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Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry, 1971

Posted to Poetry and Politics

> > Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry, 1971 to the
> Senate
> > Committee of Foreign Relations April 23, 1971
> >
> > I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that
> > months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150
> > discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war
> crimes
> > committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but
> > committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at
> > levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did
> > happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men
> who
> > were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute
> horror
> > of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
> >
> > They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears,
> cut
> > off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and
> turned
> > up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at
> > razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and
> dogs
> > for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of
> > South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and
> > very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of
> this
> > country.
> >
> > We call this investigation the Winter Soldier Investigation. The term
> Winter
> > Soldier is a play on words of Thomas Paine's in 1776 when he spoke of
> > Sunshine Patriots and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge
> > because the going was rough.
> >
> > We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we
> > to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, we could
> > quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in
> Vietnam,
> > but we feel because of what threatens this country, not the reds, but
> > crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak
> > out....
> >
> > In our opinion and from our experience, there is nothing in South
> > 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
> > and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country
> apart.
> >
> > We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had
> for
> > years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence
> whatsoever,
> > but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically
> > after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the
> we
> > were supposedly saving them from.
> >
> > We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism
> > 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
> > in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with
> > military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North
> > Vietnamese or American.
> >
> > We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice
> > paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how
> monies
> > from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw
> that
> > many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by
> the
> > flag, and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw
> > Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search and destroy
> > as well as by Viet Cong terrorism - and yet we listened while this
> > tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
> >
> > We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw
> > 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
> > chewing gum.
> >
> > We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves,
> and
> > we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.
> >
> > We watched the United States falsification of body counts, in fact the
> > glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we
> > told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons
> > against "oriental human beings." We fought using weapons against those
> > people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we
> > fighting in the European theater. We watched while men charged up hills
> > because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one
> > platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the hill for
> reoccupation
> > by the North Vietnamese. We watched pride allow the most unimportant
> battles
> > to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose, and we
> > 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
> > 81s and Fire Base 6s, and so many others.
> >
> > Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while
> > American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance
> of
> > Vietnamizing the Vietnamese.
> >
> > Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her
> > hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United
> > 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
> > 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
> > to die for a mistake?....We are here in Washington to say that the
> > 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
> > people in this country - the question of racism which is rampant in the
> > military, and so many other questions such as the use of weapons; the
> > hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that
> as
> > justification for a continuation of this war when we are more guilty
> > any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions; in the use of
> free
> > fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions,
> > bombings, the torture of prisoners, all accepted policy by many units in
> > South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel
> > 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
> > Vietnam and he said, "my God, I am doing to these people the very same
> thing
> > that was done to my people," and he stopped. And that is what we are
> trying
> > to say, that we think this thing has to end.
> >
> > We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the
> leaders
> > of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are
> > McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others? Where are they
> now
> > that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the
> > commanders who have deserted their troops. And there is no more serious
> > crime in the laws of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded.
> The
> > marines say they never even leave their dead. These men have left all
> > casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude.
> They've
> > left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the
> in
> > this country....
> >
> > We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that
> service
> > as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us.
> > all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to
> > 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
> > our own hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this
> > these last ten years and more. And more. And so when thirty years from
> > our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a
> > and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam" and not mean a
> > desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America
> finally
> > turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.
> >