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Complete Kerry / O'Neill Debate, 06/30/71

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The following transcript is taken from ABC's special June 30, 1971 broadcast of "The Dick Cavett Show," during which former Navy Lieutenant John Kerry represented Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He was opposed by fellow Navy veteran John O'Neill, representing Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace.

Streaming video of the debate is now available from C-SPAN.

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MR. CAVETT: The fact is I don't have an opening monologue tonight because the subject of the show is quite serious, and I figured why make it more serious with one of my monologues, so I thought I would just start in. You know, I guess, who my two guests are tonight: John Kerry and John O'Neill, and they belong to Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the one hand and Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace on the other.

Both of them have been on my shows in the past. Not together, however. We did two shows a couple of weeks back on Vietnam veterans, and we picked a group of Vietnam veterans to talk about their various problems. This is a very touchy subject, as you know. The whole subject of this incites people to extreme feelings. We had an unprecedented amount of mail about those two shows. We really did. You always say unprecedented, but it was finally in this case. And all kinds of opinions, and just to show you a sampling of some of the reaction to that - it has something to do with how we've done tonight's show.

These are excerpts from letters, but, "Congratulations on your thought provoking moving program with the Vietnam veterans. Excellent. A true public service."

Another one: "I'm writing in reference to June 11th show in which you had several Vietnam veterans as guests. I found the audience reaction to the young man from Anapolis disturbing as well as distracting. I did not agree with all he said, but I respect him for having the courage and conviction to express his own opinion as well as defend it. Perhaps he should have shouted out, interrupted more to be heard over the audience's unfavorable reactions, but it was obvious to me he did the best he could in view of the other mouths of competition."

"Congratulations on your recent conversations with the Vietnam vets. It was one of the most interesting programs I've heard on television, and very thoughtful."

"Dear Mr. Cavett, I'm a 51-year-old veteran of World War II Navy, and I'm one who thinks that Vietnam is a useless battleground."

There were other veterans who wrote in and said that it, of course, was not a useless battleground - is not.

Another lady writes, "This war began as a political war and continues so today with our men not allowed to fight and not backed by the full power nuclear of the nation. The horror of this futile and therefore immoral effort was written in their words" - meaning the men who were here - "and on their faces these two nights. How more just it would have been to spotlight the real villains, McNamara, Gilpatrick, Rostow, et cetera, the whiz kids so aptly indicted by Lieutenant Kerry in testimony before the Fulbright committee."

In another part of the letter she says, "I was filled with incredible revulsion watching this charade. Not revolted by these four men who gave service to their country, but by your exploitation of their futile position. How does it feel to be a latter-day Madame Lafarge? How long will you sit there and knit while your country's head is on the block?"

"Your show against Vietnam soldiers is a perfect example of your workers' bias and also of your New York audience. I know what Mr. Agnew is talking about."

"I commend you, Mr. Cavett, on not intruding your personal views and allowing the veterans to speak for themselves."

Another one: "I can't imagine who you think you are. How dare you be so biased as to put four people against one in favor of your opinion of the war."

"Bravo. Thank you for showing both sides of the Vietnam picture from returned veterans, and thank you for balancing the program with the gung-ho sentiments of Sharp and O'Neill and the anti-war eloquence of Mueller" - it's actually Muller - "and Pickara" (phonetic spelling).

One more. "I dislike the war. I know no one who wants war likes it; however, I'm fed up with biased programs. You are so unfair. I believe you are warped. It appears that Mr. O'Neill has more guts than you will ever hope to have. It might be more fair and more American to have an equal balance of opinion in the future, or is that too democratic for you?"

"I do hope when you have your confrontation between Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Kerry that you won't have the entire studio filled with Mr. Kerry's followers."

Another one registered his support for the young man from Germany [unintelligible].

Well, this indicates, obviously - I'm sorry everybody - not everybody, but a lot of people decided to take a political reaction to the show. We did not pick the fellows on that show to represent whether they were for or against Agnew, for example, or that sort of thing, but to hear their experiences.

Tonight however we do have a kind of opposition, definitely. There's one of each, for the people who like to count the number of guests.

The way this came about was Mr. Bruce Kessler of the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace challenged Mr. Kerry once in the newspapers about, oh, some weeks back, and I saw that and I offered them both time here. Mr. O'Neill has been picked as a spokesman for Mr. Kessler's group.

