Published on May 12, 2013 by The Film Archives
John Forbes Kerry (born December 11, 1943) is an American politician who is the 68th and current United States Secretary of State. He served as a United States Senator from Massachusetts from 1985 to 2013, and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry was the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2004 Presidential Election but lost to incumbent George W. Bush.
The son of an Army Air Corps veteran, Kerry was born in Aurora, Colorado. He attended boarding school in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and went on to graduate from Yale University class of 1966, where he majored in political science and became a member of the influential Skull and Bones secret society. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1966, and during 1968–1969 served an abbreviated four-month tour of duty in South Vietnam as officer-in-charge (OIC) of a Swift Boat. For that service, he was awarded combat medals that include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Securing an early return to the United States, Kerry joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in which he served as a nationally recognized spokesman and as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. He appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs where he deemed United States war policy in Vietnam to be the cause of “war crimes.”
After receiving his J.D. from Boston College Law School, Kerry worked as an Assistant District Attorney and co-founded a private firm. He served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under Michael Dukakis from 1983 to 1985, where he worked on an early forerunner to the national Clean Air Act. He won a tight Democratic primary in 1984 for the U.S. Senate and was sworn in the following January. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he led a series of hearings from 1987 to 1989 which were a precursor to the Iran–Contra affair.
In 2002, Kerry voted to authorize the President “to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein”, but warned that the administration should exhaust its diplomatic avenues before launching war. Kerry based his 2004 presidential campaign on opposition to the Iraq War. He and his running mate Senator John Edwards lost the race, finishing 35 electoral votes behind the Republican ticket headed by President George W. Bush (just 19 short of the 270 required for election). Subsequently, he established the Keeping America’s Promise PAC.
Kerry became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009, and in 2011 he was appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Having been nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 94–3 on January 29, 2013, Kerry assumed the office on February 1, 2013.
After returning to the United States, Kerry joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Then numbering about 20,000, VVAW was considered by some (including the administration of President Richard Nixon) to be an effective, if controversial, component of the antiwar movement. According to Nixon Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, “I didn’t approve of what he did, but I understood the protesters quite well”, and he declined two requests from the Navy to court martial Reserve Lieutenant Kerry over his antiwar activity.
On April 22, 1971, Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the war, when he appeared before a Senate committee hearing on proposals relating to ending the war. He was still a member of the United States Navy Reserve, holding the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. Wearing green fatigues and service ribbons, he spoke for nearly two hours with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in what has been named the Fulbright Hearings, after the Chairman of the proceedings, Senator J. W. Fulbright. Kerry began with a prepared speech, in which he presented the conclusions of the Winter Soldier Investigation, and then went on to address larger policy issues.