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LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS RELATING TO THE WAR IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 1971
UNITED STATES SENATE;
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 11:05 a.m., in Room 4221,
New Senate Office Building, Senator J. W. Fulbright (Chairman)
Present: Senators Fulbright, Symington, Pell, Aiken, Case, and Javits.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order.
The committee is continuing this morning its hearings 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 not 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 pleased to have you and your associates, 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.
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 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 1,000, 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
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, 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
Genghis 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 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, not 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
dared' to, because so many of us 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 quadraplegics 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 cannot
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 us 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
enthusiastially 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
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
Ammerica 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
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 ground 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 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? 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 veteran 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
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 many 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 shrngged 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 seem 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 this to go on for many years to come. One can only
ask if we will really be satisfid 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 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.
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
1eft all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public
rectitude. They have left the real stuff of their reputations 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
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
barbaric 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 place 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.
COMMENDATION OF WITNESS
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 COMMITTEES
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 hearings 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
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 future 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 traditiona1 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
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 ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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
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 ceasefire
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 advise 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
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
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 we can talk
in this legislative body about filibustering for porkbarrel 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 questions 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 backs on that any
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 couse of withdrawal because
the President has neglected to state to this country exactly what
his respons 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 you
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.] [Applause.]
Mr. KERRY. I would say they would be more prone to do that than 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 lst, 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 this 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 Vietnamese 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
If we don't withdraw, if we maintain a Korean-type presence in
South Vietnam, say 50,000 troops or something, with strategic bombing
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 capability.
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 or 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
Americans, 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 ceasefire 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 answers 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
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 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
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
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 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 percent 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 at 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
ACTIONS OF LIEUTENANT CALLEY
Finally, in connection with Lieutenant Calley, which is a very emotional
issue in this country, I was struck by your passing reference to
Wouldn't you agree with me though that what he did in herding
old men and 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
I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it
lies with the men who encouraged 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
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 generals 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 whites 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 whites of their eyes.
I agree with you 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 IMPLICATIONS 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
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 discuss
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 not peace; that is fighting a war; that is continuing a war. That is
even criminal in the sense that this 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 hundreds 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.
INDOCHINA AND QUESTION OF WORLD PEACE
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 capbility 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 guerrilla
wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we
may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats, but we
must learn, in this country, how to define those 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 others 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 judgments 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 to 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 responsive 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
So I am very 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.
Last Updated Thursday, April 22 2004 @ 06:58 PM MDT; 168,853 Hits