John Kerry’s Obsession

March 1, 2004

Published in Covert Action Quarterly Issue #76, Spring 2004
On March 7, 1969, I arrived at a tiny airbase south of the Bassac River in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as head of an Air Force combat security unit. On March 13, Navy swiftboat commander John Kerry received a bronze star for actions on the Bay Hap River 70 miles further south. Two years later, in April 1971, we would meet at a week-long veteran’s encampment on the mall in Washington, DC, during the historic “Dewey Canyon III: a limited incursion into the country of Congress” organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Kerry, recipient of five war medals, was one of its organizers. I was ecstatic to simply be present with 1,000 other veterans vigorously opposing a senselessly brutal and racist war still raging.

Thursday of that week I stood crying outside the packed hearing room of Senator William Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee listening to John Kerry’s powerful speech condemning the war and asking for its quick cessation. For the first time I felt validation for a horrible experience that I, like with so many veterans, was just beginning to recover from. I will never forget his concluding remarks: “Our determination [is] to undertake one last mission, to reach out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war…and…30 years from now…we will be able to say ‘Vietnam’ and…mean…the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped in the turning.” Wow!

The following day John Kerry joined 700-800 vets who threw their medals over a quickly erected fence near the west steps of the Capitol. It was a powerful collective catharsis.

More than eleven years later John Kerry and I reconnected in Massachusetts. I met him in 1983 after he had been elected Lt. Governor under Michael Dukakis. As a lawyer dropout, I was actively involved with other veterans who with John were seeking to craft effective responses to the growing syndrome of psychological and physical problems manifesting among the state’s veterans.

In 1984, Kerry ran against a popular Congressperson in the Democratic primary for a vacant U.S. Senate seat. I joined a dozen or so Vietnam veterans rallying around Kerry while other veterans sided with his opponent because they believed Kerry had seriously ignored veteran issues. Kerry won a close primary, then campaigned in the general election against a wealthy businessman championed by General George Patton III.

Kerry’s platform was impressively progressive. He called for serious reductions in military spending and weapons production and supported a nuclear freeze. He proposed aggressive efforts to control acid rain and opposed offshore drilling while promising to substantially increase spending on domestic social programs. We veterans, “Kerry’s doghunters,” continually fended off criticisms from the far right. Patton accused Kerry of having committed treasonous acts as organizer for VVAW in 1971, “giving aid and comfort for the enemy.” Kerry’s medal throwing in April 1971 became a target of fierce attacks. Boy, did we vets defend that expression–an act of our own catharsis, atoning for having participated in an illegal and savage war. Then came the shocking revelation from Kerry: “I did not throw my medals, but those of a World War II veteran from Lincoln, Massachusetts, at his request.”

I felt a painful twinge of betrayal in my stomach, though initially I tried to downplay the significance of the deception. Kerry went on to win. Cameron Kerry attributed his brother’s ultimate election success to the “galvanizing energy” provided by the veterans’ support. The “doghunters,” called “Kerry’s commandos” by the press, had succeeded getting an anti-war Vietnam veteran elected to the U.S. Senate.

In 1985 Kerry threw a party for his “doghunters,” and it was there that I heard him mention several times that his initials “JFK” (John Forbes Kerry) would one day enhance his aspirations for the White House in the footsteps of his hero, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I chuckled. Then John said he had a new appreciation for the covert actions used to facilitate U.S. foreign policy, having been briefed about the nation’s secrets by the CIA, DoD, and other security agencies.

As a member of Senator Kerry’s Veterans Advisory Council I worried that John was already infected by that stifling phenomenon called Washington groupthink. I began some critical reflection. Rumors had it that Kerry had expressed to peers at Yale his ambitions of following his hero, JFK, to the presidency. At 18 years of age, Kerry had a serendipitous meeting with Kennedy on a Coast Guard boat off Cape Cod. His privileged background ensured his induction into Yale’s secret Skull and Bones Society. He had given an anti-war speech at his 1966 Yale graduation after enlisting in a Naval officer program, virtually guaranteeing a trip to Vietnam. And it seemed strange he had made such an effort to carefully document with his own films his actions on a swiftboat in the Mekong Delta. Finally, 1971-1984 was a long time for John to have been silent about the deception of throwing someone else’s medals, rather than his own.

During his first term, Kerry did use his prosecutorial skills to initiate an ad hoc investigation into Reagan’s illegal contra terrorist activities against revolutionary Nicaragua. Kerry and his staff found evidence tying the contras to drug smuggling while the Iran-Contra scandal was unraveling. These actions indicated Kerry might take seriously campaign promises to bring to the Senate lessons he learned from his Vietnam experiences about illegal and reckless government policies.

In addition, Kerry has consistently won good grades for his support of environmental protection. However, in general, his 19 years in the Senate have been unremarkable. He has championed no particular cause, often following the lead of Senator Edward Kennedy, though they dramatically parted ways over the latest Iraq war.

