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Kerry's Betrayal of Vets -- and Vietnamese By: Hugh Hewitt
Weekly Standard | Thursday, February 19, 2004


IT TOOK A LOT OF DIGGING, but my producer Duane was able to find the audio from John Kerry's 1971 appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I played the entire 19 minutes for my radio audience on February 17, and the reaction via the phones and email was uniform: Disliking John Kerry for his actions and words of 33 years ago is not a rare thing, especially among Vietnam veterans and active duty military.

Does this reaction matter? In the California primary it might. According to the 2000 Census, there are 1,122,528 Vietnamese Americans, 447,032 of whom live in California. (Texas is home to 12 percent of Vietnamese Americans--134,961, to be exact.) This subgroup of the California electorate might find very interesting John Kerry's answer to a 1971 question from Senator George Aiken on the effects of an immediate U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam. Here's Kerry:

"But I think, having done what we have done to that country, we have an obligation to offer sanctuary to the perhaps 2,000, 3,000 people who might face, and obviously they would, we understand that, might face political assasination or something else."

John Kerry obviously did not understand the plans of the Communists, as the numbers of the North's victims ranged far above his estimate of "perhaps 2,000, 3000." In fact, more than 130,000 took to the boats, a million more fled overland, and more than 750,000 were forced into "re-education camps." Next door in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror claimed 2,000,000 lives.

I wonder how John Kerry's antiwar record will play in Orange County, California's Little Saigon? Or to the state's approximately 70,000 Cambodian Americans? Kerry backers point to his youth when he made his statement to the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. But the massacre at Hue, when the communists executed thousands as they lost control of the city they had initially overrun in the Tet offensive, was well known and ought to have been understood by Kerry when he tossed off his estimate of likely victims of political terror if the United States cut and run.

Among veterans and active duty military, the picture is more difficult to read, though Kerry's strength in this quarter has been overstated by a media all too ready to buy the "band of brothers" theatrics that Kerry has been staging at each campaign stop. Every time Kerry invokes his real heroism in Vietnam, a network announcer should intone the opinions of Paul Galanti, quoted in the February 17, 2004, Los Angeles Times:

"Paul Galanti learned of Kerry's [1971] speech while held captive inside North Vietnam's infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' prison. The Navy pilot had been shot down in 1966 and spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war."

"During torture sessions, he said, his captors cited the antiwar speeches as 'an example of why we should cross over to [their] side.'"

"'The Viet Cong didn't think they had to win the war on the battlefield,' Galanti said, 'because thanks to these protestors they were going to win it on the streets of San Francisco and Washington.'"

"He says Kerry broke a covenant among servicemen never to make public criticisms that might jeopardize those still in battle or in the hands of the enemy."

"Because he did, Galanti said, 'John Kerry was a traitor to the men he served with.'"

"Now retired and living in Richmond, Virgian, Galanti, 64, refuses to cool his ire toward Kerry."

"'I don't plan to set it aside. I don't know anyone who does,' he said. 'The Vietnam memorial has thousands of additional names due to John Kerry and others like him.'"

YES, GALANTI IS A REPUBLICAN (he chaired John McCain's campaign in Virginia in 2000). But he speaks for many veterans. Unfortunately, though, tough charges like Galanti's are not likely to get much attention from an elite media more comfortable with the substance of Kerry's 1971 testimony--which is received wisdom on the left-- than with the recriminations that flow from Kerry's antiwar activities. It is obvious that the media, for all their digging into President Bush's air national guard service, are not as interested in Kerry's activities from the same period. To my knowledge, for example, mine is the only show to have played the audio from the 1971 hearing.

Because today's editors and producers don't much care about Kerry's actions in 1971, they can't imagine there are people who do care--much less report on them. Having labeled Kerry's antiwar radicalism as irrelevant, media elites ignore the opinions of a large and passionate segment of the population for whom Kerry's past matters a great deal.

Is this fair to Paul Galanti and his fellow Vietnam veterans who disagree with Kerry's actions when he returned from Vietnam? No, it isn't. But, then again, why should the media embrace fairness to them now, after three decades of distortion?


Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer for The Weekly Standard.


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