Swift Boat Veterans for Lies, Contempt and Dishonor

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
–Old Mongolian Proverb

John Forbes Kerry pissed off a lot of veterans when he came home from Vietnam. His outspoken opposition to the war, tales of widespread atrocities and affiliation with radical antiwar groups didn’t sit well with the rank and file.

Yet many Vietnam vets agreed with Kerry’s stance on the war. Not all of them joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War or came to Washington to toss medals, ribbons or whatnot onto the steps of the capital but they still wondered why they risked their lives in that godforsaken place on the other side of the world.

Those who hated Kerry’s actions, however, did so with a vengeance. With the help of the Nixon White House, they spread unfounded claims that Kerry was in league with the leaders of North Vietnam, that VVAW took money from the communists and that Kerry and others in the group planned to assassinate members of Congress.

Nixon sent out his chief counsel and hatchet man, Charles Colson, to recruit a Vietnam veteran to counter Kerry and the VVAW. Colson found one.

“We found a vet named John O’Neill and formed a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. We had O’Neill meet the President, and we did everything we could do to boost his group,” Colson told reporter Joe Klein in a January 5 interview published in The New Yorker magazine.

O’Neill appeared on The Dick Cavett Show to debate Kerry but fared poorly against the more erudite young antiwar activist. Those who know O’Neill say he never forgave Kerry for embarrassing him on national television.

Vietnam Veterans for a Just Piece was the first group John O’Neill fronted for a Republican White House but it would not be the last. After letting his hatred of John Kerry fester for 33 years, O’Neill got his chance for revenge when GOP backers of President George W. Bush came to him with a plan to create another shill group, this time called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT).

With money from two Texas millionaires and longtime friends of Bush, O’Neill teamed up with Harvard PhD Jerry Corsi, a hate-spouting, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic homophobe and frequent contributor to the radical, right-wing Free Republic bulletin board where he calls Kerry “John Fucking Commie Kerry” and Senator Hillary Clinton “the fat hog.”

O’Neill and Corsi produced a quickly-written, and questionably-sourced, anti-Kerry screed called Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, published by ultra-conservative Regnery Publishing, owned by avowed white supremacists and founded by a right-wing kook who thought the United States should partner with, not fight, Adolph Hitler.

O’Neill and Corsi have been caught in so-many lies it would take a team of researchers months to catalog them all. O’Neill claims to be apolitical but ignores his past ties to Nixon, former President George H.W. Bush (from whom he sought a federal judgeship), a clerkship with Nixon appointee Justice William Rehnquist and other past ties to GOP politics in Texas.

Nixon’s infamous White House taping system caught O’Neill bragging about having taken his Swift Boat into Cambodia, a lie he later admitted. Corsi now claims his homophobic hate-filled screeds on Free Republic were “just a joke.”

And an increasing number of the Swift Boat vets used as sources for O’Neill and Corsi’s book, as well as anti-Kerry televison ads, turn out to be just as lacking in credibility.

Retired Admiral Roy Hoffman and former Lt. Cmdr. George Elliott have supported Kerry and his version of events in Vietnam and then changed their stories. Elliott recanted his statements in the book and then recanted his recant. Former Swiftee Larry Thurlow swears Kerry was not under fire for the actions that led to a Bronze Star but accepted his own Bronze Star with a citation that said he was under fire in the same incident.

Others have told conflicting stories and two members of the group this week said SBVT misrepresented their positions and they support Kerry.

The first casualty of war, the old cliché goes, is truth. The record shows John Kerry, at the very least, exaggerated his war exploits, lied about throwing his medals on the Capitol steps (they turned out to be those of a friend), may have lied about being in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968, and used testimony that was later discredited to back up claims of widespread atrocities in Vietnam. I don’t like his policies, don’t care for the inconsistencies in his record and won’t vote for him but I don’t intend to vote for George W. Bush either.

But at least Kerry was in Vietnam He volunteered to go. He didn’t sit out the war with the Texas Air National Guard, as George W. Bush did.

And atrocities did occur in Vietnam, just as they do in every war. The important thing is to learn from such mistakes and move on.

Lt. William Calley received a life sentence for his role in the My Lai massacre of civilians in Vietnam but Richard Nixon, the same man who set John E. O’Neill on his collision course with John Kerry, ordered Calley released from prison. Calley eventually went free after serving three-and-a-half years of house arrest at Fort Benning.

Calley, now a jeweler in Columbus, Georgia, says My Lai and other such events are in the past and should remain there.

They cannot remain in the past as long as the bitterness and hate carried by men like John O’Neill are allowed to pollute a political campaign.

Those who support the smear campaign of SBVT say Kerry is fair game because he chose to make his service in Vietnam part of his campaign. In speaking out against the war, Kerry never questioned the bravery, loyalty or character of his fellow combat veterans. It is not dishonor to questions the reasons for war but it is dishonor to question the bravery of those who fought with you.

In truth, something SBVT claims but never achieves, their campaign has little to do with Kerry’s service in Vietnam. It is revenge, pure and simple, by a group of bitter old Vietnam vets who are still pissed because one of their own came home, spoke out against the war, and dared speak of some terrible things that happened over there.

Their blind hatred of Kerry made them easy pawns for Bush campaign operatives who will do anything to win an election. They did the same thing to John McCain in the 2000 Presidential primaries and have followed the same script for the destruction of John Kerry. This is politics at its most foul, most dirt-filled level.

O’Neill and his band of political assassins have done far worse. Their actions smear the reputation of every man and woman who ever served their country in war. They have brought into question every medal, commendation and citation earned by brave soldiers and sailors in defense of their nation. Such actions dishonor all vets.

Because they smeared one of their own for political gain, they are beneath contempt – as are those who support them, tolerate them or look the other way and pretend they have nothing to do with them.