Heroes Dont Shout
HEROES DON'T SHOUT
By RALPH PETERS
August 24, 2004 -- JOHN Kerry went to Vietnam. Voluntarily. Given that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and every chicken-hawk in the coop did all they could to avoid getting the mud of Indochina on their loafers, his service should make Kerry the election-year choice of those who serve, or once served, in our country's uniform.
Instead, military men and women are overwhelmingly suspicious of Kerry. Many despise him so intensely that their emotions verge on hatred.
What went wrong?
There are three big problems with Kerry from the standpoint of those who are proud of their military service. And one of those reservations has been overlooked entirely by the parade of talking heads, so few of whom have served in uniform themselves.
As far as the swift-boat controversy goes, it's likely to remain a he-said-she-said issue through Election Day. The red flag to military men and women is that so many swift-boat veterans have come out against John Kerry. Not just one. Not 10. Dozens upon dozens.
This is as rare as humility in the Hamptons. Vets stick together. Kerry likes to play up his "band of brothers" image, but if he's got a band, his opponents have a symphony. And even if the first violinist turns out to be a "Republican stooge," it's nonetheless stunning for so many vets to denounce a former comrade publicly. It just doesn't happen unless something's really wrong.
As for Kerry's support from his own crew, that's normal military psychology. You get the most objective view of a junior leader from his peers - the other swift-boat commanders (and their crews) who had to fear a weak link in the chain.
I'm not a Vietnam vet, so I don't have as big an emotional dog in the fight as those who served so bravely and so thanklessly in Indochina. But some values are universal among those who wear or wore our country's uniform.
Yes, Kerry deserves credit for serving, whether he volunteered out of patriotism or because he had cast himself as the "next JFK," with a swift boat subbing for PT-109.
The first show-stopper problem with Kerry began after his return. He had the right to protest against the war - more than most, since he had served himself. But he had not earned the right to lie about the honorable service of millions of others.
Kerry's lies - and they were nothing but lies - about "routine" atrocities committed by average American soldiers and sanctioned by the chain of command were sheer political opportunism. Kerry knew that none of the charges were true.
He'd been there. He may have done some stupid things himself, but atrocities were statistically very rare. Contrary to the myths cherished by film-makers, American troops behaved remarkably well under dreadful conditions.
John Kerry lied. Without remorse. To advance his budding political career. He tarnished the reputation of his comrades when the military was out of vogue.
Now, three decades later, camouflage is back in the fall fashion line-up. Suddenly, Kerry's proud of his service, portraying himself as a war hero.
But it doesn't work that way. You can't trash those who served in front of Congress and the American people, spend your senatorial career voting against our nation's security interests, then expect vets to love you when you abruptly change your tune.
Kerry might have won support had he apologized frankly for what he said in the early 1970s. But he no more disavowed his lies than he disclaimed the lies of Michael Moore.
Which brings us to problems two and three.
John Kerry doesn't show a trace of integrity. Those constant flip-flops to suit the prevailing political winds are more troubling to military folks than many of the issues themselves.
Integrity matters to those in uniform. You have to be able to depend on the guy in the next foxhole - or swift boat. Trust is more important than any technology.
And John Kerry just doesn't seem trustworthy.
Finally - and this is the one the pundits have trouble grasping, given the self-promoting nature of today's culture - real heroes don't call themselves heroes. Honorable soldiers or sailors don't brag. They let their deeds speak for themselves. Some of the most off-putting words any veteran can utter are "I'm a war hero."
Real heroes (and I've been honored to know some) never portray their service in grandiose terms, telling TV cameras that they're reporting for duty. Real heroes may be proud of the sacrifices they offered, but they don't shout for attention.
This is so profoundly a part of the military code of behavior that it cannot be over-emphasized. The rule is that those who brag about being heroes usually aren't heroes at all. Bragging is for drunks at the end of the bar, not for real vets. And certainly not for anyone who wishes to trade on his service to become our commander-in-chief.
I wish Kerry were better. The truth is that I'm appalled by Bush's domestic policies. I believe that the Cheney-Halliburton connection stinks to high heaven. And I'm convinced that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld & Co. have done colossal damage to our military and to our foreign policy.
But we're at war. And for all his faults, Bush has proven himself as a great wartime leader. Despite painful mistakes, he's served our security needs remarkably well. And security trumps all else in the age of terror.
Kerry says many of the right things. But I can't believe a word of it. I just can't trust John Kerry. I can't trust him to lead, I can't trust him to fight - and I can't trust him to make the right kind of peace.
I have reservations about voting for George W. Bush. But I have no reservations about voting against John Kerry. And I'm not alone.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and a regular Post contributor.