Vietnam:  Lessons Learned and Lessons Ignored

Vietnam: Lessons Learned and Lessons Ignored

>>Good evening I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United Sates and I am pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan theater here at the National Archives. I’m glad you could be with us whether you are here in the Theater
or joining us on our YouTube channel and a special welcome to our C-Span audience. We
are pleased to present this discussion on Vietnam: Lessons Learned and Lessons Ignored with the US Association of Former Members of Congress
and we thank them for their support. Before we get started I would like to let you know about two programs coming up soon in this Theater.
On Wednesday November 29th Historian Edward Ayers will discuss his new book the Thin Light of Freedom the Civil War and
Emancipation in the Heart of America. Ayers retells the story of the Civil War by focusing on two counties, one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. On Thursday December 7at 7 we present Conflict Journalism in Southeast Asia
a panel discussion on the role of television journalism during the Vietnam war and how it influenced subsequent conflicts. Participating on the panel will be former anchor of Nightline, Ted Koppel. To learn about these and all of our public programs and monthly calendar of events on‑line at and check our website or sign up to get email updates. You will also find information on other National Archives programs and
activities another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become
a member of the National Archives Foundation. It supports all of our education and outreach
activities and there are applications for membership in the lobby. A little known secret
that no one has ever been turned down for membership in the National Archives Foundation.
Now, I ask all the Vietnam veterans or any United States veteran who served on active
duty in the United States armed forces any time from November 1st 1955 to May 15th 1975 to stand and be recognized.>>Veterans, as you exit the McGowan theater after today’s program National Archives staff and volunteers will present each of you with a Vietnam Veteran lapel pin on the back of the pin is embossed
a grateful nation and thanks and honors you. The United States of America Vietnam war commemoration is a
national initiative and the lapel pin is the nation’s last memento of thanks.
>>Tonights program is one in a series of events presenting conjunction with our new
Exhibit Remembering Vietnam that just opened up in the Lawrence F. O’Brien gallery upstairs. It’s is a media rich exploration of the Vietnam war featuring historic analysis as well as interviews with American and Vietnamese veterans and civilians and firsthand experience of the war’s events. It is a fascinating collection of newly discovered
iconic original documents, images and film footage and artifacts that illuminate 12 critical
episodes in the war and that divided the people of the United States and Vietnam. Remembering Vietnam draws on National Archives records from all parts of our agency and federal and military records presidential library
and still photography and motion pictures and sound recordings and electronic
records. The title of the Exhibit Remembering Vietnam was inspired by a line in the book
by Viet Tang Wen and all wars are fought twice first on the battlefield and the second
time in memory. Historical records such as the documents and artifacts that we display
in the gallery help us sort through the lessons of war but those lessons are also formed by memory
and I look forward to a stimulating discussion among our panelists. It’s now my pleasure to welcome Peter White Cline to the stage.
Since 2003 he has served as the chief executive order of the U.S. officer of the U.S. Association of Former
Members of Congress to celebrate bipartisan ship in the collaborative approach to legislating and reconnect citizens to their representative government.
He plans and directs all policies and objectives and initiatives for the association
represents FMC in the community and serves as it’s spokesperson to the public and media
in Congress. Mr. White Cline holds two bachelor of arts degrees from the Pennsylvania state
University. He attended the law school at the free University in Berlin and completed
his legal study ins Washington DC at the Catholic University of America ladies and gentlemen
please welcome Peter white cline.>>Thank you, David for the introduction and for the many years of partnership involving the National Archives and the former members of congress. and thank you for joining us tonight for this discussion. I realize I’m the only thing standing
between you and the outstanding panel we have assembled so in thatspirit I will be very brief.
First I do want to in a quick word on the Association and the work we do as a former member
of Congress. We bring together under the FMC umbrella a bipartisan group of over 600 former senators and representatives who work together on a wide variety of projects. Our mission includes strengthening the work of a current Congress by promoting a collaborative approach to policymaking as well as deepening the understanding of the democratic system by focusing on civic education and encouraging public service.You can find much more information on our website: Tonight’s panel is an example of FMC’s work to engage the public in the conversation about issues that affect our nation and our democracy. The Vietnam era profoundly impacted our nation’s psyche like hardly any other period in America’s history.
The tremendous Exhibit that opened a week ago at the National Archives as well as the ten part documentary by Ken Burns that P B S aired last month makes the fact abundantly clear. Through tonight’s panel we want to
explore some of the impact that Vietnam era had with those who lived through it. We want
to take a look at lessons we have learned and lessons we should have learned and compare
the challenges we faced as a nation in the 1960’s and 70’s and compare that to the America
50 years later. To do so we have recruited an exceptional panel and I now invite the panel to join on stage. Unfortunately Chuck Hagel’s schedule changed last minute but Curt Bower, a long time partner of FMC rearranged his calendar to join us tonight and we are appreciative of him doing this. Please hold your applause even though it’s attempting to start clapping until they have all joined me on stage. Moderating this important conversation is Leonard Steinhorn who is a professor of communication and an affiliate professor of history at American University and a political analyst for CBS news radio as a well as a political commentator for numerous media outlets. He also has authored books and articles examining American politics and culture with a particular focus on the 1960s and race relations in the United States. Jim Jones is a former member of Congress from Oklahoma
and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton administration. He now serves as chairman of Monarch Global Strategies‑ Kirk Bauer has been executive director of Disabled Sports U.S.A. for over 30 years. Where he uses sports to help severely wounded veterans in their rehab. I have known Kirk for over a decade he’s a friend and mentor and he most certainly is
