EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is the text of John F. Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 22, 1971.
The Chairman: The committee will come to order.
The committee is continuing this morning its hearing on proposals relating to the ending of the war in Southeast Asia. This morning the committee will hear testimony from Mr. John Kerry and, if he has any associates, we will be glad to hear from them. These are men who have fought in this unfortunate war in Vietnam. I believe they deserve to be heard and listened to by the Congress and by the officials in the executive branch and by the public generally. You have a perspective that those in the Government who make our Nation’s policy do no always have and I am sure that your testimony today will be helpful to the committee in its consideration of the proposals before us.
I would like to add simply on my own account that I regret very much the action of the Supreme Court in denying the veterans the right to use the Mall. (Applause)
I regret that. It seems to me to be but another instance of an insensitivity of our Government to the tragic effects of this war upon our people.
I want also to congratulate Mr. Kerry, you, and your associates upon the restraint that you have shown, certainly in the hearing the other day when there were a great many of your people here. I think you conducted yourselves in a most commendable manner throughout this week. Whenever people gather there is always a tendency for some of the more emotional ones to do things which are even against their own interests. I think you deserve much of the credit because I understand you are one of the leaders of this group.
I have joined with some of my colleagues, specifically Senator Hart, in an effort to try to change the attitude of our Government toward your efforts in bringing to this committee and to the country your views about the war.
I personally don’t know of any group which would have both a greater justification for doing it and also a more accurate view of the effect of the war. As you know, there has grown up in this town a feeling that it is extremely difficult to get accurate information about the war and I don’t know a better source than you and your associates. So we are very please to have you and your associate, Mr. Kerry
At the beginning if you would give to the reporter your full name and a brief biography so that the record will show who you are.
Senator Javits: Mr. Chairman, I was down there to the veterans’ camp yesterday and saw the New York group and I would like to say I am very proud of the deportment and general attitude of the group.
I hope it continues. I have joined in the Hart resolution, too. As a lawyer I hope you will find it possible to comply with the order even though, like the chairman, I am unhappy about it. I think it is our job to see that you are suitably set up as an alternative so that you can do what you came here to do. I welcome the fact that you came and what you are doing. (Applause.)
The Chairman: You may proceed, Mr. Kerry
STATEMENT OF JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR
Mr. 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.
I 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.
Winter soldier Investigation
I 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.
It 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.
They 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.
We 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.
We 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.
Feelings of Men Coming Back from Vietnam
I 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.
As 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.
In 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.
But 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 dated 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.
In 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.
We 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.
What Was Found and Learned in Vietnam
We 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.
We 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.
We 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.
We 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.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.
We 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 others.
Now 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. Each day- (Applause)
The Chairman: I hope you won’t interrupt. He is making a very significant statement. Let him proceed.
Mr. Kerry: Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to dies so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do 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
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 veterans 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 may 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 shrugged 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 seems 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 that 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 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 party and parcel of everything.
An American Indian friend of mine who lives in the Indian Nation al Alcataz 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 left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They have left the real stuff of their reputation 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 barbarous 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 pace 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.
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 THE COMMITTEE
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 hearing 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 figure 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 traditional 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 cease-fire 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 cease-fire which is what you are recommending as the first step.
Mr. Kerry: Yes sir; that is correct.
The Chairman: It did not drag on. They didn’t continue to fight. They stopped the fighting by agreement when they went to Geneva and all the countries then directly involved participated in that agreement.
I don’t wish to press you on the details. It is for the committee to determine the best means, but you have given most eloquently the reasons why we should proceed as early as we can. That is, of course, the purpose of the hearing.
Mr. Kerry: Senator, if I may interject, I think that what we are trying to say is we do have a method. We believe we do have a plan, and that plan is that if this body were by some means either to permit a special referendum in this country so that the country itself might decide and therefore avoid this recrimination which people constantly refer to or if they couldn’t do that, at least do it through immediate legislation which would state there would be an immediate cease-fire and we would be willing to undertake negotiations for a coalition government. But at the present moment that is not going to happen, so we are talking about men continuing to die for nothing and I think there is a tremendous moral question here which the Congress of the United States is ignoring.
The Chairman: The congress cannot directly under our system negotiate a cease-fire or anything of this kind. Under our constitutional system we can advice the President. We have to persuade the President of the urgency of taking this action. Now we have certain ways in which to proceed. We can, of course, express ourselves in a resolution or we can pass an act which directly affects appropriations which is the most concrete positive way the Congress can express itself.
