|Chapter 8 of "Unfit to Command." Read this and find out why I have been singing, "It's 1971, Kansas City!"|
E I G H T
KERRY’S ANTIWAR SECRETS
“Kerry’s turncoat performance in 1971 in his grubby shirt and his medal-tossing escapade, coupled with his slanderous lies in the recent book portraying us that served, including all POWs and MIAs, as murderous war criminals, I believe, will have a lasting effect on all military veterans and their families.”
CAPTAIN CHARLES PLUMLY, USN (RETIRED)
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Press Conference
Washington, D.C., May 4, 2004
“My plan was that on the last day at a certain time, probably 11:30 or 2:30 (either right before or after lunch), we would go into the offices—in our schedule with our congressmen, we would schedule the most hard-core hawks for last—and we would shoot them all. . . I was serious. . . ”
VVAW leader and Kerry companion to June, 1971 Cavett Show debate; discussing his February, 1971 and November, 1971 formal assassination proposal voted down by VVAW. University of Florida Oral History Program Interview of Scott Camil, Oct. 20, 1992
The VVAW Plot Kerry Doesn’t Want You to Know About
At the VVAW steering committee meeting in Kansas City in November 1971, Florida regional coordinator Scott Camil brought up an assassination plan that he had first proposed during the April 1971 Dewey Canyon III event in Washington, D.C. Camil proposed that the VVAW assassinate a group of United States senators who supported the war, including Senator John Tower of Texas, Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Camil had termed his plan Operation Phoenix, calling to mind a CIA assassination program in Vietnam that had targeted Viet Cong leadership cadres.
Known as Scott the Assassin, Camil was a firebrand within the VVAW ranks. He advocated the creation of VVAW assassination squads who could emulate the CIA Phoenix Program in Vietnam. The idea, as proposed by Camil, was that the VVAW assassination squads would kill politicians who opposed ending the war, beginning with prominent senators. The problem for John Kerry and the other VVAW members present at the Kansas City meeting was that a conspiracy to commit murder may itself be a crime, whether or not any murder is actually committed. Camil had a well-known fascination with weapons, and his plot may have been more fantasy than reality. Still, those present listened to the proposal and even took a vote on it. Arguably, those present, including Kerry, had an obligation to report the proposed plot to authorities to avoid becoming complicit in a conspiracy to commit murder.
Investigative reporter Tom Lipscomb broke the VVAW assassination story in the New York Sun with a series of articles appearing in March 2004.1 When presented with the details of the assassination plot from the Kansas City meeting, his first reaction was to lie. A spokesperson for the Kerry presidential campaign simply denied that John Kerry had attended the meeting. Then Lipscomb found two VVAW members, Randy Barnes and Terry DuBoise, who had attended the meeting and were willing to go on record stating that they remembered Kerry being there.
Kerry’s recent biography, Tour of Duty, claimed that he had quit the VVAW on November 10, 1971, several days before the Kansas City assassination meeting, and that his resignation letter was at the VVAW archive in Madison, Wisconsin.2 The trouble was that nobody could find the November 10 resignation letter in the files. Finally, Tour of Duty author Douglas Brinkley admitted to Lipscomb that he did not have a copy of the letter in question; instead, he had been relying on Kerry’s own report that the letter existed. To date, no resignation letter has been located. When Lipscomb asked Brinkley who had told him that Kerry was a no-show at the Kansas City meeting, Brinkley’s response was that his source was Kerry himself.
At about the time the Kerry presidential campaign was denying that he had attended the Kansas City meeting, the FBI surveillance file on the VVAW and Kerry was beginning to be made available on the Internet. Previously, these records had been available only to Gerald Nicosia, the pro-Kerry writer and VVAW historian who had launched the original Freedom of Information Act request that led to the release of the documents.
As noted in the previous chapter, close inspection of the FBI reports indicates that Kerry was present at the Kansas City meeting as a member of the VVAW executive committee. The FBI reported that Kerry told the steering committee that he planned to resign from the executive committee, but that he would continue to speak for the VVAW and that his resignation from the executive committee would not take effect until a replacement for him had been selected. The FBI file was clear that Kerry was resigning only from the executive committee, not from the VVAW itself.
