Kerry Undertakes One Last Anti-War Mission

by James M. Wall

Kerry in 71 cropJohn Kerry is back in Washington after his fifth official trip to the Middle East. He is already planning his return to the region.

Despite the lack of any visible signs of success, the U.S. Secretary of State remains determined to resolve what is generally seen in official Washington as an intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine.

In a June 30 editorial, The New York Times saw little prospect for success, despite the fact that “Mr. Kerry keeps doggedly plowing forward.”

Indeed, as the Times reports, the Secretary is giving every impression that he sees progress ahead. He sure acts that way. Note his travel schedule:

“On Thursday [June 27], he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, then drove to Amman to confer with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday. He later flew by helicopter back to Jerusalem for another meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, then one with President Shimon Peres of Israel. On Saturday and Sunday, he shuttled between the leaders again.”

This is not Kerry’s first political rodeo. There is nothing quite like rising from his role as an anti-war Vietnam veteran to become a U.S. senator, a U.S. presidential candidate and chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, to teach someone the art of politics.

John Kerry’s first appearance on the American political scene was as a young Navy lieutenant appearing before the same Senate Foreign Relations Committee which he would one day chair. (1971 picture of Kerry testifying above).

It was in that senate committee testimony that a young navy veteran told the senators that he and his fellow veterans against the Vietnam war were “undertaking one last mission” to end a war. The website, Libertyinexile, recalls that testimony:

On April 22,1971, a young Lieutenant named John Kerry came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress on the subject of ending the war in which he served.

He appeared on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group of over 20,000 former military servicemen who collectively called for an end to the military operations and atrocities in Vietnam.

Lt. Kerry gave a prepared speech, eloquent and precise, poignant and riveting. He spoke of the crimes of the American soldiers committed in Vietnam, the mystic veil of communism which had justified such killing and destruction, the lies of the American executive which directed these immoral actions, and the convergence of all said injustice to yield the most grave mistake which had just then become realized to the majority of the American public.

After serving his country as a young naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry has been in politics most of his adult life, starting as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1983, and then as a U.S. senator from the same state from 1985 until he was asked by President Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Kerry comes to this moment in history out of a rich history of service to his country.

The dogged pursuit of an agreement by a man who has seen war suggests that it is a real possibility that John Kerry knows something about the Netanyahu-Abbas talks that the rest of us do not know. In his dogged pursuit for an agreement, he is undertaking another “last mission” to prevent a permanent Middle East war.

How could we? This is a Secretary of State who is operating under the veil of secrecy. The Times editorial offers this explanation for the secrecy:

Whether there is any substantive narrowing of differences between the two sides is unknown. Mr. Kerry’s determination to maintain secrecy is frustrating to anyone following his mission but also tactical, since unveiling details prematurely is more likely to back Israelis and Palestinians into opposite corners.

It could be that Kerry is not just negotiating. It is quite possible that he is pressing Israel to take more than just token steps toward showing the Palestinian leaders that Israel is ready to ease its prison-like grip on a people whose land they illegally occupy.

Nelson Mandela, near death in a South African hospital, leaves behind a text which could serve as a guide for Kerry, a text related, perhaps, to Mandela’s painful experience as a political prisoner in South Africa.

The Mandela text is well known in Palestine, enough so that it appears on posters and in one instance, is scrawled in paint on Israel’s illegal wall of separation.DSC_0466

“Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” 

What lies ahead as John Kerry continues his shuttle diplomacy against impossible odds? With very little to go on except a recognition that Kerry is dogged in his determination to keep pushing to bring the two sides together, here is one possible scenario:

As a young man in 1971, John Kerry testified against an absurd war in Vietnam.

Now is Kerry’s moment to convince Netanyahu and Abbas that he is determined to end the permanent conflict between them. He is prepared to end that conflict and then walk with them over the rocky road that would follow a successful end to negotiations.

It would then be up to President Obama to stand with his Secretary of State in what would be a difficult period ahead.