and inspiration. Harry Robinson is and award winning architect who has served for many years on the board of directors for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which you all know and builds and maintains the incredibly moving
and powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on the National Mall. Last but certainly not least Bob Carr a former member of Congress
from Michigan who came to Congress in the Watergate class and was named to the house
armed service committee as our involvement in southeast Asia was beginning to wind down. He served in
Congress until 1995 and now teaches politics and government at George Washington University. With that, I welcome a great panel with a round of applause.>>Thank you all for being here tonight. I appreciate the involvement of the community of ideas the opportunity we have to speak about something very important in many of our lives and our history. A special thanks to the National Archives and the former members of congress for for hosting such an important conversation and doing what we need more of in our society and culture which is conversations about the past and how they translate in to the present and how we make sense of our lives years ago and how they connect today. Our topic is the Vietnam war and anybody who lived in
the 1960’s. This is just a topic that reverberates as flash point in every one of our lives it’s a war that divided our
country and that eroded trust in institutions and in individuals and it’s a war that arguably
germinated the culture wars and set apart some of the populism that we see today. It’s
a war that magnified some of the racial issues in our country at that moment in time. It’s
a war that arguably under cut Lyndon Johnson’sn great society and helped us split apart a new deal
liberalism which had been the post war reigning consensus of that era. It’s a war that magnified
the role of the media and to some the media became a hero, and to others the media became
a villain and in many ways it’s shook up America’s image in the world, but perhaps more important
than the issues it raises for the people who lived through that era are the issues it raises
for the next generation who are trying to figure out how the Vietnam war shaped who
we are today. In many ways I am hoping that this conversation can answer some questions
for the next generation. I teach a course on the 1960’s in America. In fact there’s
a former student from that course in the audience today. He’s sort of a testimony to the questions
that this generation wants to ask about the war and how it influences us. They want to
know how so many young men in particular their parents and grandparents were sent off to
a war that our leaders that could barely justify and they want to know about that and they
want to know how the wounds of war and the personal wounds and the cultural wounds and
the political wounds reverberate in our society today. I am hoping that we will be able to
answer some of those questions for all of you and for the audience out there. I am going
to kick it off and sort of ask each of you to say in some ways how this war you know
changed you personally and then to magnify it in terms of a sense how it reshapes and
changed our country. Now ambassador Jim Jones had a very special place in the war he served
in basic training but after that he didn’t go to Vietnam but he went to another place
that some might call a war zone which is the Johnson White House. First he worked as and
Army counter intelligence officer and then on the staff with Lyndon Johnson and ultimately
in the position of appointment secretary which we now know as chief of staff, so ambassador
Jones.>>Yes so many things came out of Vietnam
war in my perspective. I was the son of a World War I veteran. We had a great sense of volunteering that was the thing to do in
those days and you had a sense of trust in your government. I think the thing that disturbed me more than anything else is how information from the front lines can get so distorted by the time it got to the President of the United States it was not even recognizable. I still haven’t figured
out how that happened but it did. The other thing for me personally it made me much more
questioning and much less willing to take anybody’s word for it. When I left the White
House and went back to the home state of Oklahoma and ran for Congress four years later. In
those days you could be bipartisan you could have friends on both sides of the aisle and work
together. One of the things that I found out after getting elected and coming to Congress
that Democrats and Republicans alike heard from their constituents and how the government
has become estranged from them, and they didn’t feel any kinship with the government. Among
the things we did was to pass the War Powers Act which was designed to clip the wings of a
President and make him come to Congress, the people’s body to get approval for introduction of military
personnel in foreign lands. That worked for a while. It didn’t work as it was intended. I think we do need to rediscover that and perhaps put some
sort of program like that in, so thank you Kirk Bauer in 1969 you were in Vietnam in the Mekong delta. You received two bronze stars for heroism so thank you for your Service and a purple heart for your injuries incurred in combat. So, obviously, the Vietnam war had a deeply personal impact on your life so please say how in a larger sense of how it changed who you are.
>>I think first of all my perspective is going to be a little less elevated because
I was noncommissioned officer one of the grunts on ground in the 9th infantry division slogging through
the swamps of the Mekong delta, it’s more of ground level and even now it’s very much ground
level because one of the thing that is when I got hit and lost my leg to a grenade during
an ambush my life changed personally and physically forever and I became a person with
a disability. I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t know anything I was a young recruit
and suddenly I was flat on my back and had tubes coming out of me and pins in me and they were operating on me. It was pretty devastating experience. Personally it effected me but
one of the things that it did do was to get me focused on what really helped the you will
turn my life around and save my life and for us it was a sports program and some of the
services that the VA and military offered to get us back into life again. We now focus
on health care and physical activity. We focus on the war fighter sports program on serving
the warrior withs a sports rehabilitation program and we do see now one of the lessons
learned that this is much more of a focus on the care for the complete care for the
wounded and health and wellness activities that are going on and education. Education
is the key to getting the jobs and the jobs in education is the end point for everything.
We are all doing for our wounded as well as those that are transitioning out of the military.
So you know it changed the course of my life and it’s very different.
>>Thank you I appreciate that. So we have a sense of the relationship with the government
and we have our relationship with veterans and Harry Robinson also thank you for your
service and you went straight to Vietnam out of Army ranger school in 1967 you were
a platoon leader for the first division and also an engineer and you were stationed
in a very dangerous area in Vietnam close to the Cambodia border.