We have tried to be as absolutely fair as possible tonight because everybody is obviously uptight on that subject. The gentlemen will each have the same size chair, the same wattage and voltage of lighting, and a neutral makeup lady from Switzerland has been brought on.

So about the audience, both groups have asked for tickets and an absolutely equal number of tickets has been supplied to both groups and their followers, so the audience reaction is in the audience's hands.

I would caution them that 90 minutes is not all that long. It's really closer to 70 minutes of actual air time, and a lot of applause goes - a little goes a long way, so I don't want to muzzle you, but be cautioned in that way.

When we come back, I will introduce the two gentlemen to you tonight. First, you're about to learn something that may save your next vacation. Watch.

[Commercial break]

If you have just joined us, my two guests tonight are, as I said before, they've been on the program separately in the past. They're both veterans. One of them, John Kerry, belongs to Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and John O'Neill belongs to a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. Will you welcome them both, please.

This is John O'Neill and this is John Kerry, and I even think that we both asked you which profiles you favor equally.

We will actually start, because it was requested that we do this - this may seem ludicrous - with the flip of a coin because - this is not going to follow the actual outlines of a debate, but I thought it might be well for each of you fellows to start out with some statement of what your organization wants and is, if you'd like to do that.

Do you want to call it in the air?

MR. O'NEILL: Heads.

MR. CAVETT: All right. It's an absolute - it's a U.S. quarter, 1966. You got it.

MR. O'NEILL: I'll speak first.

MR. CAVETT: Okay.

MR. O'NEILL: Hopefully last, too.

I've come here today to speak for peace, a just and lasting peace, in Southeast Asia. There is no one in this country who likes war, least of all, those of us who fought in the Vietnam war. And it is in the spirit of ending that war in a rational manner that I would like to speak today. I think any rational man can see that the Vietnamization program of the president has done more to end this war than all the demonstrations and hate of the last 10 years in this country. When Mr. Kerry and I were in Vietnam there were 550,000 U.S. troops there. When Mr. Kerry marched down in April with his 900 embittered men to Washington, there were 284,000 troops there. When our own organization was formed in May, there were 245,000 troops there. Today there are 215,000, and by the time you see this show tonight, there will be 700 less.

When we were in Vietnam there were 87,000 marines in I-Corps. Today there are 900 in all of South Vietnam, and South Vietnam and I-Corps remain free. The unit we both served in in Vietnam, Coastal Division 11, the first naval combat unit in Vietnam, was one of the last naval combat units out of Vietnam last December. And the South Vietnamese who replaced us there are doing a fine job. They've won victories and they're suffered defeats as any army - as any army does.

But the main story has been that the strength of the North Vietnamese in I-Corps and other areas of that country, including the Mekong Delta where we both served, has been broken.

I think there are three things we can all agree on. First, we all want to see a speedy end to American involvement in Vietnam. Second, we all realize that if we come home from Vietnam leaving our POWs rotting in North Vietnamese jails, that we will leave the heart and soul of this country there also.

Finally, we all want to see the South Vietnamese have the type of government that they themselves freely choose. I suggest that it's time for an end to hate and disruption in this country. I suggest it's time for trust in this country. The same kind of trust we will need when the war in Vietnam is over to live with ourselves here.

I'd like to turn to a second issue. Mr. Kerry is the type of person who lives and survives only on the war weariness and fears of the American people. This is the same little man who on nationwide television in April spoke of, quote, "crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command," who was quoted in a prominent news magazine in May as saying, quote, "war crimes in Vietnam are the rule and not the exception," unquote. Who brought 50 veterans down to Washington to testify about alleged atrocities in April, the same 50 who after they had appeared on every major news network refused to provide any depositions or provide any details of any kind.

Never in the course of human events have so many been libeled by so few.

There were two and a half million of us who served there in Vietnam under the most severe restrictions in this nation's history. We have brought this war close to a close. We never engaged in mass bombing of population centers, as all nations did in World War II, and the reason we did not is because we are a moral people.

Fifty-five thousand Americans died there in Vietnam no matter what they thought about the war because they believed in this country, and those of us who survived came back to this country, by and large determined just to resume our normal lives after the disruption caused by war.

We encountered a variety of problems: unemployment, discrimination, other problems, and then we encountered the biggest problem of them all, the big lie by Mr. Kerry and his group, that we were either each individually war criminals or that we were collectively the executioners of a criminal policy.

