many Americans find it troubling that so many veterans have spoken out against the senator. They understand that this controversy wasn’t created by one or two guys with a personal vendetta. Hundreds of decorated veterans have questioned the senator’s Vietnam and post-Vietnam record. The senator’s boat mates support him. On the other hand, many argue that a more objective view about a junior officer’s performance comes from peers – other swift-boat commanders and their crews who served with or near him on patrols. As a former helicopter pilot in Vietnam, I can understand that position because there are times when combatants can be too close to the trees to see the forest.Putting the medals issues aside, many voters view the senator’s statements about his whereabouts on Christmas Eve in 1968 as not only a bigger issue, but a gross mischaracterization of his service in Southeast Asia, therefore putting into question all of the senator’s actions both during and after Vietnam. As recently as the year 2000, Senator Kerry wrote and/or spoke about how his experience in Cambodia was “seared in my memory,” yet even his campaign now admits that the senator was never in Cambodia. The above not withstanding, the events that appear to ignite the greatest controversy occurred after the senator returned from Vietnam. As an American with First Amendment rights, as well as the “intangible rights” earned by serving in combat, it was Senator Kerry’s prerogative to protest the war in any lawful manner he saw fit. But many veterans and their families feel that the senator did not earn the right to besmirch the honorable service of others. They feel that John Kerry’s comments about “routine” atrocities committed by average American soldiers and sanctioned by the chain of command were sheer political opportunism.In 1971, while under oath, John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “(American troops) … 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 country side of South Vietnam.” Sen. Kerry went on to say, “Yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed” and “(America) is more guilty than any other body of violations of (the) Geneva Conventions … the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners,” making it appear that atrocities were the “norm” in Vietnam, not the exception. The reality was that actions of this nature were statistically very rare during the Vietnam War and that American troops performed admirably despite popular myths and movies to the contrary.Sen. Kerry was a young man in 1971, and Americans would have forgiven him had he apologized for his statements. But now it appears that the preponderance of conflicting testimony has shaken support for him as a leader. Sen. Kerry’s supporters insist that this is all part of a smear campaign. But his statements about his presence in Cambodia and in his testimony before Congress are part of the congressional record. The senator’s comments about atrocities didn’t bother me when he made them 33 years ago because I viewed them as being so outrageous as to be entirely unbelievable. During my tour in Vietnam, I neither witnessed nor heard of anything remotely resembling the senator’s accusations. When I first heard his remarks I just figured that some disgruntled veteran was grandstanding to voice a protest against the war. Little did I realize that the “disgruntled veteran” would someday be running for president of the United States!About two weeks ago Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly offered the senator some unsolicited advice. Mr. O’Reilly suggested the senator should hold a press conference and inform the reporters that he’s going to answer every question they have regarding his service in Vietnam and his post-war activities – and do it once!But I question if even that strategy could contain this story. The Kerry campaign seems unable to shake the persistent questions about the events surrounding his medals; his whereabouts on Christmas Eve in 1968; and why upon his return from the war, he chose to portray American servicemen as serving less than honorably. I wonder if even the great Harry Houdini could extricate himself from the Vietnam-fashioned straitjacket that the Kerry campaign seems to be in regarding this matter. Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.netVail, Colorado


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