On Friday, March 19, 2004, writer Scott Canon published an article in the Kansas City Star that supported Lipscomb’s research. Canon’s article suggested that the Kerry campaign was backing away from its initial denial in light of the information in the FBI reports: “A statement Thursday by Kerry’s camp said the Massachusetts Democrat did not recall the meeting, although FBI surveillance material and the group’s archives clearly show that Kerry resigned from his national coordinator post at that November 1971 meeting.”3 Still, campaign spokesman David Wade tried to save face by advancing a barely believable statement: “John Kerry had no personal recollection of this meeting thirty-three years ago. John Kerry does recall the disagreements with elements of VVAW leadership. . . that led to his resignation. If there are valid FBI surveillance reports from credible sources that place some of those disagreements in Kansas City, we accept that historical footnote in the account of his work to end the difficult and divisive war.”
So, faced with documentary evidence to the contrary, the Kerry campaign quickly shifted ground. The denial that Kerry had attended the meeting was replaced with a convenient statement that he could not recall the meeting—besides, so what, the meeting was a footnote to history. Again the limits of credibility were stretched. This particular footnote to history evidently involved the consideration of a conspiracy to assassinate U. S. senators, something that most people would probably remember for the rest of their lives.
The Kansas City Star also reported that John Hurley, an organizer of veteran volunteers for Kerry’s presidential campaign, had called several former VVAW members to pressure them to change their stories about the assassination meeting, in particular, one John Musgrave of Baldwin City, Kansas. As the Star reported: “I asked him to be very sure of his recollection, not to change his recollection,” Hurley said. “I would apologize to John Musgrave if he thought in any way I was pressuring him.”4
If there was nothing to hide in this Kansas City meeting or in Scott Camil’s assassination plot, then why didn’t Kerry just tell the truth about the meeting from the start? That Kerry’s campaign continues to insist that he has no recollection of the meeting strongly suggests that there is more here that Kerry simply does not want the public to know.
The Medals Kerry Doesn’t Want You to Think He Threw Away
The day after John Kerry’s testimony to the Fulbright Committee, the VVAW assembled on the front steps of the Capitol for what was to be the culminating event of Dewey Canyon III.5 One by one, the VVAW protesters approached a microphone and threw their war decorations over a fence into a bin that had been marked “trash.” Kerry, too, approached the microphone, said his piece, and threw away a handful of what everybody assumed were his medals.
A film clip of the event in the VVAW short feature Only The Beginning captured several of the protesters as they shouted into the microphone before throwing their medals over the fence. The protest was not just political theater; it was angry political theater with a radical antiwar message:
My name’s Peter Brannigan, and I’ve got a Purple Heart here, and I hope I get another one fighting these motherf—ers. (loud cheers)
Robert Jones, New York, and I symbolically return all Vietnam medals and service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against non-white peoples of the world. (shouts of “Right on!”)
22nd Cavalry Squadron in Da Nang, and I hope they realize this is their last G-dammed chance. (cheers)
We don’t want to fight any more, but if we do it will be to take these steps! (screams of approval)
The VVAW film clip ends there, to the sound of automatic weapons fire.
Questions about this incident arose when John Kerry ran for the Senate in 1984. Some thirteen years after the medal-tossing demonstration, Kerry found it politically expedient to have his medals back, as evidence of the war-hero status that even in 1984 was at the core of his campaign. Many visitors to Kerry’s office reported surprise at seeing Kerry’s medals framed and hanging on his Senate office wall. At the demonstration itself, Kerry gave no explanation of what he was throwing over the fence. A reasonable assumption was that he was throwing away his own medals, as were many of the other protesters at the event. No, Kerry explained, he had thrown away only the ribbons he had been wearing on his fatigues; he did not have the medals with him at the time, and there was no time to go home to New York and get them.
Another explanation crept in over the years. Kerry maintained that, yes, he had actually thrown away some medals, but they weren’t his own medals; they were the medals of two other veterans he had met. His own medals, he continued to insist, were always in safekeeping; hence, there was no surprise that they were now on his wall. One more small detail creeps into the story. Sometimes the current location of the medals is described as not on the senator’s office wall but in a desk drawer in his study at his home in Boston, or some other office location in Boston, but definitely not lost over a fence.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, the controversy resurfaced when ABC News found a 1971 television interview Kerry gave in which he did claim that what he had thrown away during the protest were in fact his own medals. As ABC News reported: “I gave back, I can’t remember six, seven, eight, nine medals,” Kerry said in a November 6, 1971, interview on a Washington, D.C., news program on WRC-TV called Viewpoints.
