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Remarks by John Kerry, Member, Vietnam Veterans Against the War & John O'Neill, Member, Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace

April 12, 2004


Remarks by John Kerry, Member, Vietnam Veterans Against the War

John Kerry speaks for the anti-Vietnam war resolution before the 38th Annual Meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors. Kerry was representing Vietnam Vetrans against the war at the Meeting in Philadelphia in June of 1971. In the photo, left to right, are Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, Conference President Philadelphia Mayor James Tate, Kerry, and Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier.

I want to express my appreciation for the time Mayors are taking at this Conference meeting to hear representatives of both Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. I think it is very much in keeping with the kind of country we have to have a rational exchange of opposite points of view on the war.

As a veteran representing those who are against the war, I am here to try to impart a personal feeling about it because somehow I think at some point in this country we have allowed ourselves to forget what it is really all about.

I think that what we have seen in the New York Times these past days brings it home to us in a fashion that we have ignored up until now, because it makes so real the deception and the illegality and the waste and the horror which this country has been called on to practice needlessly.

Somehow I think that it proves that the traditional view in this country that power is evil requires us to dress it up in very high'sounding and self-righteous costumes. And in the end we ourselves, you and I, are the last people to recognize our own self-deception.

But you have been talking at this meeting about results of it — about the problems which face the cities, about the tasks which lie ahead for this country now.

A Conference resolution that is before you asks only that you call on the President to exercise all power possible to set a date to withdraw from Vietnam by December of 1971 — and 73% of the American people have voiced the opinion that they want us out of there by the end of this year. It's not that they don't support the President (that is another poll) but that they want us out of there in 1971.

I think that you Mayors feel more than anybody else in this country the pain that has been brought by the war to your cities, and I think that unless we somehow express through our elected officials the need to get out of there, the need for the President to do all possible — which is really a very tame thing — we are going to see a great deal more sacrifice made here in this country, and needlessly.

We veterans who are against the war don't believe that the men in Washington are necessarily evil. We don't believe that they are not trying to get out. We don't believe that they are not withdrawing troops. They are. But what we are saying is that the killing could end tomorrow if we were only willing to set a date, if we were only willing to state that we will not fire unless fired on, and to bring our troops home.

The Hanoi regime has said it will return its prisoners providing we set that date. Ambassador David Bruce has made it clear that the prisoner of war question must be settled. But, you see, the problem goes well beyond that now because there is kind of an obscenity in the United States talking about winding down a war and using American lives to do it when that winding down simply means that we are going to permit the Vietnamese to kill Vietnamese for years to come, and that it is going to require support on the part of the United States in bombers, in helicopters and in troops that we simply cannot afford.

Now, if we set a date, then we can still bolster the regime in South Vietnam if that is what the people want. But the important thing is that more American men will not have to go over there and become drug addicts to survive. More American men will not have to lose their limbs and have their lives unalterably changed for what is now so clearly a mistake, for something that is now so clearly illegal, that is based on so much deception.

It also means that the United States is not going to have to continue to commit a certain kind of crime against humanity. What I mean by that is the bombing in Laos. There are 700,000 refugees there, which is one quarter of the population and 1.5 million in Cambodia, whose culture has been destroyed because we have not been able to see the kind of mistakes we are making.

That is why I am here — to ask you to ask the President of the United States to exercise all the power that he has, which is in fact what he says he is doing, to set that date. It is really not asking much.

Remarks by John O'Neill, Member, Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace

I think everybody here wants peace, and I've come here to talk for peace also, but for a just and lasting peace in Southeast Asia. We-ve all heard over the past 10 years the great debates over the illegality or the legality of the war in Vietnam — charges, countercharges and recriminations by both sides — and I don't want to talk about that here.

I would like to speak of the best way for us to get out of Southeast Asia, of the best way for the nation to extricate itself, and I think that is the Vietnamization program of the President.

There are things that all of us here know. One is that there has never been a problem that has been solved by running away from it. A precipitous withdrawal by the United States from South Vietnam would only compound the problems of this great country and of the entire world. It would undermine our security and the security of our allies all across the free world.

Any soldier knows that one retreat only makes other retreats easier. Retreat from the problem of Vietnam by immediate withdrawal or precipitous withdrawal within a time limit would lead to a retreat from the problems of the ghettos, retreat from the problems of the frontiers of space, from the serious problems in the fields of education and unemployment, until finally we would find ourselves here in this country with no place to retreat to.

After Vietnam is over we are all going to have to live with ourselves in this country. I and many others who were in Vietnam will lose confidence in our government if it deserts its responsibility at two minutes to 12.

I served in Vietnam for almost three years. I was there at the inception of the Navy's Vietnamization program and I missed by only three months the conclusion of that program. There isn't any Navy left in Vietnam now. The unit John Kerry and I both served in is gone. It has been turned over to South Vietnam and they are doing a fine job. There were 87,000 Marines there when we were in Vietnam; there are 3,000 today. Every minute, every second, makes the Hatfield-McGovern proposal more and more obsolete. The South Vietnamese themselves make it more and more irrelevant. We didn't pull back from the Rhine River in World War II and we cannot, as a great power, retreat into isolation at this 11th hour when, after 10 years of blood, we can finally see an honest peace in front of us.

Many question whether the Thieu government is worth dying for. I suggest that is a question for the South Vietnamese themselves to decide. Our stand in the Paris peace talks is simply withdrawal of North Vietnam forces and withdrawal of American forces and let the South Vietnamese decide through free election what type of government they themselves want. Let that election be supervised by anybody — Swiss, Indians, the UN, anybody.

I suggest this is a very fine country. If we precipitously withdraw from Vietnam, if we pull out of there leaving our prisoners of war behind, we will leave the heart and soul of this country there also.

All we do by precipitous withdrawal is to get a date to negotiate for the last 10 years, during which this country has been racked by hatred and distrust.

It seems to me we have had enough rhetoric on this issue. We have withdrawn one-half of the troops from Southeast Asia, and the President's promise is complete withdrawal on release of the prisoners of war.

Vietnamization has done more than all the rhetoric and demonstrations for the past 10 years.

I am proud personally of having been in Vietnam. So are most Vietnam veterans I've met in every town in this country. We didn't start this war but, under difficult circumstances, we brought it close to conclusion.

I suggest if you polled 2.5 million people all over the United States, instead of reading about 75 or 1,000 you find they are in favor of the President's Vietnam program.

Most of the Vietnam veterans have never been to Washington. They have jobs to work at, schools to attend, or maybe they are still in the armed services. I think they demonstrate each and every day throughout this country, demonstrate their love of this country, by participating in ordinary day-to-day affairs. I think this demonstration is the greatest unwritten story of our time.