The Man That Was, Is Gone

We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations, and if you read carefully the President’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly:

“But the issue, gentlemen,the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the Communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people.”

But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the World, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.

RETURNING VETERANS ARE NOT REALLY WANTED

I understand 57 percent of all those entering the VA hospitals talk about suicide. Some 27 percent have tried, and they try because they come back to this country and they have to face what they did in Vietnam, and then they come back and find the indifference of a country that doesn’t really care, that doesn’t really care.

But the problem of veterans goes beyond this personal problem because you think about a poster in this country with a picture of Uncle Sam and the picture says “I want you.” And a young man comes out of high school and says, “That is fine. I am going to serve my country.” And he goes to Vietnam and he shoots and he kills and he does his job or maybe he doesn’t kill, maybe he just goes and he comes back, and when he gets back to this country he finds that he isn’t really wanted, because the largest unemployment figure in the country — it varies depending on who you get it from, the VA Administration 15 percent, various other sources 22 percent. But the largest corps of unemployed in this country are veteran of this war, and of those veterans 33 percent of the unemployed are black. That means 1 out of every 10 of the Nation’s unemployed is a veteran of Vietnam.

The hospitals across the country won’t, or can’t meet their demands. It is not a question of not trying. They don’t have the appropriations. A man recently died after he had a tracheotomy in California, not because of the operation but because there weren’t enough personnel to clean the mucous out of his tube and he suffocated to death.

Another young man just died in a New York VA hospital the other day. A friend of mine was lying in a bed two beds away and tried to help him, but he couldn’t. He rang a bell and there was nobody there to service that man and so he died of convulsions.

I understand 57 percent of all those entering the VA hospitals talk about suicide. Some 27 percent have tried, and they try because they come back to this country and they have to face what they did in Vietnam, and then they come back and find the indifference of a country that doesn’t really care, that doesn’t really care.

LACK OF MORAL INDIGNATION IN UNITED STATES
Suddenly we are faced with a very sickening situation in this country, because there is no moral indignation and, if there is, it comes from people who are almost exhausted by their past indignations, and I know that many of them are sitting in front of me. The country seems to have lain down and shrugged off something as serious as Laos, just as we calmly shrngged off the loss of 700,000 lives in Pakistan, the so-called greatest disaster of all times.

But we are here as veterans to say we think we are in the midst of the greatest disaster of all times now because they are still dying over there, and not just Americans, Vietnamese, and we are rationalizing leaving that country so that those people can go on killing each other for years to come.

Americans seem to have accepted the idea that the war is winding down, at least for Americans, and they have also allowed the bodies which were once used by a President for statistics to prove that we were winning that war, to be used as evidence against a man who followed orders and who interpreted those orders no differently than hundreds of other men in Vietnam.

We veterans can only look with amazement on the fact that this country has been unable to see there is absolutely no difference between ground troops and a helicopter crew, and yet people have accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.

No ground troops are in Laos, so it is all right to kill Laotians by remote control. But believe me the helicopter crews fill the same body bags and they wreak the same kind of damage on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside as anybody else and the President is talking about allowing this to go on for many years to come. One can only ask if we will really be satisfied only when the troops march into Hanoi.

REQUEST FOR ACTION BY CONGRESS
We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us.

We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.

EXTENT OF PROBLEM OF VIETNAM WAR
We are here in Washington also 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 to people in this country, the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions also, the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in 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 of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything.

An American Indian friend of mine who lives in the Indian Nation of Alcatraz put it to me very succinctly. He told me how as a boy on an Indian reservation he had watched television and he used to cheer the cowboys when they came in and shot the Indians, and then suddenly one day he stopped in Vietnam and he said “My God, I am doing to these people the very same thing that was done to my people.” And he stopped. And that is what we are trying to say, that we think this thing has to end.

WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP?
We are also here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We are here to ask where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatric and so many others. Where are they now that we, the men whom they sent off to war, have returned? These are commanders who have deserted their troops, and there is no more serious crime in the law of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded.

The Marines say they never leave even their dead, These men have 1eft all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They have left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country.

ADMINISTRATION’S ATTEMPT TO DISOWN VETERANS
Finally, this administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifice we made for this country. In their blindness and fear they have tried to deny that we are veterans or that we served in Nam. We do not need their testimony. Our own scars and stumps of limbs are witnesses enough for others and for ourselves.

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more, and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

Thank you. [Applause]

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Kerry, it is quite evident from that demonstration that you are speaking not only for yourself but for all your associates, as you properly said in the beginning.

