Why do they come out now?

U.S. journalism has fallen to such a state that those increasingly rare instances of quality work really stand out. That was the case with an Aug. 20 investigative piece in the New York Times that provided information on the links between the Bush campaign and family and Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry, which produced the now-familiar television commercial. The Times provided an organizational chart showing lines flowing from and to SBVAK and various Bush figures.

But beyond exposing SBVAK as a front group, the article also provided information on the history of the five men who appear in the TV spot. The Times showed that some of them have, in this campaign, turned on a dime and denounced a man they once stopped short of describing as a saint.

George Elliott, for instance, is the veteran who in the commercial says, “John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.” But in 1969, Elliott was so taken by Kerry’s bravery that he put him up for the Silver Star and wrote a navy evaluation of Kerry that described him as “unsurpassed.” In 1996, he told of a Kerry action in Vietnam that he called an “act of courage.”

What caused these men suddenly to change their view of Kerry after 30 years has become the subject of much amateur psychoanalysis. The most popular theory is that they’ve long harbored resentment for Kerry’s opposition to the war in Vietnam, and it just came out this year.

Whatever it is, it is fair to ask, if this is how they actually felt during Vietnam, why did they not speak out then, opposing his decorations and writing different Navy fitness reports?

It would not have been easy, certainly, but these are men who showed great courage in battle. Another swift boat veteran, Ward Sanders, recently touched on this in Reno, asking, “Where did you lose the honor and integrity that you displayed so magnificently 35 years ago?” It may be that courage in combat comes from a different place in people than courage off the battlefield.

Still, others were able to tap both those inner sources. In October 1970, six soldiers signed their names to a letter to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee saying they had been ordered to document a fictitious account of an army general’s actions in Cambodia. It was likely not easy for them to come forward and blow the whistle, since all were on active duty and only one was near discharge.

John Kerry himself and many other Vietnam Veterans Against The War were able to be brave in battle and still speak out against the war, exposing themselves to abuse by some veterans and many politicians and journalists, as well as having President Richard Nixon sic the FBI on them and Vice President Spiro Agnew question their sexuality.

The swift boat veterans set out in their television commercial wanting to raise questions about John Kerry. It is the veterans themselves who owe a few explanations of their behavior.