Since losing the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry and his supporters have continued to claim “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak out against John Kerry” and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have been “discredited” for spreading a pack of lies about Kerry’s military service in Vietnam and his subsequent leadership in the anti-war movement.
In a book appropriately titled “To Set the Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry,” Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler carefully document how “an ad hoc collection of veterans and political activists overcame their opponents’ efforts to silence and marginalize them, and delivered the explosive truth about John Kerry’s past to the public.”
In this thoroughly researched book, Swett and Ziegler win their uphill battle against the left’s propaganda machine, which through films such as “Apocalypse Now,” “Platoon,” “The Boys of Company C” and “Rumor of War” “gave rise to two generations of American actors who became celebrities by portraying American troops as psychologically damaged baby-killers.”
Kerry’s dedicated pursuit of Purple Hearts in Vietnam might have been forgiven by the Swift Boat veterans who opposed him had it not been for the enduring image of Kerry’s 1971 accusation to the Fulbright Committee that the U.S. military in Vietnam cut off heads, raped women and razed villages “in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.”
The lie about Vietnam can be traced not to 2004 and the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, but to April 22, 1971, when Kerry testified to the Senate, dressed in military fatigues inappropriately adorned with service bars, basing his baby-killing accusations on what turned out to be lying testimony delivered to a staged “Winter Soldier” anti-war tribunal held in Detroit earlier that year.
As Swift Boat veteran John O’Neill points out in his introduction to Swett and Ziegler’s book, there are few people as well-qualified as Swett to chronicle the Vietnam veterans’ movement of 2004.
Months before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were organized by Adm. Roy Hoffmann and O’Neill, Swett created the website WinterSoldier.com on which he began meticulously posting original documents and research analyses that documented Kerry’s anti-war activities and intentional distortions of the facts.
After the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were organized, Swett became the webmaster for the group’s SwiftVet.com website, which Swett designed to feature the Swift Boat television ads, run an ambitious interactive chat site and collect what turned out to be millions of dollars in contributions from thousands of private citizens all over America.
Where Kerry charged that the Swift Boat effort was launched by the White House and financed by Republican fat cats whose real goal was to re-elect George W. Bush, Swett and Ziegler supplemented their firsthand experience with dozens of interviews to create an unimpeachable record of the hard-fought campaign the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth waged against both Kerry and the White House.
Contrary to Kerry’s spin, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had no contact or advice from a White House that publicly expressed a desire the anti-Kerry campaign being waged by the Vietnam vets would stop.
Moreover, Swett and Ziegler document the painstaking effort taken by lawyer O’Neill and the many private legal counselors hired to advise the Swift Boat Veterans to obtain affidavits from the vets appearing in the television ads and to prepare comprehensive legal briefs carefully supporting with evidence every claim made by the group.
In the final analysis, no television station or network would have shown a single minute of a Swift Boat Veteran for the Truth ad unless O’Neill and his battery of lawyers could prove their case sufficiently such that the station or network had a defense against a libel charge from the Kerry campaign.
In the final analysis, Kerry neither sued the Swift Boat vets nor signed a Standard Form 180 request to release his full military record to the public during the campaign.
Even more than the Swift Boat campaign itself, Swett and Ziegler’s book presents a documentary record the left will have to refute to win their effort to transform “swift boating” into a pejorative term as damaging as the left has managed to conjure in transforming “McCarthyism” into an attack phrase.
Swett and Ziegler provide an insiders’ detailed account of exactly how the Swift Boat effort against Kerry was organized, strategized and executed, an effort that took dozens of advisers, including talented and accomplished media experts.
In page after page, Swett and Ziegler put the reader at the center of a movement in which a small number of Swift Boat vets captured the imagination of a generation of Vietnam vets who managed before they died to tell the American public and the world the story of their heroism and patriotism fighting in Vietnam, as they themselves experienced and remembered the war.
Truly, the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004 was the last, best chance for the surviving Vietnam vets to “set the record straight” and honor their 58,000 brothers and sisters whose valor is engraved along with their names in the still-striking black stone monument on the mall in Washington, D.C.
In 2004, the Swift Boat vets called Kerry on his decades of lies and won, both in the election itself and in the enduring memory of a nation that now has before it the testimony of these brave veterans who dared to stand up before a presidential candidate to expose his calumny.
Swett and Ziegler’s book now completes the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign with a definitive and page-turning recounting of what really happened, as told by those who were there to participate and give witness.
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