But Congress has no capacity under our system to go out and negotiate a cease-fire. We have to persuade the Executive to do this for the country.
Extraordinary Response Demanded by Extraordinary Question
Mr. Kerry: Mr. Chairman, I realize that full well as a study of political science. I realize that we cannot negotiate treaties and I realize that even my visits in Paris, precedents had been set by Senator McCarthy and others, in a sense are on the borderline of private individuals negotiating, et cetera. I understand these things. But what I am saying is that I believe that there is a mood in this country which I know you are aware of and you have been one of the strongest critics of this war for the longest time. But I think if can talk in this legislative body about filibustering for porkbarrell programs, then we should start now to talk about filibustering for the saving of lives and of our country. (Applause.)
And this, Mr. Chairman, is what we are trying to convey.
I understand. I really am aware that there are a tremendous number of difficulties in trying to persuade the Executive to move at this time. I believe they are committed. I don’t believe we can. But I hope that we are not going to have to wait until 1972 to have this decision made. And what I am suggesting is that I think this is an extraordinary enough question so that it demands an extraordinary response, and if we can’t respond extraordinarily to this problem then I doubt very seriously as men on each that we will be able to respond to the other serious question which face us. I think we have to start to consider that. This is what I am trying to say.
If this body could perhaps call for a referendum in the country or if we could perhaps move now for a vote in 3 weeks, I think the people of this country would rise up and back that. I am not saying a vote nationwide. I am talking about a vote here in Congress to cut off the funds, and a vote to perhaps pass a resolution calling on the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the war and to do the things that uphold those things which we pretend to be. That is what we are asking. I don’t think we can turn our back on that any longer, Senator.
The Chairman: Senator Symington?
WITNESS SERVICE DECORATIONS
Senator Symington: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Kerry, please move your microphone. You have a Silver Star; have you not?
Mr. Kerry: Yes, I do.
Senator Symington: And a Purple Heart?
Mr. Kerry: Yes, I do.
Senator Symington: How many clusters?
Mr. Kerry: Two clusters.
Senator Symington: So you have been wounded three times.
Mr. Kerry: Yes, sir.
Senator Symington: I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman: Senator Aiken. (Applause.)
NORTH VIETNAMESE AND VC ATTITUDE TOWARD DEFINITE WITHDRAWAL DATE
Senator Aiken: Mr. Kerry, the Defense Department seems to feel that if we set a definite date for withdrawal when our forces get down to a certain level, they would be seriously in danger by the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Do you believe that the North Vietnamese would undertake to prevent our withdrawal from the country and attack the troops that remain there?
Mr. Kerry: Well, Senator, if I may answer you directly, I believe we are running that danger with the present course of withdrawal because the President has neglected to state to this country exactly what his response will be when we have reached the point that we do have, let us say, 50,000 support troops in Vietnam.
Senator Aiken: I am not telling you what I think. I am telling what the Department says.
Mr. Kerry: Yes, sir; I understand that.
Senator Aiken: Do you believe the North Vietnamese would seriously undertake to impede our complete withdrawal?
Mr. Kerry: No, I do not believe that the North Vietnamese would and it has been clearly indicated at the Paris peace talks they would not.
Senator Aiken: Do you think they might help carry the bags for us? (Laughter)
Mr. Kerry: I would say they would be more prone to do that then the Army of the South Vietnamese. (Laughter) (Applause)
Senator Aiken: I think your answer is ahead of my question. (Laughter)
Saigon Government’s Attitude Toward Complete Withdrawal Date
I was going to ask you next what the attitude of the Saigon government would be if we announced that we were going to withdraw our troops, say, by October 1st, and be completely out of there-air, sea, land- leaving them on their own. What do you think would be the attitude of the Saigon government under those circumstances?
Mr. Kerry: Well, I think if we were to replace the Thieu-Ky-Khiem regime and offer these men sanctuary somewhere, which I think this Government has an obligation to do since we created that government and supported it all along. I think there would not be any problems. The number two man at the Saigon talks to Ambassador Lam was asked by the Concerned Laymen, who visited with them in Paris last month, how long they felt they could survive if the United States would pull out and his answer was 1 week. So I think clearly we do have to face his question. But I think, having done what we have done to that country, we have an obligation to offer sanctuary to the perhaps 2,000, 3,000 people who might face, and obviously they would, we understand that, might face political assassination or something else. But my feeling is that those 3,000 who may have to leave that country-
Attitude of South Vietnamese Army and People Toward Withdrawal
Senator Aiken: I think your 3,000 estimate might be a little low because we had to help 800,000 find sanctuary from North Vietnam after the French lost at Dienbienphu. But assuming that we resettle the members of the Saigon government, who would undoubtedly be in danger, in some other area, what do you think would be the attitude, of the large, well-armed South Vienamese army and the South Vietnamese people? Would they be happy to have us withdraw or what?
