I think the culprit is the war itself. The fact we had been at war, not just the Vietnam war but others too, diverted the attention of our people from our domestic concerns and certainly eroded the role of the Congress. Under the impact of this and other wars we have allowed this distortion to develop. If we can end the war, there is no good reason why it cannot be corrected.
Mr. KERRY. Partially, not totally.
The CHAIRMAN. Why not?
Mr. KERRY. As someone who ran for office for 3 1/2 weeks, I am aware of many of the problems involved, and in many places, you can take certain districts in New York City, the structure is such that people can’t really run and represent necessarily the people. People often don’t care. The apathy is so great that they believe they are being represented, when in fact they are not. I think that you and I could run through a list of people in this body itself and find many who are there through the powers of the office itself as opposed to the fact they are truly representing the people. It is very easy to give the illusion of representing the people through the frank privileges which allow you to send back what you are doing here in Congress. Congressman insert so often.
You know, they gave a speech for the Polish and they gave a speech for the Irish and they gave a speech for this, and actually handed the paper in to the clerk and the clerk submits it for the record and a copy of the record goes home and people say, “Hey, he really is doing something for me.” But he isn’t.
The CHAIRMAN. Well–
Mr. KERRY. Senator, we also know prior to this past year the House used to meet in the Committee of the Whole and the Committee of the Whole would make the votes, and votes not of record and people would file through, and important legislation was decided then, and after the vote came out and after people made their hacks and cuts, and the porkbarrel came out, the vote was reported and gave them an easy out and they could say “Well, I voted against this.” And actually they voted for it all the time in the committee.
Some of us know that this is going on. So I would say there are problems with it. Again I come back and say they are not insoluble. They can be solved, but they can only be solved by demanding leadership, the same kind of leadership that we have seen in some countries during war time. That seems to be the few times we get it. If we could get that kind because I think we are in a constant war against ourselves and I would like to see that come — they should demand it of each other if we can demand it of people.
The CHAIRMAN. Take the two cases of what goes on in the House about the secret votes. That is not a structural aspect of our Government. That is a regulation or whatever you call it of the procedures in the House itself.
Now if they are apathetic, as you say they are apathetic, and don’t care, then democracy cannot work if they continue to be apathetic and don’t care who represents them. This comes back to a fundamental question of education through all different resources, not only the formal education but the use of the media and other means to educate them. Our Founding Fathers recognized that you couldn’t have a democracy without an informed electorate. It comes back to the informing of the electorate; doesn’t it? That is not a structural deficiency in our system. You are dealing now with the deficiencies of human nature, the failure of their education and their capacity for discrimination in the selection of their representatives.
I recognize this is difficult. All countries have had this same problem and so long as they have a representative system this has to be ‘ met. But there is no reason why it cannot be met.
A structural change does not affect the capacity of the electorate to choose good representatives; does it?
The CHAIRMAN. That is a common statement, but we had an example during the last year of a man being elected because he walked through Florida with a minimum of money. As he became attractive to the people he may have received more, but he started without money. You are familIar with Mr. Chiles.
Mr. KERRY. Yes, I am familiar. I understand it.
The CHAIRMAN. I know in my own state, our Governor started without any money or with just himself and came from nowhere and defeated a Rockefeller. So it is not true that you have to have a lot of money to get elected. If you have the other things that it takes, personality, the determination and the intelligence, it is still possible. There were other examples, but those are well known. I don’t think it is correct to say you have to have a lot of money. It helps, of course. It makes it easier and all that, but it isn’t essential. I think you can cite many examples where that is true.
The CHAIRMAN. I agree with that. I can assure you that this committee and, certainly, I are going to do everything we can. That is what these hearings are about. It is just by coincidence you came to Washington in the very midst of them. We only opened these hearings on Tuesday of this week. I personally believe that the great majority of all the people of this country are in accord with your desire, and certainly mine, to get the war over at the earliest possible moment. All we are concerned with at the moment is the best procedure to bring that about, the procedure to persuade the President to take the steps that will bring that about. I for one have more hope now than I had at any time in the last 6 years because of several things you have mentioned, I think there is a very good chance that it will be brought about in the reasonably near future.
I apologize. I am not trying to lecture you about our Government. I have just been disturbed, not so much by you as by other things that have happened, that the younger generation has lost faith in our system. I don’t think it is correct. I think the paranoia to which you referred has been true. It arose at a time when there was reason for it perhaps, but we have long since gone out of that time, and I think your idea of timing is correct. But I congratulate you and thank you very much for coming. [Applause.]