A close examination of Kerry’s record reveals that he

  • announced that his first campaign promises to cancel weapons systems and reduce defense spending were ill-advised; -voted for the Gramm-Rudman Act of 1985 resulting in dramatic cuts in domestic social programs;
  • voted against Gulf War I only to soon reverse himself saying he was ill advised;
  • voted for the 1996 Telecommunications Act facilitating media monopolies;
  • supported Clinton’s “welfare reform;”
  • supported Clinton’s draconian “Counter-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” a precursor to Bush II’s Patriot Act which Kerry also supported;
  • supported the genocidal sanctions against and continued bombings of Iraq under Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II;
  • voted for the Homeland Security Act;
  • voted for the “No Child Left Behind”Act;
  • questioned the correctness of affirmative action;
  • boldly declared that “the cause of Israel is the cause of America”;
  • supports NAFTA, the WTO, GATT;
  • continues to support massive increases in “defense” spending;
  • supported Bush II’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

Kerry is now the wealthiest of all 100 Senators (around $500 million), largely due to his wife’s fortune. Despite Kerry declaring his intentions to take on the special monied interests that control politics, he is one of the largest recipients of special interest money.

Perhaps most disturbing is Kerry’s ardent support of Bush II’s 2002 request of Congress to unlawfully transfer their non-delegable war-declaring power to the president to launch first-strike, pre-emptive war as he determined to be necessary to defend national security. This Iraq war was conducted in direct violation of the
U.S. Constitution and international law, and every member of Congress who voted for it violated their oath to uphold the highest law of our nation. There were 23 Senators and 133 members of the House of Representatives who voted “NO” on the October 2002 resolution, far more grotesque in lies and fabrications than the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that granted unlimited war authority to President Johnson.

Sadly, Kerry has forgotten the lessons from Vietnam, if in fact he once understood them. He has been one of the leading hawk cheerleaders for war against Saddam Hussein. He claims to have believed in every pretext offered by Bush II. The numerous deceptions visible to so many, strangely were overlooked by this well-educated lawyer. In fact, he declared on the floor of the Senate, October 9th, on the eve of the vote: “In the clearest presentation to date, the President laid out a strong, comprehensive and compelling argument why Iraq’s WMD programs are a threat to the United States and the international community.”

In John Kerry’s 2003 book, A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America (Viking), he seeks to revive a “bold vision of progressive internationalism,” in effect continuing Pax Americana. One particularly revealing statement indicates Kerry’s betrayal of the veterans who shared the sentiments of his 1971 speech: “As a veteran of both the Vietnam War and the Vietnam protest movement, I say to both conservative and liberal misinterpretations of that war that it’s time to get over it and recognize it as an exception, not as a ruling example, of the U.S. military engagements of the twentieth century. If those of us who carried the physical and emotional burdens of that conflict can regain perspective and move on, so can those whose involvement was vicarious or who knew nothing of the war other than ideology and legend” (p. 43, italics mine). Kerry is out of touch. Iraq repeated a tragedy that could have been avoided if we had heeded the lessons of Vietnam–lies and consequent quagmires.

Vietnam an exception? Kerry ignores the 200 U.S. overt, and thousands of covert, illegal interventions against “majority world” nations since World War II alone, resulting in the murdering and maiming of millions of impoverished peoples in more than 100 countries as they aspire for a bit of justice, a pattern of wholesale terrorism used to maintain a grotesque, unsustainable global gap between the haves and the have-nots. To so ignore this suggests a total insensitivity to our cultural racism that has enabled such systematic exploitation of “majority world” peoples, an attitude that simply can no longer be tolerated as part of our national policy.

What happened to Kerry’s commitment to the historic “turning” of America? Or perhaps he never meant it in the first place. It could be that John Kerry always has been driven by a burning ambition for the presidency that has guided his actions, including his Vietnam tours of duty and his anti-war actions–and those historic words he uttered in 1971. Kerry is deeply entrenched in the corrupt, U.S. oligarchic structure with his obsession to be president overriding all else. This is where he stands.

It is ironic that John Kerry now sits as an experienced lawyer on the same Senate Foreign Relations Committee before which he testified so eloquently in 1971. In 2002 hearings before the same Committee he listened to voluminous testimony authoritatively challenging all of Bush II’s pretexts. Kerry dismissed every piece of evidence offered. I believe Kerry voted in a manner he thought would serve his presidential ambitions, even though it meant defying the Constitution he swore to uphold.

Despite my desire to see Bush II dethroned, I cannot join the growing “Band of Brothers” working on Kerry’s presidential campaign. I belong to a different tribe of veterans who are still working for the “turning of America.” Whether Kerry truly meant those words or not, many others of us took them to heart. That turning is still desperately needed. The world may not survive if we don’t participate in a dramatic turning–away from blinding arrogance and plutocracy and toward loving compassion and authentic grassroots-based democracy.

One Comment

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