Kerry's Radical Past: When Vietnam Protests Turned Violent

I arrived at the University of Washington in Seattle in the fall of 1970, happily prepared to study oceanography on a naval scholarship. I was unprepared for the level of hostility that would greet me, an American soldier in uniform.

As I tried to explain to the anti-war types, I had not been in Vietnam at all in my two years on active duty. I had been based in San Diego and Long Beach, Calif., far removed from the fray. But this was not enough to spare me and my fellow officer candidates rude remarks from the long-hairs about our ancestry.

It wasn’t long before we were told to hunker down.

At my first meeting with our new commanding officer, a Capt. Dick McNees, he told me to let my hair down–literally. At first I thought he was joking when he told me, “In order to blend in with the student body, you will let your hair grow.”

More troubling to me was his order that we not wear our uniforms on campus. Capt. McNees was worried that, if we were identified as military servicemen, there would be trouble. We risked not only being verbally harassed, but physically attacked, by the peaceniks. By that point in the Vietnam War, there had been a number of incidents on campus. Two years before, the NROTC building on campus, Clark Hall, had actually been firebombed, sustaining over $100,000 in damage.

Little did I know that things were to heat up even further in the months to come.

My hair had only begun to grow out when, in early1971, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) met in a Detroit, Mich., hotel to document war crimes that they had supposedly participated in or witnessed during their combat tours in Vietnam. During the next three days, more than 100 self-proclaimed Vietnam veterans (many of whom had been no closer to Saigon than I had at that point in time) gave dramatic, emotional testimony describing hundreds of atrocities against innocent civilians in South Vietnam, including rape, arson, torture, murder, and the shelling or napalming of entire villages. These “witnesses” (who later refused to sign affidavits) stated that these acts were being committed casually and routinely, under orders, as a matter of policy.

At least this is the way it was reported in the press. As historian Guenther Lewy was later to write in America in Vietnam, “the antiwar movement successfully demonized Vietnam veterans by calling a series of “tribunals” or hearings into war crimes. But…they were packed with pretenders and liars.

One of these “pretenders” was John Kerry, who emerged from the meeting as the spokesman for Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW). Because he had served, if only briefly, as a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry knew perfectly well that the charges being made by these “veterans” were bogus, yet he went about the country loudly accusing American servicemen of committing precisely these crimes.

In February 1971, the VVAW circus came to my university. There, at an anti-war rally, fired-up agitators told hundreds of naive and gullible students what John Kerry was to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971. Namely that, according to Kerry, American soldiers “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 Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam…” Kerry accused the U.S. military of committing war crimes “on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”

Around that time, I arrived at the NROTC building one morning to find it cordoned off by police. The windows had been blown out, and there was other evidence of damage. It turned out that someone had planted a bomb in the basement locker room where all the cadets kept their books and uniforms. The explosion at around 7 a.m. caused considerable damage to the locker room, but no deaths or injuries, since the cadets had not yet arrived for their classes. Had the blast occurred later in the day–especially if it had gone off during a class break when the cadets congregated downstairs–it could have been fatal to many.

The bomber was never found, but he was surely one of those anti-war activists who was listening so raptly to Kerry’s group at the rally. Kerry and Company not only stained the reputation of each and every one of us who served in the U.S. military, he made some of us targets.

John Kerry’s photograph hangs in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, in a hall called the “War Protester’s Room.” It clearly belongs there. The Vietnamese communists placed a high value on Kerry’s support of their efforts during the Vietnam War.

It should not hang in Clark Hall, the NROTC building on the University of Washington campus, as the Commander-in-Chief. Nor anywhere else, for that matter.