Winter Soldier: John Kerry’s Turning Point

The Detroit Free Press has an interesting piece on the conference held in that city 33 years ago and its impact on the presumptive Democratic nominee.

That largely forgotten conference, called the Winter Soldier Investigation, has come under national scrutiny in recent weeks because one person who attended was a Navy veteran named John Kerry, then 27, who is now closing in on the Democratic nomination for president.

The painful stories Kerry heard at Third and West Grand Boulevard had a major impact on his life. For him, Winter Soldier proved to be a key event in his evolution from wounded war hero to antiwar protester.

“Detroit was the great eye-opener for John Kerry,” historian Douglas Brinkley, author of the 2004 Kerry war biography, “Tour of Duty,” said in a recent interview.

“It was a kind of intellectual turning point. It was a moment that helped jar him out of kind of a complacent antiwar protester to one that was on a mission to charge the Nixon administration with war crimes.”

***

Clean-shaven and wearing a collared shirt and slacks, Kerry did not fit in, his friends say. Indeed, two participants contacted by the Free Press said they never saw him in Detroit.

Brinkley wrote that Kerry stayed purposely low-key.

“While Kerry thought the U.S.-declared free fire zones, B52 bombing raids, defoliation campaigns, and search-and-destroy policies in Vietnam all morally reprehensible, he refused to mount a soapbox and detail atrocities he witnessed in the Mekong Delta at a forlorn motel,” Brinkley wrote in “Tour of Duty.”

“He was adverse to the cultivated sloppiness of professional peaceniks.”

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. McGehee says:

    For him, Winter Soldier proved to be a key event in his evolution from wounded war hero to antiwar protester.

    Just one problem with that assessment. He was making anti-war noises before he ever went to Vietnam.

  2. Dodd says:

    “two participants contacted by the Free Press said they never saw him in Detroit.”

    Kerry can’t prove he was there! This raises more questions than it answers!

  3. Hal says:

    And what exactly is wrong with being anti-war? Is war a pinacle of human endevour? Or is it a character flaw not to support a mendaciously prosecuted event?

    Hmmm.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Winter Soldier was controversial because a lot of the soldiers weren’t really soldiers and there was a lot of false propaganda about American atrocities in Vietnam.

    The main thing I found interesting about this article was that Kerry obviously didn’t fit in with this crowd, even though he wound up leading the Veterans Against the War. It also appears that, like Clinton, he was conscious of political implications even back then.

  5. Paul says:

    damn! Dodd beat me to it. Again.

    But McGehee was right he was protesting long before Winter Soldier.

  6. Jalal Abu Jarhead says:

    Hal, McGehee was commenting on an apparently inaccurate line from the article. If he held antiwar beliefs before he joined the Navy or went to Vietnam, it seems unlikely that Winter Soldier could have been a “key event” in an evolution that occurred years earlier, if it occurred at all.