Senator Symington would like to ask a question.
Senator SYMINGTON. Yes. Mr, Kerry, I had to leave because we are marking up the selective service bill in the Armed Services Committee, But I will read the record.
Mr. KERRY. If I could answer that, it is very difficult, Senator, because I just know, I don’t want to get into the game of saying I represent everybody over there, but let me try to say as straightforwardly as I can, we had an advertisement, ran full page, to show you what the troops read. It ran in Playboy and the response to it within two and a half weeks from Vietnam was 1,200 members. We received initially about 50 to 80 letters a day from troops there. We now receive about 20 letters a day from troops arriving at our New York office. Some of these letters – and I wanted to bring some down, I didn’t know we were going to be testifying here and I can make them available to you – are very, very moving, some of them written by hospital corpsmen on things, on casualty report sheets which say, you know, “Get us out of here.” “You are the only hope we have got.” “You have got to get us back; it is crazy.” We received recently 80 members of the 101st Airborne signed up in one letter. Forty members from a helicopter assault squadron, crash and rescue mission signed up in another one.
I think they are expressing, some of these troops, solidarity with us, right now by wearing black arm bands and Vietnam Veterans Against the War buttons. They want to come out and I think they are looking at the people who want to try to get them out as a help.
However, I do recognize there are some men who are in the military for life. The job in the military is to fight wars. When they have a war to fight, they are just as happy in a sense, and I am sure that these men feel they are being stabbed in the back. But, at the same time, I think to most of them the realization of the emptiness, the hollowness, the absurdity of Vietnam has finally hit home, and I feel if they did come home the recrimination would certainly not come from the right, from the military. I don’t think there would be that problem.
Senator SYMINGTON. Thank you.
Has the fact Congress has never passed a declaration of war undermined the morale of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, to the best of your knowledge?
Mr. KERRY. Yes; it has clearly and to a great, great extent.
Mr. KERRY. The problem is extremely serious. It is serious in very many different ways. I believe two Congressmen today broke a story. I can’t remember their names. There were 35,000 or some men, heroin addicts that were back.
The problem exists for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the emptiness. It is the only way to get through it. A lot of guys, 60, 80 percent stay stoned 24 hours a day just to get through the Vietnam –
Senator SYMINGTON. You say 60 to 80 percent.
Mr. K ERRY. Sixty to 80 percent is the figure used that try sornething, let’s say, at one point. Of that I couldn’t give you a figure of habitual smokers, let’s say, of pot, and I certainly couldn’t begin to say how many are hard drug addicts, but I do know that the problem for the returning veteran is, acute, because we have, let’s say, a veteran picks up a $12 habit in Saigon. He comes back to this country and the moment he steps off an airplane that same habit costs him some $90 to support. With the state of the economy, he can’t get a job. He doesn’t earn money. He turns criminal or just finds his normal sources and in a sense drops out.
The alienation of the war, the emptiness of back and forth, all combined adds to this. There is no real drug rehabilitation program. I know the VA hospital in New York City has 20 beds allocated for drug addicts; 168 men are on the waiting list, and I really don’t know what a drug addict does on the waiting list.
And just recently the same hospital gave three wards to New York University for research purposes.
It is very, very widespread. It is a very serious problem. I think that this Congress should undertake to investigate the sources, because I hcard many implications of Madam Ky and others being involved in the traffic and I think there are some very serious things here at stake.
Senator SYMINGTON. In the press there was a woman reporter. I think her name was Emerson. In any case she stated she bought drugs six or nine times openly, heroin, in a 15-mile walk from Saigon. The article had a picture of a child with a parasol and a parrot. She said this child was one of the people from whom she had bought, herself, these drugs; and that the cost of the heroin was from $3 to $6.
If we are over there, in effect, protecting the Thieu-Ky government, why is it that this type and character of sale of drugs to anybody, including our own servicemen, can’t be controlled?
Mr. KERRY. It is not controllable in this country, Why should it be controllable in that country?
Senator SYMINGTON. It isn’t quite that open in this country; do you think?
Mr. KERRY. It depends on where you are. [Applause.]
Senator SYMINGTON. We are talking about heroin, not pot or LSD. Mr. KERRY. I understand that, but if you walk up 116th Street in Harlem I am sure somebody can help you out pretty fast. [Laughter.]