You've seen that all before, guilt by association. If one or 50 or 150 veterans testify as to war crimes, then all two and a half million of us must be war criminals. That's the same as saying if one Jew or one black commits one murder in this country, then all the Jews and all of the blacks in this country must be murderers, and that is something that we must not stand for in this country.

We've all heard of Lieutenant Calley. He's accused of the murder of 102 civilians in Son Mai Lai, and the operations - and the law will operate in his case.

This man has attempted the murder of the reputations of two and a half million of us, including the 55,000 dead in Vietnam, and he will never be brought to justice. We can only seek justice and equity from the American people. Every man kills the thing he loves. By each let this be told: The brave man does it with the sword; the coward with the word.

Thank you.

MR. CAVETT: Mr. Kerry, I expect you do have something to say to that. We have a message however from Calgon. Here is how a bath can smooth and soften your skin, leaving you radiant and refreshed with Calgon Bath Oil Beads.

[Commercial Break]

MR. CAVETT: Before that break - and I must apologize for the fact that we do have to keep stopping. It's a commercial medium, and sometimes those things aren't going to mesh very well.

Now, John Kerry.

MR. KERRY: Wow. Well, there are so many things, really, to be said, and it's hard to find a place to start after a barrage like that.

I think, first of all, I'm somewhat surprised at the attitude of somebody who wore the same uniform as I did who served in the same military for the same kind, I hope, of patriotic reasons, and I really haven't come back to this country nor have Vietnam Veterans against the War come back to this country to try in any sense or in any form to show bitterness or to tear the country apart or to tear it down.

I think that what we're doing is we're trying in a sense to show where the country went wrong, and we believe that as veterans who took part in this war, we have nothing to gain by coming back here and talking about those things that have happened except to try and point the way to America, to try and say, "Here is where we went wrong and we've got to change." And I think that the attitude of the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace is really one sort of of my country, right or wrong, which is really on the intellectual level, I think, of saying my mother, drunk or sober.

And I think that just as when your mother is drunk, you take her and dry her out - God forbid that she is - you take your country, in the words of Senator Carl Schurz, who said, "My country, right or wrong. When right, keep it right; when wrong, put it right." And I think that that's what we veterans are trying to do.

On the question of Vietnamization, this is something which people can argue about for hours and hours. We've just heard it mentioned that it's succeeding, that the Marines have been withdrawing from the north. Well, just the other day Firebase Fuller was overrun and it took the United States to fly supplies in to take care of it. We hear that the Delta is pacified. Well, a few weeks ago the report came out that 54 naval bases and other bases, all the bases in the Delta, had been overrun in the first three months of 1971, and that the reason they were overrun was because in 22 cases sentries were asleep, in 22 cases there were quislings, people who gave up.

You can contest this question of Vietnamization right down the line. The question really is this: Is the United States of America determined to leave Vietnam, and if we are determined to leave Vietnam - which I believe the president has shown some indications of because he has withdrawn troops. We don't deny that. What we say is the troops can be withdrawn faster. What we say is the killing can stop tomorrow, and it can stop if the president of the United States will set a date certain for the withdrawal for all United States combat and advisory troops from South Vietnam. And that's really the major issue.

Now, on the question of war crimes, it's really only with the utmost consideration that we post this question. I don't think that any man comes back to this country to say that he raped or to say that he burned a village or to say that he wantonly destroyed crops or something for pleasure. I think that he does it at the risk of certain kinds of punishment, at the risks of injuring his own character which he has to live with, at the risks of the loss of his family and friends as a result of it, and he does it because he believes intensely that people have got to be educated about the devastation of this war.

We thought we were a moral country, yes, but we are now engaged in the most rampant bombing in the history of mankind. Since President Nixon has assumed office, we have dropped some 2,700,000 tons of bombs on Laos. That is more than we dropped in the entire Pacific and Atlantic theaters in the entire course of World War II. And I think the question of morality really has to enter in here, so I'd say that Vietnam Veterans Against the War are really trying to approach this from a most constructive point of view.

MR. CAVETT: You are both, actually, there each allowed five minutes, and you took a little less. Have you finished your opening statement?

MR. KERRY: No, I'd like to discuss everything possible.

MR. CAVETT: Yeah, right, but now you can both talk.

