The Magazine

John Kerry, in His Own Words

From the September 6, 2004 issue: What John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.

Sep 6, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 48 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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At the beginning of last week, the online magazine Salon.com asked a "roundtable of experts," on the eve of the Republican convention, What can President Bush do to win reelection in November?

I dutifully answered, as follows:

Bush can run a competent campaign in which he points out the following truths:

a) He is a tax-cutter; Kerry is a tax-hiker.

b) He will fight to preserve traditional marriage; Kerry won't.

c) He is fighting a tough-minded war on terror, taking the fight to the enemy; Kerry would fight a sensitive war on terror, allowing them to take the fight to us.

And then Bush needs simply to sit back and observe as others bring to light the character and import of Kerry's single most famous public statement--his April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the alleged war crimes committed daily by Americans in Vietnam.

WEEKLY STANDARD readers are by now surely familiar with items a, b, and c. President Bush will make his case for himself Thursday night in New York. So perhaps it would be helpful simply to reproduce John Kerry's most famous--and perhaps most revealing--public statement, his testimony as a 27-year-old leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on April 22, 1971.

-William Kristol

MR. KERRY: Thank you very much, Senator Fulbright, Senator Javits, Senator Symington, Senator Pell. I would like to 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 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.

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 a 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 ravages 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.

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.