Did Kerry Stage War Footage?

Matt Drudge is breaking what, if true, would be perhaps the most bizarre general election campaign story in my memory:

A bombshell new book written by the man who took over John Kerry’s Swift Boat charges: Kerry reenacted combat scenes for film while in Vietnam! The footage is at the center of a growing controversy in Boston. The official convention video introducing Kerry is directed by Steven Spielberg protégé James Smoll. Smoll was given hours of Kerry’s homemade 8 millimeter film to incorporate into the convention short, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

“Kerry carried a home movie camera to record his exploits for later viewing,” charges a naval officer in the upcoming book UNFIT FOR COMMAND. “Kerry would revisit ambush locations for reenacting combat scenes where he would portray the hero, catching it all on film. Kerry would take movies of himself walking around in combat gear, sometimes dressed as an infantryman walking resolutely through the terrain. He even filmed mock interviews of himself narrating his exploits. A joke circulated among Swiftees was that Kerry left Vietnam early not because he received three Purple Hearts, but because he had recorded enough film of himself to take home for his planned political campaigns.”

***

The BOSTON GLOBE reported in 1996 that the Kerry home movies “reveal something indelible about the man who shot them – the tall, thin, handsome Naval officer seen striding through the reeds in flak jacket and helmet, holding aloft the captured B-40 rocket. The young man so unconscious of risk in the heat of battle, yet so focused on his future ambitions that he would reenact the moment for film. It is as if he had cast himself in the sequel to the experience of his hero, John F. Kennedy, on the PT-109.”

Several possibilities here:

  1. The author has an axe to grind and is simply lying.
  2. There is an “innocent” rationale for the films (orders from on high for training purposes, perhaps?).
  3. This is actually true as reported.

If it’s #1, it will be a major distraction until it gets cleared up, likely dampening any convention bounce, with a probable equal and opposite bounce once it is. Possibility #2 is a stretch, but weirder things have happened. If it’s #3, this would be simply devastating for the Kerry campaign, removing the lynchpin of his backstory.

More on Moll’s film here.

Update (1432): Part 1A is almost certainly true. The author in question is John E. O’Neill of Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry.

Whether he’s lying is beyond my ability to ascertain at this stage.

Smash is a bit skeptical as well. Some interesting discussion is taking place in his comments section.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    James, if this was the only report of the like we’ve seen, it’s be a simple distraction.

    as it is, we ahve several accounts in several different locations, all describing the same pattern…

    I cannot imagine that even the Democrats are not thikng seriously about backing away from this fool. This is going to kill the Kerry Candidacy.

    And good riddence.

  2. McGehee says:

    I’m waiting to see whether it is corroborated or debunked, but even if it proves to be 100% true, don’t look for the Bush-haters to dump Kerry over it. They’ll come up with some kind f off-the-wall rationale for why it isn’t as bad as NASA leaking the bunny suit photo, or some such.

  3. I don’t see why this is a big deal, really. Is ANYONE voting for Kerry based on a war decades old that has no bearing on today? Does ANYONE – including Kerry supporters – believe that Kerry doesn’t pump up, distort, and over-emphasize the few months he was over there?

    I suspect the charges are true – but I don’t see this swaying any current Kerry supporters or having a large sway on the undecided. The good news is that maybe this will get him to shut up about a war no one except the aging hippies care about.

  4. vdibart says:

    Let’s put it in perspective – it doesn’t seem like anyone is actually disputing that he actually was in Vietnam, which is still a couple of steps ahead of W who can’t even prove where he was during large portions of his supposed tour in the National Guard.

    I mean, if he were doing keg stands in Texas and the cameras were rolling, that’d be scandalous.

  5. dw says:

    I’m getting increasingly confused here. Do I have this right?

    1. If you chose to serve in Vietnam, but vote (or become) a Democrat, you are a traitor and unfit for public office. If you used your connections to get into the National Guard and avoid combat in Vietnam, but vote (or become) a Republican, you’re a patriot. Correct?