Mr. Kerry: Well, Senator, this obviously is the most difficult question of all, but I think that at this point the United States is not really in a position to consider the happiness of those people as pertains to the army in our withdrawal. We have to consider the happiness of the people as pertains to the life which they will be able to lead in the next few years.
If we don’t withdraw, if we maintain a Korean-type presence in South Vietnam, say 50,000 troops or something, with strategic combing raids from Guam and from Japan and from Thailand dropping these 15,000 pound fragmentation bombs on them, et cetera, in the next few years, then what you will have is a people who are continually oppressed, who are continually at warfare, and whose problems will not at all be solved because they will not have any kind of representation.
The war will continue. So what I am saying is that yes, there will be some recrimination but far, far less than the 200,000 a year who are murdered by the United States of America, and we can’t go around- President Kennedy said this, many times. He said that the United States simply can’t right every wrong, that we can’t solve the problems of the other 94 percent of mankind. We didn’t go into East Pakistan; we didn’t go into Czechoslovakia. Why then should we feel that we now have the power to solve the internal political struggles of this country?
We have to let them solve their problems while we solve ours and help other people in an altruistic fashion commensurate with our capacity. But we have extended that capacity; we have exhausted that capacity, Senator. So I think the question is really moot.
Senator Aiken: I might say I asked those questions several years ago, rather ineffectively. But what I would like to know now is if we, as we complete our withdrawal and, say, get down to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 or even 50,000 troops there, would there be any effort on the part of the South Vietnamese government of the South Vietnamese army, in your opinion, to impede their withdrawal?
Mr. Kerry: No; I don’t think so, Senator.
Senator Aiken: I don’t see why North Vietnam should object.
Mr. Kerry: I don’t for the simple reason, I used to talk with officers about their- we asked them, and one officer took great pleasure in playing with me in the sense that he would say, “Well, you know you American, you come over here for 1 year and you can afford, you know, you go to Hong Kong for R. & R. and if you are a good boy you get another R. & R. or something you know. You can afford to charge bunkers, but I have to try and be here for 30 years and stay alive.” And I think that that really is the governing principle by which those people are now living and have been allowed to live because of our mistake. So that when we in fact state, let us say, that we will have a cease-fire or have a coalition government, most of the 2 million men you often hear quoted under arms, most of whom are regional popular reconnaissance forces, which is to say militia, and a very poor militia at that, will simply lay down their arms, if they haven’t done so already, and not fight. And I think you will find they will respond to whatever government evolves which answer their needs, and those needs quite simply are to be fed, to bury their dead in plots where their ancestors lived, to be allowed to extend their culture, to try and exist as human beings. And I think that is what will happen.
I can cite many, many instances, sir, as in combat when these men refused to fight with us, when they shot with their guns over tin this area like this and their heads turned facing the other way. When we were taken under fire we Americans, supposedly fighting with them, and pinned down in a ditch, and I was in the Navy and this was pretty unconventional, but when we were pinned down in a ditch recovering bodies or something and they refused to come in and help us, point blank refused. I don’t believe they want to fight, sir.
Obligation to Furnish Economic Assistance
Senator Aiken: Do you think we are under obligation to furnish them with extensive economic assistance?
Mr. Kerry: Yes, sir. I think we have a very definite obligation to make extensive reparations to the people of Indochina.
Senator Aiken: I think that is all.
The Chairman: Senator Pell.
Senator Pell: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As the witness knows, I have a very high personal regard for him and hope before his life ends he will be a colleague of ours in this body.
GROWTH OF OPPOSITION TO THE WAR
This war was really just as wrong, immoral, and unrelated to our national interests 5 years ago as it is today, and I must say I agree with you. I think it is rather poor taste for the architects of this war to now be sitting as they are in quite sacrosanct intellectual glass houses.
