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Man of the Year: John O'Neill By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 31, 2004


Every year offers a fine wide range of candidates for “Man of the Year” – even election years. Possible nods could have gone to President George W. Bush, for winning an unprecedented mandate without compromising his position on the War on Terror, or to Gen. Tommy Franks for retiring from honorable service to his country yet standing by his men in the public square. Senator Zell Miller put principle above party, to see his old friends and mentors turn on him one-by-one. Mel Gibson made an unforgettable film that nearly approximates the mystical experience on which it was based. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suffered hyper-criticism for his real crime: offering strong leadership in Iraq. The late Ronald Reagan exuded strength, confidence, and optimism even in death. Some have even suggested comedian Bill Cosby deserves special mention for abandoning years of harsh racial rhetoric (probably temporarily) in favor of promoting self-improvement and self-sufficiency. All deserve commendation for their accomplishments and contributions to our discourse.

However, this year’s choice was simple: John O’Neill, head of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. O’Neill has spent more than 30 years with one goal: rehabilitating the image of Vietnam veterans, living and dead, slandered by antiwar agitators like John Kerry and their Hollywood sycophants. When John Kerry began his baseless attacks as the leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, O’Neill debated him on the nationally televised “Dick Cavett Show” on June 30, 1971 – and as anyone who remembers that program knows, being a center-right guest inevitably meant debating Cavett, too. (Click here to watch the whole episode [Real Player only]).

 

When John Kerry sealed the nomination of his party – and channeled the unbridled hatred of the well-heeled “Shadow Party,” willing to support anyone who was not George W. Bush – John O’Neill knew he had been called to service again. O’Neill began to reassemble his Band of Brothers. (Unlike Kerry, O’Neill had treated his comrades-in-arms like brothers and had stayed close with them in the ensuing years, when bad press made the term “Vietnam Vet” synonymous with mental breakdown and uncontrollable rage.) Together, the corps had next-to-nothing in the way of political experience. Armed only with their own determination and unshakable faith in the righteousness of their cause, they determined to make their voice heard.

 

They quickly called a press conference, including Kerry’s chain-of-command from Vietnam. Seventeen people, in all, spoke about the Democratic challenger’s lack of character. It was a disturbing tale. According to these vets, Kerry had greatly exaggerated his heroism during the most celebrated four-month tour of duty in combat history. The wound for which he received his first Purple Heart was reportedly a scratch. Another wound may have been self-inflicted after Kerry and a friend threw hand grenades into a rice paddy.

 

However, it was not lies of excessive heroism that spurred the Swift Boat Vets into action: it was lies about their heroism which Kerry converted into a sordid tale of ravaging the countryside “in a fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan” (which the Boston Brahmin sophomorically pronounced “Jen-jis Khan”). The discredited Winter Soldier hearings, which Kerry took part in along with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, painted Vietnam vets as a group of baby-killers who believe napalm “smells like victory.” Cashing in on the rising “antiwar” (and often pro-Communist) campus movement, he outflanked the most extreme claims of American atrocities with alleged “eyewitness testimony” in the hopes of riding the discontent to the House of Representatives.

 

He then pretended to throw his medals away…without actually doing so.

 

After claiming he personally witnessed and committed atrocities while in Vietnam, he claimed his memory was “seared, seared” by spending Christmas Eve on the Cambodian border…a lie pressure from the Swift Boat Vets caused him to retract.

 

O’Neill believed such a man had no business acting as commander in chief of the military, particularly while a new generation of young men waged a war in Iraq Kerry did not appear to understand, much less support. In keeping such a man of this confused outlook out of the Oval Office, O’Neill did a greater service to those who support our War on Terror than we, mercifully, will ever know.

 

John O’Neill organized his Band of Brothers – political novices all – and took to the airwaves. After producing hard-hitting ads telling the truth about Kerry’s “distinguished service,” he wrote the best-selling Unfit for Command. And the reaction jolted the nation. Suddenly, the “war hero” who decided to wage his entire campaign based on his abortive service in Vietnam, spent the majority of the campaign dodging alternate charges that he lied about his service, lied about Vietnam vets, and changed his foreign policy decisions more often than he changed tailored Armani suits. He had jilted his “brothers” like an heiress whose trust fund had run low.