    2. Using college deferments to get out of combat… is it bad or good, or is it just a question of whether you get your wife conveniently pregnant or whether you spent the time in England not inhaling?

    3. Collecting a silver or bronze star is irrelevant if there’s some question over the circumstances of how you collected a purple heart.

    4. Which is worse, throwing your medals away, or throwing someone else’s medals away?

    5. Which is worse, avoiding combat in Vietnam through connections with people in power, or fighting in Vietnam then coming home to say it was a mistake to fight the war?

    6. My father didn’t have the connections and ended up on the Roger B. Taney in the Gulf of Tonkin. A lot of the Republican leadership apparently did. My father was a strong conservative Republican and worked on the campaigns of a few Oklahoma Republican luminaries. That in mind, is my father a better patriot than, say, Trent Lott?

    7. Does patriotism, in the end, come down more to whether you’re a citizen of the United States or whether you’re a member of the Republican party?

    I’m not trying to play politics. These are real questions.

  6. Attila Girl says:

    1. If you chose to serve in Vietnam, but vote (or become) a Democrat, you are a traitor and unfit for public office. If you used your connections to get into the National Guard and avoid combat in Vietnam, but vote (or become) a Republican, you’re a patriot. Correct?

    If someone continually harps on his Vietnam record, he is opening the door to having his war record looked at more closely.

    George W. Bush was not the same age as John Kerry, so they turned 18 at different stages of the war. He chose to serve by flying, where he distinguished himself. It wasn’t the same level of risk, but neither should it be a badge of shame. More to the point, he doesn’t bring up his service at every opportunity.

    2. Using college deferments to get out of combat… is it bad or good, or is it just a question of whether you get your wife conveniently pregnant or whether you spent the time in England not inhaling?

    The questions about Clinton have less to do with whether he served, and more to do with him protesting the Vietnam war while he was in another country, an act some consider disloyal–or at least a lapse in judgment.

    3. Collecting a silver or bronze star is irrelevant if there’s some question over the circumstances of how you collected a purple heart.

    Again: if the awards are continually mentioned as a “selling point” for the candidate, it’s not shocking to see people looking into how the medals/awards were obtained.

    4. Which is worse, throwing your medals away, or throwing someone else’s medals away?

    It doesn’t matter too much. But it’s really weird to claim you did the first, then the second, then the first, etc.

    And it’s weirder to appear to simultaneously trumpet your credentials as a warrior, and run as a peace protester. And it’s entirely bizarre to claim to have taken part in war atrocities–but never report them up the chain of command, and still want to appear like you’re a loyal member of the Armed Forces. It doesn’t work.

    5. Which is worse, avoiding combat in Vietnam through connections with people in power, or fighting in Vietnam then coming home to say it was a mistake to fight the war?

    Again–there is no dishonor in George W. Bush’s conduct. The option he took was widely available, not the result of cronyism.

    6. My father didn’t have the connections and ended up on the Roger B. Taney in the Gulf of Tonkin. A lot of the Republican leadership apparently did. My father was a strong conservative Republican and worked on the campaigns of a few Oklahoma Republican luminaries. That in mind, is my father a better patriot than, say, Trent Lott?

    Did he actively try to defeat the United States by agitating against the war once he was home? Did he, in essence, fight rhetorically for the Viet Cong?

    7. Does patriotism, in the end, come down more to whether you’re a citizen of the United States or whether you’re a member of the Republican party?

    It ought to have nothing to do with party affiliation. Likewise, though, those who agitate on behalf of the Iraqi “resistance” (or compare them to America’s Founding Fathers) are basically lobbying to get Americans killed, and they ought to at least be honest about that fact. If they aren’t, others will have to call them on it.

  7. FTA says:

    My fellow citizens, this is your President. I believe that life begins at conception and ends in Iraq. Give me your vote and 4 more years and I’ll prove it to you.