>>I think it’s important that I give you context. The notion of patriotism and listening to your
government ran very deep in my family. Since the first world war all the males save my
father, who was in the government when the Second World War came around, served in the military. My uncle James Hill Robinson was the highest ranking negro when he retired from the service in 1954 his grandson and two sons both finished at west point. When he was in the White House he was Johnson’s military aide. I was in Vietnam. I tried to get and assignment that he didn’t want me to have because he said it was too dangerous. I wrote him letters and I called him and he said look go through the first division it’s going to be a safe place
for you to be that wasn’t quite true. It’s you know the change to my life runs that I
did ranger school and Vietnam and then grad school, Walter Reed for a long time and then
grad school. When I went to grad school I was a very difficult graduate student because
I wasn’t afraid of anything. My position was what were they going to do is send me to Vietnam
if I didn’t do this paper? It was the notion of personal confidence that came out of that
experience almost at a very high price it’s a gamble that I took and I took that gamble
because I decided that when I was in my 40’s and 50’s and 60’s that I wanted to be among
those young men in this country who were then running the country and that plan worked out
exactly where I wanted. We had and opportunity to do some things that I don’t think would
have been done if I had not gone to war or had it not been for the war. The difference
between Vietnam, soldiers, military and what’s going on now is that it took to the
end of the war and Jan Scruggs and the wall to unite us, to unite us you know and to save
the country from itself. Now, the military has honors as their in a war. I think that’s
very important as to where this country is.>>So thank you and obviously it’s the question
of how Vietnam divided us and how people have attempted to knit us back together as and
important story that we have to discuss. Bob Carr a former member of Congress who ran for
Congress because of Vietnam and civil rights. You were in undergraduate and I think in law
school at the University of Wisconsin which is really one of the hot bed areas that moment in time and what has driven your political career and activism is your
experience from those year so tell us that.>>Exactly. My story isn’t that remarkable
I was a scrawny kid from Janesville Wisconsin thinking I was going to be a nuclear physicist I was
very good in science. I went to the University and signed up for all the science courses
but they made me take, they didn’t make me it was required to take a political science
course so I took my very first political science course and I can recall that it was a turning
point in that with my nuclear physics interest and the book that they required us to read
it was Kissinger’s it was his second book as a matter of fact it was his nuclear weapons
and foreign policy book. And I read that and I thought oh my goodness and this is the war
is just percolating along it’s not a fever pitch at this point and like most American’s
I had a sense of patriotism and I said the pledge of allegiance and I saluted the flag
and believed what my leaders were telling me and we were fighting communism. The Kissinger
book slows me down and caused me to think about some things in ways I hadn’t thought
about them before. My Republican upbringing is moderate Republican upbringing my father
I must say didn’t like Joe McCarthy but started me to rethink some of what I was taught at home. Things progressed and I was going to vote for Barry Goldwater for the first time. The first time I could vote for President and then in May
of the election year he started talking about well maybe we ought to use nuclear weapons
in Vietnam and I thought that was crazy and I couldn’t vote for him the protests started percolating at the University of Wisconsin. They had a protest over Dow Chemical, this was the first violent protest. there were many protests, and this whole campus was in a state of shock and then upon graduation from undergraduate school you had to think about the draft. The draft even it was very present
in our daily live what is going to happen next what’s the draft board going to say what do we do and it happened that there were graduate deferments then so I went to law school and continued to get
a draft deferment. I wrote my law school thesis if you will they didn’t call it at that time. My
law school thesis was on the selective service so I had this connection with the draft and those who were
drafted and then after leaving Wisconsin I went to Michigan and again, influenced by, among
others, participatory democracy was an engine for civil rights and the antiwar movement
and those kinds of things and I get to Michigan and I am appointed by federal judge several
actually later on defending people who were claiming conscienctious objection. I think
we don’t know that today but if you were conscientious objector the only way you could appeal a draft
board decision saying no you are not or we don’t believe you was to do it as a defendant
in a federal criminal case. I ended up defending a lot of these people and all but one I was
successful. So it ended up motivating me to run for Congress and then in Congress I was
privileged to get or put the period of the end of the sentence and on March 12, 1975
was my resolution that cut off funding for the war in Vietnam.
>>That really just turbo charged your life in a fundamental way.
>>Thanks for sharing and I am wondering if you think we as a country have learned lessons
from the Vietnam war and what is the philosopher George Santa Ana say is those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. So you think we have learned lessons and what lessons might those
be coming out of that war. Anyone want to take a crack here?
>>I will take a crack at it again from a ground level more than anything. I am going
to accuse Peter of bait and switch you were supposed to get chuck Hagel and the defense
secretary you have a jock that loves sports. Well, I think one of the things that impresses
me the most was that is the public reaction to these current wars versus Vietnam and those who serve. In Vietnam because there was such a division within our country about the war and there
was a real violent hatred for the war that translated over to some of the guys that served
and we were all changing and it really did effect our psyche in terms of how we felt
about ourselves and how we felt about our service to this country. What the big difference
now is and I think the country has learned is whether you are for or against the war
you know they support the troops and their commitment to serve for this country and to
sacrifice for this country. I think it came to me rather graphically when I was over here at the 9 thirty club which is nightclub in DC. The Rex Foundation was established by the
Grateful Dead they were long dead like really dead. (laughter). They might not think so.
But they had this foundation and I was getting funding for the war fighters sports program
to support the injured troops from 800 dead heads that is were standing around the nine
thirty club I thought boy thing haves really changed. I think that’s one of the things
the other couple of things that we are seeing, I went through the vocs rehab program which was a good program back then to help get us back on our feet and the now, the GI bill is as good as the program back then that was just for the wounded and so
that is good and there’s no limits on it. I can tell you that I have been in the deputy
secretary often arguing cases informally not formally for those veteran who is fell through
the cracks and ten or 15 years later we were trying to get them back into voc rehab and
the time had expired the educational benefits and some of the benefits are now available
without time limit that’s an improvement in my opinion to focus on P T S D. We didn’t
even define P T S D when coming out of the war. I just discharged the last day of 69
I didn’t. I had my first session of PTSD counseling in 1982 when my marriage was falling apart
and so you know that is different because now we try to encourage the warriors to
get in and get some and see some help, because no matter what happens you do have some post‑traumatic
stress. We don’t want it to become post‑traumatic stress disorder so that’s where it becomes
dysfunctional. Those are some of the positive changes we are see in this war as compared
to Vietnam.>>Just a quick follow-up on that. Do you think Vietnam veterans, the narrative early on was very divided there were lots of issues related to Vietnam veterans. Do you think our country is welcome Vietnam veterans more in the last couple of decades. Yes.>>I think there’s a major change from the
time of the war itself? It was really sad to see people coming back from Vietnam and
coming back from military service and being ashamed of their service and because the communities
were shaming them basically. I think that’s more of a good thing that happened
in the last few year is that the human beings that fought this war are being recognized
for the patriotism that they exhibited and I think that’s had an effect on response
of the political leadership as well as the citizens at large on soldiers who are fighting
today’s wars. I think that even though country was fairly divided on the Iraq war for example
in this last decade they were not divided on the people who were fighting the war and
they did give them the kind of respect that they deserved for doing that.
>>Once again context is really important. During Vietnam the ROTC programs at colleges had
full brigades and every freshman and sophomore was required to take it. That fell apart.
