Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Ignorance as an Excuse

I know Bush is supposed to be The Dumb One, but consider this.

In 1971, John Kerry, back from Vietnam, was accusing U.S. troops of widespread atrocities in Vietnam, of "crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." He was saying that "war crimes in Vietnam are the rule, not the exception." On June 30, he finally faced his rival, John O’Neill, who had commanded the same Swift boat during the Vietnam War that John Kerry did.

They debated on "The Dick Cavett Show." It wasn't much of a contest: the suave Ivy Leaguer had been trained in the art of debate since he was 14, and his opponent was an angry physically wounded man with a Navy Academy degree, wearing "the only suit I had," a less-than-suave blue serge number over white socks.

At first, when O'Neill asked Kerry whether he had participated or seen atrocities first-hand, Kerry put up a smokescreen of cant then shifted the topic from himself to the U.S. government without answering:

"On the question of war crimes, it is really only with the utmost consideration that we pose this question. I don't think that any man comes back to say that he raped, or to say that he burned a village, or to say that he wantonly destroyed crops or something for pleasure. I think he does it at the risk of certain kinds of punishment, at the risks of injuring his own character, which he has to live with, at the risk of the loss of family and friends as a result of it. But he does it because he believes intensely that people have got to be educated about the devastation of this war. We thought we were a moral country, yes, but we are now engaged in the most rampant bombing in the history of mankind."

Again and again, the question was asked. "Kerry stuck to his script." But he went so far as to say this:

"I personally didn't see personal atrocities in the sense I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that," Kerry said. "However, I did take part in free-fire zones, I did take part in harassment and interdiction fire, I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these acts, I find out later on, are contrary to the Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty. But we are not trying to find war criminals. That is not our purpose. It never has been." [Emphasis added]

"I find out later on"? Kerry has since backed off, in a general way, the more forceful things he said in those years. I don't know if this quote is inculded in that. But how can it be that this Ivy League graduate didn't know that shooting up sampans and wrecking villages for no good reason wasn't a violation of something? Had he ever heard of the Geneva accords? And who was it, "later," who filled him in on his unfortunate knowledge gap?

I bet Bush, getting his teeth cleaned in Alabama, knew about that.

You have to wonder about such things when a self-proclaimed war criminal runs for president as a self-proclaimed hero in a war that most of his backers who were alive at the time loathed and mocked as unjust and unconscionable.