I think that this committee, and particularly Chairman Fulbright, deserve a huge debt of gratitude from you and everyone of your men who are here because when he conducted hearings some years ago when we were fighting in Vietnam. At that time the word “peace” was a dirty word. It was tied in with “appeasement” and Nervous Nellies and that sort of thing. Chairman Fulbright and this committee really took public opinion at that time and turned it around and made “peace” a respectable word and produced the climate that produced President Johnson’s abdication.
The problem is that the majority of the people in the Congress still don’t agree with the view that you and we have. As the chairman pointed out, and as you know as a student of political science, whenever we wanted to end this war, we could have ended this war if the majority of us had used the power of the purse strings. That was just as true 5 years ago as it is today.
I don’t think it is a question of guts. We didn’t have the desire to do that and I am not sure the majority has the desire to do that yet. Whenever we want to as a Congress, we could do it. We can’t start an action, but we can force an action with the purse strings.
I think it is wonderful you veterans have come down here as a cutting edge of public opinion because you again make this have more respect and I hope you succeed and prevail on the majority of the Congress.
Voting of Veterans and Nonveterans Concerning Vietnam War
It is interesting, speaking of veterans and speaking of statistics, that the press has never picked up and concentrated on quite interesting votes in the past. In those votes you find the majority of hawks were usually nonveterans and the majority of doves were usually veterans. Specifically, of those who voted in favor of the Hatfield-McGovern end-the-war amendment in the last session of the Congress 79 were veterans with actual military service. Of those voting against the amendment, only 36 percent were veterans.
Now on the sponsors of the Cooper-Church amendment you will find very much the same statistics. Eighty-two percent were veterans as compared to 71 percent of the Senate as a whole being veterans. So I would hope what you are doing will have an effect on the Congress.
Obligation to South Vietnamese Allies
I have two questions I would like to ask you. First, I was very much struck by your concern with asylum because now I see public opinion starting to swing and Congress passing legislation. Before they wouldn’t get out at all; now they are talking about getting out yesterday. When it comes to looking after the people who would be killed if we left or badly ruined, I would hope you would develop your thinking a little bit to make sure that American public opinion, which now wants to get out, also bears in mind that when we depart we have an obligation to these people. I hope you will keep to that point.
Finally, in connection with Lieutenant Calley, which is a very emotional issue in this country, I was struck by your passing reference to that incident.
Wouldn’t you agree with me though that what he did in herding old men, women and children into a trench and then shooting them was a little bit beyond the perimeter of even what has been going on in this war and that that action should be discouraged. There are other actions not that extreme that have gone on and have been permitted. If we had not taken action or cognizance of it, it would have been even worse. It would have indicated we encouraged this kind of action.
Mr. Kerry: My feeling, Senator, on Lieutenant Calley is what he did quite obviously was a horrible, horrible, horrible thing and I have no bone to pick with the fact that he was prosecuted. But I think that in this question you have to separate guilt from responsibility, and I think clearly the responsibility for what has happened there lies elsewhere.
I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it lies with the men who encourage body counts. I think it lies in large part with this country, which allows a young child before he reaches the age of 14 to see 12,500 deaths on television, which glorifies the John Wayne syndrome, which puts out fighting man comic books on the stands, which allows us in training to do calisthenics to four counts, on the fourth count of which we stand up and shout “kill” in unison, which has posters in barracks in this country with a crucified Vietnamese, blood on him, and underneath it says “kill the gook,” and I think that clearly the responsibility for all of this is what has produced this horrible aberration.
Now, I think if you are going to try Lieutenant Calley then you must at the same time, if this country is going to demand respect for the law, you must at the same time try all those other people who have responsibility, and any aversion that we may have to the verdict as veterans is not to say that Calley should be freed, not to say that he is innocent, but to say that you can’t just take him alone, and that would be my response to that.
Senator Pell: I agree with you. The guilt is shared by many, many, many of us, including the leaders of the get-out-now school. But in this regard if we had not tried him, I think we would be much more criticized and should be criticized. I would think the same fate would probably befall him as befell either Sergeant or Lieutenant Schwarz of West Virginia who was tried for life for the same offense and is out on a 9 months commuted sentence. By the same token I would hope the quality of mercy would be exercised in this regard for a young man who was not equipped for the job and ran amuck. But I think public opinion should think this through. We who have taken this position find ourselves very much in the minority.
Mr. Kerry: I understand that, Senator, but I think it is a very difficult thing for the public to think through faced with the facts. The fact that 18 other people indicted for the very same crime were freed and the fact among those were general and colonels. I mean this simply is not justice. That is all. It is just not justice.
