Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was an organisation of United States forces veterans formed to oppose John Kerry's candidacy in the 2004 US presidential election.
Kerry's 1971 Senate Testimony
John Kerry had met with the North Vietnamese (in Paris) before testifying as a beribboned veteran before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. That testimony corresponded very closely with the North Vietnamese talking points, and was of course damaging to the war effort. It portrayed the war in Vietnam as unwinnable, with America as the aggressor against a popular uprising. It accused American soldiers of routinely engaging in atrocities (which was actually the policy of the Viet Cong). It portrayed veterans as both vicious killers and hapless mentally ill victims - a characterization which has yet to leave the public consciousness.
A conservative critique of that testimony can be found here.
Veterans' Delayed Reaction in 2004
Kerry's testimony was replayed on national talk radio and on television early in 2004. Not surprisingly, many Vietnam veterans were outraged. Most had not been aware of Kerry's anti-war activities or how extreme and offensive his remarks and actions had been. They began communicating and spontaneously organizing throughout the country
The Swift Boat veterans had an extra reason to be enraged: John Kerry had been one of theirs and was using his service for political ends. Swift Boat veterans did not want their service besmirched by John Kerry's 1971 charges, and they resented his use of combat medals for political purposes. Many had also served with Kerry and felt him to be an unfit soldier.
Their original goal was to defeat his bid for the Democratic nomination. Members of the group ere of all political persuasions, and thus wanted to stop Kerry before it would have a partisan effect. In that, they failed.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was one of several groups of Vietnam veterans that spontaneously formed in response to John Kerry's presidential bid. SBVT was founded by retired RADM Hoffman, who commanded all Swift Boat operations in Vietnam during John Kerry's 4 month service, when Hoffman discovered Kerry was using making claims of heroism on medals Hoffman didn't think Kerry had earned. Hoffman was quickly joined by John O'Neill, who had commanded Kerry's Swift Boat after Kerry left Vietnam, and who had debated Kerry on the Dick Cavett national TV show in 1971. O'Neill, a successful Houston attorney, became the most visible of the SBVT spokesmen, appearing on many national television and radio shows. The most recent interview with him, a restrospective on 2004, can be found here. Over 200 other former Swift Boat combat veterans joined the group.
SBVT Impact on the Election
SBVT produced controversial advertisements which cast Kerry's service and his anti-war activities in a very negative light. These advertisements, and O'Neill's book, Unfit for Command, have been credited by Kerry campaign staffers with costing Kerry the Presidential election.
New Book on the 2004 Vietnam Veterans Movement
A book released in Jan, 2008 gives the history of this grass roots movement - SBVT and other organizations: To Set The Record Straight by Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler. It is the definitive reference on the subject, detailing the founding of the groups, their activities, and especially their battles with the media.
In addition to SBVT, a number of other groups arose. One was Vietnam Vets for the Truth (VVT) which staged a coming-home rally for Vietnam veterans on Sept 12, 2004 at the US Capitol. This was the largest gathering of Vietnam veterans in history, and featured many anti-Kerry speakers and John O'Neill, spokesman for the SBVT.
Controversy and Media Bias
The SBVT initially attacked Kerry's competence to be commander-in-chief at a well attended news conference before the end of the primary season. The conference was almost ignored. Subsequent advertisements which attacked Kerry's military record and his anti-war stance, purchased with the help of contributions from hundreds of thousands of small donors, and a few large donors including T. Boone Pickens, were able to achieve national attention and became the focuse of intense controversy in the normally media-quiet month of August.
The reaction of most media and the Kerry campaign was to paint SBVT as a Republican conspiracy, especially since the few big donors were Republicans. Subsequently, after investigation the Federal Election Commission concluded that SBVT had no coordination with the Republican Party. Such coordination would have been in violation of federal election laws. However, the continuing media narrative still implies a Republican conspiracy.