COMMENDATION OF WITNESS
You said you wished to communicate. I can’t imagine anyone communicating more eloquently than you did. I think it is extremely helpful and beneficial to the committee and the country to have you make such a statement.

You said you had been awake all night. I can see that you spent that time very well indeed. [Laughter.]

Perhaps that was the better part, better that you should be awake than otherwise.

PROPOSALS BEFORE COMMITTEES
You have said that the question before this committee and the Congress is really how to end the war. The resolutions about which we have been hearing testimony during the past several days, the sponsors of which are some members of this committee, are seeking the most practical way that we can find and, I believe, to do it at the earliest opportunity that we can. That is the purpose of these hearings and that is why you were brought here.

You have been very eloquent about the reasons why we should proceed as quickly as possible. Are you familiar With some of the proposals before this committee?

Mr. KERRY. Yes, I am, Senator.

The CHAIRMAN. Do you support or do you have any particular views about any one of them you wish to give the committee?

Mr. KERRY. My feeling, Senator, is undoubtedly this Congress, and I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I do not believe that this Congress will, in fact, end the war as we would like to, which is immediately and unilaterally and, therefore, if I were to speak I would say we would set a date and the date obviously would be the earliest possible date. But I woUld like to say, in answering that, that I do not believe it is necessary to stall any longer. I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government and of all eight of Madam Binh’s points it has been stated time and time again, and was stated by Senator Vance Hartke when he returned from Paris, and it has been stated by many other officials of this Government, if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal the prisoners of war would be returned.

I think this negates very clearly the argument of the President that we have to maintain a presence in Vietnam, to use as a negotiating block for the return of those prisoners. The setting of a date will accomplish that.

As to the argument concerning the danger to our troops were we to withdraw or state that we would, they have also said many times in conjunction with that statement that all of our troops, the moment we set a date, Will be given safe conduct out of Vietnam. The only other important point is that we allow the South Vietnamese people to determine their own future and that ostensibly is what we have been fighting for, anyway.

I would, therefore, submit that the most expedient means of getting out of South Vietnam would be for the President of the United States to declare a cease-fire, to stop this blind commitment to a dictatorial regime, the Thieu-Ky-Khiem regime, accept a coalition regime which would represent all the political forces of the country which is in fact what a representative government is supposed to do and which is in fact what this Government here in this country purports to do, and pull the troops out without losing one more American, and still further without losing the South Vietnamese.

DESIRE TO DISENGAGE FROM VIETNAM
The CHAIRMAN. You seem to feel that there is still some doubt about the desire to disengage. I don’t believe that is true. I believe there has been a tremendous change in the attitude of the people. As reflected in the Congress, they do wish to disengage and to bring the war to an end as soon as we can.

QUESTION IS HOW TO DISENGAGE
The question before us is how to do it. What is the best means that is most effective, taking into consideration the circumstances with which all governments are burdened? We have a precedent in this same country. The French had an experience, perhaps not traumatic as ours has been, but nevertheless they did make up their minds in the spring of 1954 and within a few weeks did bring it to a close. Some of us have thought that this is a precedent, from which we could learn, for ending such a war. I have personally advocated that this is the best procedure. It is a traditiona1 rather classic procedure of how to end a war that could be called a stalemate, that neither side apparently has the capacity to end by military victory, and which apparently is going to go on for a long time. Speaking only for myself, this seems the more reasonable procedure.

I realize you want it immediately, but I think that procedure was about as immediate as any by which a country has ever succeeded in ending such a conflict or a similar conflict. Would that not appeal to you?

Mr. KERRY. Well, Senator, frankly it does not appeal to me if American men have to continue to die when they don’t have to, particularly when it seems the Government of this country is more concerned with the legality of where men sleep than it is with the legality of where they drop bombs. [Applause.]

The CHAIRMAN. In the case of the French when they made up their mind to take the matter up at the conference in Geneva, they did. The first thing they did was to arrange a ceasefire and the killing did cease. Then it took only, I think, two or three weeks to tidy up all the details regarding the withdrawal. Actually when they made up their mind to stop the war, they did have a ceasefire which is what you are recommending as the first step.

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Methinks I am a conspiracy theorist. Art thou? Thou block, thou stone, thou worse than senseless thing, for whilst thou slept didst this become a badge of honor. Informed dissent shall always prevail, wherefore art thou worthy, or art thou this unwholesome fool in the group conformity experiment herein?

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