Up the River

Twice now, Kansans have propelled much of the debate over Senator John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam. Most recently, former Senator Bob Dole questioned whether any of the injuries that earned Kerry three Purple Hearts had actually caused the candidate to bleed.

Yikes, Bob. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that you invited Bill Clinton to Kansas and the two of you made a plea for less partisan bickering?

Anyway, now that the furor over ads put out by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is finally dying down, this meat patty wonders whether swing voters have really been swayed by the attacks on Kerry’s jungle adventures. To help you find out how you’ve been affected, the Strip has devised this simple quiz.

1. On the morning of March 13, 1969, John Kerry skippered his swift boat to the entrance of the Bay Hap River, where, author Douglas Brinkley writes in Tour of Duty, his book on Kerry’s Vietnam experience: “Swarms of fishing boats of all shapes and sizes were bobbing around … If Kerry had felt like enforcing the no-movement rule to the letter, he could have ordered his men to shoot every Vietnamese on the sampans. The dead would have been matter-of-factly written off as VC trafficking goods during the U.S.-ordained curfew time.”

Instead, Kerry not only didn’t kill anyone, he slowed down his boat so it wouldn’t swamp any of the shallow sampans floating nearby.

What does Kerry’s decision say about him?

A. Four months into his Vietnam War experience, Kerry had already been deeply affected by the waste of human life he’d witnessed. The last thing he wanted was to participate in a needless war atrocity.

B. Kerry took seriously the “no wake” restrictions he’d learned water-skiing as a spoiled rich kid.

C. Kerry would have personally killed all of the unarmed fishermen using a rocket launcher, but he’d sprained his trigger finger buttering his toast that morning and was busy writing up a Purple Heart citation for himself.

2. After joining several other boats and moving upriver, Kerry dropped off some Cambodian mercenaries, one of whom promptly stepped on a mine and was killed. Brinkley writes that Kerry kept a journal, in which he described helping to retrieve the body in a poncho. “I never want to see anything like that again,” Kerry wrote. “What was left was human, and yet it wasn’t — a person had been there only moments earlier and … now was a horrible mess of torn flesh and broken bones; bent and bloody, limbs contorted and distorted as if they could never be alive. Most of his stomach was hollowed out and there was a huge hole that went through his mouth and nose to the other side. I didn’t really want to look and so I concentrated on looking right through him, avoiding contact with any personality.”

Making matters worse, the Cambodian soldier, Bac She De, had been one of the most popular in his unit, a laughing, smiling character, but now, one soldier pointed out, his remains could fit in a bucket.

What does Kerry’s concern for the dead Cambodian indicate?

A. Despite being around death and injury on a daily basis, Kerry still hadn’t been completely desensitized by the war and was capable of seeing others — even mercenaries from a foreign country — as human beings needlessly wasted in an unwanted conflict.

B. Wait a minute. They carried him in a poncho? Ew.

C. Who keeps a journal in wartime and writes down what every little injury looks like? Someone with a long-range plan to falsely aggrandize himself as a war hero, that’s who.

3. Before Kerry and another soldier could get the body back to the boat, he and his men were suddenly pinned down by gunfire. Kerry dropped the poncho and dived into a ditch as bullets whizzed over his head. In his journal, he wrote: “I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn’t see what I was firing at, and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment, and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile while they went down to Schrafft’s and had another ice cream sundae, or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account. And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.”

What do Kerry’s musings about New York at such a terrifying moment indicate?

A. Even with his life in danger, Kerry could see his situation in a larger context — one of the most important attributes of a leader.

B. Wait a minute. He was lying in a ditch next to the poncho with, like, the blown-up guy? Ewwww.

C. Typical pinko Democrat. His buddies are under fire, and Kerry’s already practicing a stump speech demonizing future Vice President Dick Cheney.

4. After the shooting died down, the swift boaters tried to request helicopter support, but Lt. Cmdr. George Elliot, back at the waterborne HQ, told them all the choppers were tied up. “I swore,” Kerry wrote in his notes. “We had been promised that when the shooting got heavy, we would have helos to help us out. But the headquarters just said that they were otherwise disposed and we would have to do the best we could.”

Elliot eventually would present Kerry his Silver Star citation, but today he’s among the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, criticizing the presidential candidate.

Back on that day in 1969, Kerry’s anger over Elliot’s instructions says what about him?

A. That Kerry’s frustration over the half-assed way the Vietnam War was being fought had reached nearly unbearable levels and would help propel him into opposing the war after he returned home.

B. That somehow, he was the only soldier in Vietnam who hadn’t yet discovered the calming effect of ganja.

C. That he was already building a case to demonize all of his fellow soldiers in a coldly calculated über-conspiracy that is only now becoming clear.

5. Later that day, Kerry’s swift boat was with four others when one of the boats hit a mine. According to Kerry and official reports, small-arms fire erupted from the shore at the same time, and after a second explosion, Lt. Jim Rassman was blown into the water and Kerry was knocked below deck, where he hurt his arm. However, after realizing that Rassman was overboard, Kerry had his pilot pull their boat up close to the man in the water. “Jim was exhausted from swimming and my right arm hurt and I couldn’t pull very hard with it,” Kerry wrote in his diary. “Everyone else was firing a machine gun or something, except for Sandusky, who was maneuvering the boat, trying not to run over Jim but also trying to get near him as quickly as possible. Christ knows how, but somehow we got him on board and I didn’t get the bullet in the head that I expected, and we managed to clear the ambush zone.” Kerry’s actions that day, risking his own life to rescue Rassman, earned him a Bronze Star.

But Lt. Larry Thurlow of Bogue, Kansas, one of the leaders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and skipper of a boat that was among the five that day, says that Kerry’s account is a lie. Not only had Kerry caused Rassman to fall into the water to begin with but there also was no enemy fire, Thurlow says.

Your reaction to Thurlow’s claim:

A. What about Thurlow’s own Bronze Star citation, which clearly indicates that enemy fire was present? If Thurlow says now that there was no enemy fire and Kerry didn’t deserve his Bronze Star, why hasn’t Thurlow given his Bronze Star back?

B. Where the hell is Bogue, Kansas?

C. When do I get to vote for Larry Thurlow?

How to score:

Score zero points for every A answer, one point for every B, and two points for every C.

0-3 points: “Swift boat ads? Never heard of ’em.”

4-6 points: This election will pass by without interrupting your blissful noncaring, won’t it?

7-10 points: You were the crank who kept calling the Barnes & Noble on the Plaza and demanding that the store restock copies of Unfit for Command, weren’t you?

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