Matthews falsely claimed Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony “seemed” to say Americans were “all Lieutenant Calleys”

Host Chris Matthews, on the August 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, claimed that Senator John Kerry “seemed to be saying” Americans were “all Lieutenant Calleys” in Kerry's 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Matthews's remark came in response to Hardball guest Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History (Penguin Books, 1997), who said that defeat in the Vietnam War “awoke Americans to the fact that we're not all John Waynes.” Matthews replied: “But are we all Lieutenant Calleys, is the different question. That's what he [Kerry] seemed to be saying there [in his 1971 testimony], didn't he?”

Lieutenant William Calley was in charge of a platoon of* the American Division's 11th Infantry Brigade; he was found guilty of murder for his part in the My Lai massacre of more than 300 South Vietnamese civilians in 1971.

Matthews's claim is a false representation of Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony. As Media Matters for America has noted, when Kerry testified in his capacity as spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), he related the stories of other Vietnam veterans who came home and testified to their personal experiences in what was known as the Winter Soldier Investigation, which VVAW had commissioned a few months earlier in Detroit, Michigan. But Kerry's testimony did not blame the soldiers who reported having committed atrocities in Vietnam, nor did he blame Americans (beyond criticizing an American culture that “glorifies the John Wayne syndrome”). The main focus of Kerry's testimony was an indictment of the leaders at the time. In fact, Kerry specifically mentioned Lieutenant Calley in his testimony to demonstrate that responsibility for Vietnam atrocities ultimately lay further up the chain of command.

From Kerry's April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:

KERRY: My feeling, Senator, on Lieutenant Calley is what he did quite obviously was a horrible, horrible, horrible thing and I have no bone to pick with the fact that he was prosecuted. But I think that in this question you have to separate guilt from responsibility, and I think clearly the responsibility for what has happened there lies elsewhere. I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it lies with the men who encourage body counts. I think it lies in large part with this country, which allows a young child before he reaches the age of 14 to see 12,500 deaths on television, which glorifies the John Wayne syndrome, which puts out fighting man comic books on the stands, which allows us in training to do calisthenics to four counts, on the fourth count of which we stand up and shout “kill” in unison, which has posters in barracks in this country with a crucified Vietnamese, blood on him, and underneath it says “kill the gook,” and I think that clearly the responsibility for all of this is what has produced this horrible aberration.

Now, I think if you are going to try Lieutenant Calley, then you must at the same time, if this country is going to demand respect for the law, you must at the same time try all those other people who have responsibility, and any aversion that we may have to the verdict as veterans is not to say that Calley should be freed, not to say that he is innocent, but to say that you can't just take him alone, and that would be my response to that.

When originally published, this item incorrectly stated that Lt. Calley was the commanding officer of the 11th Brigade. Ernest Medina was the commanding officer during the My Lai massacre.