Never Forget

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Decorated veteran John Kerry, testifying before the House Foreign Relations Committee, questions the War in Vietnam, Washington, D.C., April 22, 1971.

The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 11:05 a.m., in Room 4221, New Senate Office Building, Senator J. W. Fulbright (Chairman) presiding. Present: Senators Fulbright, Symington, Pell, Aiken, Case and Javits

Thank you very much, Senator Fulbright, Senator Javits, Senator Symington and Senator Pell.

I would like to say for the record, and for the men sitting behind me who are also wearing uniforms and medals, that my presence here is really symbolic. I am not here as John Kerry. I am here as one of the members of a group of 1,000 people, which is a small representation of a much larger group of veterans in this country, and if it were possible for all of them to sit at this table, they would be here and they would have the same testimony. I would just like to speak in general terms. I apologize if my speech is general, because I only received notice yesterday that I would be heard, and I'm afraid that because of the order I didn't sleep most of the night and didn't have much opportunity to prepare.

I would like to speak on behalf of all veterans and say that a few months ago in Detroit we conducted an investigation in which more than 150 honorably discharged veterans, as well as many highly decorated veterans, testified about war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a daily basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to accurately describe what happened in Detroit: the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They experienced the absolute horror of what that country, in a sense, forced them to do.

They recounted how they sometimes personally raped, cut off ears, heads, glued wires from portable phones to human genitals and turned up the electricity, cut off limbs, blew up corpses, randomly shot civilians, razed villages in a manner reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food supplies and generally ravaged the South Vietnamese countryside, in addition to the normal ravages of war and the normal and very specific ravages caused by the country's use of bombing power.

This research is called "Winter Soldier." The term "winter soldier" is a play on words by Thomas Paine in 1776, when he spoke of "sunshine patriots" and "summer soldiers" who deserted at Valley Forge because the situation was difficult.

Those of us who came here to Washington came because we feel that we must now be winter soldiers. We could go back to this country, we could be silent, we could not talk about what happened in Vietnam, but we feel that because of what threatens this country, not the Reds, but the crimes we commit that threaten this country, we must 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 felt this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used it 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 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 quadriplegics 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 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 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 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 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 missions as well as by Viet Cong terrorism, - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.

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" 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. 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 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."


Where is the leadership?
We're here to ask where are McNamara,
Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others?


We are asking the Americans to think about this, because how can you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How can you ask a person to be the last person to die because of 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 what we, as a people, are trying to communicate to the people of this country - the problem of racism in the military and many other issues, such as the use of weapons: the hypocrisy of being outraged at the Geneva Conventions and using that as a justification for continuing this war, when we are more guilty than any other institution of violating those Geneva Conventions; of using free-fire zones, pursuit fire, search-and-destroy missions, bombardment, the torturing of prisoners, all of which was justified in many South Vietnamese troops. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything.

A friend of mine, an American Indian living in the Alcatraz Indian Nation, put it very succinctly: He told me how, when he was a boy on the Indian reservation, he used to watch television and cheer for the cowboys who would come and shoot at the Indians, until suddenly one day he stopped in Vietnam and said, 'Oh my God, I am doing to these people what has been done to my people', and he stopped. That is what we are trying to say, that in our opinion, this has to stop.


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.

We are here to ask where are our leaders? Where are the leaders? We are here to ask where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick and many others? Where are they now that we, the men they sent to war, are back? These commanders have abandoned their troops. And there is no greater crime in the laws of war. The Army says it never abandons its wounded. The Marines say they don't even abandon their dead. These men abandoned all the wounded and went behind the shield of justice of a godly society. In this country, they left most of their reputation to bleach in the sun....

We wish that the merciful God would erase our own memories of this service as easily as this administration has erased its memories of us. But all they have done, and all they can do with this refusal, is to make our own determination to undertake this final mission clearer than ever: To investigate and destroy the last vestiges of this barbaric war; to soothe our own hearts; to overcome the hatred and fear that has gripped this country for more than a decade. And more. So when our brothers walk down the street thirty years from now without a leg or an arm or a face, and little boys ask why, we can say "Vietnam," and it won't mean a desert, or a dirty, obscene memory, but it will mean where America finally turned, and where warriors like us helped lead it.


On March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers, led by Lt. William Calley, invaded the village of My Lai in South Vietnam in search of Viet Cong and their sympathizers. Some 347 unarmed civilians, including women and children, were killed. After about a year of covering-up the killings, the Army opened its own internal investigation, which led to congressional hearings. Five soldiers were court-martialed for participating in the attack. Four were found innocent, and Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1974, a federal court overturned the verdict, and Calley was released.

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Kerry is making a reference to the official language used in the Army court-martial case against Lt. William Calley. In the charges and proceedings against Calley, Army lawyers and members of the Court repeatedly use the phrase "oriental human beings" when describing the number of bodies and the number of people slaughtered at My Lai.

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