New York Times
An Outpouring of Pain, Channeled via Politics
Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," the highly contested anti-Kerry documentary, should not be shown by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. It should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television.
This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry's reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state. But it does help viewers better understand the rage fueling the unhappy band of brothers who oppose Mr. Kerry's candidacy and his claim to heroism.
Sinclair, the nation's largest television station group, reaching about a quarter of United States television households, backed down this week and announced that it would use only excerpts from the 42-minute film as part of an hourlong news program about political use of the media, "A P.O.W. Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media.'' That's too bad: what is most enlightening about this film is not the depiction of Mr. Kerry as a traitor; it is the testimony of the former P.O.W.'s describing the torture they endured in captivity and the shock they felt when celebrities like Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden visited their prisons in North Vietnam and sided with the enemy.
The former prisoners - now old and graying - are not just talking about their sense of betrayal by fellow Americans. They also seize the Kerry candidacy as a chance to recall their experiences: the kinds of torture they endured and the ruses they invented like tap-code communication between cells to boost morale. Illustrated with black-and-white film clips of prisoners in the "Hanoi Hilton" and sepia-toned re-enactments of starving men being led through dank, dark prison corridors, those recollections resemble the slow-paced, detailed documentaries that fill the History Channel.
But the History Channel tends to focus on the heroic moments of World Wars I and II. The Vietnam War is almost always revisited through its moral and strategic ambiguities and its effect on American society in the 1960's and 70's.
This film is payback time, a chance to punish one of the most famous antiwar activists, Mr. Kerry, the one who got credit for serving with distinction in combat, then, through the eyes of the veterans in this film, went home to discredit the men left behind. The film begins with dirgelike music and a scary black-and-white montage of stark images of soldiers and prisoners as a deep voice sorrowfully intones, "In other wars, when captured soldiers were subjected to the hell of enemy prisons, they were considered heroes." The narrator adds, "In Vietnam they were betrayed."
The imagery is crude, but powerful: each mention of Mr. Kerry's early 1970's meeting with North Vietnamese government officials in Paris is illustrated with an old black-and-white still shot of the Arc de Triomphe, an image that to many viewers evokes the Nazi occupation of Paris. The Eiffel Tower would have been more neutral, but the film is not: it insists that Mr. Kerry "met secretly in an undisclosed location with a top enemy diplomat." Actually, Mr. Kerry, a leading antiwar activist at the time, mentioned it in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.
The film's producer, Carlton Sherwood, a former investigative reporter and a Vietnam veteran, gives his own testimony, explaining that even though he has uncovered all kinds of misdeeds in his career, the history of Mr. Kerry's antiwar activism is "a lot more personal.'' He recalls listening to Mr. Kerry's testimony in 1971, saying, "I felt an inner hurt no surgeon's scalpel could remove.''
That pain is the main theme of the documentary, which can be seen in its entirety on the Internet for $4.99. One former P.O.W., John Warner, lashes out at Mr. Kerry for having coaxed Mr. Warner's mother to testify at the Winter Soldier Investigation, where disgruntled veterans testified to war crimes they committed. Calling it a "contemptible act," Mr. Warner, who spent more than five years as a prisoner, tells the camera that Mr. Kerry was the kind of man who preyed on a mother's grief "purely for the promotion of your own political agenda."
The documentary shows Mr. Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony, in which he famously reported that fellow soldiers had "cut off ears," among other atrocities. But the filmmakers were not able to dig up more indicting material from homemade movies or news clips from the era. The picture from an antiwar demonstration, where Mr. Kerry stood a few rows behind Ms. Fonda, is blown up portentously, but there are no shots of them together. The only candid shot of Mr. Kerry gathering material for the Winter Soldier hearings shows him solicitously asking a veteran why he felt the need to speak.
Instead, the film shows lesser-known young, long-haired antiwar activists preparing witnesses to testify to war crimes. In the film these men seem to be prompting a fellow veteran to describe a massacre he did not witness.
Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal
Excerpts from this program will be shown on various stations, but not in the New York metropolitan area; elsewhere check local listings. The entire program can be seen on the Internet on a pay-for-view basis and its audio can be downloaded online, both at www.stolenhonor.com.
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How the fuck would that get in the Times? I thought they were liberal.