In 1972 a book was published that contained statements by well known personalities at the time, pro and con, the Vietnam War. Called "The Eloquence of Protest " it was edited by Harrison E. Salisbury, and published by Houghton Mifflin. Among the statements was one by Navy Lieutenant John Kerry, testifying for his organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971. At that time, and still today, I had strong ideas on the subject of the war, and have often have spoken out on the issue. While I did not see accuracy in a number of statements that Kerry made, I had read a lot about the war, felt I understood the feelings that produced such an outburst so did not complain at that time.
But now John Kerry is running for the highest office in the land, for President, in times as perilous as any America has ever faced. So a few days ago I took a second look at his statement and came away with these questions. Isn't it clear that these statements had been heavily influenced by the standard arguments of the anti-war movement at the time, and haven't those arguments been shown in repeated history books in recent years to have been seriously misrepresentative of that war? Would not someone who had been so wide of the mark in his understanding of that war be dangerous to the nation as a Commander-in-Chief, unless he had changed his mind significantly in later years ? While the media today frequently mentions Senator Kerry's distinguished career in Vietnam, and rightly so, it has studiously avoided mentioning his major role in organizing Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or his speech to Congress
condemning that war.
We think it vitally important that the media ask of Senator Kerry if he still stands by the statements he made to Congress in 1971. These statements were significantly at odds with majority American opinion on the war at that time and they clearly parallel the opinions of the campus war protests, which, in the long run made a major contribution to the failure of that campaign and the triumph of tyranny and genocide in Southeast Asia.
If he disavows his earlier position, that would be a major blow to the myths about Vietnam that are still being perpetuated in media and university to protect those who avoided that fight for freedom. If he does not disavow his earlier position then we call on him to drop out of the race for the Presidency.
In the following what I do is quote some of the more startling passages from Mr. Kerry's statement and comment on them, in some cases borrowing information from the noted historian Lewis Sorley who describes the very same period in his recent book on Vietnam , "A Better War." Mr. Sorley is the historian who was selected to be the main analyst in the recent highly acclaimed 4-volume film series on the Vietnam War, "The Long Way Home Project", introduced by H. Norman Schwarzkopf. If Kerry does disavow his 1971 statement then we also ask that he use his considerable influence to get PBS to air this series nationally to help heal the bitter division in the country that still exists between those who served and those who did not serve. We cannot go forward into a dangerous future without national unity. It is time to end the undeserved aura of idealism that media and university attach to the phrase "anti-war activist", when in actual fact it should be viewed as shameful.
Excerpts from Senator Kerry's 1971 statement to Congress, followed by my comments.
"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. They re-lived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals , cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side... We are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia."
It is common knowledge that the medals that Kerry threw over the fence in Washington at Dewey Canyon III were not his own. They are on his wall in his office. Kerry's was a fake sacrifice, but keeping the medals does show he cares about his reputation as a soldier. But he should have remembered that other veterans cared equally when he talked about "the crimes this country, in a sense, made them do." I had to read tons of Army manuals in becoming an R.O.T.C. 2nd Lieutenant, (although I never served , being transfered during the Korean War to Honorary Reserve because of medical problems.) And I know that nothing in those manuals orders soldiers to do any of the things Kerry mentioned. We know things like this happened, but they were crimes and were prosecuted when possible. Historian Guenter Lewy points out in statistical form in his highly acclaimed and objective history "America in Vietnam", that atrocities in Vietnam did not differ significantly in that war from any other American war.
"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 trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history."
Psychologists, who were usually against the war, to buttress their position, charged the war with having created a "killer instinct" for which there was not the slightest shred of evidence. We know this from comparing the rates of crimes by Vietnam vets with the rest of the country over the years. Wrote the noted sociologist and student of war Charles Moskos, "Psychologists tried to portray the soldier as variously, wanton perpetrators of atrocities or proto-fascist automatons." The truth is the mental health community prostituted itself in creating this myth to forward its politics, using the suffering of the veterans to do so.
Also, what was "nothing" about the enormous sacrifice of men and treasure the U.S. expended to try to help a small country who asked for our aid against the horrors that we know occured when that country went down?
"We are men who have returned with a sense of anger, and a sense of betrayal which no one yet has grasped. We are angry because we feel that we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country."
A comprehensive 1980 survey by the VA reported that 91% of those who had seen combat in Vietnam were "glad they had served their country." 80% disagreed with the statement that "the U.S. took advantage of me." 66% said they would serve again. As to the effects of their service many said it made them more ambitious, more determined to make something of their lives, that it made them more serious and that they appreciated America more, valued life more. Does this sound like men who were "used?"
"We in no way consider ourselves the best men of this country, because those Agnew calls misfits (war protestors) were standing up for us in a way that nobody else in this country dared to, because so many who have died would have returned to this country to join the misfits in their efforts to ask for an immediate withdrawal from South Vietnam.
The identification with the goals of the campus war protestors, or anti-war movement, is very clear. Kerry was reportedly (U.S.Veterans Dispatch) a supporter of the "People's Peace Treaty," a "peoples" declaration to end the war drawn up in communist East Germany based on 9 points taken from Viet Cong peace proposals. The "Boston Herald Traveler" reported that Kerry marched in a protest on Dec. 12, 1971 in a group carrying Viet Cong flags and placards in support of China, Cuba, the USSR and Hanoi.
