2006 Profile in Courage Award recipent Congressman John Murtha with Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, May 22, 2006.

Background

In November 2005, U.S. Congressman John P. Murtha (D-PA), a Vietnam War veteran and the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, galvanized debate about the war in Iraq by calling for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from the conflict. Murtha, who had voted in favor of the Iraq war, argued that American soldiers had become targets and “a catalyst for violence” in Iraq. His unexpected and dramatic reversal of support for the war put him at odds with military leaders, the Bush Administration, and many members of his own party.

While he was cheered in some quarters, Murtha’s call for an exit strategy sparked an angry backlash from war proponents, who accused him of wanting to “surrender to the terrorists.” Some complained that his comments were demoralizing to American troops serving in the conflict. Many of his fellow Democrats were reluctant to support him as long as public sentiment about the Iraq war remained opaque. Some critics publicly questioned whether Murtha deserved his Vietnam War decorations and demanded that his military records be opened to public inspection. Murtha refused to back down, instead stepping up his critique of the Administration’s handling of the Iraq war and demanding accountability.

As a combat veteran and a retired Marine Corps colonel with 37 years’ service in the U.S. military, Murtha’s decision to withdraw his support for the Iraq war carried particular weight. His decision to speak out against a protracted conflict shifted public sentiment about the war and generated a substantive national debate on the progress, policies and objectives of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Murtha continues to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He will seek re-election to the U.S. Congress in November 2006.

For his political courage and his dedication to principled public service, John P. Murtha was honored with the 2006 Profile in Courage Award.