The Truth About the Swift Boat Vets and Kerry's Deceit

“I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty.”

Who can forget this now-infamous July 29, 2004, Democratic National Convention acceptance speech when the party’s nominee publicly set his course for the next few months?

“At the heart of the 2004 presidential campaign was a long-deferred national debate over whether American troops had systematically committed war crimes in Vietnam, as John Kerry and other activists had insisted, and as Hollywood, the media and much of the American public had long assumed,” begins Chapter One of To Set the Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry.

Settling Scores

At root, co-authors Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler provide readers a remarkable and painstakingly notated historical account of the cultural war that coursed beneath the 2004 presidential election—a cultural war that pitted mainstream media against truth, and brought to the forefront of political influence the likes of Internet bloggers, talk-radio hosts and a handful of humble but righteously indignant veterans who simply refused to cave in on their cause. But on the way toward documenting that point, the book offers much more.

Swett and Ziegler manage to not only give voice but also a bit of peace and retribution to the scores of veterans who saw firsthand or heard through the grapevine how the political sell-out, Kerry, achieved personal gain on the backs, blood and reputations of those he dared classify as colleagues. And it’s this achievement and very emotional battle that will likely resonate loudest with perceptive readers. It’s the heroic struggle of the humble, who came in the form of military veterans armed only with principle, against the powerful and well-connected, who had scores of axes to grind and agendas to enact, that sparks of true Americanism—the little guy takes on the big guy and wins.

It’s not the main point of the authors—call it an additional but unwitting side-effect of the book’s actual goal, which is to show how even the smallest of voices can grow and influence when properly motivated. But if John F. Kerry had not already become synonymous with the word “lie,” he will be after readers complete these 327 pages. The first few chapters alone ought prove enlightening, even to those who thought they knew the extent of Kerry’s philandering days with Communists and Socialists, his classic performance before Congress painting a picture of Americans as baby-killers, rapists and uncontrolled thugs, and how the media lapped it up and couched it in the gentlest of terms.

Senate Testimony

“On Thursday, April 22, [1971], at the invitation of anti-war Democrat J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, John Kerry presented the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s allegations and demands to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,” the co-authors recount.

Kerry had joined the VVAW in 1970—another notable member, no surprise, was Jane Fonda.

Before the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry recounted how 150 of the nation’s honorably discharged gathered in Detroit and “told the stories that at times 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.”

Perhaps this was an expected diatribe from a man from whom the authors remind us called Ho Chi Minh the “George Washington of his country.” But the senators’ response? It was chimes of praise adorned with “bouquets” and near-hero worship, Swett and Ziegler recall, and it didn’t take long for the mainstream media to join the fest.

“ABC, CBS and NBC seemed to be holding a competition to see which could broadcast the longest excerpt from Kerry’s remarks on its evening news report,” they write. “The relentless media promotion of John Kerry and the VVAW reached an absurd pinnacle Friday evening with a commentary by Harry Reasoner of ABC … [who said] Kerry stands out in eloquence and importance among protestors and marveled, ‘rarely, has a case been put more effectively before a committee of the Congress.’ He called Kerry magnificent.”

Fed-up Veterans

It was this atmosphere of love a smiling presidential candidate Kerry was no doubt hoping to recapture in 2004 when he saluted a crowd of adoring Democratic fans and camera crews manned by like-minded liberals. But for fed-up veterans who had suffered from or seen the fall-out of Kerry’s character assassination that fueled media opinion and drove public perception so that a uniform was just another spittoon, the time to act had approached.

“For more than 30 years, most Vietnam veterans kept silent as we were maligned as misfits, drug addicts and baby killers. Now that a key creator of that poisonous image is seeking the presidency we have resolved to end our silence. The time has come to set the record straight,” notes a section of Chapter Seven, “Developing a Tap Code.”

That tap code amounted to a concerted media blitz of veterans’ seeking truth. From radio shows, a devastating television ad campaign and press conferences to grassroots uprising, online reporting such as the many stories that broke on and a best-selling book, Unfit for Command (published by Regnery, a Human Events sister company), the voice of Swift Vets grew stronger, until not even “Kerry’s effort to discredit [them] by attacking their motives [could] douse the flames,” the co-authors note.

Kerry Plays Victim

Chapter 18 describes “The Aftermath.” It was a delicious irony.

“Kerry, the point man for the most vicious smear campaign ever directed against the U.S. military was playing victim,” the co-authors say.

In the end, it was the voices of the smeared that prevailed: Political, media and Hollywood free-for-all attacks against the military now spark “widespread resentment and active opposition,” Swett and Ziegler found, as “trashing the troops [is] no longer the ticket to fame and success it had been in that long-ago spring of 1971.”