Brothers in arms

by Henry on March 2, 2004

I see that Tom DeLay is “trying to push forward”: one of the Republican talking-points that has been doing the rounds the last couple of weeks.

bq. DeLay used his weekly news briefing to denounce Kerry’s Vietnam War record, citing what he described as the senator’s “accusing his brothers-in-arms in Vietnam of wholesale rape and murder, and his bizarre refusal to answer questions about his disturbing record.” Kerry, a decorated war veteran, testified before Congress in 1971 about reports of atrocities committed by U.S. troops.

Leaving aside DeLay’s dubious reporting of what Kerry said, there’s an interesting question here – what is the precise slur that he’s trying to cast? Is he claiming that there weren’t instances of wholesale rape and murder by US troops in Vietnam? If so, he’s lying. Is he saying that that US soldiers shouldn’t testify about true instances of rape and murder to Congress, because they’d be betraying their ‘brothers’? Rather hard to defend that one if you think about it. Indeed, the question could be turned back on DeLay. Either he’s making the mendacious claim that US troops didn’t commit atrocities in Vietnam, or he’s arguing that rape and murder should be hushed up when they’re committed by men wearing US army fatigues. I don’t know which is the more disgusting position. I’m not precisely enthusiastic about Kerry’s candidacy (or about the US Democratic party more generally), but given the behavior and positions of the other crowd, I don’t think there’s much of a choice.



Scipio 03.02.04 at 7:48 pm

I think that DeLay is referring to Kerry’s Winter Soldier testimony, where Kerry stated that American troops murdered 200,000 vietnamese civilians.


Thomas 03.02.04 at 7:53 pm

I think scipio has it right. In the DeLay quote, the emphasis should be on the word “wholesale”. That word effectively answers Henry’s charges, I think–there’s no claim that there weren’t instances of rape and murder, nor is there a claim that such instances should be covered up. Rather, there is an implicit claim that such things weren’t, as Kerry claimed, wholesale–they weren’t widespread, nor were they systematic, nor were they tolerated by all levels of command.


Leigh A Wilson 03.02.04 at 8:00 pm

You’re dancing on the head of a pin. Kerry’s testimony before Congress is on the record. Read it. And don’t shoot the messenger – in this case Tom DeLay. I’m no fan of DeLay’s, but the record exists. And its fair game by any standard.


GMT 03.02.04 at 8:08 pm

Why would anyone assume that there is a basis for DeLay’s pronouncements on the GOP’s enemy number one and an issue like Vietnam? This is, after all, the man who claimed he couldn’t get into the war because blacks had taken all the available slots in the military. DeLay will parrot whatever’s focus-grouping well this week.

As for Kerry’s statements, it’s interesting to see them presented as if they were somehow out of the blue, or his own observation. Attempts to smear him with this, including an oddly altered photo involving Jane Fonda, usually exclude part of the following sentence.

Guess which part
“They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war.”


rea 03.02.04 at 8:25 pm

“And don’t shoot the messenger – in this case Tom DeLay.”

And yet you would shoot the messenger when the messenger is John Kerry reporting to Congress what various witnesses had said in the “Winter Solider” hearings.


praktike 03.02.04 at 8:38 pm

I think there’s a danger of collective amnesia on Vietnam unless a concerted non-partisan effort is made to educate the public about the transgressions of Kissinger and Nixon.

Vast swaths of the public seem to have forgotten that Vietnam was a total disaster.


Henry 03.02.04 at 8:46 pm

Scipio, nope. If you read the “testimony”: it’s quite clear that the 200,000 murdered quote isn’t referring to the atrocities committed by US troops that were mentioned earlier in Kerry’s testimony – it’s a general statement of the costs of the war to the Vietnamese. You may still want to argue with Kerry’s use of the term ‘murder’ (I’m not sure that I would), but it’s not what DeLay’s slur is pointing towards (or if it is, DeLay is again being deceitful). The testimony makes interesting reading, especially when Kerry talks about how responsibility should be allocated in the My Lai massacres. If anything, Kerry goes too far in trying to get his ‘brothers in arms’ off the hook by arguing that it’s the fault of the generals and policy makers.


bob mcmanus 03.02.04 at 9:23 pm

“his bizarre refusal to answer questions about his disturbing record.”

y’all seem to have missed this part, which refers to possible atrocities committed by Kerry himself.
I guess DeLay is offended by possible hypocrisy.


msg 03.02.04 at 9:34 pm

DeLay, in his role as terrier for the feral dog-pack that is the media face of the Republican Party as now composed, was trying to re-hermeneuticize the term “brothers-in-arms”. It’s that simple.
They want the public confused about the actual words. Because Kerry’s got that “band of brothers”. So by semantically placing Kerry outside the “brothers-in-arms” at least momentarily and highly publicly, they’ve redirected the valour/compassion/loyalty impulse that the words themselves create.
Bang! Voila!
I’m way leery of Kerry as an active defender of truth justice and the American Way, but as an opponent to the rabid carnivores and plague-vectoring rodents of the GOP he’s the man of the hour.
So now we start the assassination-watch.


