Today on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, a caller questioned Vets for Freedom (VFF) founder David Bellavia about the group’s attacks on Vietnam veteran Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Bellavia quickly praised Hagel, saying he was a “patriot.” “You don’t question another man’s service,” said Bellavia.” “I will never attack a Vietnam veteran, like some of these other individuals have during this political season.”
Content he paid enough lip-service to Hagel, he then began attacking the senator, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. Bellavia’s dismissed the Hagel’s service in Vietnam — for which he earned a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge — as irrelevant to the current conflict:
BELLAVIA: Sen. Hagel has never been shot at in Iraq, he’s never seen what an IED looks like or been detonated on. This is an individual that could embed himself instead of doing a two-day congressional delegation. Go out there, walk with the troops, see what’s going on on the ground. […]
Now, again, with Sen. Hagel — my problem with Sen. Hagel is, again, his experienced is based on what? The Mekong Delta. It’s based to Vietnam, a totally different fight, a totally different enemy, and by the way, it was 30 years ago.
It’s doubtful there any military experts who would agree with Bellavia that there’s nothing to learn from past U.S. conflicts. In 2000, President Bush even said, “A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam.” Bellavia and VFF also have no problem with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), even though he also fought in a war “30 years ago.”
VFF is largely a front group for the Bush administration, with their supposedly “objective” work being pushed by former White House officials. The organization has gone after lawmakers, such as Hagel and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who have dared to oppose the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq.
Additionally, just because Bellavia and other VFF members have served in Iraq doesn’t mean that they speak for all U.S. troops. Other soldiers and veterans — including groups like VoteVets — are increasingly rejecting the Bush administration’s policies.
BELLAVIA: Chuck Hagel, he’s a proud American warrior. He’s a patriot. But show me what battle he fought in Iraq. A man’s war — You don’t question another man’s service. I will never attack a Vietnam veteran, like some of these other individuals have during this political season. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.
But with all due respect, your 50 years of Middle East experience — Just spend 50 minutes in Iraq and you can bring yourself up to speed. But Sen. Hagel — we can disagree on a lot of issues — but Sen. Hagel has never been shot at in Iraq, he’s never seen what an IED looks like or been detonated on. This is an individual that could embed himself instead of doing a two-day congressional delegation. Go out there, walk with the troops, see what’s going on on the ground.
Ma’am, I’ve served over a year and our organization is just stock-full of Purple Heart and Valor Award winners. We’ve seen the worst of this fight. There’s no propaganda here, ma’am. We love America. We want to win the war that our Congress sent us to fight. You don’t send Americans — men and women — to lose a war, to end a stalemate. You send them to win in a war, and that’s what we’re trying to do. And you know what? We’re closer today than we ever have been.
BRAWNER: On the point that the caller might have been trying to make here, is that as a soldier on the ground in the moment, wouldn’t it be difficult to step back and get a broader view of what’s going on, that Sen. Hagel, with all of his experience serving in the Senate — that he can step back and take a broader view of the situation?
BELLAVIA: You know, that is precisely why we went back to Iraq. This is the second trip I’ve made with a member of the media. That is basically the underlying theme of why we went back to Iraq. Because it isn’t possible — it’s almost like you’re incubated and you’re cut off — so go back when you don’t have a rifle and you’re not in charge of soldiers.
Now, again, with Sen. Hagel — my problem with Sen. Hagel is, again, his experienced is based on what? The Mekong Delta. It’s based to Vietnam, a totally different fight, a totally different enemy, and by the way, it was 30 years ago. That doesn’t cheapen his service. That doesn’t cheapen his expertise. But when it comes down to Iraq, I will take that specialist who’s 20 years old from Decorah, Iowa, who served three tours in combat, over anything any member of the House or Senate has to say. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they deserve to have a platform to share what they’ve experienced.