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Two leaders of "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" - John Kerry, a former Navy lieutenant, and Al Hubbard, a former Air Force captain - speak out against the war in Vietnam. Kerry's appearance comes four days ahead of his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Vietnam War, John Kerry, Al Hubbard, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Robert Goralski, Peter Lisagor, Neil Sheehan, Crosby Noyes, Viet Nam, Vietnam, War, Fighting, Conflict, Anti-War, Demonstrations, Peace, South Vietnam, South Vietnamese, North Vietnam, North Vietnamese, Guerilla Warfare, Civil War, Vietnamization, Laos, Cambodia, Indochina, Prisoners of War, POWs, Veterans, Sacrifice, Betrayal, War Crimes, Atrocities, Free-Fire Zone, My Lai, Massacre, Public Policy, Foreign Policy
"John Kerry, Al Hubbard Speak Out Against Vietnam War." Lawrence Spivak, correspondent. Meet the Press. NBCUniversal Media. 18 Apr. 1971. NBC Learn. Web. 7 June 2015.
Spivak, L. (Reporter). (1971, April 18). John Kerry, Al Hubbard Speak Out Against Vietnam War. [Television series episode]. Meet the Press. Retrieved from https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=63194
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"John Kerry, Al Hubbard Speak Out Against Vietnam War" Meet the Press, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 04/18/1971. Accessed Sun Jun 7 2015 from NBC Learn: https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=63194
John Kerry, Al Hubbard Speak Out Against Vietnam War
LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK, anchor:
Our guests today on Meet the Press are two leaders of the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” Al Hubbard, a former Air Force Captain and John Kerry, a former Navy Lieutenant JG. Their organization begins a five-day antiwar demonstration in Washington tomorrow. Both men were decorated and injured in Vietnam. Mister Hubbard attended the University of Washington, served twelve years in the Air Force and was a pilot. Mister Kerry spent three and a half years in the Navy after graduation from Yale University and is now in the Reserves. I'd like to start the questions with Mister Hubbard. Mister Hubbard, you were in the Air Force for twelve years and you served, I believe, for two years in Vietnam. When and why did you decide that your country is wrong to fight in Vietnam?
AL HUBBARD: Well, I think I was fully aware before I went to Vietnam that our country was wrong in what it was doing. I thought while I was in Vietnam that I would be able to come to grips with that. And I found that I couldn’t that I rationalized as a result of my twelve years in the service that our military forces were needed all over the world, and I thought maybe I did not have the full picture of what was going on in Vietnam. So it was not until after I came back that I started actively dealing with my problems in-- in relating to that.
SPIVAK: Mister Hubbard, why do you think your judgment about the war is better than the judgment of three Presidents who believed we’re right in entering the war and their military advisers?
HUBBARD: Because first of all, it’s not my judgment. It is the collective knowledge of the Vietnam veterans that I have to call upon--twelve thousand members, who can present all of the various pieces of the puzzle so that I may collectively, with the membership, sit down and pull this puzzle together and look at precisely what is going on and what this country is doing.
SPIVAK: Mister Kerry, are you opposed just to the war in Vietnam, or are you opposed to all wars?
JOHN KERRY: I would like to be opposed to all wars. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are in a position as a nation or as a world at this moment to be, but I’m-- I-- I don’t really think that’s the issue. I think the question is really the opposition to this war and why we are opposing this war at this time and what we have to say here in Washington in the next week.
SPIVAK: Now, one of your organization’s advertisements says and I quote, “We believe that the Vietnam War is a civil war, a war in which the United States has no right or obligation to intervene.” What do you base your belief that the war is a Civil War and not aggression from the North as so many American leaders have said? No. That’s for you, Mister Kerry.
KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry. I base that on my experience in fighting with the South Vietnamese, the kinds of things that I saw on a day-to-day basis in South Vietnam as well as on the historical writings of most of the distinguished scholars in this country. Clearly, if you follow the pattern of North Vietnamese escalation in Vietnam, it follows a direct pattern along with our escalation. Clearly, you can see from when we entered the war at the end when the French pulled out that-- that we entered it with a very flimsy excuse under the SEATO Treaty, which was a creation of John Foster Dulles so that the United States could combat the so-called communist monolith. Clearly, as you fight with the Vietnamese you become aware of the fact that this is a war of the people because without it guerrillas cannot exist. It’s impossible to wage guerrilla warfare against the-- the largest air power in the history of warfare without the support of people to hide and harbor and supply you.
SPIVAK: Thank you, gentlemen. We’ll be back to introduce our panel and continue the questions on Meet the Press in just a minute. But first, this message.
ANNOUNCER: Now back to Meet the Press, an unrehearsed press conference. Here’s our moderator Lawrence Spivak.
SPIVAK: Resuming our interview on Meet the Press, our guests today are two leaders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Al Hubbard and John Kerry. On our panel of questioners today are Robert Goralski of NBC News, Peter Lisagor of The Chicago Daily News, Neil Sheehan of The New York Times, and Crosby Noyes of The Washington Evening Star. We’ll continue the questions with Mister Goralski.
ROBERT GORALSKI: Mister Hubbard, knowing your antiwar position, how do you propose we get out of Vietnam, just an immediate withdrawal is that your solution?
HUBBARD: Yes, I think immediate, unconditional, unilateral withdrawal of all of our troops, but we must go beyond that and we must withdraw our technology and our air support because we can still continue to wage that war without utilizing any ground combat forces.
GORALSKI: What do you think will happen in Indochina if U.S. forces are withdrawn completely?
HUBBARD: Well, I would imagine that the Indochinese people would then have an opportunity to determine for themselves what type of government they will have and will be able to deal realistically with their own domestic problems.
GORALSKI: Well, Mister Hubbard, how do you respond to the administration’s contention that until there is a comp-- release of the prisoners of war held by North Vietnam it would be unwise to pull out American troops?
HUBBARD: Well, first of all, I-- I-- I feel that that’s a position that I-- I can understand. I-- I think that it’s obvious to me and to all the Vietnam veterans that I have talked to that the only way to protect our prisoners of war in the North are-- is to stop our fighting in the South, stop our bombing of the North, and that they will be released. And we have no guarantees that some people are not going to be hurt, unfortunately. I would like to have that guarantee, but the President doesn’t have any guarantees that he can preclude their being hurt by our presence there, by our continued presence. So I say we stop it and we-- we take that chance. I am sure that all of those POWs will be released as the PRG has indicated without harm.
SPIVAK: Mister Lisagor?
PETER LISAGOR: Mister Kerry, the President Nixon has said that Vietnamization has succeeded. You are quoted in an interview this morning as saying Vietnamization is not working and that the administration is frightened by what you may tell the people about it. Is the President misinformed or deceived in saying that the Vietnamization has succeeded?
KERRY: Well, I can’t say whether he is misinformed or-- or otherwise. I know for a fact that in many instances in South Vietnam, the reports which are given are given from the field and are often changed en route to the upper levels. We have a tendency here in this country and particularly in the military in Vietnam to see what we want to see and to report what we want to report and I believe that Vietnamization-- you really can’t con-- consider it a success, not when you look at the way they came out of Laos recently on the skids of helicopters, not if you read the reports of reporters who were there. I think that even if it were a success, we still have no business being there, and that’s the important point. We don’t have to consider whether or not this war is winding down; because if it is it’s only winding down for Americans, and that’s not a solution. We don’t have to consider whether or not Vietnamization is in fact a success because whether or not it is. It merely means the continuation of a war for peoples in another country. It means that the United States is then accepting the responsibility for those South Vietnamese who will be dying for years to come because we have told them that they can fight.
LISAGOR: What do you think the United States can do about the war once it has ended its own involvement in it? How does the President of the United States end the war for the Vietnamese, the war in Laos, the war in Cambodia?
