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September 04, 2004

Testing Kerry's Mettle and Medals

On Thursday, Sept 2, 2004, Judicial Watch issued a press release stating that the Pentagon Inspector General has informed the Secretary of the Navy of Judicial Watch's formal request that John Kerry's medals be examined for violations under chapter 47 of title 10 (Uniform Code of Military Justice). If violations are found, especially regarding the Vietnam Service Medals or the "V" on the Silver Star, as appears likely based on recent reports, what might this mean to John Kerry and his campaign for the Presidency? To answer that question we need to examine context. (More details on some of the issues surrounding the medlas can be found in this Chicago Sun-Times article of August 27, 2004, "Plot thickens after checking records.")

On May 15, 1996, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, shot himself. His action followed a controversy over whether he had worn decorations to which he was not entitled. According to the CNN story of May 16, 1996,

According to Newsweek editor Maynard Parker, the news magazine was working on a story that called into question two medals Boorda received during the Vietnam war.
According to Navy sources, the magazine claimed to have uncovered evidence that Boorda had for more than 20 years inappropriately displayed "V" for valor on the medals.

CNN has learned from Pentagon sources that Boorda wrote two letters before he died, one to his family and one addressed to sailors.
Sources said that in the typewritten note to the sailors, Boorda explained that he took his life because of the questions raised about his wearing of "V" for valor medals on his combat ribbon from Vietnam.

While the Admiral's reaction was extreme, it is important for several reasons. First, it shows just how seriously the military takes this matter of decorations. In a subculture where "honor" remains more than a word, where it remains something worth dying, even taking one's own life for, claiming honors not due to oneself is a grave dishonor.

Should Kerry be found guilty of claiming decorations for which he is not entitled, how would this affect his standing with the military of which he aims to become Commander in Chief?

Second, there is the matter of Kerry's own reaction to this situation in Admiral Boorda's case. He went on the record following Boorda's suicide with statements which included the following:

"Is it wrong? Yes, it is very wrong. Sufficient to question his leadership position? The answer is yes, which he clearly understood," said Sen. John Kerry, a Navy combat veteran who served in Vietnam.
-- Boston Herald, May 18, 1996.

"The military is a rigorous culture that places a high premium on battlefield accomplishment," said Sen. John F. Kerry, who received numerous decorations, including a Bronze Star with a "V" pin, as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam.
"In a sense, there's nothing that says more about your career than when you fought, where you fought and how you fought," Kerry said.
"If you wind up being less than what you're pretending to be, there is a major confrontation with value and self-esteem and your sense of how others view you."
Of Boorda and his apparent violation, Kerry said: "When you are the chief of them all, it has to weigh even more heavily."
-- Boston Globe, May 18, 1996.

Kerry is on the record agreeing that not only is it wrong to claim medals to which one is not entitled, it is "very wrong." And "when you are the chief of them all, it has to weigh even more heavily." In other words, the higher your position, the graver the "wrong." Admiral Boorda felt himself disqualified to continue in the position of Chief of Naval Operations, the highest position in the Navy. In the line of command of the U.S. military, there are only a few other positions. Of course, the top position is Commander in Chief, the position John Kerry is presently seeking.

Kerry has already agreed such a wrong is greater in higher positions, and he tacitly agreed that Boorda was right to feel disqualified from his position as a result of his wrong, even if he (and most of us) would agree that suicide was not the appropriate response. Will Kerry hold himself to the same standard? If he is found to have committed this great wrong which he spoke against in another, will his conscience allow him to continue seeking the post for which he disqualified himself in advance?

Should the situation arise (the chief issue is whether the slow wheels of bureaucracy can make a determination quickly enough), I hope he surprises me. But Kerry is known for his flip-flops.

Posted by dan at September 4, 2004 01:44 PM | TrackBack
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