Last Sunday, editorial staff member Jim Boyd wrote a column ("Republican smear machine can't stand up to the facts") attacking our Aug. 18 column on John Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia fable as "fraudulent," and attacking us personally as "smear artists" engaged in "immorality." When someone uses language that strong, you'd expect him to have facts to back up his words. Yet Boyd's tirade was remarkably fact-free.
First, the basics. We wrote that the Kerry campaign has retracted Kerry's oft-told tale of being in Cambodia on Christmas 1968. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of John Kerry being in Cambodia in December 1968, or at any other time. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that Kerry's commanding officers have denied that he was ever sent into Cambodia. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that not a single crewman who ever served with Kerry has supported Kerry's claim to have been in Cambodia, and several crewmen have denied that their boat was ever in Cambodia. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of Swift boats being used for clandestine missions as claimed by Kerry. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that Swift boats were unsuited for such secret missions, given their large size and noise. Boyd did not dispute this.
Gosh, for fraudulent smear artists, we seem to be doing pretty well. Given that he didn't deny any of our main points, what did Boyd have to say? Most importantly, he alleged that Kerry was in Cambodia, but it was in January 1969, not December 1968. Thus, Boyd wrote, ours is an "accurate but niggling criticism." Of course, there is no more evidence for Kerry being in Cambodia in January 1969 than in December 1968.
But when Kerry told his famous story to the Senate in 1986--the story that he says was "seared--seared" into his memory, he was very specific about the timing of his life-altering experience. It was Christmas 1968, and he heard President Richard Nixon denying that we had troops in Cambodia while he himself had been sent there. It was this experience, he said, that caused him to lose his faith in the American government.
We pointed out that Kerry's account was obviously false, since Nixon was not president in December 1968. Boyd responded that Nixon was then president-elect, so Kerry's "discrepancy" was "understandable." Obviously, however, a president-elect was in no position to assure the American people that there were no troops in Cambodia.
We made the relatively minor point that Kerry's claim to have been shot at by the Khmer Rouge is implausible, since they did not take the field until 1972. Boyd said, with no attribution, that "the Khmer Rouge ... began its armed combat against the government of Prince Norhodom Sihanouk in 1967."
We based our statement on the testimony of Andrew Antippas, "the Cambodia Man" at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon between 1968 and 1970, who wrote: "[C]oncerning the assertion that Mr. Kerry was shot at by the Khmer Rouge during his Christmas 1968 visit to Cambodia, it should be noted that the Khmer Rouge didn't take the field until the Easter Offensive of 1972."
Different sources assign different dates to the beginning of military action by the Khmer Rouge, but we've seen no support for the proposition that the Khmer Rouge were in the field (as opposed to existing as a political organization) in January 1969.
Boyd next wandered into the thicket of geography. He wrote:
"[T]here was no established border. Both Vietnam and Cambodia claimed parts of the Mekong River delta, a watery area of rivers, tributaries and canals. It was quite easy to slip across, especially by boat (whether inadvertently or with a purpose--perhaps both)."
The notion that Kerry wandered into Cambodia "inadvertently" contradicts the story Kerry told. If he wandered there by accident, he would have had no reason to be disillusioned with the U.S. government. The whole point of Kerry's story was that he was ordered into Cambodia, contrary to President Nixon's assurance that there were no U.S. troops there.
Boyd did not attempt to dispute the heart of our column. He simply assumed as true Kerry's revised version of the Christmas in Cambodia fable without acknowledging the contradictions among the versions of the story, and without noting the lack of evidence for the proposition that Kerry was ever in Cambodia. Where he challenged us on specific facts, we believe Boyd was wrong.
Boyd's response to our column was stronger on epithets than on evidence. He provided a mighty weak basis on which to call us smear artists. Has word reached Boyd that the Kerry campaign has given up trying to sell the story that Kerry undertook secret missions on his Swift boat to Cambodia? Like the Japanese soldiers who continued fighting World War II on remote Pacific islands after the emperor had surrendered, Boyd keeps up the fight for a story that his own emperor has abandoned.