This week I was talking to one of the few Republicans who hasn't lost his honor over this Swift Boat business and we were discussing with amazement and amusement all the middle-aged conservatives who ducked Vietnam who are now writing editorials and hitting the shows dissecting what John Kerry did on the Mekong Delta thirty-five years ago. (For laughs, check out stuffed-shirt Bill Bennett, who served his country in graduate school.)
But now I think I've found the best one so far.
Marvin Olasky coined the term 'compassionate conservatism' for the president and is one of his house intellectuals. And now he's got an OpEd out explaining that John Kerry joined the Navy to stay out of Vietnam. The premise of the piece is that Olasky (1971), Bush (1968) and Kerry (1966) each graduated from Yale ...
Neither Kerry nor Bush nor I wanted to fight in Vietnam, and we all did what we could in our situations: Naval Reserves (Kerry), Texas Air National Guard (Bush), draft lottery No. 278 (me), which meant immunity from having to serve. In his circumstances, Kerry's choice was smart: Navy or Coast Guard folks were much less likely to see combat service than their counterparts in the Army or Air Force, and the safest Navy spot may have been that of a Naval Reserve officer.
A combination of unlikely circumstances placed Kerry, despite his plans, in a combat situation for three months during 1968 and 1969. How he performed during that period is now a matter of intense dispute. I've gone through the claims and counter-claims, and suspect he was valiant in one incident and a whiner or exaggerator in others.
I spoke to two Navy officials today who told me Olasky's got the US Navy Reserve issue all wrong. (My understanding from them is that it was standard that you'd end up with a USNR designation at first if you went in through NROTC.) But his analysis also seems a bit belied by the fact that Kerry specifically requested service in-country (i.e., on a Swift Boat) rather than simply in-theater (on a blue water naval vessel).
Not only is Olasky's piece shameful. He's also seriously off-message. Doesn't he know Kerry made sure he could get into 'Nam to string together a few bogus injuries so he could head back to the states and crank up the political career?
I mean, doesn't he read the papers?
I dropped Olasky a line to ask him about the ducking service in Vietnam bit. I'll let you know if we hear back.
Late Update: Olasky responds ...
In 1986, in The Vietnam Experience: A War Remembered, Kerry wrote about his Swift Boat request: "At the time, the boats had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing. Although I wanted to see for myself what was going on, I didn't really want to get involved in the war."
On the Navy Reserves, I'll see if I can find out more, but let me quote from a note I received from a 1960s naval recruiting officer: Kerr was in "the navy's cache or delayed entry program. The cache program was and is nothing more than an official, legally binding, informal holding pool for volunteers to delay entry into active duty for the mutual convenience of both the member and the service branch... For Kerry it allowed him to continue & finish college while holding the draft wolf at bay once he had lost his student deferment, and it allowed him to choose to a large degree how & for whom he would serve."
The key question, to me, is John Kerry's insistence upon being right in every situation. He's said that his language about atrocities was a little exaggerated, but let me know if he's said he was wrong about content. I messed up enormously in the early 70s, and George Bush has acknowledged his own difficulties. As I wrote, Kerry deserves credit for serving, but his emphasis on his own moral perfection is troubling. We're having lively debates on this at www.worldmagblog.com.
Cordially, Marvin Olasky