They have all become dictatorships when they have achieved the size and complexity of this country. Only smaller countries really have made a democratic system work at all.
So I only wish to throw it out hopefully that, in spite of the tragic experiences of you and so many other people and the deaths of so many people, this system is not beyond recall and with the assistance of people like yourself and the younger generation we can get back on the track, and can make this system operate effectively.
I know that the idea of working within the system has been used so much, and many people have lost confidence that it can be done. They wish to destroy the system, to start all over, but I don’t think in the history of human experience that those destructions of systems work. They usually destroy everything good as well as bad, and you have an awful lot of doing to recreate the good part and to get started again.
So I am very hopeful that the younger generation – and I am certainly getting at the end of my generation because I have been here an awfully long time – but that you younger people can find it possible to accept the system and try to make it work because I can’t at the moment think of a better one given the conditions that we have in this country and the great complexity and diversity.
I really believe if we can stop this war – I certainly expect to do everything I can. I have done all I can with all my limitations. I am sure many people have thought I could do better, but I did all that I was capable of doing and what wisdom I may have has been applied to it. I hope that you and your colleagues will feel the same way or at least you will accept the structure of the system and try to make it work. I can see no better alternative to offer in its place.
If I thought there was one, I would certainly propose it or try.
Mr. KERRY. I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t believe that it call be made to work, but I would have to say, and one of the traits of my generation now is that people don’t pretend to speak for other people in it, and I can only speak as an individual about it, but I would say that I have certainly been frustrated in the past months, very, very seriously frustrated. I have gone to businessmen all over this country asking for money for fees, and met with a varying range of comments, ranging from “You can’t sell war crimes” to,”War crimes are a glut on the market” or to “well, you know we are tired now, we have tried, we can’t do anything.” So I have seen unresponsiveness on the racial question in this country. I see an unwilliness on the part of too many of the members of this body to respond, to take gutsy stands, to face questions other than their own reelection, to make a profile of courage, and I am – although still with faith – very, very, very full of doubt, and I am not going to quit. But I think that unless we can respond on as great a question as the war, I seriously question how we are going to find the kind of response needed to meet questions such as poverty and hunger and questions such as birth control and so many of the things that face our society today from low income housing to schooling, to recent reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision on busing.
But I will say that I think we are going to keep trying. I also agree with you, Senator. I don’t see another system other than democracy, but democracy has to remain responsive. When it does not, you create the possibilities for all kinds of other systems to supplant it, and that very possibility, I think, is beginning to exist in this country.
The CHAIRMAN. That is why I ask you that. The feeling that it cannot be made responsive comes not so much from what you have said but from many different sources. I can assure you I have been frustrated too. We have lost most of our major efforts. That is we have not succeeded in getting enough votes, but there has been a very marked increase, I think, in the realization of the seriousness of the war. I think you have to keep in perspective, as I say, the size and complexity of the country itself and the difficulties of communication. This war is so far removed. The very fact, as you have said, you do not believe what happens there to be in the vital interest of this country, has from the beginning caused many people to think it wasn’t so important.
As I said before, I think this came about not because of bad motives, but by very serious errors in political judgment as to where our interest lies and what should be done about it.
I am only saying this hopefully to at least try to enlist your consideration, of the view that in a country of this kind I don’t believe there is a better alternative from a structural point of view. I think the structure of our Government is sound.
To go back to my own State certainly, leaving out now the war, its affairs are being well managed. The people are, as you may say, maybe too indifferent to this.
Mr. KERRY. As it does in Massachusetts, too.
The CHAIRMAN. I have often thought they were too indifferent to it, but they have responded to the arguments as to where our interest lies quite well, at least from my personal experience. Otherwise I would not be here. But I think there is a gradual recognition of this.
The thing that has inhibited us in doing things about what you mention has been the war. It has been the principal obstacle to dealing with these other problems with which you are very concerned, as, I think, the Congress is. Always we are faced with the demands of the war itself. Do you realize that this country has put well over $1,000 billion into military affairs since World War II?
