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Chairman LEVIN. Thank you, Senator McCain.
Senator NELSON. Since the issue of Iraq has come up here, I just
want to state for the record and lay the predicate that this senator
was one of many that voted for the authorization to go into Iraq,
and as it turns out, the lessons of history, we were given incorrect
information as a justification for going into Iraq.
We were told by the Secretary of Defense, by the Secretary of
State, by the National Security advisor, and the director of the CIA
that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And so for a
lot of the decisions that were made at the outset, they were decisions
that were informed with incorrect information. So as the committee
is judging Senator Hagel on that decision as well as others,
I want to tell the committee what was this experience of this senator.
Now, what I would like to do with my time here is that since
there are a few of this in this room that served in the military during
the Vietnam era, and you clearly had that experience in combat,
Senator Hagel, I would--and by the way, a lot of people do not
know anything about Vietnam, and do not know how difficult it
was, as Senator Warner has so eloquently stated in his comments,
how the Nation was divided.
But I would like for you, as the committee is getting to know
you, to know something about your service in Vietnam, and your
combat experience. Were you wounded, Senator Hagel?
Senator HAGEL. Well, Senator Nelson, thank you. If I may, and
if I read into your question some latitude in answering, I would respond
this way. I think my time is better served to maybe talk
about more of the specific things, like Senator McCain ask about
me about and some others. And maybe weave some of my experience
as to how it formed my judgment, rather than going through
a 12-month journal of my time in the jungles when my brother,
Tom, and I were both wounded twice together.
1968 when Tom and I served there was the worst year we had.
Those who may not recall that year, we sent over 16,000 dead
Americans home. Now, that is unfathomable in the world that we
live in today, 16,000 dead Americans. I saw that from the bottom.
I think Chairman Levin in an accurate and appropriate quote
about what I said in his introductory statements about what
formed me, and it directly goes to Senator McCain's question about
the surge. Just as I said in my statement, I had one fundamental
question that I asked myself on every vote I took, every decision
I made. Was the policy worthy of the men and women that we were
sending into battle and surely to their deaths? And in many cases,
unfortunately tens of thousands of cases that we are living with,
these poor families are living with, wounded, the results, the consequences.
I know it is easy here--it is anywhere--if you do not have a connection
to some of this to see these things a little differently. It
does not mean I am any better, Senator. It does not mean I am any
smarter. It does not mean I am any more appreciative of the service
of our country. That is not it. I saw it from the bottom. I saw
what happens. I saw the consequences and the suffering when we
are at war.
So I did question a surge. It was not an aberration to me ever.
I always ask the question, is this going to be worth the sacrifice,
because there will be sacrifice. In the surge case in Iraq, we lost
almost 1,200 dead Americans during that surge and thousands of
wounded. Now, was it required? Was it necessary? Senator McCain
has his opinion on that shared by others. I am not sure. I am not
that certain that it was required. Now it does not mean I am right.
It does not mean I did not make wrong votes. But that is what
And you asked me the question about my time in Vietnam and
was I wounded. Well, I was a very insignificant part of this. We
were just doing our job, Senator, as every military person knows
that. Some of this committee has rather distinguished members
who served, starting with Senator McCain, and the sacrifices he
has made to this country.
But it does condition you. I am not shaped, framed, molded, consumed
by that experience. Of course not. But it is part of me. I
tried to explain that in my opening statement. We are all shaped
by those experiences. I hope that experience that I have had is for
the better. I hope if I have the privilege of serving as Secretary of
Defense it will put someone in charge at the Pentagon--not questioning
past Secretaries of Defense; I can only speak for myself--
who understands the realities of consequences of war. It does not
mean I am better, but that is who I am. I do not walk away from
that. I acknowledge that. But it does not consume me, Senator.
I do not see the lens of every world event and whether we should
use American power through the lens of Vietnam. That is part of
me. It is part of that lens. I think that is for the better. I think
we need to be cautious with our power. I think we need to be wise
with our power.
We have great power. We have awesome power. No nation in the
world is even in our league. We have done so much good with that
power. I do not think there is a nation in the history of man who
has ever been as judicious and careful with its power as we have.
And I want to make sure we continue to do that, as you all do.
We will have differences, Senator, on policies, but all I can do is
my best based on my own experiences. And as I also said in my
statement, reaching out, listening, learning, never knowing enough,
understand circumstances change.
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