Bush, Kerry need truce on Vietnam talk

August 28, 2004|By Gregory Kane

OK, THE NEXT guy who mentions the dreaded "V" word gets his face popped inside out, all right?

You know the "V" word I'm talking about: Vietnam. As in the Vietnam War, which for the United States began in the late 1950s, ended in 1975 and has become a campaign issue nearly 30 years later.

First came the Democrats, calling President Bush a chicken hawk, no-show, deserter and everything else but a child of God for joining the Air National Guard and not fighting in Vietnam. Then they trotted out former President Clinton at their convention to brag about Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record. Did anybody see something wrong there?

Clinton didn't serve in Vietnam, either. In fact, he wasn't even in the military during Vietnam. He had a ROTC deferment and pulled out of the program. You'd have thought Kerry and his advisers would have the good sense to tell draft-dodging Bubba, "Say anything you want, just don't mention the `V' word." But good sense has taken a holiday during this campaign.

Then came the Republicans, a-huffin' and a-puffin' and just a-rootin' for Dubya's re-election, casting aspersions on Kerry's Vietnam record. Now some of the senator's fellow Swift boat veterans have challenged his war hero credentials. At first blush, this would seem fair, considering how the Democrats started it by dredging up Bush's service. But again, good sense isn't at work.

Earth to Republicans: It's a bad idea to compare the Vietnam record of a guy who didn't go there to one who did.

Earth to both parties: Please shut up about Vietnam.

There are quite a few of us baby boomers who don't want that mess dredged up again. For my part, I've deliberately made everything that happened in Vietnam from the summer of 1964 - when President Johnson played footloose and fancy-free with the truth in the Gulf of Tonkin incident - to the fall of Saigon in 1975 a blur. I was doing my best to keep it blurred until this fool campaign started.

Now, I've been bombarded with news reports of where Bush really was when he was in the Air National Guard. I've been subjected to disgruntled veterans still miffed that Kerry testified before Congress and implied that American troops routinely committed atrocities. By that, Kerry meant soldiers killed folks who weren't supposed to be killed.

This may come as a shock to those on both sides of the Vietnam issue, but folks who aren't supposed to be killed die all the time in wars. The soldier who was urged to "Shoot every %@*# thing you see - church steeples, water towers, houses, old ladies, children, haystacks" wasn't some grunt in Vietnam. He was a soldier in the 761st Tank Battalion fighting in Europe during World War II. The guy speaking to him was Gen. George S. Patton.

That incident comes from Joseph W. Wilson Jr.'s book, The 761st `Black Panther' Tank Battalion in World War II. Another soldier told Wilson how he and a comrade had tried to give first aid to a wounded German soldier before enemy fire drove them off. Once the fire stopped, they were prepared to go back and help the soldier when Americans riding in a scout car ran over what was left of the poor guy. Yes, even during "the good war," some American soldiers acted exactly like the ones Kerry described in Vietnam.

Does that mean fighting World War II was wrong? Can I see a show of hands from those who want what remaining Nazis there are in Germany returned to power because of the acts of a few American soldiers?

Yes, those ticked off at Kerry - for his congressional testimony, not his record - have a valid point. It's not said often enough, but it needs saying: No matter how many My Lai massacres there were in Vietnam, our goal was to prevent the South Vietnamese from being subjected to the tender mercies of the sort of proletarian dictatorship that left millions of Ukrainians dead in the 1930s. That was under the Soviet regime of Josef Stalin. Some two million Cambodians met a similar fate in the 1970s under communist Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge party. For the past 30 years, folks have kicked us in the teeth for caring. Heck, for the past 30 years, we've kicked ourselves in the teeth for caring.

Now Republicans and Democrats are kicking each other in the teeth over a war long ago ended that, for years, had bipartisan support. Whatever atrocities or mistakes happened in Vietnam are the responsibility of both parties. Whatever honorable things happened during America's stay in Vietnam is to the credit of both parties. Kerry and Bush should make a gentleman's agreement - that should be easy for these two Skull and Bones boys - that Vietnam won't be an issue in the campaign. They can call a joint news conference and issue the pronouncement and make it succinct:

The next guy what mentions the "V" word gets his face popped inside out.

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