© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Kerry: We've Got to Confront Our Wars As a Country United

Marhsa Miller
LBJ Library
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, delivers the keynote address at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Vietnam War Summit on Wednesday, April 27, 2016.";

Former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes introduced Secretary John Kerry Wednesday night who reflected on his time both fighting in the Vietnam War and fighting against it as he addressed attendees at the LBJ  Library Vietnam War Summit.

Barnes says the former democratic presidential candidate and long-time senator has a unique history with the war. Kerry enlisted during college and did two tours in Vietnam -- winning silver and bronze stars and three purple hearts.

"Upon his return from Vietnam he became a national spokesman for the efforts of veterans to end the war. Speaking hard truths about the war that many believed had gone badly off the tracks. His words echoed with valor, sincerity and deep consideration," Barnes says.

Kerry talked about how far the country has come in achieving diplomatic relationships with Vietnam, but he also said the country still has some lessons to learn from the war. Decades later, Kerry says there is still a lot of emotion surrounding this divisive time in the country’s history. Even for him.

"When I testified against the war in Vietnam for the Senate, I spoke of the determination of veterans to undertake one last mission. So that in 30 years when our brothers went down the street without a leg or an arm and people ask ‘why?’ we would say ‘Vietnam,’" Kerry says choking up before continuing, "and not mean a bitter memory, but mean instead the place where America turned and where we helped in the turning."

Kerry says since the war – which cost thousands of American lives and more than a million Southeast Asian lives – the two countries have turned a corner.

"Because so many Vietnamese and Americans themselves refuse to let our past define our future – Vietnam, a former adversary, is now a partner with whom we have developed increasing warm personal and national ties," he says.

Kerry says the country has learned some lessons since the war. He pointed to the Iran nuclear deal as evidence. But he says he struggles with the strains on servicemen and women. Kerry says he has reservations about having a fully-volunteer army during multiple wars.

"One of the dangers of what we have today with this volunteer structure, is I’ve met people who are on their fifth and six deployments. And boy is that tough. That is just really hard for people to hold families together and raise kids. And do the things we expect. So, we got to confront this as a country," Kerry says.

The country needs to do more to make sure veterans are getting adequate and timely healthcare, which remains an ongoing problem. He also discussed the various conflicts in the Middle East. And Kerry compared the wars fought in the 20th century – including the Vietnam War – to today’s wars. He says it’s like two different worlds.