Appearing on the Dick Cavett show in 1971, Kerry leaned toward the camera and offered this rousing confessional: I did take part in free-fire zones, I did take part in harassment and interdiction fire, I did take part in search-and-destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground. And all of these acts, I find out later on, are contrary to the Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty."
The remarks proved a real crowd pleaser (nothing plays in politics like the first person confessional of a former sinner who has found the error of his ways). This was Kerry's chief tact for launching his political career. Fresh back from the war, he embarked on a television tour where he confessed all manner of war crime and pleaded for redemption.
During a 1971 appearance on Meet the Press Kerry explained, "I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who. . .ordered us. . .are war criminals."
Other confessionals followed. Each stop resembled the other. His voice sinks as he recalls the horror of strangers being sent to kill strangers. Some intentionally graphic war stories follow. He confesses his own crimes. Note certain recurring phrases, "burning of villages," "atrocity," "war criminals." Intake of breath. Then the big finale. Kerry paints himself as an instrument of unjust leaders. Relief. . .Empathy. . .Cathartic cheers.
The great redemption tour of 1971 culminated with Kerry telling members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his fellow Gi's had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."
The images were intentionally vivid. They summed up the brutal and arbitrary nature of war. With heaps of pity and horror, Kerry distilled the confusion of war into an easily identifiable sound bite: "war crime." Along the way he impugned the honor of his fellow soldiers by summing them all up as "war criminals," thus encouraging savage personal attacks on soldiers returning home from Vietnam.