By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As Robinson says, this new reverence has recast all American soldiers — from field grunts to mess-hall cooks — as “warriors” and heroes above reproach simply because they wear uniforms. Such an uncritical environment offers hustlers and wannabes alike an irresistible temptation and explains why, as the number of Americans who have served in the armed forces steadily shrinks in proportion to those who haven’t, the ranks of people illegally masquerading as military veterans have exploded.
There has been another consequence: Even now, as the first Iraqi war impostors are beginning to appear on fakebusting shame lists, the resurgence in military pride has also provided ammunition to those still fighting the culture wars of the 1960s and ’70s. The official Web sites of the U.S. armed forces, fraternal veterans organizations and military benevolent associations, with their sleek graphics and politically neutral pages, have become part of a well-paved information highway. Beyond these, however, lie military sites catering to war buffs, gun enthusiasts and paintball warriors. Here the information highway turns to gravel as spelling becomes shaky and the tone gets shrill and profanity-punctuated. This is where you’ll find fake — and long-ago debunked — photos of John Kerry sharing a podium with Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War, along with “evidence” that Kerry shot himself to get out of continued service in Vietnam or that he really received a dishonorable discharge.
Not since the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term has a presidential candidate been the object of so much partisan hatred as Kerry. None of the vitriol directed toward him appears on fakebusters Web pages, but the anti-Kerry attacks are only one mouse click away from some, while individual fakebusters pour out their bile from personal online sites. Forget that Kerry hasn’t falsely claimed to have been a POW or Vietnam combat vet — he may as well change his name to Michael Moore, as far as some veterans are concerned. These same fellow Vietnam vets who turned on John McCain with such fury (even questioning whether or not he’d truly suffered during his years as a POW) for opposing George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries regard Kerry’s early anti-war activism as treasonous.
Indeed, POWnet’s Chuck and Mary Schantag have been widely quoted as saying no veteran they’ve spoken to would vote for John Kerry, while Erika and Henry Mark Holzer, who co-authored a fakebusting book in 2003 (Fake Warriors), have gotten into the act by publicly obsessing over the appropriateness of Kerry’s medals — rather than whether or not Kerry was actually in the Navy or served in Vietnam. Meanwhile, B.G. Burkett, whose Stolen Valor is a kind of bible for vets who believe their honor has been sullied by fakes and political correctness, is busy speaking on behalf of the anti-Kerry Vietnam Veterans for Truth, a group cloned from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Last month Burkett (who did not return phone calls for this article) spoke at a “Kerry Lied” rally held in Washington, D.C., and organized by Vietnam Veterans for Truth president Captain Larry Bailey, USN, Retired — himself a key SEAL fakebuster. Photos of the rally, posted on Steven Waterman’s personal Web site, show a banner with caricatures of Fonda and Kerry, wearing Vietnamese peasant hats, their names spelled in the kind of “oriental” lettering you find on Chinese takeout boxes. Perhaps more comically, Burkett later admitted, in a Washington Times interview, that his rally had been attended by none other than a notorious military impostor.
What has been even more startling than the anti-Kerry veterans’ charges is the ferocious anger with which they burst onto the election campaign scene. Retired U.S. Army Colonel and author David Hackworth, in his online Soldiers for the Truth column, pleaded for both sides in the Kerry-Bush service disputes to halt their attacks, yet singled out the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as “a chorus of haters” who were harming the cause of all veterans. “A judge,” Hackworth wrote, “would call these men liars and disallow their biased statements.”
Regardless of whether John Kerry becomes president, the credibility of military fakebusters will be questioned by at least some Americans who wonder why a decorated combat veteran is being hounded by people who don’t bat an eyelash over George W. Bush’s phantom National Guard service. Justifiably or not, when they see B.G. Burkett on FOX News dusting off McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics, in trying to link Kerry with Jane Fonda, they’ll begin to wonder how fair and balanced is his own fakebusting research. (“He absolutely caused more deaths in Vietnam,” Burkett told Hannity and Colmes. “He extended the war. That’s why he’s mentioned favorably in virtually every north Communist [sic] book, biography . . . His picture hangs in honor.”)
The deeper lessons of the Kerry donnybrook may lie in a realization of how nearly impossible it is to define the past. Both sides in this campaign issue have assembled experts and even eyewitnesses who still swear by diametrically opposite truths.
Since John F. Kennedy’s assassination, historic events have been captured in increasingly detailed relief by ever more sophisticated recording technologies, yet remain Rashomon-like mysteries open to interpretation. Forget about solving Kennedy’s murder — how would his PT-109 legend fare under the gaze of today’s history police? In the 21st century military fakes have unprecedentedly sophisticated tools at their disposal via the Internet. Their implacable hunters also use cyber research to expose them, yet new fakes begin operating every day. As Steven Waterman says, “We bust them but keep finding more under the rocks.”