Editorial: The war escalates

Vietnam, that is

August 08, 2004

The Vietnam War should be renamed "America's 40-Year War" because it's still being fought - if not on the battleground, then in the political arena.

The refighting of the war that ended 30 years ago escalated Thursday with the release of a political ad by an organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The 60-second ad features Vietnam veterans who accuse Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of lying about his decorated Vietnam War record and betraying his fellow veterans by later opposing the conflict.

We suppose one could argue that Kerry's war record is fair game because the candidate himself has stressed his service as the commander of a swiftboat during the Vietnam War. It also could be argued that the Democrats opened up this can of worms when they raised questions last winter about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam era.

Yet we agree with Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, who quickly condemned the new ad. McCain said he spoke out against the ad because "it reopens all the old wounds of the Vietnam War, which I spent the last 35 years trying to heal."


What's really disturbing about this obsession with a past war is that it fogs the country's view of the present war. Since the beginning of the war on terror, far too much mental energy has been spent arguing about whether Afghanistan and then Iraq was "another Vietnam" when the real question is whether the war on terror is being fought in the most effective manner.

The country would be better off if we listened to the wise counsel of retired Gen. Tommy Franks who oversaw the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Franks has recently been on the interview circuit promoting his book, "American Soldier."

Conservative TV and radio commentator Sean Hannity tried mightily in an interview last week to get Franks to say something negative about Kerry's anti-war protests after he left the Navy. Franks, an Independent who said he probably would vote for Bush, refused to criticize Kerry's anti-war activities. Franks said any questions he has about Kerry's fitness to be president concern the senator's recent voting record on the war on terror.

If people like Tommy Franks, who like Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam, and John McCain, who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison, can put the war behind them, then the rest of the country ought to be able to do so as well.

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns and the various organizations that support them ought to lay off the Vietnam War issue.

McCain said Thursday: "I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War."

We take that a step further. We'd concede that Kerry is a war hero and Bush is not.

Now let's get on to the real question: Who's the best candidate to lead the country in the war the nation is currently in engaged in - the war against terror?

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