Well, we think it’s time to talk about Bob Kerrey’s character even if Fischer won’t. We think in an era when we see press and even C.I.A. and government cover-ups and misstatements aimed at protecting liberals that it is time to do so. We think that when soldiers who 'abuse' detainees at Abu Ghraib are serverely punished that it might just be time to look at Bob Kerrey's character.
So, let’s talk about Bob Kerrey and his character as revealed to the public only a short eleven years ago. Let’s talk about the character of Bob Kerrey as revealed by his actions on February 25, 1969 in a place in Vietnam in a hamlet called Thanh Phong where 13 unarmed women and children were killed by Kerrey and his SEAL team.
Before we do this, let’s make it clear. Bob Kerrey lost a portion of a leg in a subsequent battle in Vietnam. He deserves the credit that is due him for fighting for our country.
But, one’s good deeds are often tainted by other actions in one’s life. Doing good, becoming a hero doesn’t excuse one from his other actions, from potential war crimes.. And, certainly, Bob Kerrey’s actions on that infamous night in Vietnam may just be a reason, a much more serious reason than some alleged land transaction, to ask questions of his character and his fitness to represent Nebraskans again after the revelations that have surfaced since his last serving his state in an elected position.
Much of what we know of Kerrey’s actions come to us via a 60 Minutes II expose of about 10 years ago and a New York Times investigation published April 25,2001 (see http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/25/magazine/25KERREY.html?pagewanted=all). While both of the investigations would have been the first to raise the actions of Kerrey in Thanh Phong, Kerrey made extraordinary efforts to leak his version of the story to the Omaha World-Herald and to the Wall Street Journal prior to their airing or printing. It should also be noted that Newsweek had the story nearly two years earlier but chose not to publish it although Gregory Vistica was pursuing it at the time. He subsequently left Newsweek and went with the New York Times and was the author of the story that Kerrey tried to pre-empt with his own.
Enough of the background, but here is what we learned early in Vitisca’s story:
“Pulling the documents within inches of his eyes (Kerrey’s), he read intently about his time as a member of the Navy Seals and about a mission in 1969 that somehow went horribly wrong. As an inexperienced, 25-year-old lieutenant, Kerrey led a commando team on a raid in an isolated peasant hamlet called Thanh Phone in Vietnam’s Eastern Mekong Delta. While witnesses and official records give varying accounts of exactly what happened, one thing is certain: around midnight of February 25, 1969, Kerrey and his men killed at least 13 unarmed women and children. The operation was brutal; for months afterward, Kerrey says, he feared going to sleep because of the terrible nightmares that haunted him.”
Kerrey subsequently told Vitisca, “It’s far more than guilt. It’s the shame. You can never get away from it. It darkens your day.”
For the most part, knowledge of what happened that night in Vietnam appears to have been covered up by a military that subsequently had to face the even more horrendous murders by Lt. William L. Calley, Jr. in My Lai. Kerrey’s reports never mentioned the killing of women and children. In fact, it was only the persistence of Vistica who says he examined thousands of pages of classified and unclassified SEALS reports and communiqués that had been boxed up since the wary in Navy archives that brought much of this to light.
Without going into lots of diatribe, we thought we’d share some of the quotes from the New York Times interview with Kerrey:
- “Part of living with the memory, some of those memories, is to forget them. I’ve got a right to say to you it’s none of your damned business. I carry memories of what I did, and I survive and live based upon lots of different mechanisms.”
- “The only motivating fear I have is that someday I will face my maker. The opinion of other human beings matters, but the less it motivates me the better.
- “It’s going to be very interesting to see the reactions to the story. I mean, because basically you’re talking about a man who killed innocent civilians.”
- “It’s entirely possible that I’m blacking it out.”
- “Please understand that my memory of this event is clouded by the fog of the evening, age and desire.”
- “The thing that I will remember until the day I die is walking in and finding, I don’t know, 14 or so. I don’t even know what the number was, women and children who were dead.”
- “I’m a lieutenant in charge of this platoon, and I take responsibility.”
- “Let the other people judge whether or not what I did was militarily allowable or morally ethical or inside the rules of war.”
- “Under the unwritten rules of Vietnam, we would have been justified had we not been fired upon. You were authorized to kill if you thought that would be better,"
- “We were instructed to take no prisoners.”
One thing is for sure, Bob Kerrey’s involvement in this event provides plenty of reason to wonder about his character. One who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones. And one who been involved in such a horrendous episode involving the murder of women and children shouldn’t be questioning the character of someone’s land deals…..