'Every Day Is Extra': John Kerry Reflects On Time In Vietnam, Career In Politics And More

"Every Day is Extra" by John Kerry. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)

"Every Day is Extra" by John Kerry. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)

With David Folkenflik

From Vietnam warrior to peace advocate, from defeated presidential candidate to the nation's top diplomat, John Kerry tells his story in a new memoir.


John Kerry, former secretary of state and five-term U.S. senator. Author of "Every Day is Extra." (@JohnKerry)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from "Every Day is Extra" by John Kerry.


July 4, 2018. As I wrote this book, I tried hard to fight the numbing power of nostalgia. A memoir is a tempting venue to look back and see the good outcomes in life as preordained. It’s always easy to believe things were better “back when.” My parents instilled in me great respect for history. I was encouraged to live it—and perhaps even to help make some of it. But history—real history, not the phony demagoguery about the mythical past calculated and propagated to mobilize unthinking retro movements—inspires because it reminds us that times weren’t always easy. The winter soldiers of Valley Forge inspire not because they knew they’d win; their determination is more awesome because they had every reason to believe they might end up at the end of a British rope, and yet they persevered.

It’s easy to put on rose-tinted glasses, look back at earlier days and say “those were better times” or easier times, when the truth is, they weren’t. I tried to avoid those traps in writing my story.

I share this because I was tempted to write that I was born into a gentler or simpler era at home and abroad. But, on reflection, I wasn’t. The Leave It to Beaver America of the 1950s had much to admire. For most, jobs came with pensions and economic security. We were an optimistic country. But we were also a country where Jim Crow was still the law and “Whites Only” signs dotted the landscape in half our country, and were unspoken but just as real in the other half. Women were devalued and LGBT Americans had to be invisible to avoid persecution.

It took years, until I was in college, for Congress to pass bedrock civil rights legislation.

Joe McCarthy trampled on civil liberties and invoked a fact-free Red Scare at home, which divided and distracted us in dangerous ways. Overseas, we were basking in the afterglow of victory in World War II and through the Marshall Plan we were rebuilding the economies of our former enemies. But World War II had been succeeded by a perilous Cold War. We soon awakened from the euphoria of 1945 to find America’s sons dying in Korea in a proxy conflict with the Soviet Union. A decade later, I watched on a grainy black-and-white television set as President Kennedy led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the very real danger of nuclear holocaust. Our tragic misinterpretation of Cold War reality led us into a quagmire in Southeast Asia for which nearly sixty thousand Americans paid the ultimate price. And Richard Nixon brought us domestic spying on dissenters, abuse of the Department of Justice for political purposes, attacks on the free press, a presidential “enemies list” and the mire of what President Gerald Ford called “our national nightmare.” I learned the hard way at twenty-seven what it was like to be a target of a rogue White House. Pipe bombs were exploding in public places; riots saw blocks of cities set on fire; irreplaceable leaders were assassinated. The list goes on.

I’ve told much of this story in these pages for a reason: not to relive a difficult past, but to remember how we changed the course of our country. Good people believed the world—at home and abroad—could be different and better. Citizens organized. People fought for something. We marched. We voted. We got knocked down and we got back up.

No, “the good old days weren’t always good.” That’s not an insult to America, that’s an affirmation of America: an America that makes itself stronger when, despite long odds and searing setbacks, everyday citizens stand up and decide that the way things are isn’t the way things have to be.

My life has been a story of faith in America tested and redeemed not by being passive, but by being passionate about our country and its promise. It is the story of a journey begun in the latter half of the twentieth century and lived now in the morning of the twenty-first: two different eras of staggering transformation in how we live, learn, work and relate to each other, two different eras where old assumptions were constantly challenged and confounded and when faith in institutions came under intense scrutiny. This is also a story about how we listen and how we learn, how we face problems, how we try to embrace a vision of the future that meets our best hopes and aspirations.

In the end, I believe it is a story of optimism, but clearly a story that doesn’t unfold on autopilot. It’s not an automatic. It’s optimism earned the hard way.

In my life, I’ve seen things that were hard to imagine—if not regarded as impossible—happen again and again—and I learned from people who bent history. I wanted to share their stories as well as mine.

All of this recounting and retelling also reminded me that the world has always been complicated. Truly complicated. Leaders have always been imperfect, some even downright malevolent, others too small for the moment. The fight at home has always been a struggle.

