The Magazine

Never Apologize, Never Explain

From the November 1 / November 8, 2004 issue: John Kerry's real record as an antiwar activist.

Nov 1, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 08 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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The next week, however, the Times's correction acknowledged that it had "misidentified the parties with whom Mr. Kerry said he had met at the Paris peace talks. . . . The parties were the two Communist delegations-North Vietnam and the Viet Cong's Provisional Revolutionary Government." The Times clearly exonerated Kerry of its error, noting that "he did not say he had met with 'both sides.'" This is true to a point. In 1971 when Kerry described his first Paris meeting, he said he had talked to "both delegations" and went on to explain that he meant both Communist delegations. But when the issue of Kerry's dealings with the Communists had resurfaced earlier this campaign year, his aides characteristically fudged the issue. The Boston Globe, again relying on what it was told by Kerry campaign spokesman Michael Meehan, reported that Kerry had met with "members of both delegations to the peace talks," which certainly gave readers the impression that he had met with both sides. Globe correspondent Patrick Healy confirms that this is what he understood Meehan to mean.

Why all the obfuscation from the Kerry camp? Because his activities were not as innocent as he would like them to be remembered. The antiwar movement, broadly speaking, had two wings. To one, the war was a tragedy: America's actions were well-intentioned but misguided. To the other, the war was a crime: America's motives were less worthy of sympathy than those of its enemies. Kerry sometimes sounded as if he were in the former camp, as when he warned against being "the last man to die for a mistake." More often, he was in the latter camp, as when he accused American forces of "crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command," a kind of language he never used about the behavior of Communist forces.

America had gotten so far off track that we needed a "revolution" to recapture our founding principles, Kerry said, while also suggesting that our enemies were more in tune with those principles. Ho Chi Minh, he declared, was "the George Washington of Vietnam" who was trying "to install the same provisions into the government of Vietnam" that appeared in the U.S. Constitution.

This attitude underlay his trips to meet with the Communist delegations in Paris. Although he accused American leaders of lying, he returned from Paris to endorse the Viet Cong's "peace plan" as if the pronouncements of Communist leaders deserved to be taken at face value. The Viet Cong's foreign minister, Madame Binh, had told him, he said, that "if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal, the prisoners of war would be returned." The fact that she said so, he suggested, proved that President Nixon was lying: "I think this negates very clearly the argument of the president that we have to maintain a presence in Vietnam, to use as a negotiating block for the return of those prisoners. The setting of a date will accomplish that."

Today, Kerry and his surrogates make it sound as if his meetings with Communist officials were motivated by concern for American POWs. But this stands history on its head. Disregarding entirely the Geneva convention in their treatment of American prisoners, the Communists used the POWs as hostages, pressing America to capitulate in order to get its men back. Some of the more extreme antiwar leaders collaborated with Hanoi in this extortionate game, leading to deep resentment among most POWs for dishonoring and sabotaging the cause for which they had sacrificed so much.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the group Kerry led, was squarely in the radical wing of the antiwar movement, which is the reason for another of Kerry's misrepresentations. VVAW was so extreme that at its November 1971 leadership conference in Kansas City a motion was tabled to resort to terrorism and commence assassinating America's elected officials. Although the motion was voted down after lengthy debate, the very fact that it was given serious consideration shows just how far-out VVAW was. Probably for that reason, Kerry had denied being present at the meeting in Kansas City. Gerald Nicosia, author of a highly sympathetic account of veterans' antiwar activities, reported in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that "several people at the Kansas City meeting recently said . . . that they had been told by the Kerry campaign not to speak about those events without permission." However, when FBI files released under the Freedom of Information Act placed him at the meeting, Kerry withdrew his earlier denial, admitting he may have been there but saying he had "no personal recollection" of it.