While this headline could apply to Iraq vets, today I’m referring to John Kerry’s testimony on Vietnam vets. On April 22, 1971 John Kerry testified before Congress. Last week this was discussed in terms of dissent and opposition to an unjust war. That is one part of the testimony. Right wingers claim that Kerry was testifying against his fellow veterans. That is a lie. John Kerry testified in defense of his fellow veterans. Even when discussing the charges of atrocities such a free fire zones (charges which have been verified as true), Kerry placed the blame on those who made the policy, not the soldiers who were victims of the situation:
I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it lies with the men who encourage body counts. I think it lies in large part with this country, which allows a young child before he reaches the age of 14 to see 12,500 deaths on television, which glorifies the John Wayne syndrome, which puts out fighting man comic books on the stands, which allows us in training to do calisthenics to four counts, on the fourth count of which we stand up and shout “kill” in unison, which has posters in barracks in this country with a crucified Vietnamese, blood on him, and underneath it says “kill the gook,” and I think that clearly the responsibility for all of this is what has produced this horrible aberration.
While conservatives stress, and typically distort, Kerry’s discussion of atrocities, Kerry’s defense of his fellow veterans is often forgotten. In 1971 Kerry spoke of the problems faced by Veterans, including health problems, which are similar to those seen today:
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 dies so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations, and if you read carefully the President’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly: But the issue, gentlemen, the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people. But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.
But the problem of veterans goes beyond this personal problem, because you think about a poster in this country with a picture of Uncle Sam and the picture says “I want you.” And a young man comes out of high school and says, “That is fine. I am going to serve my country.” And he goes to Vietnam and he shoots and he kills and he does his job or maybe he doesn’t kill, maybe he just goes and he comes back, and when he gets back to this country he finds that he isn’t really wanted, because the largest unemployment figure in the country- it varies depending on who you get it from, the VA Administration 15 percent, various other sources 22 percent. But the largest corps of unemployed in this country are veterans of this war, and of those veterans 33 percent of the unemployed are black. That means 1 out of every 10 of the Nation’s unemployed is a veteran of Vietnam.
The hospitals across the country won’t, or can’t meet their demands. It is not a question of not trying. They don’t have the appropriations. A man recently died after he had a tracheotomy in California, not because of the operation but because there weren’t enough personnel to clean the mucous out of his tube and he suffocated to death.
Another young man just died in a New York VA hospital the other day. A friend of mine was lying in a bed two beds away and tried to help him, but he couldn’t. He rang a bell and there was nobody there to service that man and so he died of convulsions.
I understand 57 percent of all those entering the VA hospitals talk about suicide. Some 27 percent have tried, and they try because they come back to this country and they have to face what they did in Vietnam, and then they come back and find the indifference of a country that doesn’t really care, that doesn’t really care.