That is what makes me all the more optimistic about today: because I’ve seen with my own eyes that the institutions the Founders created to hold America together have worked best when America needed them the most. I have the scars to prove it, and I know that while we’ve often faced daunting challenges, in the end, we have met them.

I’m an optimist because America has a pretty good, 242-year record of turning difficult passages into landmark progress. I’m an optimist because of the people I’ve met and what life has taught me.

How could I not be? I began my service to country in a war, a bitter war that frayed and nearly shredded the fabric of America. I finished my last tour of service to country in a mission of peace. In the final month of my service as secretary of state, I was back in Vietnam one more time, on the Mekong Delta where the rivers I’d patrolled in combat had become rivers the United States was now protecting from environmental degradation.

Back on the Bay Hap River, where almost forty-eight years before I’d come face-to-face with my own mortality, staring down the business end of a Viet Cong B-40 rocket launcher, I met a man whose mission that day in 1969 was to kill me and my crew. We were the same age. He was short and sinewy, not an ounce of fat, his face lined with the years and the hardship, but with a smile of welcome, devoid of hatred or malice. I looked at him and thought, How crazy is this? Years ago, when we were young, we were both heeding the call of our leaders, trying to kill each other. But now we stood there in peace, a peace I had been privileged in some small way to help make real by first making peace at home. If that doesn’t make you an optimist, nothing will.

That’s why I wrote this book: to share with you that the abiding truth I’ve learned in my journey is you can change your country and you can change the world. You may fail at first, but you can’t give in. You have to get up and fight the fight again, but you can get there. The big steps and the small steps all add up. History is cumulative. We all can contribute to change if we’re willing to enter the contest for the future, often against the odds.

Why this book and why now? Not just because I have finished my time as secretary of state and in the Senate, but because the causes that have defined my life until now have never been more at risk. Our democracy is challenged. But I remain confident in our ability to reclaim it because our democracy is as alive as any person who lives in it. It is constantly changing, growing and reinventing itself. But its well-being always—always—depends on citizens to keep it alive. The strength of the United States is derived not from a party, not from a leader, but from a natural resource that is truly renewable: the resolve of our citizens and their commitment to make the American ideal a reality.

Even after an amazing journey, I’m still learning, and still fighting. If you take nothing else away from the American journey I describe in these pages, I hope it’s this: there’s nothing wrong with America and the world today that can’t be fixed by what’s right with our citizens and with people around the globe. As John Kennedy said when he sought and won the first breakthrough in nuclear arms control, “Our problems are man-made—therefore they can be solved by man.”

My hope is that as you finish reading these pages, you will believe more in the possibilities and less in the hurdles, and that more of you will dare to try more. I will keep using my extra days to do my part—and I see so many others now fighting on the front lines of our history. Extra days aren’t just a gift for those who served in war; they are a gift for all of us fortunate to be blessed with the freedom to stand up and seek the best America and a better world.


Excerpted from EVERY DAY IS EXTRA by John Kerry. Copyright © 2018 by John Kerry. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For John Kerry, as for so many combat veterans who returned from Vietnam, "Every Day is Extra." That’s the name of his new memoir, sketching out a life, and a career in full, covering decades of public service. From Swift Boat veteran to peace activist, to presidential nominee to U.S. secretary of state, Kerry joins me to talk about what he’s done, what he’s learned and what he thinks of our current political moment.

This hour, On Point: my interview with John Kerry.

— David Folkenflik

This program aired on September 7, 2018.

John Kerry Reflects On Smear Campaigns And Not Taking Anything For Granted


Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris on Jan. 15, 2017.

Alex Brandon/AP

Former Secretary of State John Kerry says that partisan politics are harming America — and they have been for a while. In fact, when he ran for president in 2004, Kerry, then a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, contemplated naming Republican Sen. John McCain as his running mate.

"I considered it," Kerry says, "because I thought that our politics were broken. ... We needed a jolt to try to figure out if there was a way to bring the parties together and restore the kind of bipartisanship and the values-oriented politics that makes a difference to America."

Ultimately, Kerry picked Democrat John Edwards as his running mate instead of McCain, but Kerry says the problems of 2004 persist today. Though he calls President Trump "ill-equipped to do the job that he is in," Kerry does not believe that it is time to talk about impeachment.