The controversy picked up steam when Kerry appeared on Good Morning America and called the whole question a “phony controversy instigated by the Republican Party.” He was belligerent, insisting that he was always accurate about what had taken place: “I threw my ribbons. I didn’t have any medals. It is very simple.” He also said that the military did not make a distinction between medals and ribbons, so he could not understand why the news media was making such a big deal out of it: “We threw away the symbols of what our country gave us for what we had gone through.” Now, campaigning as a war hero, Kerry wanted to maintain he had always been proud of his war decorations, even though that was not the impression he gave in the famous 1971 medal-tossing ceremony.6
When ABC News confronted Kerry with the old videotape from the Viewpoints show, he appeared angry. “This is being pushed yesterday by Karen Hughes [former director of communications] in the White House on FOX. It shows up on several different stations at the same time. This comes from a president who can’t even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard. And I’m not going to stand for it,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America while still on the air. When pressed on the discrepancy, Kerry became more combative: “George Bush has yet to explain to America whether or not—and tell the truth about whether he showed up for duty. I’m not going to get attacked on something that I did that is a matter of record.” Finally, insisting that he had never said he had given back his combat medals, Kerry insisted, “Back then, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable.”
Then, at the end of the interview, when he was off-camera, Kerry made an additional comment that was recorded as he was unclipping the microphone: “God, they’re doing the work of the Republican National Committee.” Rather than address the contradiction directly, Kerry fell back on what for him was a familiar response technique— he attempted to shift the subject away from himself and the question he had been asked, making the new focus on an enemy presumed to be attacking him.
What is clear is that in 1971, when Kerry was still presenting himself as an antiwar activist, he encouraged the conclusion that he threw his medals away. Ever since he began running for public office, Kerry has wanted those medals back.
Most veterans who win decorations in time of war cherish those decorations as a symbol of the sacrifice they made for their country. Any veteran loyal to America witnessing a demonstration in which veterans threw away their medals would be appalled. After all, this was the purpose of the entire event—to shock America by showing it that Vietnam veterans so little valued their service that they were throwing their decorations in the trash. The April 1971 medal-tossing ceremony in front of the U.S. Capitol was intended as an insult to the American government, a government that the VVAW was directly calling immoral in its pursuit of the war. No one watching the ceremony in 1971 could fail to capture the meaning of the event.
U.S. service personnel were dying that day in 1971 as John Kerry demonstrated in front of the Capitol, and Kerry insulted them by his own act of disrespect. The core of John Kerry’s protest in 1971 was what he told the Fulbright Committee: He believed that the war was a mistake. John Kerry wanted the war in Vietnam to end regardless of the outcome. That was his clear meaning, no matter what he threw over that fence. Today, John Kerry wants the American people to see his medals on the wall, as if they had always been there, not his ribbons thrown away in the trash bin.
The New Soldier—
The Book Kerry Doesn’t Want You to Read
Late in 1971, MacMillan Publishers brought out Kerry’s book The New Soldier in a hardcover first edition.7 John Kerry is listed at the top of the cover page, as author, and the two editors listed are Kerry’s longtime friends David Thorne and George Butler. David Thorne, the twin brother of Kerry’s first wife, Julia Thorne, first met Kerry when they were freshmen at Yale and are still friends. Thorne continues to advise Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign. George Butler met Kerry in 1964, introduced through a mutual friend, Dick Pershing. Butler took the photographs in The New Soldier, and he has been photographing John Kerry ever since, now over a period of more than thirty-three years.
The New Soldier is divided into several distinct parts. Thorne and Butler wrote the preface. The first major section of the book is an edited version of Kerry’s testimony before the Fulbright Committee, testimony that already was in the public domain. The next section of the book presents a chronology of Operation Dewey Canyon III from April 19, 1971, to April 23, 1971.
Dewey Canyon III permitted Kerry to emerge as the national spokesperson for the VVAW, a role that grew out of his visible presence on the stage throughout the event and his televised appearance before the Fulbright Committee on April 22, 1971. Kerry has acknowledged raising approximately $50,000 to cover the expenses of Dewey Canyon III, with the assistance of his friend Adam Walinsky, who had written Kerry’s prepared testimony before the Fulbright Committee. Walinsky and Kerry arranged a private meeting with donors at the Seagram Building in New York, a meeting that included Seagram’s chief executive, Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., and some twenty New York businessmen who shared Kerry’s antipathy to the Vietnam War.
