On October 9, 2002 Senator John Kerry voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq. His friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Brian Willson soon penned an open letter to Kerry to express his disappointment that Kerry went from an ardent opponent of the Vietnam War to a support of a preemptive attack on Iraq. We speak to Willson. [includes transcript]
Just over 30 years after he passionately advocated against the Vietnam War, John Kerry took one of his most controversial votes: giving President Bush the authorization to invade Iraq.
On October 9, 2002, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry stood on the Senate floor and spent 45 minutes outlining his support for the war. On October 10 he placed his vote.
The next week his friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran Brian Willson wrote an open letter to Kerry protesting his decision.
It has been a long time since we have had contact. As you might remember, our very first meeting was at VVAW’s Dewey Canyon III, “A Limited Incursion Into the Country of Congress,” April 19-23, 1971, in Washington, D.C. I’m sure you remember asking the Senate that week in an impassioned speech, “How do you ask a man to die for a mistake?” You also stressed the importance of being “totally nonviolent”…
With your vote for essentially agreeing with the selected resident of the White House’s request for incredible authority in advance to wage wars against whomever he wants, you have contributed to finalizing the last of the world’s empires, and the likely consequent doom of international law, peaceful existence, and hope for the future possibilities of Homo sapiens. Of course, it also means that searching for the motivations of other people’s rage and desperate acts of revenge will be overlooked, dooming us to far more threats and instability then if we had seriously pursued a single-standard in the application of international law equally with all nations in the first place. We are too much of a bully to do that, and have stated over and over again that the American Way Of Life is not negotiable. Can you understand that this means species suicide?
I’m sorry and terribly fearful for this state we are in. Your vote is terribly misguided, John. Now that veterans have reorganized throughout the nation as once again an important part of the growing movement, know that we shall work hard for your defeat, whether as a Presidential candidate or for another Senate term.
We talk to veteran Brian Willson and hear a clip of John Kerry’s 2002 speech supporting the Iraq invasion.
- Brian Willson, a former U.S. Air Force captain who served in Vietnam, first met Kerry in 1971 during protests on Capitol Hill. In the 1980s, Willson was one of “Kerry’s Commandos” or “the dog hunters”; and then-Lt.-Gov. Kerry appointed Willson to his Vietnam Veteran’s Advisory Committee.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. As we turn to Brian Wilson a long-time friend of John Kerry. He has recently written a letter to Senator John Kerry on Iraq.
BRIAN WILSON: Well, good morning, Amy. I listened to this speech. I was standing outside the Fulbright Hearing Room on April 22, 1971, and I was ecstatic. I was empowered and I was validated. I was like, most of the other veterans that were there at Dewey Canyon Three. I was going through my first phases of shock, and trying to tell the truth, and here was a patrician, no less, John Kerry, who was a spokesperson that really did capture our sentiments, in a way that we couldn’t have imagined. So, that was my — you know, my first days with John Kerry. And I have never forgotten the end of his speech, which I guess was played. You played it — his declaration, that we want to take one last mission to reach out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, and that we want to be part of where America finally turned, and soldiers like ourselves in the turning. Well, I and other veterans that I work with, have never forgotten it; and we still are on the path working for the turning.
I didn’t spend any time with John Kerry after that week until 1982, when I worked with him when he was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and I was directing a veteran outreach center in the state. Other groups of veterans, myself included, were having regular consultations with John Kerry, mostly on veterans issues. Then, Senator Paul Tsongas, who was one of the senators from Massachusetts at the time, had developed cancer; and he was going to have to step down. So, John Kerry immediately, decided to run for the senate.
