Teaching Ideas: Antiwar Speech

Student activities for use with John Kerry's 1971 speech against the Vietnam War.

By Bill Bigelow

Click here to read the complete text of Kerry’s speech.

  • Before they read the speech, ask students what they know about John Kerry’s and George Bush’s service during the Vietnam War: Which of them served in Vietnam? What were their attitudes about the war? What has each campaign said about the other candidate’s Vietnam War service — or lack of service — and war-related activities? [A helpful, classroom-friendly timeline comparing the service records of Kerry and Bush is at www.motherjones.com/news/update/2004/02/02_400.html. Claims made by each campaign about the other’s wartime service — or lack of service — are evaluated at www.factcheck.org.]
  • As students read John Kerry’s 1971 testimony on the war, ask them to underline or highlight the evidence Kerry uses for his opposition to the war.
  • Kerry says that “this country, in a sense, made them [US soldiers] do” horrible things in Vietnam. Why does he believe that? Why does Kerry blame the country and not the government?
  • What does Kerry mean by calling anti-war veterans “winter soldiers”?
  • According to Kerry, why was it wrong for the United States to be fighting in Vietnam?
  • Kerry says “We found that most people [in Vietnam] didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy.” What evidence does Kerry use to reach this conclusion about “most people” in Vietnam?
  • In what ways does Kerry consider this a racist war?
  • The most famous line from Kerry’s speech is “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Why do you think that this was the most memorable line from the speech?
  • Kerry says that the war is “part and parcel of everything.” What does he mean by that?
  • Who is he angry with for the horrors of the Vietnam War?
  • When Kerry delivered this speech there were still U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Do you think this speech was unpatriotic? Why or why not?
  • What does Kerry hope this speech will accomplish?
  • What are the similarities and differences between U.S. involvement in Vietnam and U.S. involvement in Iraq? Do you think that soldiers returning from Iraq might begin to make similar speeches? [See the powerful interview with Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey published in the Sacramento Bee about why Massey turned against the war. It is online at www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6201.htm.]