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The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Fourth Edition
Paul S. Boyer, Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, Nancy Woloch
Primary Sources


Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source


John Kerry Questions a War Gone Wrong
(1971)
U.S. Government

Introduction
Before he became a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, like many young men of his generation, served in Vietnam. After the war he was instrumental in organizing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As one observer noted, "He sees his Senate career as continuous with his antiwar activism." Early in his Senate career, Kerry opposed increased aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and was deeply involved in exposing the Iran-Contra connection to illegal drug trafficking.

Questions to Consider
  1. List the "lessons" that John Kerry learned about the Vietnam War during his tour of duty.

  2. What evidence does the document provide regarding the failure of American policy in Vietnam?

  3. Why were the United States and South Vietnam, according to Kerry, unable to prevent an eventual communist victory?



Source
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 our 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." 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.



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