Senator Pell: I guess it is the old revolutionary adage. When you see the white of their eyes you are more guilty. This seems to be our morality as has been pointed out. If you drop a bomb from a plane, you don’t see the white of their eyes.
I agree with you and with the body count. It is like a Scottish nobleman saying, “How many grouse were caught on the moor.” Four or five years ago those of us who criticized were more criticized.
Thank you for being here and I wish you all success. (Applause)
The Chairman: Senator from New Jersey.
Senator Case: Thank you, Mr. Chairman
STRATEGIC IMPLICATION OF VIETNAM WAR
Mr. Kerry, thank you too for coming. You have made more than clear something that I think always has been true: that the war never had any justification in terms of Indochina itself. I wish you would take this question a little further and touch on the larger strategic implications. It is in these larger strategic implications, if anywhere, that may be found justification for our involvement. As you know, the President said the other day that it is easy to get out and to end the war immediately.
The question is to get out and leave a reasonable chance for lasting peace. We have to look at this because the American people are going to see the issue in the terms he has defined it. I would be glad to have your comment on this matter, although I won’t press you to discus it because in a sense you have already said this is not your area.
Mr. Kerry: I do want to. I want to very much.
Senator Case: And I would be very glad to have you do it.
Mr. Kerry: Thank you, sir. I would like to very much.
In my opinion, what we are trying to do, as the President talks about getting out with a semblance of honor is simply whitewashing ourselves. On the question of getting out with some semblance for peace, as a man who has fought there, I am trying to say that this policy has no chance for peace. You don’t have a chance for peace when you arm the people of another country and tell them they can fight a war. That is even criminal in the sense that their country, if we are really worried about recrimination, is going to have to someday face up to the fact that we convinced a certain number of people, perhaps hundred of thousands, perhaps there will be several million, that they could stand up to something which they couldn’t and ultimately will face the recrimination of the fact that their lives in addition to all the lives at this point, will be on our conscience. I don’t think it is a question of peace at all. What we are doing is very, very, hypocritical in our withdrawal, and we really should face up to that.
Senator Case: May I press you just a little further or at least raise the question on which I would ask you to comment.
Mr. Kerry: I wish you would, please.
Senator Case: I think your answer was related still to the question of Indochina, but I think the President has tried to tie in Indochina with the question of world peace.
Mr. Kerry: I would like to discuss that.
It is my opinion that the United States is still reacting in very much the 1945 mood and postwar cold-war period when we reacted to the forces which were at work in World War II and came out of it with this paranoia about the Russians and how the world was going to be divided up between the super powers, and the foreign policy of John Foster Dulles which was responsible for the creation of the SEATO treaty, which was, in fact, a direct reaction to this so-called Communist monolith. And I think we are reacting under cold-war precepts which are no longer applicable.
I say that because so long as we have the kind of strike force we have, and I am not party to the secret statistics which you gentlemen have here, but as long as we have the ones which we of the public know we have, I think we have a strike force of such capability and I think we have a strike force simply in our Polaris submarines, in the 62 or some Polaris submarines, which are constantly roaming around under the sea. And I know as a Navy man that underwater detection is the hardest kind in the world, and they have not perfected it, that we have the ability to destroy the human race. Why do we have to, therefore, consider and keep considering threats?
At any time that an actual threat is posed to this country or to the security and freedom I will be one of the first people to pick up a gun and defend it, but right now we are reacting with paranoia to this question of peace and the people taking over the world. I think if we are ever going to get down to the question of dropping those bombs most of us in my generation simply don’t want to be alive afterwards because of the kind of world that it would be with mutations and the genetic probabilities of freaks and everything else.
Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare. I think there will be guerilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats and that is what I would say to this question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands. (Laughter)
Senator, I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.
But when you start to neglect those needs, people will start to demand a new structure, and that, to me, is the only threat that this country faces now, because we are not responding to the needs and we are not responding to them because we work on these old cold-war precepts and because we have not woken up to realizing what is happening in the United States of America.
Senator Case: I thank you very much. I wanted you to have a chance to respond to the question of Indochina in a large context.