When I finished Howard University six of my college classmates were killed in Vietnam and
in the senior class we had at least 60 2nd Lieutenants that is graduated and went into the Army and various.. Now, many of us don’t know anybody who’s in the military. Then everybody knew someone who
was in Vietnam and most knew someone who was or who were either wounded or killed in Vietnam
and that’s not the case now. You see it on TV if you go to Arlington you see it every
day but if not it’s the personal if you think about Ken and Lynn’s documentary on Vietnam, one thing that was missed, everyone who went to Vietnam would agree with me on this, it was sanitized. There were no smells that went along with that documentary you were watching a war
cartoon that someone has put together and put their spin on it. But It wasn’t a very gritty, grimy difficult day on day war that those who want the Vietnam experienced. That context influenced what Ken Burns and Lynn Novick did and the fact that we — the only kid that
I knew who’ was in the military was one of my graduates who went into ROTC and he’s now at Fort Lenard Wood ‑‑ I used to know hundreds of my friends or relatives and associates that were in the
military many of who have gone to Vietnam. So not having met that intimate relationship
with their experiences and the American populace can now digest this a lot easier than
they could digest it in the 1960’s.>>I want to ask Bob a flipped question on
this okay because if we come to terms more with the veterans who is fought the war do
you think we have come to terms with the anti-war movement over time you know the antiwar movement
itself was a major movement in this country and in many ways people still harbor resentment
about the antiwar movement thinking it’s unpatriotic.>>I was about to say that like anything we
tend to think of things as monolithic. In the antiwar movement was not monolithic. There were deep divisions between those who disrespected the veterans and people who served and they were blaming the
veterans rather than the leaders and there were a lot of, a lot of tension between a
groups about tactics and respect and those kinds of things and I think similarly there’s
a lot of Vietnam vets and many of whom came back and joined the movement and then they
had their own tensions with their colleagues and we know that veterans organizations from
World War I and two the American Legion, and the V F W and all of these other groups
initially had some hard times accepting the vets and the vets had to create their own
organization. Things fractured a lot. It wasn’t just vets versus peace-nics kind of thing and
there was a lot, there was a lot of turbulence. One of the things I would like to say is I
joined the armed service committee. I didn’t serve in the military but I learned a lot
about the military through my service on the armed service committee. My respect for the
military grew and grew and grew and still grows to this day and I think that we can
count on some of the best lessons learned being learned in the military. In military
doctrine and military manuals all of their ability to incorporate the lessons learned
and pass it on whereas some of us can learn the lesson but we can’t pass it on and one
of the thing that is really and I maybe like some comments from my colleagues here is one
of the I have a little theory that we learned the limits of military power during the Vietnam
war and we learned that as a society and as a culture that you can’t kill an idea with
a bullet. You have got to there’s other thing that is the diplomats are on the front line.
It’s when the diplomacy fails that is you call in the military. I think there’s a generation
of military leaders during the Vietnam war who learned that and who were a restraining
force on civilian political leadership in military adventurism. Sadly they began to
retire and age out and a new generation came in and I have always wondered and I thought
that the military the legacy military legacy of Vietnam kept us from going over board when
we rescued Kuwait. A few years later that military resistance to civilian authority
began to crumble.>>Thoughts. Go ahead.
>>Okay. A new set of careerism took over?>>I think we have to keep relearning the
lessons. I think we learn it had lessons by mistakes you have made and then when you get
into a higher position that you don’t make those mistakes again but then things move
along. We make the mistake as you say of thinking military can just go in and change minds and
with our might and bring it to our way of thinking and that doesn’t happen we see that
all over the world today, so we are still I think we have to relearn those lessons.
As an architect you learn to think around the box. And that was really to my advantage in the military. Now many of my commanders didn’t like that I did that. It was always to the advantage to those I was leading and to the mission. I’m going to give you and example. And I use this all the time. I tell this story and get the cold chills. I was a platoon leader in the first division and they needed someone to go to a place on the Cambodian border. They need a task force, engineer task force Dixie to maintain the road from the Cambodian border back down to Claymore corner and do everything in between and do ammo dumps and prepare for the big battle that was going to happen, that eventually did. The CIA had a little hut in the encampment. I go every day and I would get the intelligence report and I would read it. My instincts, my street instincts from growing up in Washington, DC told me this just wasn’t right. One of the things my father did when I was a kid is take me to the O Street Market. What I discovered from that that was a voice of the community. It’s where people met and it’s where they exchanged ideas and exchanged goods and currencies and the same thing occurred in Vietnam there
was a market and the Buddhist monastery, school and it’s market in the town square. I would go there every morning. I get my jeep and go there and see kiwi. How you doing KIWI? The mornings I would go there and they weren’t speaking I knew the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese were in that market. I knew they were in the
area. I knew because they could not relate to me as a regular guy. And I would go back to the CIA and say, this is wrong. And let me tell you why this is wrong. and they said how did you think of that. I’m and architect and urban designer I understand places this is was important I make this story very short. We took a delegation of corporate executives in Vietnam who in Vietnam back to visit yam the 25th anniversary. And Jan and
I had a meeting with madame Mien who was a Viet Cong in a war zone who was now the vice
president. Madame I am Harry Robinson it’s good to be back in your country. And she said Lieutenant
Robinson we didn’t know what to do with you. We didn’t know whether to kill you or capture
you. Every morning you would come to the market at Anloc and walk around and buy things and
talk to vendors and leave what were you doing. I told her to stay if you thought that’s what
hadn’t CIA thought of that. Why didn’t the CIA come out of that silo where they manufactured
information. Why didn’t they look how people lived there and make that work for them.That helps me a little bit. I mentioned in the beginning it puzzled me how the information, when it finally got to the President was so different from what we heard happening on the ground and it used to drive the President crazy and one time in I started my day in the President’s bedroom about six or 7 in
the morning and the night before we had given his night reading and I filtered all the night
reading most of the situation reports and the intelligence reports as well as domestic stuff and then
we would discuss it in the morning and give out assignments. He had three televisions
in those day you had three networks. He had three televisions in the bedroom watching
them all at the same time and reading the New York Times on the Washington Post, et cetera. I came in the bedroom he was cussing who is this Johnny apple New York times reporter
because he said either we have got a bunch of nincompoops working for us
or he’s a communist because the reports of same situations were night and day different and it drove him crazy
and that gives me some insight I think some of the other insights were that as you went up the ranks you didn’t want to be the one to say I’m a failure. And you would change it a little bit until yo it finally got to the president. It was a disservice.>>I have to ask you and LJB question now, how much doubt did he harbor about the escalation
of the war?>>He harbored a lot. We had lots of meetings and we had a luncheon meeting with Secretaries McNamara and Rusk, and the CIA director, et cetera. A luncheon every week and he used to press them very