KERRY: Well, I think it’s very, very clear how the President of United States can end this war. I was recently in Paris, and I talked on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War with both delegations to the peace talks from the North and the NLF. And as Senator Vance Hartke said when he came back and others have-- have-- have-- have stated many times, the moment we set a date for withdrawal from South Vietnam, we will negotiate the return of prisoners and our troops will be permitted to return to this country without one shot being fired on them. And time and again Madame Binh iterate-- reiterates that this is one of two important points of her eight points, the only two that are nonnegotiable. The other is that we let the Vietnamese decide their own future.
SPIVAK: Mister Sheehan?
NEIL SHEEHAN: Well, Mister Kerry, I'd like to follow that up--
SPIVAK: Mister Hubbard-- Hubbard.
SHEEHAN: --if I-- if I-- if might, a little bit. And that is that one of the common criticisms demonstrations such as you and Mister Hubbard are organizing is that they cause dissension at a time when we really ought to have unity in this country. What do you have to say to the contention that the President is in fact winding down the war, that he is withdrawing another one hundred thousand troops by the end of this year, and that the kind of thing that you and Mister Hubbard are doing is simply making things harder for him to get us out of-- it’s making it more difficult for the President to get the country out of Vietnam rather than facilitating an American withdrawal policy?
SPIVAK: Want to try that first, Mister Hubbard?
HUBBARD: Yes. Well, first of all, I'd like to say that in the winding down, the one thing that this administration has not done is to remove combat troops. Now, we are playing a clever game over there. We are removing people, yes. But I think the figures that we’ve gotten are something in the neighborhood of eighty thousand troops directly involved in the combat. I haven’t seen any decline in that figure. I don’t think the war is being wound down as a result of the administration’s withdrawal of troops. I think it’s being wound down as a result of the grunt, the infantrymen refusing to make con-- contact. And as a result we are using-- utilizing our technology. We have sensors implanted in the jungle that feedback information to MACV Headquarters. That can’t differentiate between combatants and noncombatants. It cannot differentiate between human beings and animals. But because our troops are not making contact and because we are giving the illusion of a wind down, we send out an air strike on the basis of this information and we are still killing people, we are killing them at the same rate. We are changing the color of the bodies maybe on the battlefield, but we’re not winding down the war. And that’s a myth that must be destroyed.
SHEEHAN: So you’re-- your contention, in other words, is-- is that really the-- the war is going on and the President is not getting the country out of there?
HUBBARD: That’s precisely right.
SHEEHAN: Well, let me follow on to-- to one other question if I may that’s related to the work you and Mister Kerry are doing. You mentioned representing twelve thousand veterans of the Vietnam War, who supposedly sympathize with you. What about a lot of other veterans of the Vietnam War who may be opposed to what you are doing? Aren’t there a lot of veterans who don’t like what you are doing, who feel that you people may be betraying whatever sacrifice they have made in Vietnam by asking for an American withdrawal?
HUBBARD: Well, I can only speak on the basis of my exposure to veterans in this country. I have not seen a significant number of veterans who are opposed to us. I have noted that with twelve thousand members that’s a very small percentage of the total number of returned Vietnam veterans. But I have noted that Vietnam veterans or veterans of the Vietnam era do not relate to organizations. They don’t join any organization. However, they do, for every member we have on the rolls we have three to five Vietnam veterans who are not members that will relate to the activities of the organization and support us. I don’t know that there is any significant number of veterans that support the war in Vietnam. Those people usually remain in the military and are still on active duty.
SPIVAK: Mister Noyes?
CROSBY NOYES: Mister Kerry, you said at one time or another that you think that our policies in Vietnam are tantamount to genocide and that the responsibility lies at all chains of command over there. Do you consider that you personally as a Naval officer committed atrocities in Vietnam or crimes punishable by law in this country?
KERRY: There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that-- that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zone. I conducted harassment and interdiction of fire. I used fifty-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions, and all of this is ordered as a matter of written, established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who-- who signed off the-- the-- the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.