BigMacAttack 03.02.04 at 9:47 pm

Err no.

Saying atrocities where not committed wholesale is different from saying atrocities were not committed.

The characterization of those atrocities as wholesale doesn’t seem to me to be an established fact. Even accepting that such characterizations can be established facts. Nor do I think that Tom DeLay knows that characterization is an established fact. Nor do I think that anyone else knows Tom DeLays knows that.

Which would be the only circumstances where it would be acceptable to claim Tom DeLay was lying.

Also, I do not think DeLay’s opinion is wrong.

You are totally disconnected from the US public. Your defense would only harm Kerry’s chances.


Ophelia Benson 03.02.04 at 10:02 pm

“You are totally disconnected from the US public.”



John Isbell 03.02.04 at 10:15 pm

You are totally disconnected from BigMacAttack.


msg 03.02.04 at 10:44 pm

You are totally disconnected from your anal sphincter.


Reg 03.02.04 at 10:56 pm

Yeah, if I had just nominated Kerry to be my presidential candidiate I’d try to nip this in the bud too.
Kerry’s statements aren’t in controversy. He states that his “investigation” turned up war crimes that were not isolated incidents but “crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of the officers at all levels of command.”

That is false. In fact, atrocities were isolated incidents. You completely mischaracterize DeLay’s comments and dishonestly defend Kerry’s record.
I don’t expect much else, I don’t know what else you can do than distort the record to defend Kerry’s statements, it being indefensible.


Cryptic Ned 03.02.04 at 11:07 pm

What the heck does “wholesale” mean in this context? I would just think it meant “widespread and easy to do”, or something like that, but basically a nothing word added to make the charge sound more severe.

I would hate to have my “character” debated over a topic like whether I should have used the word “wholesale”. What if he had said “pervasive”? Should he have instead said “frequent”? Or would “periodic” be more accurate, considering that entire months went by without any massacres?


Donald Johnson 03.02.04 at 11:17 pm

It’s sort of a truism to say that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians were killed by American bombs, artillery shells, and yes, individual face-to-face atrocities, with the first two categories (the bombs and the shells) probably accounting for most of the deaths. You could look at Kevin Buckley’s work on Operation Speedy Express (mentioned in the Kissinger book by Hitchens and in numerous other places, such as “The First Casualty” by Phillip Knightly), where the stress on high body counts led to very high body counts and a fairly low captured weapons count.

I’m just too darn lazy to go look up the exact wording used by Kerry and the context, but he’s probably lumping free fire zones, the indiscriminate use of firepower, and face-to-face My Lai, Toledo blade-style atrocities into one big category and saying that it was all one big war crime, which is what war critics tend to do. Then war defenders leap on this and say that it is equivalent to saying that every American soldier personally shot babies, and so forth.
It isn’t.


jimbo 03.02.04 at 11:24 pm

Anyone who thinks this is not a fair issue is living in fantasyland. The man who wishes to lead the country’s armed forces has accused them, in the past, of being war criminals. While that may be the average opinion on CT, it probably won’t play very well in most of the country. (Not to mention with the troops he’s supposed to lead…)


msg 03.02.04 at 11:27 pm

The Manson Family’s nightmare of shock-and-awe was essentially a couple of “isolated” instances.
The semantics are really all this is about; I repeat my point, this is not a campaign for the votes of reasonably intelligent people, this is a campaign for the votes of barely literate people who react to, who require, very broad stimulation. Words like “brothers-in-arms” being, at a militarized time like this, huge emotional triggers.
DeLay and his craven ilk are playing PR soccer.
I’m not a Kerry-ite. But yeah, like most rational Americans, yeah.
Get him in there first, then work his ass to do the right thing.


Cat Lewis 03.02.04 at 11:45 pm

>Leaving aside DeLay’s dubious reporting of what Kerry said, there’s an interesting question here – what is the precise slur that he’s trying to cast?

The mistake we always make is to analyze wingnuts’ words too literally, and as a result we end up missing the forest for the trees.

DeLay was targeting his base. He was not making a verbal slur, he was making Kerry’s protest a metaphor. He’s pushing a button that invokes an automatic response among those who saw the war protests and civil rights demonstrations as scandalous behavior by “flaming kneejerk liberal hippies”.

IOW, Kerry’s a flaming liberal who will take the country to socialism. Most of these drooling knuckle-draggers couldn’t define socialism if you offered to pay them, but painting emotional pictures works on them just fine.

