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John Kerry's Famed 1971 Testimony to Congress on Vietnam

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

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John Kerry's Famed 1971 Testimony to Congress on Vietnam

Sen. John Kerry

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them.

We saw America 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 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 were 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.

It Didn't Matter How Many American Bodies Were Lost

We watched pride allow the most unimportant 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 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 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.'

The Last Man to Die for a Mistake

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?...

We are here in Washington 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 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 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, all 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.

Where Are the Leaders of Our Country?

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 the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun 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.

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 fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more.

    And more.

    And so when thirty 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 where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning."

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