Having been around in the early 1970s I do recall the very effective use made by President Nixon of the return of Vietnam prisoners of war.
As Rick Perlstein so brilliantly describes it in his book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, the war was lost but Americans were willing to be convinced that getting our POWs home was enough of a victory to at least blunt the humiliation of having been defeated by a bunch of communist from a backward Asian country.
Again, if you were around at the time, you will remember that the return of POWs was reported and discussed as indicative of all that was good and pure about America. It wasn’t exactly clear why that should be true, but Americans believed it, and all the moral ambiguity that was felt about the war was washed away by the sacrifice of those who survived sometimes years of brutal captivity.
What is interesting to me is that those returning POWs have always had a special status as heroes, in part because of the effectiveness of the propaganda machine at the time. I was therefore a little surprised that Trump went there, whether or not it ends up having an impact on his campaign.
As we know, there was no similar propaganda machine for others who served, and I am not suggesting for a moment that there should have been, only that there wasn’t.
Certainly anyone who was critical of the war after serving could never be considered a hero, whatever their actions might have been.
All of this is prelude to a specific instance of hypocrisy by Jeb Bush, who was quick to defend John McCain but, guess what, didn’t feel the same way about John Kerry.
…that outrage was missing ten years ago, when a political group attacked another Vietnam veteran — then-Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee who sought to unseat Bush’s brother, the incumbent president, during the 2004 election.
Instead, [Jeb] Bush praised Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that lobbed attacks questioning Kerry’s service record in Vietnam — attacks McCain unequivocally criticized in 2004 as “dishonest and dishonorable.”
As CNN reported last week, in a letter they obtained to the head of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, “Bush thanked Col. George Day for his ‘unwavering support’ and thanked the group for ‘their willingness to stand up against John Kerry.'”
Is there any other way to interpret “standing up to John Kerry” as suggesting anything other than support for the lies the group told about Kerry’s service record?
Of course, the CNN story confirms what we know, which is that the charges made by the group were “contradicted by official military records and almost all of the men who served with Kerry came out in defense of their former crewmate, praising his courage.”
Look, I’m not shocked by any of this. But I do sometimes think people view “Jeb” as a straight-shooting decent sort of fellow simply because many of the other Republican contenders are so morally deficient.
I have my doubts.