Only those in the anti-war movement called for "immediately withdrawal" an ignominious solution that the majority would not even consider. Nor did the protestors care about the soldiers. Again and again in my documentary, based on 68 interviews, "The Shame of the War Protestors: Vietnam Vets Speak Out," the veterans of that war said, "When we came home, the protestors didn't care about us." Many told about being harassed, insulted, ostracized, and even spit upon at airports when they returned.
"To attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam... 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."
Is there any question but what the 58,000 plus lives that were given in South Vietnam was in a noble effort to preserve freedom for an oppressed people?
American soldiers did give the South Vietnamese freedom. By late 1969 almost the entire population was thought to be living under substantially secure conditions. Said Ambassador Bunker, "By the end of 1972 one could travel anywhere in South Vietnam without security forces or anything else, even though by then American forces were about all gone." The American soldier never got any credit for all he did for the South Vietnamese, the media never mentioned it to the American people.
As to what tore the country apart, it was the protestors, and here is what the nation thought about them. (From "America in Our Time," by Godfrey Hodgson): "At the height of the war, the Harris Poll showed that 69 % of the public believed that anti-war demonstrations were "acts of disloyalty against the boys fighting in Vietnam," 65% agreed that "protestors were giving aid and comfort to the enemy," 64% said they were not "serious , thoughtful critics of the war, just peaceniks and hippies having a ball." A poll by the University of Michigan showed that reactions to "Vietnam war protestors", was "by a wide margin, the most negative shown any group."
"We are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against Communism. We found that not only was it a civil war, but that the Vietnamese were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
Was there something 'mystical' about the soldiers he saw dying all around him? Did he not know that is was because Communist soldiers from the North were trying to enslave South Vietnam? While the partition of South Vietnam into two sections makes the charge of "civil war" problematic, the fact remains it was clearly a war between a South Vietnam seeking freedom, against a totalitarian aggressor from the North, something neither the Communists nor the anti-war movement ever acknowledged. As for "hard put", few realize that in every campaign, the South Vietamese Army lost over twice as many soldiers as we did. The figures for the five major offensives are as follows: (from "Vietnam in Military Statistics", a major history of the Vietnam War by Micheal Clodfelter.) It was never made know by the media, by the way, just how badly the enemy was mauled during this war. You can see that below.
1968-the Tet Offensive- U.S.- 1,829 KIA (killed in action), South Vietnam-2,788 KIA, Communist forces- 45,000 KIA
1969- U.S. -9,414 KIA, South Vietnam - 21,833 KIA, Communist forces -156,954 KIA
1970 (includes Cambodian incursion)- U.S. -4,221 KIA, South Vietnam-23,345 KIA, Communist forces- 103,638 KIA
Laos Incursion (Dewey Canyon ll / Lam Son 719), with U.S. air support only) -U.S. - 219 KIA, mostly crews of 107 downed helicopters, SouthVietnam - 8,000 KIA, Communist forces, -13,668 KIA.
1972 - Easter Offensive (with U.S. air support only) -South Vietnam 15,000
KIA, Communist forces - 83,000.
"We found most people didn't even know the difference between Communism and Democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies and without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted the United States of America to leave them alone in peace. and they sided with whichever military force was present, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, or American."
The most devious of all the anti-war arguments. President Thieu distributed 600,000 weapons to his people. No government in doubt of the yearning for democracy of its people would have dared do this. In the villages and the hamlets the People's Self-Defense Force had mushroomed during 1969. At years end, now organized into a combat arm and a support arm, the PSDHF had more than 1,300,000 men and women in the combat arm, backed up by another 1,735,000 people in the support arm, all ready to stop Communists.
Also, why was there no uprising against the Americans during the Tet Offensive, or any effort to aid the invaders, and why did the South Vietnamese Army then almost double, largely due to volunteers? How could an 'uncaring' people put together an army of over one million, sacrifice over 250,000 soldiers in battle, and fight against Communism, alone, for two years after the Americans had left, when, even with occasional stumbling, there were great victories as in the Easter Offensive, and An Loc."The basic fact of life", said the noted American commander John Vann, "is that the overwhelming majority of the population - somewhere about 95% - prefered the government of Vietnam to a Communist government."
For two years the South Vietnamese held out, until Ted Kennedy, Kerry's biggest supporter, led anti-war forces in Congress in cutting off all ammunition to South Vietnam.
We are hoping that over the years Senator Kerry has come to see that the anti-war position was mistaken, that it fell for enemy propaganda, and that he will say so. If not then there is no way that he can be trusted on matters of national security and he should abandon his quest for the Presidency, as that is the number one issue. The media keeps talking about Kerry's "strong national security credentials." That is very questionable. There is nothing in Kerry's speech that shows any sign of "strong national security credentials." It is very possible to be a much decorated soldier and still have little understanding of the very war in which one is fighting. It is clear Kerry did not, and therefore might not understand the current war.