Tuesday, July 27, 2004

CONTEXT COUNTS, PART THE SECOND ...a vote for Bush is a vote against yourself...
Just played a gig in Memphis at the Blue Monkey with Tucson Simpson (who were super nice and a great band), so spent Monday driving back and didn't read Raimondo's Monday column, "Do We Want A War Criminal As President?" until today.  I guess my "Context Counts" entry didn't change the national debate on Kerry's status as a war criminal.

Well, anyhoo, I had to respond, so here's my letter to antiwar.com's Backtalk section.

Dear Antiwar.com,
I look forward to reading Justin Raimondo's column every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I find antiwar.com to be an invaluable resource for countering the pro-war misinformation that taints other outlets.  I truly appreciate the fact that Raimondo's columns always challenge conventional wisdom, are exquisitely sourced, and display a level of acrid wit  and non-conformist intellectual honesty unmatched by few pundits.

Having said that, I don't always agree with Raimondo and sometimes take great exception to what he has to say.  His column of July 26 ("Do We Want A War Criminal As President?") is one of those.  In particular, he links to an mp3 of John Kerry supposedly admitting to "war crimes" in Vietnam.  The problem is that Raimondo, like the most of the rest of the media, quotes Kerry incompletely, missing the point of his remarks entirely.

The mp3 quotes Kerry thusly:

"I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages.   All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions..."

But the key second part of that last sentence is cut off--here's the full sentence (these quotes can be found here): " All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down." 


And then the rest that always gets left out in discussion of these particular remarks of Kerry's: "And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals."

Raimondo's column mischaracterizes what Kerry said about himself when Raimondo says "listen here as he [Kerry] confesses to what he himself describes as 'war crimes'."  Did Raimondo even listen to the clip?  Kerry never once utters the phrase "war crimes" or "war criminal" in reference to himself or anyone else--in that particular clip.  As you can see, he does eventually get around to accusing people like Johnson, Nixon, and McNamara of being war criminals--but not by name.

Now Kerry did refer to committing "atrocities," but that is not what Raimondo says he said.  Are "atrocities" the same thing as "war crimes"?  Maybe so or maybe not,  but either way, that's not what Kerry said in the mp3 Raimondo linked to.  And it's not in the mp3 because it's not what Kerry said back in 1971.

The point is that Kerry was explaining out how the Vietnam War itself was a crime which forced all who took part in it to be criminals because of the rules of engagement put in place by our government.  And he had the intellectual and moral honesty to acknowledge his own role in those events.  And then he had the intellectual and moral courage to try to atone for that role by helping (and I might add, succeeding) to bring an end to that tragic conflict.   Long story short, the fair way to interpret Kerry's remarks is that he was saying that anyone who fought in Vietnam committed atrocities--be they Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, liberal, conservative, or what have you.

I would think that John Kerry, of all people, might be treated to a tough yet fair-minded critique by Justin Raimondo, seeing as how he actually fought in a war and then worked to stop that same war.  That people now selectively use Kerry's words and treat them as though they mean the opposite of what they actually say is something that I would think Raimondo would be vigorously against.  He's howled in more than one column about how he's been misquoted and misinterpreted.

Kerry has not taken an antiwar position, and I wish he would, but I am afraid that if he does, he will lose.  And if Kerry loses, Bush wins and the country loses.  Like it or not, there are only two real choices in this election--Bush or Kerry.  I wish that were not so and I would work to see more parties built up and injected into the national debate--that's the main reason I voted for Nader in 2000 (Gore had no chance in my home state of Mississippi).

I hope Raimondo will keep up the good work.  Our country needs him, but it needs him to be accurate.  And to answer his question--no, we don't want a war criminal as president--we're in the process of trying to throw one out of the White House.



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