Vietnam War, Peace Pivotal in Kerry's Life
"That's what the internal debate was about: Can the draft dodger do this or not?" Salter said. "That's what was going on in the White House, with some of the political people saying, 'Where's the upside in doing this?' "
Winston Lord, who was then assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs and a strong advocate for normalization, said, "The president and the White House staff were always quite nervous about this issue because of the president not serving in Vietnam. He and his aides were always concerned about attacks on him."
Lake, the national security adviser, agreed that the Clinton White House approached the normalization issue cautiously, but he said this was not only because of political concerns.
"There were good reasons to pursue [normalization], but there were also good reasons to pursue it carefully," Lake said. "Not just for political reasons, but also because, if in the process of doing it, you blew it up here at home, did it in the face of very strong objections from veterans groups or whatever, you would have precisely the wrong effect in terms of putting [the war] behind us. So you had to do it right, and there McCain and Kerry were pivotal."
Kerry and McCain were said at the time to be providing "political cover" for Clinton. On May 23, 1995, they went to the White House and met with Clinton in the Oval Office. McCain told Clinton it did not matter to him anymore who was for or against the war. Kerry, the lawyer, summarized the reasons why it was in the interests of the United States to normalize relations with Vietnam.
Six weeks later, Clinton took that step.
In his speech at the University of Hanoi, Clinton referred to Kerry and other American veterans who had returned to Vietnam. He said they had done so "to honor those who fought without refighting the battles; to remember our history, but not to perpetuate it; to give young people like you in both of our countries the chance to live in your tomorrows, not in our yesterdays."
Asked recently how he would explain to Americans who were born after the war why the path to normalization was important, Kerry said, "It was the true making of peace. It really was the making of peace. There wasn't peace until that. There was a great scar that was still open in America, a wound that was open."
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9127 Commander John Feller sing "God Bless America" at a Kerry campaign stop in Des Moines in May.
(Charlie Neibergall -- AP)
A Jan. 3 article on Sen. John F. Kerry's Vietnam War experience misstated the year of the fall of Saigon. It was 1975.
About This Series|
For each of the Democratic presidential candidates, there was a subject that so engaged them that it provides a lens through which to view their careers. These occasional stories examine the candidates and their signature issues.
_____Defining Issues Series_____
The Politician Of Protest (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2004)
Patient Welfare a Cornerstone of Edwards's Platform (The Washington Post, Jan 2, 2004)
Gephardt Keeps Talking Trade (The Washington Post, Dec 27, 2003)
Kucinich Stresses Civil Liberties (The Washington Post, Dec 24, 2003)
Dean's Care For All, Built Part by Part (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2003)
Clark's Role in Kosovo Exemplifies His Traits (The Washington Post, Dec 17, 2003)
In Braun-Helms Fight, Senate Searched Soul (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2003)
Lieberman Versus Hollywood (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2003)