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article imageOp-Ed: John Kerry, from protester to protested

By Brett Wilkins     Jan 24, 2013 in Politics
Washington - When a protester interrupted Secretary of State nominee John Kerry during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Kerry responded by alluding to his testimony before the very same body more than 40 years ago.
"We're killing thousands of people in the Middle East who are not a threat to us!" the brave young woman, identified as 19-year-old Lachelle Roddy of the anti-war group Code Pink, shouted at Kerry. "When is it going to be enough? When are enough people going to be killed? I'm tired of my friends in the Middle East not knowing if they're going to live to see the next day!"
To which Kerry, who appeared before that same Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- but under dramatically different circumstances-- in 1971, replied: "Well, you know, Mr. Chairman, when I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of a group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is above all what this place is about. So I respect, I think, the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world."
The mainstream corporate media euphemistically reports that Roddy, the real person of the hour, was "escorted out" of the hearing after her outburst of dissent. In fact, she was arrested by Capitol Police. So much for the Senate being about voices being heard...
Anyway, it was a very different John Kerry who testified about a very different part of the world on April 22, 1971. But the subject of his testimony was exactly the same as the subject of Roddy's protest, namely, US killing of poor people of color in imperial wars of choice half a world away. Kerry's (in)famous speech earned him the admiration of millions. But he was vilified by conservatives, and the label of 'traitor' dogged him all the way through his failed 2004 presidential bid and right up to this very day. Kerry was a bona fide war hero. If you haven't read about his incredible heroism in Vietnam, you owe it to yourself to do so. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his bravery.
But it's what Kerry did after he got back from Vietnam that truly made him a hero to many and a villain to many more. He renounced his medals. He joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). And on April 22, 1971 he delivered the most important speech of his life before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the body he now chairs, describing in brutally honest detail some of the many war crimes and atrocities committed by US troops in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Among the gruesome 'highlights':
"[US troops] had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."
Kerry also asserted that:
"There is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom... is the height of criminal hypocrisy...
Not only was [Vietnam] a civil war, an effort by people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, we also found that... most Vietnamese 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."
For many on the reactionary right, this was too much to handle, and certainly too much to forgive. Prominent conservative voices have gone so far as to attack Kerry's heroism, both in war and in service of peace. Choleric blowhard Michelle Malkin, who accused Kerry of "unsubstantiated troop smearing," is one of many conservatives who are either woefully ignorant of history or, quite possibly, just plain liars. Millions died during the war, many of them killed by our side, and a 9,000-page Army investigation of US atrocities revealed thousands of cases of torture, rape, murder and other war crimes committed by our troops. Even one of Kerry's former Senate colleagues, Bob Kerrey, commanded a Navy SEAL team that slit the throats of 13 unarmed women and children in Thanh Phong in 1969, an atrocity Kerry later called "standard operating procedure."
Fast-forward to 2002. John Kerry, now a long-serving US senator, had long since transformed from hero of the anti-war movement to staunch supporter of militant US interventionism. He backed the 1991 Gulf War. Not only did he vote for the war in Afghanistan, he echoed the Bush neocons' most militant plans for global domination by calling for a worldwide war against not only terrorists, but also against Iraq. As a top-ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry should have known better than to cite Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMDs as casus belli. Equally unforgivable was his refusal to repudiate the War on Terror in the face of new and horrific US atrocities of the sort he once passionately railed against. Instead, Kerry tried in vain to out-hawk the chickenhawks Bush, Cheney and company. He is a staunch supporter of Israel, a nation guilty of illegal occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
The John Kerry of 1971 is but a long-faded memory, a historical footnote to what has become a typically corporatist/militarist/interventionist/Zionist Senate career. The John Kerry of 2013 is exactly the type of leader the old John Kerry would have protested. But the protester has become the protested. Hats off to one Lachelle Roddy for doing what Kerry once would have done-- speaking truth to power in the face of war crimes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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