"What you need to do is let the Mueller investigation run its course," Kerry says. "You need to see if there are sort of a baseline of prima facie impeachable offenses there, not just your dislike of the president or your belief that he's not equipped to do the job."

In his new memoir, Every Day Is Extra, Kerry looks back on his life and the current state of American politics. He notes that political falsehoods were used against him in 2004, when opponents smeared both his character and his record of military service in Vietnam.

Interview Highlights

On the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ad, which aired during Kerry's 2004 presidential bid and claimed that he was lying about his military record in the Vietnam War

They just made things up. They made them up right, left and center. And people [in the ad] said, "I served with John Kerry." That means they served in swift boats, but it didn't mean they were on my boat. It didn't mean they were on the mission. It didn't mean they knew what had happened, and they weren't, in those cases. And the guys who were [on my boat] contradicted them. ...

It was skillfully done as an attack ad, obviously. I remember being in Ohio and listening to that ad and I called my campaign headquarters and said, "Guys ... if I heard that ad, I wouldn't vote for me."

On the Trump administration pulling out of treaties that Kerry and the Obama administration were instrumental in negotiating, like the Paris climate agreement

Well, regrettably, this is part of the transformation that has taken place in our nation. The right wing has made it orthodoxy within their party that treaties are a relinquishing of American sovereignty, and that somehow a treaty is going to contribute to "world government." So the highest standards that we try to apply to one thing or another — even if they're the best thing in the world and America is the only country that does it and we want other countries to raise their standard — if it's in the context of a treaty, people seem to oppose it nowadays.

On his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election and on President Obama's handing of that information

We weren't aware of the election interference in a major way until sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2016 when the intel community laid it out. ...

I think the president handled it as effectively as he could at the time, and later in the summer I was involved in some of those conversations, which took place in the White House. I absolutely guarantee you, having run for president and having been in elected politics for a period of time, that given Trump's continued attacks against the legitimacy of the election system, given the degree to which he was already labeling it rigged ... I guarantee you that if President Obama had stood up and said, "The Russians are hacking our system, they're gonna do this and that," you would have had a Trump campaign on steroids arguing about the rigging and the game that was being played. ...

And so the president did, I thought, the most credible thing possible, which was turn it over not to the politicians to define but to the intel community, that is apolitical and nonpolitical, and that's what he did.

On naming his memoir Every Day Is Extra

It's something that we talked about in Vietnam ... those of us lucky to come back and be alive when others didn't. You've got to look at life like every day is an extra and be happy about it, because a lot of guys didn't come back, and that's the baseline, if you will, and you don't have to go to war to feel that way — you escape cancer, you escape an accident, whatever it is that happens. I view myself as lucky.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

Views: 83

Comment by koshersalaami on September 9, 2018 at 5:25am

A good, on point post. There's no question what it's about.

Comment by J.P. Hart on September 9, 2018 at 6:24am

how swift those plywood boats

swim with the sharks

or fly with the larks

I'll remain beeZ

designing contiguous parks


(Austin Straubel GRB --- dreaming of light rail that was never built --- stuff like: of all the words such as would and should, bare in mind: no thanks, I'm good :} O the eagle has landed! Plan is to reunite with Student and Moms at the Vince Lombardy statue . . .)

Dear Mary, thank you. NE wind, painted kites en toto!

Comment by Ron Powell on September 9, 2018 at 7:45am

Here, here...

Comment by mary gravitt on September 11, 2018 at 1:25pm

If we all stay steady in the boat; we can make it across.


You need to be a member of Our Salon to add comments!

Join Our Salon


Hooking up on BS

Posted by Robert B. James on June 24, 2019 at 7:47am 2 Comments

Just a Little Too

Posted by Doc Vega on June 24, 2019 at 1:39am 0 Comments

Water View II

Posted by koshersalaami on June 23, 2019 at 3:00pm 10 Comments

The Merlin Of BindleSnitch

Posted by Robert B. James on June 23, 2019 at 7:07am 5 Comments

Old Soft Shoe (POEM)

Posted by J.P. Hart on June 22, 2019 at 1:00pm 4 Comments

I saw one Mountain Lion

Posted by Robert B. James on June 22, 2019 at 8:00am 3 Comments

A Measure of Intelligence

Posted by Doc Vega on June 21, 2019 at 1:50pm 0 Comments

© 2019   Created by lorianne.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service