NOYES: Well, have you ever refused to obey an order that’s given to you on the grounds that it was illegal or that they were asking you to commit a crime that you knew was a crime at the time?
KERRY: Yes, Mister Noyes, I have. And we did. And we did this to a large degree when we were in Vietnam. We fought the policy very hard. We fought it so hard as a matter of fact that at one point to try and-- and-- and quell the dissension in our group or at least explain to us that what we were doing was good. My division of twenty-one officers and the division of officers on the other side of the Delta was flown to Saigon, where we were briefed in person by the admiral in command of Naval forces, now Chief of Naval Operations, where we were briefed by the general in command of forces in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams--
KERRY: --where we were told that we were writing Naval legends and where we were told that we should continue because we were showing the American flag--not the Vietnamese, but the American flag--and because we were in fact proving to the Viet Cong that they didn’t own the rivers.
SPIVAK: Mister Lisagor?
LISAGOR: Mister Hubbard, if as Mister Kerry said he committed atrocities in Vietnam, as Lieutenant William Calley did, do you feel that Lieutenant Calley was guilty?
HUBBARD: Yes. I don’t think that Mister Kerry said he committed atrocities as did Lieutenant William Calley; there is a difference. There is a difference in an individual giving an order after having identified noncombatants, giving an order to kill. I know that many of the platoon leaders and company commanders that I have talked to were vehemently opposed to the free-fire zone policy. But you must understand it’s a survival situation and any officer who feels that he can save the life of one of his men by issuing an order to recon by fire if he has not seen women and children, I think then cannot be considered responsible for that policy. But if he then after identifying noncombatants issues an order to shoot those noncombatants, then he is guilty of an aberration on his part, something that is beyond the policy you see.
LISAGOR: Yet many of the Vietnam veterans insist that My Lai was not an aberration, that it was rather common, only in a smaller dimension. Do you believe that to be true?
HUBBARD: I believe that many My Lais occur every day. I think that My Lai was unique only in that there was more people killed by one platoon in one place at one time and it was made public. I think there was one difference. I think that you do not find the average army officer ordering his men to kill women and children. You do not find that. I think that was the difference. I think Lieutenant Calley was unique. He is not representative of the officers in the military.
SPIVAK: Mister Goralski?
GORALSKI: Mister Kerry, I would like to ask you just what you attempt to achieve this week? There have been an awful lot of antiwar demonstrations in this capital, a lot of moratoriums. Are there any uncommitteds left at this point that you can reach with what you plan this week?
KERRY: Yes. Yes, there are. But it’s not a question of reaching the uncommitted. We are down here to demand that those who call themselves the most committed of all in this country--namely the Senators and Congressmen who've been talking peace for the past few years--that these men exercise their responsibility granted them by the constitution of this country to end this war. And that is what we are here to demand and we’re here to demand it because we are the men who have seen what is happening in Southeast Asia. And we believe that there is no reason and no excuse and no justification for the loss of one more American life there or for the loss of more Vietnamese. This war can be ended and it should be ended now. And that is what we’re here to say. We are here to say it and we bring a new kind of uniqueness and that we are the first veterans of any war while that war is going on to come back and say no to that war.
SPIVAK: Mister Noyes?
NOYES: Mister Hubbard, what would you advise a young man to do today who’s called for military service?
HUBBARD: Well, I would advise him to really question himself. I did not say that I would not go to Vietnam and I elect to go to jail instead. If I had that to do all over again, I personally would do that. I don’t think that I can say to a young man that you should go to jail. I think I should-- I can say to him that he should question really whether or not there are dichotomies that he will not be able to come to grips with if he does go to Vietnam. I think he must question whether he believes that this country can be wrong at times and whether this country is big enough to correct the mistakes, and whether or not he is going to take a part in making this country what it should be, or if he is going to allow it to deteriorate as it is doing now. That’s what I would say to him.
SPIVAK: Mister Sheehan? Mister Sheehan?
