(Note: It seems obvious to me that talking about Kerry's medals is a way to distract people away from the mess in Iraq, the activities of the 9-11 commission, the case against Cheney being heard by the Supreme Court, and other more serious and current topics. Bush can't run on his accomplishments, so he has to go negative on Kerry.)
Medals of Honor
By WESLEY K. CLARK
Published: April 28, 2004
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
When John Kerry released his military records to the public last week, Americans learned a lot about Mr. Kerry's exceptional service in Vietnam. They also learned a lot about the Republican attack machine.
The evaluations were uniformly glowing. One commander wrote that Mr. Kerry ranked among "the top few" in three categories: initiative, cooperation and personal behavior. Another commander wrote, "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lt. j.g. Kerry was unsurpassed." The citation for Mr. Kerry's Bronze Star praises his "calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire."
In the United States military, there's no ideology - there are no labels, Republican or Democrat - when superiors evaluate a man or woman's service to country. Mr. Kerry's commander for a brief time, Grant Hibbard, now a Republican, gave Mr. Kerry top marks 36 years ago.
Now the standards are those of politics, not the military. Despite his positive evaluations, Mr. Hibbard recently questioned whether Mr. Kerry deserved one of his three Purple Hearts.
In the heat of a political campaign, attacks come from all directions. That's why John Kerry's military records are so compelling; they measure the man before his critics or his supporters saw him through a political lens. These military records show that John Kerry served his country with valor, and that those who served with him and above him held him in high regard. That's honor enough for any veteran.
Yet the Republican attack machine follows a pattern we've seen before, whether the target is Senator John McCain in South Carolina in 2000 or Senator Max Cleland in Georgia in 2002. The latest manifestation of these tactics is the controversy over Mr. Kerry's medals.
John Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for his service in Vietnam. In April 1971, as part of a protest against the war, he threw some ribbons over the fence of the United States Capitol.
Republicans have tried to use this event to question his patriotism and his truthfulness, claiming he has been inconsistent in saying whether he threw away his medals or ribbons. This is no more than a political smear. After risking his life in Vietnam to save others, John Kerry earned the right to speak out against a war he believed was wrong. Make no mistake: it is that bravery these Republicans are now attacking.
Although President Bush has not engaged personally in such accusations, he has done nothing to stop others from making them. I believe those who didn't serve, or didn't show up for service, should have the decency to respect those who did serve - often under the most dangerous conditions, with bravery and, yes, with undeniable patriotism.
Wesley K. Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, was commander of NATO forces from 1997 to 2000.