See-BS: the anatomy of an attack
When political consultants want to smear their opponents, they must: (1) Dig up some dirt that is factually correct or (2) They must manufacture (forge) some facts or (3) They must rely on the ignorance of the public to allow the attack to stick long enough before the truth is known.
The five-year-long quest by Dan Rather’s former producer, Mary Mapes, to denigrate the military service of Lt. George W. Bush is a perfect example of all three efforts.
While Ms. Mapes was being frustrated by facts showing that Lt. Bush had not only completed his U.S. Air Force and Air Guard obligations and had actually served with distinction, the attack based on public ignorance of how reservists earn “federal points” to complete their service obligations and on public ignorance of the role of the F-102 interceptor flown by Lt. Bush was on-going.
Most civilians are ignorant of the fact that, unless called to active duty, reservists are only obligated to attend one, two-day drill per month, and one, two-week summer camp each year. Nor is it widely understood that reservists have civilian jobs that often conflict with scheduled drill periods.
This scheduling problem is handled routinely by allowing reservists to participate in “make-up” drills with other units or to attend extra schooling at a time more convenient to their civilian pursuits. As long as the reservist earns the required “federal points” for each year of his or her service obligation, there is no problem. So, in the case of Lt. Bush, who amassed enough federal points to complete his six-year service obligation eight months early, there was really nothing on which to mount a factual attack.
But a legitimate question was: How come Lt. Bush’s unit was never deployed to Vietnam? Here the attackers relied on public ignorance about the difference between an interceptor aircraft and a fighter-bomber aircraft.
The higher you finish in flight school, the faster the aircraft to which you are assigned. Lt. Bush finished near the top of his class and was assigned to the super-sonic F-102 interceptor which was purpose-built for one mission and one mission only: To rocket to high altitude over the Continental United States and launch missiles at the Soviet’s nuclear-armed Bear or Bison bombers.
We had air superiority over the skies of South Vietnam. So, the likelihood of a Soviet Bear or Bison attack in southeast Asia was between slim and none. Moreover, the F-102 had no machine guns or cannons with which to defend itself in air-to-air combat. To send the F-102 northward where it might encounter Soviet-built MiG fighters would have been murder.
So, with the exception of six Regular Air Force F-102s that only flew training missions out of a base north of Saigon, the F-102 remained state-side and was flown under the operational control of North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
So, if you are determined to concoct a TV program timed to damage the reelection campaign of George W. Bush and you don’t have any damaging facts and if public understanding of how the reserve components operate and of the limited role of the F-102 begins to grow, what remains? You find someone willing to forge or obtain damaging forged documents designed to make your case.
And, more the better if the purported author of the forged documents is already dead and cannot rise up to pull the rug out from under the scam. Such was the case with the forged documents purported to have been written by the late Lt. Colonel Jerry B. Killian who, accordingly to his wife, his son and his fellow Texas Air Guard officers, had nothing but the highest regard for the service and the flying proficiency of Lt. Bush.
People often believe what they want to believe. Mary Mapes and Dan Rather wanted to believe the worst about Lt. Bush. They timed their attack for maximum negative effect prior to the November presidential election. Only one problem: They got caught red-handed. Mapes and three others have been fired, and Dan Rather is being retired.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, spent portions of his 20-year military career with a USAF fighter wing and with reserve components.
©2005. William Hamilton.