SHEEHAN: I would like to follow up on something Mister Kerry mentioned earlier. You said that the war in your opinion did not justify the-- the loss of one more American life. But in fact fifty-three thousand Americans have died in Vietnam. And we’re told repeatedly by men inside the government and-- and some out that one of the basic reasons for-- for continuing the war and trying to leave something solid behind in Vietnam is to justify those fifty-three thousand deaths. Now it seems to me that what you and Mister Hubbard are proposing is that we-- with-- that the country withdraw from Vietnam regardless of the consequences to Vietnam itself. And doesn’t this make meaningless the-- the sacrifice of those fifty-three thousand lives? What do you have to say about that?
KERRY: Well, first that’s really a two-part question. Let me answer as quickly as I can. First of all, I don’t say nor does Mister Hubbard we should pull out regardless of the consequences. I think this country has a long obligation in the future for reparations to the Vietnamese. And I think that our pulling out if we pull out accepting a coalition government without the Thieu-Ky-Diem regime, which we can do and which is the only obstacle to our pulling out, would be a realistic representative political force. To answer your question as to the dead, we will have marching with us mothers of prisoners of war, mothers of soldiers who have been killed, wives of husbands who have been killed. We will have Marines coming down here. Men with no legs, with Navy Crosses, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, one hundred percent disabled, who are coming here to say to the people of this country: “We have lost our sons; we have lost our husbands; I lost my legs. But the important thing is not that that happened, is let’s not keep killing people to justify my loss. Let’s not glorify the dead. Let’s try and glorify the living. Let’s do something for the living. And they would say, therefore, don’t let it happen to any more people when it doesn’t have to. Don’t let it happen to someone else.
SPIVAK: Gentlemen, we have less than three minutes. Mister Kerry, I'd like to ask you this question. The three leading veterans’ organizations as I understand who have endorsed the objectives of the war in Vietnam have enrolled a total of over five hundred thousand Vietnam servicemen as members. How significant are the twelve thousand that you say you have?
KERRY: I think the twelve thousand is very significant for a number of reasons. First of all, many of the men who come back are hustled straight into the veterans’ organizations. Secondly, we do not get the lists from the Defense Department in order to write them, find out where they are and who they are. The other organizations do. We've tried to sue the department for it and we've lost. Thirdly, we do not operate with the kind of budget that we can reach out to these people. And fourthly, the men who come back from Vietnam, these-- this is really what we are coming down here to say, the men who come back have changed. They are alienated. They have gone to Vietnam and they’ve fought for something and they’ve come back to this country to find twenty-two percent of them unemployed, to find a waiting time for drug addiction in the hospitals, to find that there are only twenty beds allocated in some hospitals, to find that it takes them nine months to get artificial limbs if they need them. And so I think the important thing is that-- that we have a new kind of veteran, and I don’t think-- if you consider that they are two and half million and only five hundred thousand or so have joined, I think that’s very, very small. I think you have to look at it the other way.
SPIVAK: We have less than two minutes now. Mister Hubbard, did you want to say something on that?
HUBBARD: I would like to add something to that. I don’t know that that figure you gave of five hundred thousand is accurately presented because I do know that in the VA hospitals that there are a great many veterans who signed up with the VFW, American Legion, Disabled Veterans, for the express purpose of having someone to assist in the adjudication of their particular cases and they do not relate to the organizations beyond that. So I think that distinction should be made and I don’t think it has in that figure.
SPIVAK: We have less than one minute now. Mister Goralski?
GORALSKI: One of the manifestations of all the antiwar activity is that we wonder about the future of the military. Do you foresee a large military force, or are you just plain anti-military?
KERRY: I don't think it's-- well, I think the military needs great, great changes in this country, obviously. And I think that one doesn’t have to necessarily say that we are not for defending this country. One doesn’t have to say that the defense of the country will be hurt by the fact that we are opposing this war. But there are changes that need to be made.
SPIVAK: I am sorry to interrupt, but our time is up. Thank you, Mister Hubbard and Mister Kerry, for being with us today on Meet the Press. I’ll tell you about next week’s guests in just a minute after this message.