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to comment on a number of things. Our attitude certainly isn't our country right or wrong. We were all 15 and 16 years old when we happened to get into the Vietnam war. What's so interesting about many of Mr. Kerry's backers including Clark Clifford, Roger Hillsman (phonetic spelling) and a number of others, is that they happen to be exactly the same people who sent us to Vietnam. We certainly, obviously, would never support this country if we felt it were wrong. We just feel we need a rational way out of Vietnam. As far as setting a date, that accomplishes nothing.

Finally, Mr. Kerry said that he didn't come here to show bitterness, he didn't feel bitter. He said in his statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22nd, he said, "We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country."

A second thing we object to with Mr. Kerry's organization is his attempt to represent himself as speaking for all veterans, which he clearly did in the same statement.

As far as the 54 bases overrun in the Delta, I can refer him to an article by John Paul Vann in U.S. News and World Report of June 1st which states that the number of incidents in that area is running about 20 per month compared to 120 per month two years ago.

I think that, clearly, the biggest question we're going to have to deal with is the moral question of war crimes. There's quite a difference between coming back to this country and putting on a sack and saying, confessing, "I committed war crimes" and running for the Congress of the United States from Massachusetts and saying, "Well, all three million of us committed war crimes," and I suggest that that's the question that Mr. Kerry and I should be talking about because that's precisely and exactly what he said.

MR. CAVETT: Well, let's talk about that. Did you see war crimes committed and -

MR. KERRY: Well, I have often talked about this subject. I personally didn't see personal atrocities in the sense that I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that. However, I did take part in free fire zones and I did take part in harassment interdiction fire. I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these, I find out later on, these acts are contrary to the Hague and Geneva Conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the applications of the Nuremberg principles, is in fact guilty.

But we're not trying to find war criminals. That's not our purpose. It never has been. I have a letter here which I could read to you which we wrote to Washington D.C. in an effort to try and solve the problem of these war crimes, and we sent it to Senator Stennis, and we said, "On behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, we're writing to ask that the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately convene public hearings to examine the testimony presented by these veterans." May I go on?

Among the questions raised were charges. What we're looking for is an examination of our policy by people in this country, particularly by the leaders before they take young men who are the objects of that policy and try them rather than examine the policy at the highest level where it was in fact promulgated.

MR. O'NEILL: that's very interesting that you would say that, John. I've got an article right now. It's from the May 8, 1971, New York Times. It concerns some of the testimony. It concerns a Danny S. Notley (phonetic spelling), who apparently is a member of your organization. The Army pursued him all the way to Minnesota to try and get him to sign a deposition regarding the allegations of war crimes that he made, and he refused to, as have all 50 people that testified there and 150 that testified in Detroit, and so I suggest that if you're honest, you ought to finally produce the depositions after all of us waiting for two months.

The effect of what you've done hasn't been to prevent one or two Kerrys (sic). It's been to label two and a half million of us as - Calleys, not Kerrys, although they may be somewhat interchangeable at times.

That's precisely and exactly what you've done. And I think in honesty, as a just and decent human being, that you'd want to do that. I think there's something particularly pathetic about me having to appear on nationwide television and trade polished little phrases with you to defend the honor of the 55,000 people that died there, the two and a half million of us that served there. I think further that the justification that Hanoi uses for keeping our POWs is that they were engaged in criminal acts there, and I think that someone who comes out and says exactly the same thing could be doing nothing but serving those purposes, although I'm not - obviously those are not your intentions. There's no question about that.

MR. KERRY: We - the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - and I can't even pretend to speak for all the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, let alone speak for all the men who served in Vietnam, and neither in fact can anybody else pretend to speak for a majority. That's entirely in the impossible range. But what we're saying is - and the reason that some of these men have not signed depositions is very, very simple, and it's up to each individual. One reason is that specifically they are not looking to implicate other people. They haven't cited names of individuals involved because they don't want more Calleys. They don't want men to enter double jeopardy, to have to come back to the United States of America and be penalized for those things that they did that were the result of the mistakes and the bad decisions of their leaders.

MR. CAVETT: Uh-huh.

MR. KERRY: And the purpose of them not signing them is literally to call for an examination of policy and not scapegoats and to examine it from the President of the United States to General Westmoreland and others. And when they do that, then they will sign and then they will talk.

Now, there are individuals who are perfectly willing to sign. Nobody's ducking anything.

MR. O'NEILL: Well, who are they? Can you tell me that?

