August 9, 2004

I’M ON HUGH HEWITT: His website is down, though so you can’t listen live over the Internet. [LATER: Roger Simon, who was on at the same time, has posted his comments here.]

Via the show, I heard a Carl Cameron story on the Kerry/Cambodia issue that ran last hour. It sounded devastating, and the Kerry campaign sounded disorganized and un-credible. They’re now saying that Kerry was “near” Cambodia (58 miles away), but can’t explain why he repeatedly said he was actually in Cambodia.

UPDATE: Several readers note that the “near Cambodia” completely destroys the point of Kerry’s original statement. This is representative:

If the campaign is really saying Kerry was just “near Cambodia”, isn’t that phenomenally lame?

When Kerry brought up Cambodia, he was always doing it in the context of presidential lying–i.e. “I was in Cambodia, listening to the president say we had no troops in Cambodia”.

With this re-write, it becomes “I was *near* Cambodia, listening to the president say we had no troops *in* Cambodia, which, okay, was true as far as I could tell, but if I’d been just, like, sixty miles further west, it would’ve been a LIE!”

I hope he can do better.

Me too. Meanwhile several readers raise another concern, summed up here in an email by John Lucas.

Lucas writes:

Here’s another indicator that Kerry’s story about being shot at in Cambodia at Christmas 1968 is a complete fabrication: He claims to have been shot at by the “Khmer Rouge and Cambodians,” clearly distinguishing between the Cambodian government forces and Khmer Rouge. Not bloody likely.

The Khmer Rouge were a small force in 1968, by all accounts less that 2500 (compared w/ 30,000+ by 1973). They did not launch a major offensive against the Cambodian government until 1970 — they were too small and lacked the capability. In 1968 ther were virtually unknown to Westerners and were not engaged in operations against the U. S. military. They finally overthrew the government and took Phnom Penh in 1975. Only then did they become well known to most Americans.

Kerry’s claim to have been shot at by the Khmer Rouge in 1968 is simply not plausible. Even if he had been shot at by someone from the shore in the dark, he would have no way of knowing if they were Khmer Rouge or Cambodian government troops. The embellehment that he had been shot at by the Khmer Rouge simply added a bit of spice to a fabricated story that implicated a group that was notorious for its brutality by the time he gave his Senate speech, but which was virtually unknown in 1968.

Other people have been looking for evidence of operations by the Khmer Rouge at that time without success. I looked in Jim Dunnigan’s Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War, which is chock-full of interesting information, but it’s inconclusive here. There’s no specific mention of Khmer Rouge activities before 1969, but — though the book isn’t specific — it seems possible that they were active in 1968. Were they shooting at Kerry? Doubtful, as they seem to have been mostly in the north, and the Mekong river crosses the border in the south. I think we’d have to score this as “unlikely, but conceivable” — though how Kerry would have known he was being shot at by Khmer Rouge and not the far-more-likely North Vietnamese remains puzzling, especially as Dunnigan says that the Khmer Rouge wore NVA equipment in their early days.

The Khmer Rouge issue is something of a sideline, but it does add to the suspicion that Kerry was making the whole thing up. As another reader observes:

I read your digital camera extract of the 1986 Congressional Record quote from Kerry re Cambodia in 1968, and here’s my guess: 18 years after Vietnam he had invented the Cambodia memory. At the time, he really believed it.

From the context of your larger photo, he was making an impassioned speech regarding the Contras, not directly testifying about Vietnam. So instead of checking his facts, he went with his recollection, seared into his memory, which turns out to have been dead wrong. How embarrassing! But as a lawyer you knowsomething about how wrong eyewitness testimony can be, especially after the witness has had time to repeat the story to himself over and over.

BTW, the Congressional Record extract provides no evidence that he was talking about Nixon as President. His fanciful memory could just as well have been referring to LBJ.

The best thing he could do at this point is admit the mistake. That probably won’t happen.

Probably not. It’s true that the Nixon reference in the Congressional Record passage is oblique. He’s more explicit in the Boston Herald article, of which I’m still trying to get a hardcopy. Here’s the passage:

I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.

I can’t personally vouch for the authenticity of this quote, reproduced here, though I have no actual reason to doubt it. I’m still trying to get hold of an original.

While searching, though, I did find more Kerry Cambodia versions here:

June 24, 1992, Wednesday

LENGTH: 876 words

HEADLINE: Senate Committee Says Americans Left Behind in Vietnam

BYLINE: By Kimberly C. Moore, States News Service

DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Kerry, who served in Vietnam on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta from 1968 to 1969, said he was involved in a “black mission” near Cambodia. “On Christmas Eve of 1968, I was on a gunboat in a firefight that wasn’t supposed to be taking place,” Kerry recalled. “I thought, if I’m killed here, what will my family be told?”

(Found on NEXIS, News, All (English, Full Text) Terms: kerry and cambodia and mekong and christmas). So was he in a firefight? In danger of being shot by drunk allies celebrating Christmas? On a covert mission inserting clandestine operatives? (“‘My good luck hat,’ Kerry said, happy to see it. ‘Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia.’“) Or — for the real man-of-action spin — all at once?

I don’t know, but stale brownies were involved, somehow:

Copyright 1994 The Providence Journal Company
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)

April 3, 1994, Sunday, ALL EDITIONS

SECTION: RHODE ISLANDER MAGAZINE, Pg. 8M

LENGTH: 2914 words

HEADLINE: MAN ON A MISSION Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry got his first taste of politics leading the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. To this day, the Vietnam War drives his activism.

BYLINE: James M. O’Neill

Some relief came from home. “I got a great package around Christmas,” he says. “Filled with stale brownies. Broken, stale brownies. It was great – they were homemade. Came back in from a five-day patrol. Christmas Eve I was up getting shot at somewhere near Cambodia. Stupid Vietnamese were celebrating Christmas by shooting tracers, fifty-caliber, right up into the air, and the goddamned things were coming right over our head. That was a wild night. That was a night like right out of Apocalypse Now. It was just surreal. Mortars going off. Tracers piercing the sky. People crazy. Flares.”

(Via the same Nexis search). Now we’re back to drunk Vietnamese — and now we’re “somewhere near Cambodia.”

Perhaps — it being 1968, after all — the off-taste in those brownies wasn’t from staleness, which might explain both Kerry’s fascination with the lights, and the confused nature of his memories. . . .

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader emails:

The NPR woman on Brit Hume’s segment on Fox just tried the spin that
maybe Kerry was off course. 58 miles off course on a river system?
What kind of river boat skipper gets 58 miles off course? Just the
kind of skipper we want at the helm of a whole country?

Hey, those Gilligan’s Island jokes may be closer to the truth than I realized!

MORE: Apparently, even Kerry’s own diary contradicts these claims:

Every living officer up his chain of command says Kerry was never ordered to Cambodia. At least three of his five crewmen say their boat was never in Cambodia. And if you don’t believe any of his fellow veterans, read the excerpt from Kerry’s own journal published in Tour Of Duty, the recent hagiography by Douglas Brinkley.

On December 24 1968, Kerry was at Sa Dec – that’s well inside Vietnam, 55 miles from the Cambodian border – and waxing wistful to his diary about a quiet Christmas far from home: “Visions of sugarplums really do dance through your head and you think of stockings and snow and roast chestnuts and fires with birch logs and all that is good and warm and real. It’s Christmas Eve.”

Doesn’t sound like Apocalypse Now. But it’s not inconsistent with the brownie hypothesis. . . .