[Vision2020] John Kerry's Statement to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations (April 23, 1971)

thansen@moscow.com thansen@moscow.com
Wed, 28 Apr 2004 17:06:00 GMT

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I would like to talk on behalf of 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. These were 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 and the feelings of the men who were 
reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what 
this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut 
off heads, taped 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 Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, 
poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside 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's in 1776 when he spoke of the 
Sunshine Patriots 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, not the reds, but the crimes which 
we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out....

In our opinion and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam 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 us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that 
kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

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 Viet Cong, North Vietnamese or 

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 monies from 
American taxes were 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 the flag, 
and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam 
ravaged equally by American bombs and search and destroy missions, as well as 
by Viet Cong terrorism - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame 
all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.

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 United States 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." 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. 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 hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese. 
We watched pride allow the most unimportant 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 81s and Fire Base 6s, 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 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 die 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 die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die 
for a mistake?....We are here in Washington 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 such as the use of weapons; the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage 
at 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, all 
accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to 
say. It is part and parcel of everything.

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

We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of 
our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are McNamara, 
Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others? Where are they now that we, the 
men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the commanders who have 
deserted their troops. And there is no more serious crime in the laws of war. 
The Army says they never leave their wounded. The marines say they never even 
leave their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a 
pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their 
reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country....

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as 
easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. But all that 
they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear 
than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission - to search out 
and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to 
conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years 
and more. And more. And so when thirty 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 where America finally turned and where soldiers like 
us helped it in the turning.

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