(Shouts of “No” from, the audience.)
Mr. KERRY. I don’t know –
Senator SYMINGTON. I am beginning to think you have some supporters here.
Mr. KERRY. I don’t know where they came from, sir, maybe Vietnam.
I had direct experience with that. Senator, I had direct experience with that and I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission; and including the GDA, gunfire damage assessments, in which we would say, maybe 15 sampans sunk or whatever it was. And I often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures.
The intelligence missions themselves are based on very, very flimsy information. Several friends of mine were intelligence officers and I think you should have them comein sometime to testify. Once in Saigon I was visiting this friend of mine and he gave me a complete rundown on how the entire intelligence system should be re-set up on all of its problems, namely, that you give a young guy a certain amount of money, he goes out, sets up his own contacts under the table, gets intelligence, comes in. It is not reliable; everybody is feeding each other double intelligence, and I think that is what comes back to this country.
I also think men in the military, sir, as do men in many other things, have a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see. And this is a very serious thing because I know on several visits – Secretary Laird came to Vietnam once and they staged an entire invasion for him. When the initial force at Dang Tam, it was the 9th Infantry when it was still there – when the initial recon platoon went out and met with resistance, they changed the entire operation the night before and sent them down into the South China Seas so they would not run into resistance and the Secretary would have a chance to see how smoothly the war was going.
I know General Wheeler came over at one point and a major in Saigon escorted him around. General Wheeler went out to the field and saw 12 pacification leaders and asked about 10 of them how things were going and they all said, “It is really going pretty badly.” The 11th one said, “It couldn’t be better, General. We are really doing the thing here to win the war.” And the General said, “I am finally glad to find somebody who knows what he is talking about.” (Laughter.)
This is the kind of problem that you have. I think that the intelligence which finally reaches the White House does have serious problems with it in that I think you know full well, I know certainly from my experience, I served as aide to an admiral in my last days in the Navy before I was discharged, and I have seen exactly what the response is up the echelon, the chain of command, and how things get distorted and people say to the man above him what is needed to be said, to keep everybody happy, and so I don’t – I think the entire thing is distorted.
It is just a rambling answer.
Senator SYMINGTON. How do you think this could be changed?
Mr. KERRY. I have never really given that spect of it all that much thought. I wish I had this intelligence officer with me. He is a very intelligent young man.
Mr. KERRY. On that I could definitely comment. I think the press has been extremely negligent in reporting. At one point and at the same time they have not been able to report because the Government of this country has not allowed them to. I went to Saigon to try to report. We were running missions in the Mekong Delta. We were running raids through these rivers on an operation called Sealord and we thought it was absurd.
We didn’t have helicopter cover often. We seldom had jet aircraft cover. We were out of artillery range. We would go in with two quarter-inch aluminium hull boats and get shot at and never secure territory or anything except to quote Admiral Zumwalt to show the American flag and prove to the Vietcong they don’t own the rivers. We found they did own them with 60 percent casualties and we thought this was absurd.
I went to Saigon, and told this to a member of the news bureau there and I said, “Look, you have got to tell the American people this story.” The response was, “Well, I can’t write that kind of thing. I can’t criticize that much because if I do I would lose my accreditation, and we have to be very careful about just how much we say and when.”
We are holding a press conference today, as a matter of fact, at the National Press Building – it might be going on at this minute – in which public information officers who are members of our group, and former Army reporters, are going to testify to direct orders of censorship in which they had to take out certain pictures, phrases they couldn’t use and so on down the line and, in fact, the information they gave newsmen and directions they gave newsmen when an operation was going on when the military didn’t want the press informed on what was going on they would offer them transportation to go someplace else, there is something else happened and they would fly a guy 55 miles from where the operation was. So the war has not been reported correctly.
I know from a reporter of Time – showed the massacre of 150 Cambodians, these were South Vietnamese troops that did it, but there were American advisors present and he couldn’t even get other newsmen to get it out let alone his own magazine, which doesn’t need to be named here. So it is a terrible problem, and I think that really it is a question of the Government allowing free ideas to be exchanged and if it is going to fight a war then fight it correctly. The only people who can prevent My Lais are the press and if there is something to hide perhaps we shouldn be there in the first place.
Senator SYMINGTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.[Applause.]
There is a GI movement in this country now as well as over there, and soon these people, these men, who are prescribing wars for these young men to fight are going to find out they are going to have to find some other men to fight them because are going to change prescriptions. They are going to have to change doctors, because we are not going to fight for them. That is what they are going to realize. There is now a more militant attitude even within the military itself, among these soldiers evidenced by the advertisements recently in the New York Times in which members of the First Air Cavalry publicly signed up and said, “We would march on the 24th if we could be there, but we can’t because we are in Vietnam.” Those men are subject obviously to some kind of discipline, but people are beginning to be willing to submit to that. And I would just say yes, I would like to enter the letters in testimony when I can get hold of them and I think you are going to see this will be a continuing thing.
(As of the date of publication the information referred to had not been received.)
The CHAIRMAN. If you would like to we can incorporate some of them in the record.
Mr. KERRY. Yes, I did. I thought it was the most powerful and persuasive and helpful. documentary in recent years.
The CHAIRMAN. But you know what happened to CBS? They have been pilloried by the –
Mr. KERRY. They are doing all right.
The CHAIRMAN. You think they can defend themselves?
Mr. KERRY. I think they have; yes,sir. I think the public opinion in this country believes that, “The Selling of the Pentagon.” I was a public information officer before I went to Vietnam, and I know that those things were just the way they said because I conducted several of those tours on a ship, and I have seen my own men wait hours until people got away, and I have seen cooks put on special uniforms for them.
I have seen good come out for the visitors and everything else. It really happens.
The CHAIRMAN. The Senator from New York has returned. Would he care to ask a question?
Senator SYMINGTON. If you will yield, Senator. I have to preside at 1 o’clock. I thank you for your testimony.
Mr. KERRY. Thank you, Senator. [Applause.]
Senator JAVITS. It has gone to the calendar but I think the point has been very well made by, I think, the total number of sponsors. There were some 27 Senators.
The moral and morale issues you have raised will have to be finally acted upon by the committee. I think it always fires us to a deeper sense of emergency and dedication when we hear from a young man like yourself in what we know to be the reflection of the attitude of so many others who have served in a way which the American people so clearly understand. It is not as effective unless you have those credentials. The kind you have.
The only other thing I would like to add is this:
Thank you very much.
Mr. KERRY. Thank you, Senator. [Applause.]
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Kerry, I am sure you can sense the committee members appreciate very much your coming. Do you have anything further to say before we recess?
The CHAIRMAN. You have certainly done a remarkable job of it. I can’t imagine their having selected a better representative or spokesman.
Thank you very much. [Applause.]
(Whereupon, at 1 p.m. the committee was adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.)