MR. KERRY: well, I have a friend who came all the way from Florida today, and if it's all right with you, he's here now. I'd be very happy to bring him on and let him make a deposition.

MR. O'NEILL: Well, I think just you and I. I've had the same experience of four against one before.

MR. KERRY: You've asked for depositions, and I have the man -

MR. O'NEILL: Yeah, and I'd like to see him sign a deposition after the show.

MR. KERRY: I think you've made a very, very serious charge.

MR. O'NEILL: That's absolutely correct, I have.

MR. KERRY: And there's a veteran here who's come all the way from Florida who, if you didn't mind, would come on television now with names, facts, dates, places, maps, coordinates, and he's be very willing to make it public.

[Pause]

MR. O'NEILL: I've just got two or three things to say. It's amazing, and it certainly is wonderful that you've finally produced someone after two months.

The second thing I have to say is the last time I came on the show, I appeared basically on a four-against-one format, and I prefer it one to one, but I'd certainly be interested in seeing him do that after the show, and I know the people of America would.

It's interesting that you happen to say that you don't claim to speak for all veterans. You said that before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, same testimony previously cited, "I'm here as one member of a group of a thousand, which is a very much - very - which is a small representation of a very much larger group of veterans in this country, and were it possible for all of them to sit here at this table, they would be here and have the same kind of testimony."

I'm here, John. I'm a veteran in this country. I'm here to say that's a lie.

MR. CAVETT: Uh -

MR. KERRY: May I answer that, please?

MR. CAVETT: You may, after this message, or we'll be in big trouble. We'll be right back.

Commercial Break]

MR. CAVETT: And we're back.

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to finish my statement, if I could, Mr. Cavett. I think that it's highly interesting that Mr. Kerry has finally produced one person to sign a deposition after three months of accusing two and a half million of us of being war criminals. I suggest that if he produces another four or five hundred thousand depositions, that his charge might stand up. I think all he'd establish, even if the deposition is correct, is that he has one war criminal that belongs to his organization, and that's kind of pathetic.

Further, I'd like to go on -

MR. CAVETT: [Unintelligible]

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to go on and finish. I served in Coastal Division -

MR. CAVETT: It's easier if we don't jump to a second subject when one is on the table.

MR. KERRY: Well, as to my being a liar, I - in my testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I did indeed say what he said. I said I represent one of the group of one thousand, which incidentally was one thousand at any one time. There were some two thousand who came through the whole time we were in Washington. And when I referred to the very much larger group within the country, I referred to our membership of our organization. I didn't say a majority; I didn't say all veterans; I said to a very much larger group, which is the some 20,000 members that we have in the country at this particular moment. And that was my reference there.

As to this question of who speaks for the majority and all this personal vindictiveness, I really think that that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about the question of this war and why it is continuing, why - [unintelligible] - and I really don't think it does just justice to those men who have to give up their lives or be maimed or something or are in Vietnam now to have two veterans of the war sit here and go at each other's throats. I really think we can do better justice to the issue than that, and the issue really is why can't we set a date. Mr. O'Neill has simply shrugged this off, saying that would be absurd.

I want to know why we can't set a date when we know that the prisoners will come home, when we know that people will stop being maimed for the most senseless purpose in the world, and when we know that that in fact can be a solution and release the forces of accommodation in Vietnam which will not be released as long as we are there and as long as we are helping the South Vietnamese.

MR. O'NEILL: I'd certainly like to talk on setting a date, but I suggest that we keep talking about the same two issues we have on the table. Once again from Mr. Kerry's testimony, that same committee, was written, "I understand from Adam Walinsky, your friend - It's interesting to see somebody that has a friend write about his experiences in Vietnam. I wouldn't -

MR. KERRY: How do you know that?

MR. O'NEILL: He says -

MR. KERRY: Wait, wait. How do you know that?

MR. O'NEILL: Well, Mr. Walinsky admitted it in Human Events, also in the Boston Globe.

MR. KERRY: Did you read Mr. Walinsky's letter yesterday [unintelligible]?

MR. O'NEILL: No, I did not.

MR. KERRY: Did you read his letter?

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to finish -

MR. KERRY: May I quote his letter - no.

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to quote your speech, if that's satisfactory.

MR. KERRY: No wait. You've just made a charge.

