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Saturday, August 21, 2004

FLASHBACK: "John Kerry: A Navy Dove Runs for Congress" (1970 Harvard Crimson interview)

February 18, 1970
Hundreds of opponents to the Vietnam War will meet this coming Saturday in a Third District Citizens Caucus to choose a Democrat strong enough in the September primary to oust Philip J. Philbin (D-Mass.) ...

Kerry has the most explicit stand against the Vietnam War and although his youth is a plus, the fact that he is a political unknown does not help him. Now 26, he was honorably discharged from the Navy last month but has been laying the groundwork for the race ever since November. Occasionally, Kerry makes obvious his recent return to civilian life and the Third Congressional District. ...

At Yale, Kerry was chairman of the Political Union and later, as Commencement speaker, urged the United States to withdraw from Vietnam and to scale down foreign military operations. And this was way back in 1966.

When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy. The Navy assigned him to the USS Gridley which between December 1966 and July 1968 saw four months of action off the Vietnam coast. In August through November, 1968, Kerry was trained to be the skipper of a patrol boat for Vietnamese rivers. For the next five months, until April of 1969, Kerry was the commanding Lieutenant of a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. He was wounded slightly on three different occasions and received a Silver Star for bravery. His patrol boat took part in Operation Sealords, mostly scouting out Viet Cong villages and transporting South Vietnamese marines to various destinations up and down narrow rivers covered with heavy foliage on either side. One time Kerry was ordered to destroy a Viet Cong village but disobeyed orders and suggested that the Navy Command simply send in a Psychological Warfare team to be friend the villagers with food, hospital supplies, and better educational facilities.

Pulling Out

Immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, Kerry said, would take about seven months due to complex logistics problems. During that interval he would allow only "self-defense return of fire." "Logistic suport is now what Nixon is talking about leaving there and I don't want to see that. I don't think we should leave support troops there and I don't think we should give Vietnam any more than the foreign aid given any other one country." He does not feel there would be a massive slaughter of American, sympathizers once the United States pulled out.

In America, "everybody who's against the war is suddenly considered anti-American," Kerry said. "But I don't think they can turn to me and say I don't know what's going on or I'm a draft dodger." Referring to the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by L. Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), Kerry said, "I want to go down to Washington and confront Medel Rivers, who never fought in a war.

"I as effectively as anyone else in the country, can address myself to the issue of Vietnam," Kerry said. "I'm very realistic, though. I'm just going to be one man adding to the work of men like Lowenstein."

Kerry is a pilot, and on October 14 and 15 he flew Ted Kennedy's advisor Adam Walinsky by private plane throughout the State of New York so that Walinsky could give speeches against the Vietnam War. But Kerry was smart enough not to put down "Moratorium" on the Navy signout sheet for that Tuesday and Wednesday. The following month, Kerry was sick and did not engage in the November moratorium activities.

He supports a volunteer Army, "if and only if we can create the controls for it. You're going to have to prepare for the possibility of a national emergency, however." Kerry said that the United Nations should have control over most of our foreign military operations. "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."

On other issues, Kerry wants "to almost eliminate CIA activity. The CIA is fighting its own war in Laos and nobody seems to care." He also favors a negative income tax and keeping unemployment at a very low level, "even if it means selective economic controls."

Kerry's Background

"I have a somewhat Establishment background," Kerry admitted modestly. Kerry, whose family comes from Groton, attended Fessenden, a prestigious private school in West Newton, until he was old enough to go to St. Paul's. From there he went on to Yale where he majored in political science.

Kerry's interest in politics began in 1960, when John Kennedy was running for President. Kerry gave his first political speeches for JFK and at St. Paul's founded a political group, the John Winant Society. In the summer of 1962, Kerry worked for Ted Kennedy, who was then making his first Senate bid. "I wanted to see how the political machine works."

At Yale, Kerry was instrumental in organizing the demonstrations for giving tenure to philosophy professor Dick Bernstein, even though Bernstein had not done very much publishing. As President of the Political Union, Kerry met an impressive array of political figures and spent much of his time fighting for a new YPU building, which Yale eventually built.

Kerry's style can turn people off at first because he gives the initial impression of being too good to be true, of being just a little bit insincere. His preppiness might make you think he's a blueblood WASP, but Kerry is really a Roman Catholic. However, an afternoon on the campaign trail with Kerry leaves you with quite a different impression. ... FR Reprint.

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