 

In doing so, they had to face a media unmoved to cover their allegations – although it would cover fraudulent stories questioning the president’s National Guard Service – and a group of tax-exempt, billionaire-backed partisans eager to defeat the president and anyone perceived as being friendly to him. The Swift Boat Vets got much more “bang for the buck” than this myriad of 527 groups, which spent several times the money of the Swift Boat Vets. O’Neill and his fellow veterans spent $1.7 million on three television ads. MoveOn.org – one of seven members of George Soros’ “Shadow Party” – spent nearly 20 times that amount on advertising alone. The Shadow Party took over the get-out-the-vote activities traditionally reserved to the Democratic Party itself. And despite the largest turnout in history, they walked away empty handed.

 

Some “liberal” critics blame Kerry – and by extension their own campaign finance regulations – for letting the ads go unanswered during the month of August. Nervous supporters of the president raised similar concerns when Bush let the unprecedented advertisements (both in scope and viciousness) of Americans Coming Together and other Soros fronts slide. Both sets of critics overlook the first rule of political advertising: You cannot make the public believe something they do not already suspect about a candidate. This was most pointedly demonstrated by Dan Quayle’s attempt to reassure the public he was more qualified to be president than JFK in 1960, so brusquely rebuffed by Lloyd Bentsen.

 

Instead of showcasing a military record, MoveOn PAC financed an ad with a man imitating President Bush’s voice “admitting” he was “obsessed with Iraq and used terrorist attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq.” No amount of advertising could convince Americans that George W. Bush is a rocket scientist, but neither could it convince them he is Halliburton’s bloodthirsty Manchurian Candidate. The Swift Boat Vet ads worked, because the American people already questioned John Kerry’s character and forthrightness. More than 50 million leftists voted for Kerry because they were willing to overlook such deficiencies.

 

These accomplishments did not come without a price to the Swift Boat Vets, anymore than signing the Declaration of Independence enhanced the economic lives of those brave men who mutually pledged “out lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Swift Boat Vet Al French was fired from his job as an Assistant District Attorney in liberal Oregon; Bob Perry, who gave the original $200,000 seed money to produce the Vets’ first TV ad, had his home picketed; John O’Neill was demonized as a liar – MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell cast that epithet at him no less than 39 times in one brief segment! The entire group was written off as a group of political hacks remotely controlled by Karl Rove. Nonetheless, they kept their cool, stood by their convictions, and proved that decent people on a tight budget can overcome the national media blackout and partisan demagoguery to affect the outcome of a national election.

 

This writer owes John O’Neill and the Swift Boat Vets a personal note of thanks. My grandfather died in the Korean War defending freedom halfway around the world in a conflict whose veterans received less press coverage than their counterparts in Vietnam, positive and negative. Like John Kerry, my grandfather earned three Purple Hearts; unlike Kerry, he bled for every single one. He did not promote himself, nor did he seek a quick passage out of the service he loved. He earned multiple Bronze and Silver Stars for such efforts as leading Americans out of captivity. After escaping, he gave a starving Korean child his winter coat so the child would not freeze to death. Thanks to John Kerry’s naked self-promotion, genuine heroes like my grandfather stood at risk of having their successes degraded. Upon hearing my grandfather had the same kinds of medals as John Kerry, one may have assumed he did no more for his country than Kerry: complain about every scratch, substitute bluster for bravery, and ride the military paper trail to a cushy exit and undeserved national notoriety. Real heroes deserve better. Thanks to John O’Neill, our nation will never confuse John Kerry with America’s fighting men, the selfless stewards of freedom’s sacred fire.

 

The Swift Boat Vets made their contribution to this year’s political discourse despite the odds against them. They had only truth to offer – yet, surprisingly in this political year –  that was enough. As O’Neill told a gathering at Restoration Weekend this year:

 

The truth is an acorn that can grow into a mighty tree. And a small group of people, even amateurs, armed with the truth can sometimes be a mightier force than all of the forces of the mass media and big money in the United States.

 

John O’Neill has proven that David can still beat Goliath, that free speech survives and truth can topple every device used to promote a lie. FrontPage Magazine salutes him for it. Mission accomplished.


Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).


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