Mr. Chairman, I have just one further thing to do. Senator Javits had to go to the floor on important business, and he asked me to express his regret that he couldn’t stay and also that if he had stayed he would have limited his participation to agreement with everything Senator Symington said. (Applause)
BACKGROUND OF VIETNAM WAR
The Chairman: Mr. Kerry, I have one other aspect of this I would like to explore for a moment. I recognize you and your associates, putting it on a personal point of view, feeling the seriousness and the tragedy of the experience in Vietnam. But I am disturbed very much by the possibility that your generation may become or is perhaps already in the process of becoming disillusioned with our whole country, with our system of government. There was much said about it. You didn’t say it, but others have said this. I wonder if we could explore for a moment the background of this war.
It has seemed to me that its origin was essentially a mistake in judgment, beginning with our support of the French as a colonial power, which, I believe, is the only time our country has ever done that. Always our sympathies has been with the colony. If you will recall, we urged the British to get out of Egypt and India, and we urged many thought too vigorously, the Dutch prematurely to get out of Indonesia. I think there was much criticism that we acted prematurely in urging the Belgians to get out of the Congo. In any case, the support of the French to maintain their power was a departure from our traditional attitude toward colonial powers because of our own history.
It started in a relatively small way by our support of the French. Then one thing led to another. But these were not decisions, I believe, that involved evil motives. They were political judgements which at that time were justified by the conditions in the world. You have already referred to the fact that after World War II there was great apprehension, and I think properly. The apprehension was justified by the events, especially from Stalin’s regime. There was apprehension that he would be able, and if he could he would, impose his regime by force on all of Western Europe, which could have created an extremely difficult situation which would amount to what you said a moment ago. You said if our country was really threatened, you would have no hesitancy in taking up a gun. So I think, in trying to evaluate the course of our involvement in this war, we have to take all of this into consideration. It was not a sign of any moral degradation or of bad motives. They were simply political judgments as to where our interest really was.
In retrospect I think we can say that our interest was not in supporting the French, that it was not in intervening, and it was not in undoing the Geneva Accords by the creation of SEATO, but that is all history. I am not saying this in order to try to lay the blame on anyone, but to get a perspective of our present situation, and hopefully to help, if I can, you and others not be too disillusioned and not to lose faith in the capacity of our institutions to respond to the public welfare. I believe what you and your associates are doing today certainly contributes to that, by the fact that you have taken the trouble to think these things through, and to come here. I know it is not very pleasant to do the things you have done.
While I wouldn’t presume to compare my own experience, I have taken a great deal of criticism since I myself in 1965 took issue with the then President Johnson over his policies. I did what I could within my particular role in the Government to persuade both President Johnson and subsequent political leaders that this was not in the interests of our country. I did this, not because I thought they were evil men inherently or they were morally misguided, but their political judgment was wrong. All of us, of course, know that as fallible human beings we all make errors of judgment.
Possibility of Making U.S. Institutions Work Effectively
I think it is helpful to try to put it in perspective and not lose confidence in the basically good motives and purposes of this country. I believe in the possibility of making our institutions work effectively. I think they can be made responsible to the welfare of the people and to proper judgments. I only throw this out because I have a feeling that because of the unusual horror that has developed from this war too many people may lose confidence in our system as a whole. I know of no better system for a country as large as this, with 200-plus millions of people. No other country comparable to it in history has ever made a democratic system work.
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 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.
Can Basic System Be Made To Work
Have you yourself arrived at the point where you believe that basic structural changes must be brought about in our system or do you believe it can be made to work?
Mr. Kerry: I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t believe that it can 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 unwillingness 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 a 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 reponsive. 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.
Gradual Development of Concern About Vietnam War
In the beginning, back in the times that I mentioned when we first supported the French and throughout the 1950’s up until the 1960’s, this whole matter was not very much on the minds of anybody in the Congress. We were more preoccupied with what was going on in Western Europe, the fear, particularly during Stalin’s time, that he might be able to subjugate all of Western Europe, which would have been a very serious challenge to us. This grew up almost as a peripheral matter without anyone taking too much notice until the 1960’s. The major time when the Congress, I think, really became concerned about the significance of the war was really not before 1965, the big escalation. It was a very minor sideshow in all the things in which this country was involved until February 1965. That was when it became a matter that, you might say, warranted and compelled the attention of the country. It has been a gradual development of our realization of just what we were into.
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.
War’s Interference With Dealing With Other Problems
I also feel that if we could finish the war completely within the reasonably near future, as some of the proposals before this committee are designed to do if we can pass them, I think the country can right itself and get back on the track, in a reasonably quick time, dealing with the problems you mentioned. We are aware and conscious of all of them.
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 don