hard. I remember one time we had a late night meeting and were are walking over from the mansion to the west wing. He had General Abrahms brought back from Vietnam. He’s going to have write me before we give him any more troops.>>sounds like Lyndon Johnson. He said some other things but we won’t get into those.>>You might want to rephrase your earlier statement of about starting your day in his. bedroom. He worked from bed for about two or three hours in the morning that started his official schedule. It was very very frustrating and he had lots
of that because in 1954 I guess it was he was in the senate I didn’t know him at that
time. He was one who was very skeptical of the division of Vietnam and was skeptical all the way through as President. Actually the reason he didn’t run. It’s not that we couldn’t win that he couldn’t win is that he thought
that the only way he could get peace in Vietnam while he was in office was not to run for
office and the freedom to do whatever is necessary. We almost had peace in Vietnam, if it hadn’t been for the Republican candidates getting the message to I lost her name now we intercepted and
the FBI intercepted a message from the vice president candidate plane in Albuquerque
to her and she relayed the message to Saigon to the President of south Vietnam saying hold out and hold out and Nixon will give you a
better deal and that everything went cold after that. We would of had peace in Vietnam but it took six more years to get
and never got it that respect anyway. Are we still>>So following up on that, politically, are we still fighting the battles of Vietnam?>>I don’t think we are. I think that. I do think that agree with some of the congressman Carr’s
statement about when you see the horrors of war I don’t care how patriotic or how committed
you are and it really makes you think twice, three times or four times about getting into
war because you understand from a very human level the cost of the war and the tragedy
and the horrors of war. I think that this is proven that some of the members of congress who have been in the military is are the most hesitant to make that commitment. When you talked about that
transition that happened when some of the healthy skeptics and I consider myself a lot
of our guy that is got hit over there are healthy skeptics and we are not antiwar and we are
healthy skeptics. That started to fade when the second round of Iraq started rolling forward and I think that had to do with leadership change. And a different perspective. People that had not been in the middle of war and seen some of the pitfalls and some of the fallacies and there was and incredible pressure down at the ground level for us to report
inflated casualties, because it was all about body counts and it was done the pressure was creating so much and there was
estimates and if you didn’t want to go to and area that shot up and ready to kill you
make and estimate those are the kinds of things that really bring these false information
and also you know I mean one real life situation when our captain who we thought to be incompetent
in the middle of the night got us in the middle of you got lost and he had to put his
spotter lights up so that the spotter plane could find us and of course that immediately
alerted the Viet Cong and next thing we knew the thing with the .50 caliber machine gun blowing us apart. They didn’t demote this guy they promoted him to get him out of the field and put him in intelligence and that actually
happened and it was like you know you just shake your head and say you got to be kidding
you know? So yeah it does create a very healthy skepticism not an antiwar but healthy skepticism but these are human beings that you know that make mistakes and you know like we say shit happens?>>I think in the 60’s there were a lot more veterans in congress than there are today. I think they were more willing to be trust worthy of the presidential leadership of the military leadership and today they really aren’t that many that who served
in any kind of combat or in military service in the Congress.>>If President Johnson had
gone to one each in private up to four-star and all thinking, thinking now not just and ask them could we
win this war everyone of them would have said no. Everyone one of them would have said from
the guy in the morning gets up and drive rahs bulldozer building in air fields at his commander
to the division commander who are thinkers and they would have said no. Most of us did
that time over there and with that in mind let’s do this and let’s do the best we can
and get home.>>Now you mentioned Richard Nixon and Richard Nixon spoke about the silent majority that
was a Vietnam war speech. He talked about the forgotten Americans and all of a sudden 48 years
later Donald Trump is talking about the silent majority and the forgotten Americans is this
just a mere rhetorical device on his part or is he still carrying some of the issues
from the late 1960’s until today?>>I think there’s and element of that. I
think we need to go to human behavior. Our neural bandwidth is limited. They are overwhelmed
with information and the complexity and velocity of information today is much greater than
it was during our Vietnam war. I think people are really vulnerable and even more so today than they were then and then we had journalism that was curating our news in a way that made
us at least have faith that if not in our leaders at least in the information stream
they were getting. Today what’s going on you know?
>>Arguably some of the resentment toward journalists originated if Lyndon Johnson was talking about RW Apple in the New York Times wondering what his affiliations were he was
certainly angry at Morley Safer with that report and I think it was in 1965 in Vietnam
and there are many who blame journalists for losing the Vietnam war and so once again that
cultural touch point remains with us today. So I want to turn it over to the audience
and give you and opportunity to ask questions. We have microphones on each side and my requests
here is an important one which is please ask a question and please don’t make a statement
and please allow for the opportunity to have the conversation they want. So
>>As a Michigan state graduate from 1979 Mr. Carr you are the first U.S. congressman
I have voted for. I have a question when we talk about Vietnam versus the treatment of
veteran in modern wars from my generation I never saw Vietnam as a win. And the veterans
from the Vietnam were part of what we thought as a losing war. Afghanistan and Iraq hard
to call those wins but in the beginning they all had clear victory that sounded like
wins. Do you think veterans today would be treated differently if Afghanistan and Iraq
had gone worse?>>I don’t know if they were treated differently.
The wars aren’t going too great actually. The Taliban holds about 40 percent of the country right now in Afghanistan. No, I think that is one of the lessons our society learned, we have seen them be very supportive of the wounded, we have treated our 12 thousandth just a little while ago. These we have seen them be very supportive as we serve the severely are guys who have lost limbs, severe traumatic brain injury, blind and we have tremendous support from the public for them and for their recovery and we see a lot of respect. Again, I think they have separated out the soldier from the politics
where they are for or against the war and so I think that’s one of the changes I find most gratifying the difference between Vietnam and now is that the general public
really supports our soldiers and their service and sacrifice. I think that is appropriate, right and good. Because it is going to help them to recover. To know they are appreciated. We see them proud of what they
did trying to move forward with despite their challenges. I think that is because of the public support. I think your question is would the public react differently if the wars went sour and I don’t think so I think the support will be there.>>I might offer
and idea that we used to think in sports terms in wins and losing kind of thing. I think
there’s another role for the military, that’s gaining a greater appreciation. We use the military to buy time. It’s not about winning and losing we have people on the front lines to buy time hopefully for diplomacy to work but maybe some other factors to work
or maybe changing election or change in regime and some of the there’s and actually a diplomatic use of military force. I think that wasn’t really appreciated in the Vietnam era.That was all war fighting war winning. and the shame of not doing so. I think people that serve today can do so with another purpose.>>There’s also one other difference, which is there
was a draft then and there isn’t a draft now. Right?