Obama and Kerry will not have the backing of the U.S. Congress in this struggle, but what care Obama and Kerry about a Zionist-Tea Party controlled Congress when the executive branch of government offers Netanyahu and Abbas a way out of their permanent state of conflict.

Is something like this in Kerry’s thinking as he flies back and forth between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Or is it wistful thinking about the impossible?

This much we do know about John Kerry. We have the record. When he closed his formal testimony before the foreign affairs committee in 1971, this is what John Kerry said, recalling his service in the Vietnam war:

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. Thank you.

The photo of John Kerry is from a CSPAN screen shot in 1971. It appeared in Liberty in Exile. The picture of the Mandela quote is from Flicka on Photostream.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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9 Responses to Kerry Undertakes One Last Anti-War Mission

  1. mike matarwe says:

    The only time anybody can see progress in Palestine , is when the USA stops the billions of dollars aid to the that illigal regime calles israel

  2. Fred says:

    You can’t make peace with a natiion that doesn’t want it, and Israel doesn’t want peace, it wants all of Palestine and has obtained it and has settled hundreds of thousands of Jews on Palestinian land. It approved more settlements a few days before Kerry came. The Israelis have done this many times before. They are making fools of all of us. Their talk of peace has been nothing more than deception for many years. We play along with their deception, and give them billions. It is disgusting

  3. Pauline Coffman says:

    If only it were possible. As I read the New York Times skepticism about his process this morning, I found myself “wistfully thinking” maybe he could do it. But having just seen the web of settlements and bypass roads that ensnare the West Bank, it is hard to be optimistic. Even the researcher at ARIJ (Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem) thought both the two-state and one-state solution are impossible. She had no hope at all. And that’s what we heard consistently from Palestinians. What comes as a result of despair?

  4. John Kleinheksel says:

    Thank you (again) Jim, for your support for Kerry’s persistent, dogged determination to get Bibi and Abu Mazin to the negotiating table. The odds are indeed hugely stacked against “success”.
    I’ve just returned from a 2 week study tour to the region, listening to spokespersons from all sides of the political and social spectrum. I’m hoping that Kerry is doing a lot privately with the leaders, avoiding the media circus and all the public posturing that appeals to the extremes (and gets no where).
    In both Hegel and Kerry, Obama now has high level leaders who hate the horrors of war and the phony sense of achievement war fosters. Is there enough trust between the “free” parties? (Mandela’s comment is so appropo.) Can these two face down their extreme elements? Will Israel finally address the root causes of the conflict? Will Palestinians believe Israel is dealing in “good faith”?
    Watch for my first blog in giving an account of our study group’s findings. JRK

  5. David Neunuebel says:

    Not gonna happen, but I appreciate the piece and John’s efforts.

  6. Sami says:

    Could pigs fly? Call me a skeptic, but I still believe that if it was going to rain, we would have seen some clouds, as the Arabic saying goes. Right now, the only clouds I see are those of an American administration that stoops so low to appease the Israelis and even uses threats to deny the Palestinians the right to take Zionist war criminals to the ICC.

  7. fadwa says:

    This shuttle diplomacy is futile unless Mr Kerry has strong backing from the US
    Government. Bibi Netanyahu is not going to embarass them by not only building new settlements but have AIPAC topple all what US envoy did. Doesn’t history repeat itself ?
    It will be a MIRACLE if Secretary of the greatest nation succseeds this year.

  8. Pingback: Kerry Undertakes One Last Anti-War Mission | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News

  9. abunaalgodon says:

    Oh dear Jim, I do so hope it is not just “wistful thinking”. It is difficult to believe that “Israel is ready to ease its prison-like grip on a people whose land they illegally occupy”. But then God (or something) does continue to surprise me with voices from the most unlikely places. Who would have guessed that a handsome guy with enormous talent from a refugee camp in Gaza would burst upon the scene and sing of unity, justice and peace.
    Always – thanks to you for your good words. Cotton

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