I and about 12 or 15 other veterans worked on his primary campaign, against a very progressive Massachusetts congressman, Jim Shannon. He just beat Shannon and then he ran against a very wealthy republican businessman, Gray Shaymee, in the general election. Now, when he was running for the senate for his first term, he was very clear: He voted for arms reduction, nuclear freeze, U.S. out of Central America. He wanted to cut the defense budget in very specific ways: He wanted to eliminate the MX Missile, the Space Weapons Program, binary nerve gas, the M-1 Abrams tanks; and a whole list of weapons systems, and even various airplanes: the M-16, B-1 Bombers, B-2, the Stealth Bombers, and so forth. He even wanted to control acid rain and hazardous wastes.
So, I had no reasons to doubt that he was still on that path at that time. Even in the primary debate with Shannon, he was telling Shannon that Shannon had made a mistake when he voted for the MX Missile and Shannon admitted that he had made a mistake. Then Kerry said, as I remember, 'I fought in a mistake called Vietnam. How can we have confidence that you won't make more mistakes?’.
Well, John Kerry has made huge mistakes. The hugest mistake was his vote on October 11, 2002, to basically and unconstitutionally delegate war authority to Bush, in giving the president war-declaring power; which, only congress can do with a declaration of war. Basically, unlawfully transferring to the president the decision-making power on whether to launch the first strike in the invasion of Iraq. And he had bought all of the deceptions–hook, line and sinker, almost in the fashion to become a Bush cheerleader, if you read his October 9 speech the night before the vote. I was shocked! There are a lot of other things about John that have been disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Wilson, I wanted to play just a clip of the speech that Senator John Kerry gave on the Senate Floor, October 9, 2002:
JOHN KERRY: “Mr. President, when I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein; because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security and that of our allies in the Persian Gulf region, I will vote, because I believe it is the best way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator John Kerry, October 9, 2002. Brian Wilson…
BRIAN WILSON: 56 other congressmen and senators could see through the deception and voted, 'no', on that resolution. John always was, at least, an intelligent person. He was law trained. It’s just strange that he couldn’t see what many other people could see; including, most of his constituents in Massachusetts who he literally refused to meet with, over and over again. I think it’s ironic that he sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and he was overseeing or was participating, in hearings in 2002 about Iraq. He has seen voluminous evidence questioning the veracity of the allegations of Bush II, on the weapons of mass destruction, presence of nuclear weapons, and so forth. And that was the same committee that he was speaking before 33 years ago; asking that committee serious questions about the war in Vietnam — 'And how can you ask a man to be last man to die for a mistake?'. So, I’d like John Kerry to answer the question of who is going to be the last man to die for his mistake. And is he going to acknowledge that he has made a terrible mistake. And hold himself accountable as he is going to be holding Bush accountable. Obviously, Bush is extremely vulnerable, but Bush — I mean, but — but Kerry, himself, is very vulnerable. I don’t know whether his ability to kind of have it both ways will work as he is cross-examined harshly, I’m sure, by the Bush people down the road. I think Kerry’s most — his biggest strength — is Bush’s vulnerability. And if Kerry would make himself less vulnerable, I think he would be a shoe-in. But, I am concerned about a lot of his positions, and he’s also one of the largest recipients of special interest monies. Which is another concern. But, also, he voted for the Patriot Act, and he voted for homeland security. He has not shown leadership from a senator who has basically had, kind of a safe seat. So, he hasn’t shown courage.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he has had very close races.
BRIAN WILSON: Pardon me?
AMY GOODMAN: He had a very close race against William Weld.
BRIAN WILSON: Yes, in 1996. In 2002, he didn’t have any kind of opposition. So, after 1996, when he seemed to step up his rhetoric, his rhetoric seemed to become harsher after 1996, apparently; and certainly, nobody did emerge in 2002 that seriously challenged Kerry. So, his rhetoric simply became more Bush-like, more hawk-like. This is disturbing. It’s very disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: Brian Wilson, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Brian Wilson, Air Force captain, who served in Vietnam. First met John Kerry in 1971. Fellow veterans protesting on Capitol Hill. In 1987, Brian Wilson lost both his legs as he lay down across railroad tracks to prevent a military train in California from — he tried to prevent it from getting weapons to Central America to protest the support of the Contras there.