>>Yes do you think that had and impact?>>Yes okay. Clearly. So elaborate just what
happens?>>I can’t tell you how many times I have
heard this statement from the wounded guys and gals you know when I signed up I realized
that this might happen and I accepted that possibility and that responsibility. And when
you drafted and forced to go in there’s a resentment because you didn’t make that
choice and so there is a difference of you know I signed and I knew that I was doing
and I accepted that danger and that risk, and now I am going to have to live with it.
>>I also served with the first infantry division in ’69-’70 and I would like the panelist to address the
moral dilemma’s that we faced going into the war and the cost in our consciousness following
our experiences in Vietnam. I was against the war and I was in graduate school at Princeton
and studying public affair so I read several books on the war. I thought it was strategically
stupid and it was deeply morally wrong but when I was at Princeton the University offered
us lawyers and doctors to help us avoid the draft. When that offer was made I left feeling absolutely dirty. You could go three or four blocks away into the African‑American neighborhoods
of Princeton. There wasn’t a store front lawyer helping these kids get out. So while I was against
the war and I had worked on the Eugene McCarthy campaign in Wisconsin I had to face
the choice of do I burn my draft card, do I go to Canada, which had lifelong cost to my career or do I just
go along with it? And I did get a draft notification and I went along with it. What I saw in Vietnam, the misrepresentation of body counts, I saw it personally. I was disgusted with my experience
in Vietnam. When I returned to the US I threw away my bronze Star, I threw away my accommodation medals and I threw away my air medal. I was embarrassed
and I was ashamed that I served. I would felt more ashamed if I hadn’t served and refused
to go. This conscience that I am still grappling with I am just wondering if the panelists
could address that.>>One of the way that many of the troops in country handled that, the nature of the war the rejection of the war twas to do as much good as they could every chance that they got. Medics sent to villages to help kids. There was a village and we adopted it. We did a lot of medical things there, we took care of the kids and that was multiplied across Vietnam. You
always saw photographs of troops holding kids and we respected that. We had a love for it, we understood it. That helped take the sting off of being in that country, destroying that country.>>I might say I always had a little haunting feeling. I must say I didn’t go but because I didn’t go I didn’t feel like it was a personal victory for me. I’ve always wondered because
if I didn’t go somebody else did and maybe they didn’t come home.>>Let me just follow up. Had either of our two veterans run across or seen any of the atrocities committed in anyway shape or form by American troops or seeing the
consequences of napalm being dropped on civilians,d id you run across any of that?>>Napalm, Yes it’s horrible. I mean when you walked
through an area that’s been hit that streamers of plastic and just grotesque you know damage, we did see that, and then experienced it and watched it happen you know the war is you know kill or be killed I will include myself in this the moral dilemma was resolved by and it could have been a rationalization
but when we were there you know the saying is you literally own the ground you stand
on and that’s it there was no front line and we were there to protect our men and ourselves
and basically help our buddies get back alive and we got shot at we returned fire to do
that and so it was a rationalization that I am saving my buddies and myself and the
moral question gets pushed back and as far as any atrocities except for the types of
weapons that were used. I didn’t see any, but you know when you get heavy fire from a village
you have no choice you have to fire back or the guy is going to get killed and you do
and you call in either helicopters to you know fire rockets in it or you call in artillery.
There are people in that village that aren’t shooting at you but there are a lot that are.
Those are the kind of moral dilemma’s you have to shove back because bullets are flying over your head and you don’t have to time to think. Those kinds of the collateral damage issue
is real and we realized it was happening and it’s horrible. You know in that moment you
know it’s just trying to save your buddy’s life and your own.
>>Thank you for your presentation and discussion. The veterans, the sacrificed a lot. Sometimes they really don’t know and they
say what happened. It’s the follow the order and I am thinking that war, and the veterans sacrfices
that is really a part of the big social problem. I think our system is really rigged and all
have excuses and we cannot ask the DOD to cut the budget or close some military bases
it’s a vicious cycle going on. I am also concerned that the veterans maybe they have to be treated
for mental illness but I think a lot of veterans they are victimized because they are labeled
a mentally ill while the benefits are there and the medical costs are really deprived
by other health professionals or facilities. They are really victimized.
>>I said then they charge them and all of their benefits will be gone they charge them
everything and the government will be over charged by the ‑‑
>>Do you have a question?>>Can we really pay attention to reduce this
type of abuse from our daily live to fix. We can not have the abuse and force excuses
and take the resource and veterans they are all destroyed. I am really thinking of young
and old it’s one half go to another ‑‑ it’s use less.
>>It’s been and ugly war?>>I will step in is the system broken?
