Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flashback: A Rare Broadcast of John Kerry’s 1971 Speech Against the Vietnam War Before the Senate


After returning from the Vietnam War, John Kerry became a prominent critic of the war. He testified before the Senate in 1971 and told of atrocities being committed by U.S. troops. He called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. And he asked: "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 broadcast a rare recording of this historic address from the Pacifica Radio Archives.
On October 9, 2002, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry stood on the Senate floor and spoke in favor of the invasion of Iraq. The next day he voted to authorize President Bush to go to war.
Thirty years earlier, Kerry became a leading voice against the war in Vietnam.
Kerry returned from Vietnam in April 1969, having won early transfer out of the conflict because of his three Purple Hearts. He had also won a Silver Star.
When Kerry returned home, over 540,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Vietnam. Some 33,400 had been killed, and the number of protests in the U.S. was surging.
Kerry gradually became active in the antiwar movement. After working behind the scenes and making a few little-noticed appearances at rallies, he joined a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
In January 1971, the organization held a series of hearings in Detroit called the "Winter Soldier Investigation." Kerry did not speak at the event, which received only modest press coverage. This is an excerpt of a veteran testifying at the hearings. He describes what it was like in Vietnam.
  • Winter Soldier Investigation documentary
John Kerry declined to speak at the "Winter Soldier Investigation" hearings, but a bigger stage awaited him.
Three months after the hearings, Kerry took his case to congress and spoke before a jammed Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Television cameras lined the walls, and veterans packed the seats.
Kerry was 27 years old and dressed in his green fatigues and Silver Star and Purple Heart ribbons. On April 22, 1971, he sat at a witness table and delivered the most famous speech of his life. It was to become the speech that defined him and make possible his political career. Overnight, he emerged as one of the most recognized veterans in America.
Pacifica Radio played his speech on the air. Today, we will play a rare broadcast of that speech. From the Pacifica Radio Archives, this is John Kerry in 1971.
*********WARNING  Some of the pictures are vivid and gruesome
The "Winter Soldier Investigation" was a media event sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) from January 31, 1971 -- February 2, 1971. It was intended to publicize war crimes and atrocities by the United States Armed Forces and their allies in the Vietnam War. The VVAW challenged the morality and conduct of the war by showing the direct relationship between military policies and war crimes in Vietnam. The three-day gathering of 109 veterans and 16 civilians took place in Detroit, Michigan. Discharged servicemen from each branch of military service, as well as civilian contractors, medical personnel and academics, all gave testimony about war crimes they had committed or witnessed during the years of 1963--1970.

With the exception of Pacifica Radio, the event was not covered extensively outside Detroit. However, several journalists and a film crew recorded the event, and a documentary film called Winter Soldier was released in 1972. A complete transcript was later entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield, and discussed in the Fulbright Hearings in April and May 1971, convened by Senator J. William Fulbright, chair of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The purpose of the Winter Soldier Investigation was to show that American policies in Vietnam had led to war crimes. In the words of one participant veteran, Donald Dzagulones,
"We gathered not to sensationalize our service but to decry the travesty that was Lt. William Calley's trial for the My Lai Massacre. The U.S. had established the principle of culpability with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis. Following those principles, we held that if Calley were responsible, so were his superiors up the chain of command — even to the president. The causes of My Lai and the brutality of the Vietnam War were rooted in the policies of our government as executed by our military commanders."

The name "Winter Soldier Investigation" was proposed by Mark Lane, and was derived from Thomas Paine's first Crisis paper, written in December 1776. When future Senator John Kerry, then a decorated Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve (Inactive), later spoke before a Senate Committee, he explained,
"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."

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