What John Kerry Said
excerpt from his Senate statement for Vietnam Veterans Against the
War on April 22, 1971.
Kerry: Thank you very much, Senator Fulbright, Senator Javits,
Senator Symington, Senator Pell. I would like to say for the record,
and also for the men behind me who are also wearing the uniforms
and their medals, that my sitting here is really symbolic. I am
not here as John Kerry. I am here as one member of the group of
veterans in this country, and were it possible for all of them to
sit at this table they would be here and have the same kind of testimony.
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.
would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that
several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which
over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans
testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated
incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full
awareness of officers at all levels of command.
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.
told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears,
cut off heads, tape 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 country side 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.
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.
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, no reds, and not
redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it,
that we have to speak out.
of Men Coming Back From Vietnam
would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is
of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from
Vietnam. The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster,
a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to
deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die
for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a
sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.
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.
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.
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 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 quadriplegics 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 can not consider ourselves America's
best men when we are ashamed of and hated what we were called on
to do in Southeast Asia.
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 use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that
kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
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.
Was Found and Learned in Vietnam
found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who
had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence
whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically
molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against
the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
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.
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.
rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America
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.
learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves,
and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of
watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification
of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told
the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons
against "oriental human beings," with quotation marks around that.
We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe
this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European
theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater, and so we
watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill
has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they
marched away to leave the high for the reoccupation by the North
Vietnamese because we watched pride allow the most unimportant of
battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose,
and we couldn't retreat, and because it didn't matter how many American
bodies were lost to prove that point. And so there were Hamburger
Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 881's and Fire Base 6's and so many
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 ...