September 1, 2004
By Aden Nak
I would like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks
to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. I don't mean that sarcastically,
I am genuinely glad that they appeared on the political scene and
presented their absurd set of charges. And I am not alone in feeling
this way. The majority of my peers (in that coveted 18-25 voting
demographic) are also glad that the Swift Boat Veterans came forward,
because although their intention was to tarnish John Kerry's military
record, what they've done is shine a spotlight on it.
During the Vietnam War, most of us in the 18-25 demographic weren't
even a percussive dinner-and-a-movie date yet. I have no firsthand
experience or knowledge of Vietnam, neither from the front lines
nor from the home front. I first learned about it in a high school
history class, and the lifeless text that rattled off the battlegrounds
and the statistics, both in political and human terms had very little
emotional impact on me.
I didn't really learn about Vietnam until later on, when I began
to study journalism and politics. Starting with writers like Hunter
S. Thompson (who had a special relationship, to say the least, with
Richard M. Nixon) was probably not the most unbiased way to learn
about Vietnam, but it was a good introductory course to the culture
shock of that war.
And still, despite this re-education through letters and government
transcripts, there was always something done-and-dry about Vietnam.
I had no direct connection to it, other than to observe the aftermath.
The toll it took on so many veterans, the shift it caused in the
political landscape, the backlash it eventually allowed as activism
was suplanted by complacency. Because of the near-death of political
activism in this country, it was this third warning I took away
from Vietnam. And until recently, that was how I primarily related
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth changed all of that. They made
some hideous claims about John Kerry's service in Vietnam, ranging
from callous name-calling to factual reorganization to accusing
him of orchestrating his own unearned cache of medals and honors
(presumably, because he knew he would be running for President 35
years later). They painted a picture of a man so cowardly and unscrupulous...
and I am naturally suspicious when presented with such an overwhelmingly
one-sided view of anything.
Kerry the Soldier
It wasn't until the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth thrust the issue
into the foreground of the political debate that I learned about
Kerry's actual service. I began reading essays and accounts from
the men he actually served with (as opposed to the members of the
Swift Boats organization), and found myself impressed with what
I read there. Before the Swift Boat group drew my attention to Kerry's
military record, what I knew about it could be boiled down to three
words: "decorated war hero." It started and stopped there. I respected
his status, his ability to survive, and his willingness to serve
his country despite whatever personal qualms he may have had about
But the personal accounts of his activities in Vietnam left me
genuinely impressed with him. What I read, time and time again,
was about his ingenuity and inventiveness. His willingness to break
from convention when convention failed, and attempt to improve the
situation through logic and tactical inventiveness. I found myself
respecting him far more after reading about his record than I did
before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group started squawking.
Their attacks allowed me to make an emotional attachment because
unlike my previous studies of Vietnam, which were often editorials
by men who had never served or singular stories told by a sea of
unknown soldiers, these were the accounts of a human being whose
life and character, like him or not, are now part of the American
collective conscious. He is a man I have seen and heard on a daily
for the past several months. And he is a man whom I respect considerably
more than I did before the Swift Boat Veterans surfaced.
I read about his selflessness, pulling Jim Rassmann out of the
river amidst enemy fire. I read about his bravery, charging the
coastline, rifle in hand, to prevent an enemy soldier from firing
an explosive device at his craft and crew. I read about his ingenuity,
his willingness to invent new tactics (such as turning the boats
and their heavy 50mm guns directly on ambushers, instead of sweeping
around later after they had already retreated off the coast) and
to evolve methods of combat that simply weren't working.
These are things I really would not have read about if it had
not been for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They are stories
that likely would not have been told, or at least would not have
received national media attention. They are stories of a man who,
despite being waist-deep in the hellish theater of war that was
Vietnam, demonstrated courage, sacrifice, decisiveness and intelligence.
I had always planned on voting this November simply to oust Bush
from office. But after reading these stories, there was at least
a part of me that was voting this November to put Kerry into office.
I thought, at that point, that I was done learning from the Swift
Boat Veterans. But no, they had much more to teach me.
Kerry the Firebrand
I have been casually aware for some time that, upon returning
from Vietnam, John Kerry joined the cause against the war itself.
I knew about this, primarily, because of how it had been used to
discredit him. There was the issue about whether he threw his medals
or simply his ribbons on the White House lawn. There was the criticism
of his use of the word "atrocities" when describing some of America's
military practices abroad. And, of course, there was the mediocrely
doctored photo of him giving a speech side by side with Jane Fonda.
That was pretty much my entire store knowledge of John Kerry's post-Vietnam
activities. Once again, it was the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
who, in an ironic testament to their self-appointed name, caused
the truth to surface.
You see, I was born almost a decade after John Kerry testified
before Congress concerning the War in Vietnam. And my knowledge
of that testimony was more or less that it took place, and it pissed
some people off. Having studied Vietnam and having formed my own
opinions about what the American government did there, I was glad
that Kerry spoke out. But again, these were facts, and there was
little to no emotional attachment for me.
Enter the Swift Boat Veterans. It wasn't until I saw the bitterness
they clearly held over his testimony that I appreciated what Kerry
risked by standing up and being heard in the first place. And it
wasn't until they began attacking Kerry's testimony that I heard
his famous quote, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die
for a mistake?" And the moment I heard him speak those words, I
began to anticipate him asking George W. Bush the same question.
Kerry the Leader
I didn't live through Vietnam. I didn't even live through the
aftermath. Hell, I was still a child when the issue of Vietnam Veterans'
rights began to fade from the national debate. The Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth, despite their ill intentions, forced me (and my generation)
to focus on a war that we would otherwise never have considered.
They have forced me to deal with Vietnam as more than just a textbook
example of a war gone wrong, and by turning attention to John Kerry's
activities both during and after his service in Vietnam, they have
fostered respect in still-young hearts that were otherwise luke-warm
towards the man.
They have reminded millions of draft-age Americans that John Kerry
served his country in a foreign war that need not have been fought.
They have shown them that John Kerry can recognize the difference
between a war of necessity and a war of opportunity. And most importantly,
they have let these millions of draft-age Americans know that John
Kerry will not ask any of them to be the last one to die for a mistake.
Aden Nak is an easily-agitated computer technician and a woefully
underemployed freelance writer. More of his personal vitriol can
be found at http://www.adennak.com.