I think it now approaches $1,500 billion. It is a sum so large no one can comprehend it, but I don’t think outside of this war issue there is anything fundamentally wrong With the system that cannot be righted.
If we can give our resources to those developments, I don’t have any doubt myself that it can be done. Whether it will be done or not is a matter of will. It is a matter of conviction of the various people who are involved, including the younger generation.
In that connection, I may say, the recent enactment of the right of all people from 18 years up to vote is at least a step in the direction where you and your generation can have an effect.
I hope that you won’t lose faith in it. I hope you will use your talents after the war is over, and it surely will be over, to then attack these other problems and to make the system work.
I believe it can be made to work.
Do you have anything else you would like to say?
Mr. KERRY. Would you like me to respond at all, sir?
The CHAIRMAN. If you care to.
Mr. KERRy. Well, my feeling is that if you are talking about the ideal structure of this country as it is written down in the Constitution, then you or I would not differ at all. Yes, that is an ideal structure.
I do agree with you that what happened in Vietnam was not the product of evil men seeking evil goals. It was misguided principles and judgments and other things.
However, at some point you have to stop playing the game. At some point you have to say, “All right we did make a mistake.” At some point the basic human values have to come back into this system and at this moment we are so built up within it by these outside structures, other interests, for instance, government by vested power which, in fact, you and I really know it is. When a minority body comes down here to Washington with a bill, those bodies which have the funds and the ability to lobby are those which generally get it passed. If you wanted to pass a health care medical bill, which we have finally perhaps gotten to this year, we may, but in past years the AMA has been able to come down here and squash them. The American Legion has successfully prevented people like Vietnam Veterans against the War from getting their programs through the Veterans’ Administration. Those bodies in existence have tremendous power.
There is one other body that has tremendous power in this country, which is a favorite topic of Vice President Agnew and I would take some agreement with him. That would be the fourth estate. The press. I think the very reason that we veterans are here today is the result partially of our inability to get our story out through the legitimate channels.
That is to say, for instance, I held a press conference here in Washington, D.C., some weeks ago with General Shoup, with General Hester, with the mother of a prisoner of war, the wife of a man who was killed, the mother of a soldier who was killed, and with a bilateral amputee, all representing the so-called silent majority, the silent so-called majority which the President used to perpetuate the war, and because it was a press conference and an antiwar conference and people simply exposing ideas we had no electronic media there.
I called the media afterward and asked them why and the answer was, from one of the networks, it doesn’t have to be identified, “because, sir, news business is really partly entertainment business visually, you see, and a press conference like that is not visual.”
Of course, we don’t have the position of power to get our ideas out. I said, “If I take some crippled veterans down to the White House and we chain ourselves to the gates, will we get coverage?” “Oh, yes, we will cover that.”
So you are reduced to a situation where the only way you can get your ideas out is to stage events, because had we not staged the events, with all due respect, Senator, and I really appreciate the fact that I am here obviously, and I know you are committed to this, but with all due respect I probably wouldn’t be sitting at this table. You see this is the problem.
It goes beyond that. We really have a constitutional crisis in this country right now. The Constitution under test, and we are failing. We are failing clearly because the power of the executive has become exorbitant, because Congress has not wanted to exercise its own power, and so that is going to require some very fundamental changes.
So the system itself on paper, no, it is a question of making it work, and in that I would agree with you, and I think that things are changing in a sense. I think the victory of the ABM was a tremendous boost.
The CHAIRMAN. SST.
Mr. KERRY. SST, excuse me.
The CHAIRMAN. I hope the ABM. [Applause.]
Mr. KERRY. Wrong system.
I think the fact that certain individuals are in Congress today, particularly in the House, who several years ago could never have been. I would cite Representative Dellums and Congresswoman Abzug and Congressman Drinan and people like this. I think this is a terribly encouraging sign, and I think if nothing more, and this is really sad poetic justice, if nothing more, this war when it is over will ultimately probably have done more to awaken the conscience of this country than any other similar thing. It may in fact be the thing that will set us on the right road.
I earnestly hope so and I join you in that.
But meanwhile, I think we still need that extraordinary response to the problem that exists and I hope that we will get it.