Old Crimson Interview Reveals A More Radical John Kerry

The Crimson reported Kerry called for U.N. control of troops in 1970

Ten months after returning home from Vietnam, a young John Kerry strolled into the offices of The Harvard Crimson on Feb. 13, 1970 as an obscure underdog in the Democratic Congressional primary.

The decorated veteran, honorably discharged after a tour of duty in the Mekong Delta, spoke in fierce terms during his daylong interview with The Crimson’s Samuel Z. Goldhaber ’72.

But almost 34 years later, Kerry’s remarks on American military and intelligence operations vastly diverge from opinions expressed by the present-day Sen. John F. Kerry, D.-Mass., the leading candidate in the Democratic primary for president.

“I’m an internationalist,” Kerry told The Crimson in 1970. “I’d like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations.”

Kerry said he wanted “to almost eliminate CIA activity. The CIA is fighting its own war in Laos and nobody seems to care.”

The Kerry campaign, celebrating primary victories in Virginia and Tennessee last night, declined to comment on the senator’s remarks.

As a candidate for president, Kerry has said he supports the autonomy of the U.S. military and has never called for a scale-back of CIA operations.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich defended Kerry’s 1970 statements as appropriate for their time.

“In the context of the Vietnam War, those comments are completely understandable,” said Reich, who has endorsed Kerry.

But a spokesperson for President Bush’s reelection campaign said Kerry’s 1970 remarks signaled the senator’s weakness on defense.

“President Bush will never cede the best interests of the national security of the American people to anybody but the president of the United States, along with the Congress,” said the spokesperson, Kevin A. Madden.

The increasingly likely matchup between Kerry and Bush has already prompted comparisons of the senator’s record in Vietnam and the president’s domestic service in the National Guard. And the two Yale graduates, both members of the secret society Skull and Bones, appeared set to square off in future months under the specter of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Goldhaber, whose first-person profile of Kerry ran in The Crimson Feb. 18, 1970, said yesterday he recalled the candidate as an emerging outsider whose campaign focused squarely on his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“We lived, dreamed and breathed Vietnam,” Goldhaber said.

Still, Adam Clymer ’58, political director of the National Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania, said Kerry’s comments would likely find their way into Bush campaign materials.

“If I were them, I’d use this,” said Clymer, a former Crimson president. “I’d use it in direct mail.”

Kerry’s conservative opponents have already begun painting the Massachusetts senator and former deputy governor as an elite, New England liberal, and his 21-year voting record in the Senate may provide considerable ammunition.

Madden said the Bush campaign would highlight Kerry’s Senate votes should he win the Democratic nomination.

And Reich forecasted G.O.P. research would extend far beyond Capitol Hill.

“If Kerry is the nominee, Republicans will try and search back into everything he ever said on every issue,” Reich predicted.

Kerry’s 1970 remarks to Goldhaber portray a fiery, novice politician inspired by his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“He struck me as very ambitious,” Goldhaber said yesterday. “He struck me as the sort of person—even back then, newly returned from Vietnam—who was thinking about running for president.”

—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at seward@fas.harvard.edu.