>>No. Is it operating perfectly? But what we see are programs that are being offered that are trying to address the issues you are talking about. post‑traumatic stress and the two big
issue that we are dealing with the severely wounded teaching them sports skills is traumatic brain injury and post‑traumatic stress. You know that the both the government and the private sector realize that the deficiencies of Vietnam and they are trying to address those issues. by offering programs that deal with counseling for post-traumatic stress, wellness programs that get the warriors back in to health and fitness again. Education. The best education bills we have ever seen and you know the real focus by a lot of
company’s throughout the country on hiring veterans and those are going on now and they
are much more aggressive now and much more efficient now than they were during the Vietnam
war. Those elements are there to try to help the warriors transition back into civilian
life or back into a healthy active lifestyle. Is it perfect? No it’s certainly a lot better
than it was during Vietnam>>Thank yous for your comments I want to
get to someone else.>>I am on of those journalists and I wrote a book Long
Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, interviewing many of the generation. My question is involved a real deep question about the morality of the way that war was fought. We all know that the student deferments were amazing. and the number of people that. I want to ask if you are all familiar with the projects
one hundred thousand which is McNamara program. Which was billed as a great society program.They brought in 350, 000 who had originally flunked the physical and mental tests. They brought them in and they were known ass McNamara’s moron corps, they were sent to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers even when everybody said at the time the war was un-winnable, one had an IQ of 62. This is a hidden part of the war when you say draft it’s disingenuous it’s convenient because there were so many deferment, Trump, Cheney and Bush had been deferred along with many, many others. So my question is can you really look at what is happening today, because I read a very interesting article that says they are not volunteers they are recruited I can understand some people wanting to go into
the Army. A lot of people are free from that. My question would a real draft unlike the abominable one of Vietnam. If their own children were involved and Jim fallows and I others brought
this up as a possibility because that’s a bad legacy if anybody wants to talk about
that and also the Vietnamese are still agent Orange because our country hasn’t
taken Agent Orange out of it. There’s a continuing problem in Vietnam I know people
over there who are working just like you are with victims of the land mines and victims
of Agent Orange and it’s bothers me it’s buried I am wondering if you have a moral obligation
to look at that and really speak out about the bad parts of the war because I haven’t
heard it so far? So the McNamara 100,000 was a piece written in the New York Times. I have been
corresponding with him recently and the story that is he tells about the people that he knew in Vietnam who weren’t capable of taking care of themselves and became cannon fodder in the war and it’s sad and poignant and worth talking about so there are a lot of>>That was written in 85 and it was written
over and over by the journalists no one of any military might has ever addressed it.
It wasn’t in Ken Burns you know it’s just like a lost cause. I am glad someone wrote
about it in the New York Times it needs to be addressed if anyone is going to be look
at what kind of wars are going to go into it and who’s going to be doing the fighting. I think
your question and there’s very troubling stories what is our obligation to keep telling those troubling
stories and to make sure that we learn from those lessons and try to rectify some of the
past and injustices that is we may have been involved in irrespective of how we tried to
retell the story of veterans for their bravery and courage in a war they necessarily didn’t choose to be involved
in. What’s our obligation to tell the difficult sides of this war so that next generations
learn that lesson?>>There’s very much and obligation and to
go back to your point about the draft. If we had a genuine draft where there were no
except for rare exception, deferments I think we would be in a lot less wars quite
Frankly.>>I think we have a responsibility to tell the truth about the horrors of war
and again not from and antiwar point of view just because the truth needs to be told. When I see these wounded war fighters in the hospital they are in bad shape they are just in terrible shape they call it Polly trauma they got traumatic
brain injury and the impact of a 30‑pound bomb is absolutely devastating you may see one or two limbs missing but what you don’t see are the arterial damage or the orthopedic damage throughout their bodies and the traumatic brain injury that occurs and they are going to be dealing with that the rest of their lives. And again, a healthy skepticism about war so that we don’t just jump into it at the first notice that doesn’t mean that there’s going to be situation where we
feel as a nation we have to go to war. It does really give you pause when you see some
of the casualties firsthand and realize what the impact of real life impacts on these people and their families does.>>When we talked about napalm, it was horrible, you did what you did to survive. Does our
country have and obligation to do some moral reckoning with the fact that we did drop napalm and Agent Orange, chemical weapons, on another country there was irrespective
with how our own soldiers have to feel that they needed to survive. Is that a conversation
that we have had as a country. This country has a short attention span. You know after
the Sandy Hook I thought this is going to be it. We are going to fix this problem I
am a big gun guy, by the way, problem by the way we are going to fix this problem. We have forgotten about
Las Vegas. We have forgotten about Texas we have a very short attention span for the horror
of things. Something will happen but not a response that will solve the problem. We have
a short attention span.>>Thank you good evening hopefully I can
be heard. The principles of war haven’t changed since they were formulated a couple hundred
years ago and in my basic question is this the principle of war number one was to win
you must invade the territory of the enemy and conquer that territory and I had three
tours of duty in Vietnam and my first tour was 1966‑67 and the huge force was assembled
on the17th parallel and waiting for the gong to ring to invade North Vietnam after
about a month the gong rang go back home. And then all of a sudden the war became if it was a war, body count, you don’t win
wars by body count. The best example of principle of war number one is exemplified by World
War two. We won and with our lives but what happened do you had to invade Germany and
Nazi Germany and conquer that country. This was my basic question is this was is decision
made on high that we don’t want to win this war, we violate the principle, the basic principle
of war was to invade the territory of the enemy and then go in to some kind of a
holding action and start telling the press and the country body count is way we are going
to do it. I just leave this open to you because this is such a basic principle and the title
of tonight is lessons learned and lessons I think what was ignored was a very basic principle.>>There are many who do hold the political
leaders responsible for failing to prosecute this war in a way that left our soldiers you know
holding more of that responsibility and so there is that argument that it was the political
leaders that failed to prosecute this War properly that we could have won this war and
they just didn’t do it right?>>I would say several thing on that, number one the so called domino theory had a lot of credence even though it’s not well
received since then but there clearly was all kinds of intelligence that the Chinese
and the Russians were wanting to move communism through southeast Asia and so one of the
main efforts was to prevent that from happening and to you know in the first line of defenses
was south Vietnam. We didn’t want to lose the war but we always hanging over the head
was do you want to make this a much wider war and bring the Chinese and the Russians
into the war. It’s not a situation where we had in world war two we basically had two
enemies and we knew who they were and they were fighting in this particular case you
had enemies but they weren’t fighting yet because they hadn’t been drawn into the war
and our feeling was you widen the war and there’s no end to it. Similar to what we did
in Korea we try to hold the line to keep the spread of communism from happening. A major
confrontation.>>It was a trying to hold any body back it was trying not to widen that war.>>Was it a war of containment and not necessarily a war of victory. A victory containment is victory.
Containment is victory throughout the cold war.
>>That was really the theme of the Pentagon papers this was all about containing China.
>>I was at that as well as there’s mention of it’s gone from you used to know everybody
was in the military you are harder and harder across someone. What are you think are going
to be the greater political and silent reach os of that trend and also you know as I was
writing and article the other day military families are bearing a lot more of the brunt
it’s more of their children signing up rather than people across the country and there’s
fewer and fewer people viewed as qualified. Given all of those trends what do you think are the political
and social implications of that?>>We are creating a sub culture of the one percent.
