The book is clear, crisply written, occasionally compelling, and full of polarizing firepower. It's rather short, padded with long excerpts from Kerry speeches, interviews with Swift Boat veterans, and other books.
Regnery employed its usual brilliant pre-publication marketing strategy — leak selective excerpts and copies to sympathetic reporters and use Drudge to hammer it home. Human Events, the venerable and respected conservative weekly, has been the leader in Swift Boat coverage, and deserves credit for it own deft publicity.
So it might sell a lot of copies. If you're inclined to think John Kerry is brash, self-possessed and occasionally immature (i.e., the Kerry campaign staff demographic), this book will confirm your suspicions. If you're a partisan, you'll have your perceptions reconfirmed, whether you love Kerry and think he's a hero or hate him and think he's a fraud.
If you don't know about him at all, there's a good chance you'll be at least partially swayed to the view expressed by the book's title. And therein lies the danger for the Kerry campaign, even if most of the charges in the book are thinly documented and tinged with animus.
The three Purple Hearts section will seem familiar. The Kerry campaign has successfully rebutted many of the charges, and the fact remains that even if Kerry was only lightly injured thrice, he was injured thrice, and he was injured in Vietnam while fighting for his country.
Ironically, a book which touts the virtue of strict military discipline and absolute adherence to regulations (It castigates Kerry for trying to sneak to Saigon with his crewmates … ) criticizes Kerry when he invokes an "obscure" rule that allows him to be sent him after getting wounded three times.
Pages 45 through 49 focus on Cambodia, and that's about the only portion of the book that truly puzzles us and seems to puzzle the Kerry campaign. You make the call:
Was John Kerry in Cambodia during Christmas of 1968? If so, why does Doug Brinkley's sympathetic "Tour of Duty" recount what seems to be an entirely different incident?
Kerry has used the incident to justify an important development in his political evolution, namely, his creeping suspicion that his government was lying to the people.
Here's what he told the AP as late as 1992: "We were told, 'Just go up there and do your patrol. Everybody was over there (in Cambodia). Nobody thought twice about it,' Kerry said. "One of the missions, which Kerry, at the time, was ordered not to discuss, involved taking CIA operatives into Cambodia to search for enemy enclaves.'I can remember wondering, 'If you're going to go, what happens to you,' Kerry said."
In 1979, he said this: "The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which president Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."
The new book says this: "All the living commanders in Kerry's chain of command … . deny that Kerry was ever ordered to Cambodia. They indicate that Kerry would have been seriously disciplined or court-martialed had he gone there. At least three of five crewmen on Kerry's PCF 44 boat — Bill Zaldonis, Steven Hatch, Steve Gardner — deny that they or their boat were ever in Cambodia. The remaining two declined to be interviewed for this book. Gardner, in particular, will never forget those days in late December when he was wounded on PCF 44, not in Cambodia, but miles away in Vietnam."