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Winter Soldiers and Summer Patriots


Dear Senator Kerry,

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

This is a question you asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, testifying against the Vietnam War. If you are elected President of the United States, you will have to answer it. Surely, the war against Iraq, and the escalating disaster of our military occupation, qualify as some of the worst “mistakes” in the history of our nation.

In fact, the invasion of Iraq is the most dangerous and immoral action taken by the U.S. government since the devastation and atrocity in Vietnam. This is a subject you know more about than most, because you were there. Having served, you came home to denounce the evil of that war in language that many still admire for its unsparing honesty.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” you asked in your testimony to the Senate in 1971. Representing one thousand veterans, you spoke plainly about your “determination to undertake one last mission-to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that has driven this country the last ten years or more, so from when 30 years from now our brothers go down a street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say `Vietnam’ and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” Now your opponents use these words to pillory you, as they try to justify another barbaric war with more “lies and garbage,” in the words of General Anthony Zinni, another Vietnam veteran.

In 1971, you showed courage. But now, in 2004, we wait, and the world waits, to see if you will denounce the grave damage that the occupation of Iraq is doing to the United States and the world: the thousands of young men and women in our Armed Forces killed and wounded, the much larger number of dead and injured Iraqis, all caught in a vicious cycle of popular resistance and intensifying repression. Just as in Vietnam, there is no way out of this swamp of violence other than to renounce it. So far, all we have heard from you are politically-calibrated platitudes about staying the course. This is caution, not courage; calculation, not leadership. To our dismay, you have even suggested sending more troops to Iraq, a policy that may require the reinstatement of the draft to sustain.

Senator Kerry, we call on you to show the same courage now that you did in 1971. Tell the people of this country the war was wrong, the occupation is disaster, and that we can have no future as a colonial power. Speak up for what’s right, right now. Otherwise, if you are elected, you will have to tell some family, years from now, that their daughter or son was the last one to die defending not simply a “mistake,” but a series of lies. You will be known as the president who dragged the U.S. further into a quagmire of countless needless deaths.

We urge you to speak as a winter soldier, not a summer patriot. As you know, a war begun for the wrong reasons cannot be made right. The only way forward is to end this war now.




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