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Storming Fort Brag 

Military fakes and the people who bust them

Thursday, Oct 28 2004
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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.”)

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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.”

Perhaps distortion has become second nature to Americans. “I certainly would condemn these people,” professor Jellison says of military fakes, “but let’s not treat them as though they are completely different from us. There’s an element of impression management that we all engage in. It can be something as simple as inflating your résumé, using cosmetics or having plastic surgery. It is important to recognize that we all have that trait.”

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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