VIETNAM: FRONT AND CENTER AGAIN
DAVID H. HACKWORTH

Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. The press savaging of ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey has my como gear on overload, near meltdown.

Vets from Normandy to Mogadishu are outraged. Many see the media bashing as a napalm strike on all who've served this country. From pilots who dropped firebombs on Tokyo and Dresden to the Marine who tossed a grenade in a Korean house, then discovered a family was hiding behind the enemy sniper; to a grunt on ambush in Vietnam whose claymore mine killed a mother and her babies after curfew in a free-fire zone; to a Ranger in Somalia who shot women carrying ammo for the guerrillas trying to kill him.

War is a horror, an obscenity -- and too often, our press corps is clueless about the beast.

The "60 Minutes II" piece on Kerrey seemed more a persecution than a responsible presentation, while Dan Rather came off more judge than reporter.

And were the props rigged?

Marine Vietnam vet Harvey Britt thinks so:

"The village itself struck me as having been prepped ahead of time. The old woman's teeth were pearly white. How many sets of 62-year-old white teeth did anyone ever see on a Vietnamese woman that far out in Indian Country?

"The woman goes from seeing all the killings to not seeing them. She says nobody was killed inside the first hooch, but even Kerrey's team-member accuser says all the killings took place inside that hooch. Somebody is lying or talking about different events.

"The village was freshly swept or watered down. Everything was neatly arranged.

"Then they showed the gravestones. Weeds cut and grass pulled back from the graves ... new red and yellow paint. Fresh, new children's cement stones, or at least freshly whitewashed. Whitewash spilled all over the area around all five graves and no other graves anywhere close."

Was the village made-for-TV? Was the white-toothed witness a communist ringer? Was the story just one more go-for-the-gold during a ratings crunch? "Get Kerrey" vs. "Boot Camp"?

Britt sums up the CBS report for a lot of us who've killed in battle, and especially those who fought in Vietnam, where the enemy struck from the shadows in all sizes and sexes: "Kerrey is a Democrat. I am a Republican. Kerrey has a lot to lose. I don't. We were both in a war neither one of us wanted to be in. And the memories are bad enough without adding Hollywood, or TV drama, intrigue and outright lies."

Was the coverage of this incident -- authored primarily by those who've never dropped a bomb or squeezed a trigger -- politically motivated to knock Kerrey out of a shot at the White House?

Or was it just one more slam from serial military bashers who see everyone who served or now serves our country as jackbooted Nazis?

Or were reporters like Rather dialing back to prove yet again how righteous and right-on they were when they told us in the '60s that Vietnam was a bad war? Trust me, Dan, the boys who stood tall and answered our country's call instead of doing Canada, college or the National Guard knew just how bad it was.

My gut says the Vietnam vets aren't going to take it anymore, and the backlash I'm seeing is the sharp edge of a mighty sword. They're no longer voiceless kids in their early 20s who want to forget the horror of Vietnam and get on with their shattered lives. They're now in their prime, vital members of their communities who are sick and tired of being called baby-killers and being vilified by a relentless, reckless media. And being ignored by an ungrateful nation.

Hopefully, the Kerrey beat-up that's brought Vietnam front and center again will help more Americans to finally figure out who to blame. After all, it wasn't the Kerreys who got us into that undeclared war, it was the politicians.

When the next war blows in the wind, let's pray that those baby boomers who paid the price in the '60s and '70s protect their precious kids better than the Greatest Generation. And that they don't allow them to be flung into senseless killing fields by politicos who are either not tuned in or have other agendas.

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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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