The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Village Voice drops the Big One on Kerry (just possibly...)

More mature (older, then) British readers may recall a sitcom from the 1970s featuring an old Northern plebe[1] whose catchphrase was
I served all through 't Fust World War...

Presidential poll-leader John Kerry has (so far as I can tell from this side of the pond) been similarly less than loathe to use his war experience for electoral advantage. When two or three vets are gathered together, can Kerry be far away?

Which copper-fastens the relevance of Sydney Schanberg's article dated February 24 in the Village Voice.

Schanberg considers the conduct of Kerry as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/ MIA Affairs in the early 1990s; the Committee's remit, Schanberg says,
was to investigate the evidence about prisoners who were never returned and find out what happened to the missing men.

He alleges that Kerry's objective was quite different:
He wanted to clear a path to normalization of relations with Hanoi.

[Why? What was in it for Kerry? Clearly, Kerry is no crypto-communist, working from within to secure the prosperity of ideological Fatherland.

Schanberg says Kerry
contend[ed] that he supported normalization only as a way to learn more about the missing men.

How strong an argument that was depends rather on the relative strengths of the negotiating position of North Vietnam (DRV) and the US. At first glance, it would seem to suggest that the US wanted normalisation (for whatever reason) a damned sight more than the DRV. (Because, once relations were normalised, the stick that might have coerced DRV cooperation would have been surrendered.)

For the DRV to get away with position that implied We know the POW situation, but we won't tell until you normalise would imply they had a very strong position [2].

It sounds like the post-game excuse from the losing team's manager - bullshit, rather than a statement intended to be taken seriously. What was Kerry's real objective?

What about cash? Cui bono? Who would have benefited [3] from North Vietnam's rehabilitation, to the extent of finding it worthwhile to pass over some dead Presidents to Kerry or his campaign?

Or was it Clinton? Perhaps under pressure from the Pentagon to shut the running-sore POW issue down. Did he provide any incentive, lucrative or otherwise, to Kerry to take the path that Schanberg alleges he took?

MMO is not proof. But a rank failure to show a sort of convincing motive on Kerry's part means that Schanberg comes to the plate 0-1.]

But, whatever the motive, Schanberg is saying that Kerry ensured that the Committee took a dive. That he palled up with Pentagon officials to script hearings; he refused to demand relevant documents; refused to subpoena relevant portions of the Nixon tapes when Nixon refused to hand them over; refused to call witnesses, such as ex-presidents of the period; refused to subpoena USG employees who were afraid to volunteer to testify for fear of victimisation; and - most graphically - caused a mound of documents to be shredded, rather than, as had been promised, handed over to the National Archives.

If these facts can be shown to be as stated by Schanberg, I should say the piece could put Kerry in some difficulty.

What is there out there that supports Schanberg's story?

The first thing to say is, there's no press pack yet.

The second thing is, Schanberg has been on Kerry's case before on this issue: the VV reprints a Penthouse piece on the subject from 1994 - when the topic was a good deal fresher than it is today.

Evidently, whatever Schanberg threw at Kerry in the 1994 article didn't stick. What sort of press did it get? (There is nothing on Usenet - per Mr Google - for vietnam schanberg kerry between 1993 and 1997 - plutocrats and pros with Nexis will have the gen, of course.)

Who is Schanberg? According to this from the OJR in 1999, he was then 65 years old, a print legend and Pulitzer Prize-winner. This places Schanberg in 1993 as associate editor of Newsday and author of the book that became the movie The Killing Fields.

Old Men Forget - as Will Shakespeare says; and they are apt to ride hobby-horses.

On the other hand, for the politico-military-industrial complex to lie and deep-six incriminating evidence would scarcely be news either.

To start with, what is required was (in 1991-4) and is now actual journalism to check out the prima facie case that Schanberg has laid out, to see how it triangulates without other known data (obviously, Kerry and the DOD aren't going to be doing any interviews!)

But I suspect that that is not going to be enough. My guess is that, for most voters, Vietnam and the POWs issue is over to the power of googol. If famous vets want to play Ikettes at Kerry rallies, fine. But whatever happened in 1973 - or 1993 - won't affect most 2004 votes (any more than one floozy, more or less).

Someone needs to Oprah-ise it up. How? Oprah's got megabucks from doing it: ask her! I don't think the usual - indignant weeping relatives - will cut it. My guess: a relative needs to go back to the DRV and find one of these guys alive - something as extreme (and as vanishingly unlikely) as that.

But, perhaps Hillary has a suggestion...

  1. Uncle Mort, I think it was. Played by the very un-plebe Robin Bailey; known as the voice of The Brigadier - spinner of fantasy cricket anecdotes penned by Peter Tinniswood.

  2. Evaluated accordingly to their goals. The old joke about there being no bite in the threat to bomb them back to the Stone Age because they were already there crudely expresses a truth (widely acknowledged for years past), the failure to face which dogged the US effort in Indo-China: namely, that DRV constraints and objectives were completely different to those of the US.

    In 1991-3, another twenty years of dirt-poverty in exchange for blowing off Uncle Sam's attempts to settle his conscience on the POW question would quite likely have been a small price to play - according to the DRV calculus.

  3. What purports to be a 1993 Washington Times op-ed (found on Usenet) suggests that, on lifting US objections to the IMF's lending to the DRV, Clinton
    caved in because of heavy lobbying by 1) Japanese interest groups that want to use the Vietnamese as a cheap labor source, and 2) U.S. companies that want to cash in on lush contracts that will result from the loans.
    No idea whether that's true or not.


On Schanberg's finest hour - he got the 1976 Pulitzer for International Reporting for his Cambodia reporting - a piece in the fairly out there Newsmax has Mona Charen badmouthing him and it:
Sydney Schanberg, whose reporting from Cambodia heaped scorn on the notion that there was a bloodbath in that unfortunate nation, and said "nothing could be worse for the Cambodian people than the American presence." Once the Americans left, Charen recalled, “we had one of the worst bloodbaths in the history of the world.” One third of Cambodia’s people were eliminated.

Schanberg, who was the with the New York Times at the time, would not be the first Times Pulitzer laureate to have got a nasty touch of Dictators' Disease (Walter Duranty, of course; and others?).

No evidence that I've seen for Charen's charge against Schanberg; but then I haven't looked.

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