MR. O'NEILL: "The country does not know it yet, but it has created a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and trade in violence who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped." I think that Mr. Kerry is trying to talk for something more than his little group of 20,000. I think that he was attempting to represent himself as representative of all of us.

Second, on the war crimes issue -

MR. CAVETT: Well, wait a minute. We're way past the thing there -

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to -

MR. CAVETT: - about whether or not your speeches were written for you or whether or not -

MR. KERRY: Somehow the group has suddenly jumped to 20,000 in the period of this -

MR. O'NEILL: Whose group has jumped to 20,000? Your group has, you mean?

MR. KERRY: The Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Two days ago in Leonard Lyons in New York - as a matter of fact, in answer to a charge made by the Vice President of the United States saying a Robert Kennedy speech writer had written my speech, I would be flattered to have one write my speech frankly, but in this letter he wrote to the Vice President, saying, "Dear Mr. Vice President, Thank you very much for insinuating that I wrote John Kerry's speech. I would have been proud to have done it, but I didn't; however, in the future please be sure to mention my name as it will - as it is sure to help me in my next election."

No, Adam Walinsky did not submit a draft to me and he did not write my speech. Now, as to the question -

MR. O'NEILL: I didn't say that, John. If I can quote Human Events of May 22nd, 1971 -

MR. KERRY: Can we move -

MR. O'NEILL: I'd like to establish this point. "Former Robert F. Kennedy staffer, Adam Walinsky, acknowledged he had helped Kerry put together his eloquent presentation. Walinsky said that Kerry, the 1966 Yale class orator, was pretty darn good with words all by himself, but added he had a hand in drafting those parts of the Kerry address which were on television." I think it is a relatively minor point. It is your speech I disagree with, not with who wrote it.

My understanding is that's what he told a number of people. The same stories appeared over and over. I think that even more important is this point: You happen to feel that you're being vilified. I think you can imagine how the two and a half million of us whom you have vilified feel at this time.

MR. KERRY: You're speaking for two and a half million.

MR. O'NEILL: I'm speaking for myself now.

MR. KERRY: You're speaking for two and a half million.

MR. O'NEILL: I think, John, if you'd poll the American people instead of taking 75 - poll the veterans in this country instead of taking 75 to Bunker Hill, and you asked them the question, "Do you consider yourself a war criminal," you'd find out that I was speaking for very close to two and a half million.

MR. KERRY: That's very, very interesting. I - you're speaking for most of the guys in your division and everything else? They feel this way, you think.

MR. O'NEILL: I'd say that most of the veterans I have met. I am aware that you did solicit virtually everybody from Coastal Division 11. I had people calling me from all over the country whom you have called. You have financial resources above and beyond ours. And I don't know what results you happened to get. Do you mind telling me, how many people did you get from Coastal Division 11?

MR. KERRY: I didn't reach any, Mr. O'Neill, because I didn't call any personally and talk to any; however, I do have some friends who came back who did.

MR. O'NEILL: Apparently these members of your organization did.

MR. KERRY: Well, it's very strange. You see, I received a letter from one of them, impromptu, that said, "Dear John, about John O'Neill, I can't understand how he could possibly represent any majority whatsoever," and this is from somebody who served in your division with you at the same time. In fact, who turned over the last boat to the Vietnamese.

[Cross talk]

MR. O'NEILL: I should explain the background of this. There were 800 people that served in Coastal Division 11 over the course of the Vietnam war. I've received approximately 12 calls, the furthest away being from Honolulu, from people that your organization has contacted. Now, if you happen to read one letter, all I can say, it's like your organization. Everybody knows about the 10 percent that don't get the word, and your 20,000 make up about 1/20th of the 10 percent that don't get the word.

MR. KERRY: I think - I really think that this is exactly the point that I am trying to make, and that is that we have never purported to represent any majority, nor can Mr. O'Neill sit here and pretend to talk for two and a half million. He can talk for himself. And I think that this contest is ludicrous, that the points to be discussed are the questions of the war, and that's the issue we should get to, and I'd like to talk about that in a rational discussion.

MR. O'NEILL: I suggest it is time to move on. I'd like to make one last point, if I could. I think that Mr. Kerry's [unintelligible] to the American people -

MR. CAVETT: All right, but the world's favorite mother has some important news about bathtub safety. Watch. We'll be right back.

[Commercial break]

Kerry / O'Neill Debate, 06/30/71 (part 2)

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