Personally, I find this encouraging; it means the GOP is running scared.


Cassandra 03.03.04 at 12:56 am

If you check into the Winter Soldier investigation, as NIS tried to do after Kerry testified before the Senate, it turns out that of the 150 people who testified, none were willing to testify under oath and most turned out not to have served in Vietnam or even to have been in the Army at all. Some were coached by the Nation of Islam and VVAW. Even when they were promised immunity, they wouldn’t testify. What does this tell you? Yet Kerry has never recanted. Wonder why?

I’ve done a lot of research on this subject and I was shocked at what I found out. Kerry testified that American vets routinely raped, tortured, mutilated and brutilized civilians and animals with full knowledge of, and at the direction of, the military command. He said that this was not isolated, but commonplace and an everyday occurrence. Read his testimony sometime.

Now I’m sorry, but my father in law did 2 tours over there. My husband’s uncle did 2 tours over there. Neither ever saw anything like that. Neither knows of anyone else who did, and they’re both career military. My dad’s career military too and he’s never heard of anything like that.

Kerry has been less than honest about several aspects of his military career. There is quite a body of evidence that suggests he suppressed live sightings of POWs during the POW/MIA hearings in order to push through normalization of trade with North Vietnam. He killed the human rights deal with N Vietnam.

I guess you can tell I don’t think much of him. I don’t ask you to take my word for it. Try checking some of this out. The press has really given him a pass on this – it’s all public record and they’re just not interested. They’re too busy looking at Bush’s drill points for the final months of the war.


Reg 03.03.04 at 1:44 am

“it means the GOP is running scared”

Heh, right, Lurch has us on the run. I think Republicans are extremely happy right now, the only candidate with a chance to knock off Bush is dropping out. Thanks Edwards.


John Isbell 03.03.04 at 4:05 am

Yes, Reg, I’ve noticewd your change of tone here and on Calpundit. I regret it, myself, but it is entertaining. Relax, it’s months until November. Cassandra, you missed in the MIA testimony the fact that the report lists several other people as massively more complicit than Kerry. I’m sure you can name them, they are every GOP president from Nixon to GHWB. Perhaps you want to tell us about that, you’re the authority here. Not Carter, natch. Or Clinton. Whadda you know.
Your pooint about the Winter soldiers sounds interesting to me. I’ll wait for mainstream media, we hear enough about the media hating Kerry to make me scratch my little head at your thesis.


james 03.03.04 at 12:41 pm

Coming from a country where the most popular politician (Gerry Adams) can be safely called a murderer, I’m in no position to be too judgemental, but in my opinion in a healthy society it would be considered a political liability to have fought in a war like VIetnam.

That’s not to condemn everyone who did so, that would be stupid, just to say that it’s disturbing that having fought in it is an asset.

The best thing about Kerry, afaik, is his having protested against the war on his return.


DJW 03.03.04 at 3:10 pm

It’s quite revealing that several commentators here choose not to defend Delay’s statements themselves, but rather issue a stern, finger-waggling warning about how The American People are going to take this message. The kind of mindset this reveals ought to trouble any principled conservative who doesn’t clap their hands with glee at a possibly successful piece of political demagoguery.


harry 03.03.04 at 7:58 pm

bq. What the heck does “wholesale” mean in this context?

‘cheaper than retail?’

Seriously, there’s going to be a lot more of this, especially now the nomination is clear. There’s a good chance Vietnam is going to be a major discussion point, with truth the major casualty on both sides. Not that I think it really affects Kerry’s chances, which I think are, well, better than mine, but…


dsquared 03.03.04 at 9:40 pm

I must say I think that this one is a silly point for the Republicans to be harping on about [1]. The fact is that military men know better than anyone else that some things can be faked and some can’t, and dragging someone out of the water from an exploded boat while under gunfire is one of the ones that can’t. Whatever people might say about the Congressional testimony, it’s going to be very hard to convince anyone that you can tell more about Kerry’s character from what he said than from what he did.

[1] nothing I say should be construed as implying that I think the Democrats have a fart’s chance in a hurricane, because I think they don’t.


Scipio 03.04.04 at 2:44 pm

I always assume Tom DeLay is not to be trusted whenever he opens his mouth. But this is hardly a case of the “big lie.”


Terry 03.04.04 at 2:52 pm

I think DeLay’s position is more radical. He is saying it is ontologically impossible that U.S. soldiers would commit rape and murder, and that the only moral response to such an accusation is utterly sincere indignation and denunciation of the slanderer.


laryssa 03.09.04 at 10:44 pm

It is incredible How DeLay and others forget the attrocities committed in Vietnam on both sides.

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