When Kerry rose in the Senate to oppose authorization for war against Iraq in January 1991, his words conveyed a wary, Vietnam-haunted approach to the use of military force that contrasted sharply with his vote a decade later to go to war a second time against Iraq. He was on the losing side of the vote on that war, which turned out to be far less costly in human and financial terms than Kerry and most Democrats -- 45 of the party's 54 senators opposed it -- predicted.
In a lengthy speech, Kerry touched on most of the arguments that other critics made against going to war: Sanctions had not been given enough time to work; the American people were not prepared for the heavy casualties that might result; the war might spawn further instability in the Middle East. But it was Vietnam -- especially fighting a war that did not have the full backing of the American people -- that appeared to influence Kerry as much as anything else.
"The question of being ready and certain is important to many of us of the Vietnam generation," Kerry said. "We come to this debate with a measure of distrust, with some skepticism, with a searing commitment to ask honest questions and with a resolve to get satisfactory answers so that we are not misled again."
Kerry said he was "willing to accept the horror that goes with war" but only "when the interests or stakes warrant it." He added: "My belief is, though, that our impatience with sanctions and diplomacy does not yet warrant accepting that horror, and my fear is that our beloved country is not yet ready for what it will witness and bear if we go to war."
Kerry concluded by reading from a novel by Dalton Trumbo on the eve of World War II about a horribly mutilated young soldier who wanted to put himself on display before the world's statesmen to remind them of the costs of war. "That is the only issue before this body," Kerry said.
Kerry has never backed away from his opposition to the war, an aide said.