That man is gone. But let us reflect, now, on the man that was, because he needs to be honored for there was a time when he helped put an end to a great national tragedy. No matter what you believe of the man now, wrote what will remain one of the most powerful anti-war speeches in history.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations
UNITED STATES SENATE;
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 11:05 a.m., in Room 4221, New Senate Office Building, Senator J. W. Fulbright (Chairman) presiding.
Present: Senators Fulbright, Symington, Pell, Aiken, Case, and Javits.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam…
I regret that. It seems to me to be but another instance of an insensitivity of our Government to the tragic effects of this war upon our people.
I want also to congratulate Mr. Kerry, you, and your associates upon the restraint that you have shown, certainly in the hearing the other day when there were a great many of your people here. I think you conducted yourselves in a most commendable manner throughout this week. Whenever people gather there is always a tendency for some of the more emotional ones to do things which, are even against their own interests. I think you deserve much of the credit because I understand you are one of the leaders of this group.
I have joined with some of my colleagues, specifically Senator Hart, in an effort to try to change the attitude of our Government toward your efforts in bringing to this committee and to the country your views about the war.
I personally don’t know of any group which would have both a greater justification for doing it and also a more accurate view of the effect of the war. As you know, there has grown up in this town a feeling that it is extremely difficult to get accurate information about the war and I don’t know a better source than you and your associates. So we are very pleased to have you and your associates, Mr. Kerry.
At the beginning if you would give to the reporter your fUll name and a brief biography so that the record will show who you are.
Senator JAVITS. Mr. Chairman, I was down there to the veterans’ camp yesterday and saw the New York group and I would like to say I am very proud of the deportment and general attitude of the group.
I hope it continues. I have joined in the Hart resolution, too. As a lawyer I hope you will find it possible to comply with the order even though, like the chairman, I am unhappy about it. I think it is our job to see that you are suitably set up as an alternative so that you can do what you came here to do. I welcome the fact that you came and what you are doing.
The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed, Mr.Kerry.
STATEMENT OF JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR
We are here in Washington to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate… the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war when we are more guilty than any other body of violations… in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners…
I would simply like to speak in very general terms. I apologize if my statement is general because I received notification yesterday you would hear me and I am afraid because of the injunction I was up most of the night and haven’t had a great deal of chance to prepare.
It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
We call this investigation the “Winter Soldier Investigation.” The term “Winter Soldier” is a play on words of Thomas Paine in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.
We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.
As a veteran and one who feels this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.
In 1970 at West Point, Vice President Agnew said “some glamorize the criminal misfits of society while our best men die in Asian rice paddies to preserve the freedom which most of those misfits abuse,” and this was used as a rallying point for our effort in Vietnam.
But for us,as boys in Asia whom the country was supposed to support, his statement is a terrible distortion from Which we can only draw a very deep sense of revulsion. Hence the anger of some of the men who are here in Washington today. It is a distortion because we in no way consider ourselves the best men of this country, because those he calls misfits were standing up for us in a way that nobody else in this country dared’ to, because so many of us who have died would have returned to this country to join the misfits in their efforts to ask for an immediate withdrawal from South Vietnam, because so many of those best men have returned as quadraplegics and amputees, and they lie forgotten in Veterans’ Administration hospitals in this country which fly the flag which so many have chosen as their own personal symbol. And we cannot consider ourselves America’s best men when we are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia.
In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
We are probably much more angry than that and I don’t want to go into the foreign policy aspects because I am outclassed here. I know that all of you talk about every possible alternative of getting out of Vietnam. We understand that. We know you have considered the seriousness of the aspects to the utmost level and I am not going to try to dwell on that, but I want to relate to you the feeling that many of the men who have returned to this country express because we are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism.
We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding With whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.
We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on’the Vietcong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw Ammerica lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.
Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese.
Each day — [Applause.]
The CHAIRMAN. I hope you won’t interrupt. He is making a very significant statement. Let him proceed.
Mr. KERRY. Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”