A large section at the core of the book reprints testimony given at the Winter Soldier Investigation, with testimony juxtaposed against photographs of Dewey Canyon III.
The text of the book contains passage after vitriolic passage expressing strong antipathy for the American cause in Vietnam, with charge after charge of war crimes and atrocities, hitting whenever possible the theme that the war was racist in nature. Kerry’s epilogue continued the themes of his testimony before the Fulbright Committee:
We will not quickly join those who march on Veterans Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the “greater glory of the United States.” We will not accept the rhetoric. We will not readily join the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars—in fact, we will find it hard to join anything at all and when we do, we will demand relevancy such as other organizations have recently been unable to provide. We will not take solace from the creation of monuments or the naming of parks after a select few of the thousands of dead Americans and Vietnamese. We will not uphold the traditions which decorously memorialize that which was base and grim.
One wonders if John Kerry remembered this passage in 2004 as he attended Memorial Day ceremonies and courted veterans’ groups. No wonder suppressing the book has become the order of the day for the Kerry presidential campaign.
A questionnaire appearing at the end of the book is equally radical. Dr. Hamid Mowlana, who administered the questionnaire, admits that only about two hundred surveys were distributed to an estimated 2,300 participants in the Dewey Canyon III demonstration. Only 172 forms were returned, and Dr. Mowlana presents no discussion of any biases he might anticipate regarding which individuals selectively decided to return the questionnaires and which did not, or why this decision was made. No attempt to follow up or conduct additional interviews to correct for bias was discussed. No attempt to sample the Vietnam veteran population in general was made. So we are left with no way to determine whether these protesters were in any way representative of Vietnam veterans as a group.
The respondents are portrayed as young (nearly 75 percent between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five), educated (nearly 56 percent with some college), Northeastern (54 percent), and single (84 percent). Most were enlisted (65 percent). Most were either students (41 percent) or not working (nearly 37 percent). The key point that the authors drew from the study was that most of the respondents characterized themselves as radical (nearly 49 percent) or extremely radical (an additional 18.5 percent). Over 40 percent reported that their attitudes had begun to change and become more radical during the first three months of their service in Vietnam, 20 percent toward the end of their service in Vietnam, and 16.6 percent upon returning home. In other words, the conclusion was that Vietnam had radicalized the respondents, a conclusion drawn even though Dr. Mowlana and his associate had no way of knowing who actually filled out the questionnaires.
Dr. Mowlana’s conclusion, which ends the book, presented as though it were scientifically valid, is that Vietnam was such a terrible experience that those who fought there were overwhelmingly radicalized against the war: “The important thing for this study is the shift of opinion and attitude. In the men, previously characterized as moderates, has developed an attitude by which nearly half of the veterans now accept their position vis-à-vis the political, economic, and social status of the United States as radical. In fact, nearly one-fifth classified themselves as extremely radical.”
One of the most incendiary aspects of the book is the photograph on the front of the dust jacket cover, supplemented by a second photo on the inside. Here, we see a ragged group of bearded youths in various types of what appear to be military outfits, carrying an American flag upside down, an international sign of distress, with the demonstrators arranged in a formation that mocks the flag raising at Iwo Jima.
The photograph on the cover was a slap in the face to all those who treasure the legendary photograph taken at Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, as well as to those thousands who every year visit the memorial statue based on his photograph at Arlington Cemetery, dedicated to the memory of all Marines killed in action since 1775. We are drawn to remember that 6,821 Marines gave their lives at Iwo Jima so that these activists, John Kerry included, had the freedom to publish The New Soldier with its cover photograph insulting the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi in 1945.
The book’s 120 photographs convey the same radical message. In photograph after photograph protesters appear in various makeshift military outfits, holding their clenched fists in the air and shouting in protest. Senator Ted Kennedy appears in one, the only person in a suit, sitting on the ground in a group of ragged protesters, a microphone held forward to capture his words. Al Hubbard and Ramsey Clark stand on the stage, right hands clasped in what looks like a Black Power salute, with John Kerry standing in the background. We see men and women made up in whiteface, wearing uniforms, carrying what look like toy weapons, moving threateningly as if in hostile fire, presenting what at the time would have been recognized as a street form of guerrilla theater. The photographic messages go hand in hand with the text. Dewey Canyon III gave participating protesters, whoever they truly were, a chance to act out their antiwar, anti- American sentiments in military costume with our nation’s Capitol as their stage.