People again don’t and this is why discussions like this are very important. People generally
don’t like you say we have got very short attention span. We don’t understand and appreciate
you know the horrors of war and we don’t understand the cost of war from a human point of view
and because we haven’t been exposed to it and we don’t have friends and relative that
is served and can tell the story. You know we are in danger of falling into that situation
where it’s going to be easier and easier to you know make the decision to go to war and
I think that’s dangerous for this country and for any country and again not that we
don’t find situation where is that you know is necessary but you know it’s just it makes
it a lot easier to do it because it’s such a small segment of the population that’s
really experiencing what it’s like to be you know at the front lines and what it’s like
to be the tip of the spear.>>So in other words one of the results of Vietnam was to end the
draft and create a volunteer Army which limited the number of people that get in the do involved
in the war may result in fewer people knowing the consequences of the war and not making informed
decisions which could potentially lead us to conflict that may mirror Vietnam again.
>>I am a veteran of the Persian gulf war. In the 60’s we had the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and
in this century we had a claim of weapons of mass destruction. In the 60’s and 70’s
we had bombings of innocent civilians in Cambodia and Laos in this century, I read a report in the Washington Post, we had the President himself orchestrate
and south illustrated droning of innocent civilians in, I believe, Afghanistan. My question is
this why isn’t one of the lessons to be learned from Vietnam, why isn’t the important lesson to be that the President must rest assured that he or she
will not only be impeached but also tried and if found guilty incarcerated for lying our
country in to an unjustified war or slaughtering innocent civilians. Why isn’t that one of the important lessons we’v learned?
>>You were there you weren’t there while Tonkin Gulf gulf but certainly there’s must have
been conversations in the White House about the fact that Tonkin Gulf was not necessarily
an attack on our ships>>We were there and we still believed it
and I think that the four year span the feeling was that you were trying to make the right
decision and you were not considering this tangential collateral damage because it was all in a war and you were trying to both protect our troops and get the objective that was
military objective you were trying to reach, so I don’t think anybody ever thought about
that war crimes trials and things like that. That has only come up actually just fairly
recent years that someone would suggest our President be tried for war crimes.
>>I want to just point out that our system Is designed to prevent things happen easily the so-called check and balance separation of powers in the internet nuclear velocity age are really inadequate. I congratulate Corker, apparently, for starting a little bit of a hearing
on Capitol Hill about trying to see what can happen to reign in or give some congressional
over sight or some kind of over sight to the first use of nuclear weapons. Burden of proofs. We have structural problems in our Constitution apportions power and influence. It hasn’t held up well in the velocity of the information age we are in right now.>>There’s are serious consequences when you take nations to war based on inaccurate information. That does reverberate and it leads people to have less trust less faith in their institutions and political leaders even if you don’t go to the point of having trials
or impeachment it’s a very you know it’s debilitates our society but it’s also part of the responsibility
of our leaders isn’t it to make sure that they tell us.
>>We had that in the Mexican American war and we had that in the Spanish American war
it happened through our history we don’t recognize it at the time but it’s inaccurate information.
Yes.>>I think this is the only have time for
this final question here.>>Hello, so Vietnam ended up being and unwinnable
war and today a lot of our foreign threats including cyber warfare and terrorist organizations
and the civil war in Syria seem very unwinnable. What lessons can we learn from Vietnam when
our leaders are making decisions today about how to interact with the global threats that
we are facing?>>A lot of it has to do with, and this is where I have a lot of faith in military Frankly. We don’t engage on capitol Hill we don’t engage in a lot of critical thinking.
It’s all about ass covering, can kicking and credit claiming I mean I have to say that
and I mean it’s Congress is not a policy institution but a political institution. But you know
I am heartened by what I knew I learned and seen in the military. I think military does
engage in a reasonable amount of critical thinking. I think that they are looking at
the threats in a more holistic way and they certainly are on the front line of having
something disastrous happen so their incentives are not getting reelected next week their
incentives are really I think in the proper place, so I have some hope in that regard.
I mean it’s hope and it’s faith because I don’t have top security clearance I don’t know what’s
going on but I am heartened by what I have seen.>>I think one of the other lesson, talked about here tonight as you are making political decisions you have to factor in the total cost of war and that’s
not just sending young men and women to war when they are two or three or four or five
year period but what happens to them when they come home and the cost of taking care
of them when they come home. We don’t factor that in it’s a huge cost. That’s one of the
lessons I hope we can learn.>>I think the other lesson and another lesson
is you know we need to not over react in this state of hysteria if you will on every you
know act that happens that’s where you get the herd effect effect of stampeding you know out the
door to try to solve something when you need to look at the proportionality of what actually
happened and not over react to it and keep more of a steady approach to these crisis,
and to these problems around the world because I think that’s where we get into this escalation
of what we do really in reaction to it.>>I have a final wrap up question for you
all. Let’s say you’re teaching my course on the 1960’s and to my students in class they
want to know the one lesson they should learn from the Vietnam war as they begin to take
the reigns of democracy and sort of begin to be that generation that will be running
this country? What is that one lesson from Vietnam that you would tell young people today?
>>Be skeptical and curious.>>Skeptical and curious.
>>A healthy skepticism combined with patriotism but a healthy skepticism and really, really
requiring you know information and full disclosure with you know with the kind of questions and
with the kind of approach so that we have our eyes open if we take action.
>>Those two things and the to value the human capitol of this country. Some of our bright
minds died in Vietnam. If you read the book the Long Gray Lines about the class of 1966
from West Point they recount that one by one of how they died in Vietnam and how the first burial
at the cemetery there was a big thing, there was one a week and then there were three a
week. These are people they aren’t soldiers or Marines or airman. They are people that
have and opportunity if left to live to make a contribution to this country.
>>Well honesty and humility I don’t think you can have greatness for that humility.
And being able and strong enough to put a period at the end of the sentence. Not just another
comma>>There were times when I will ask my students
how many people died in Vietnam and the answer I typically get is about 58, 000. I say no
how many people died in Vietnam and there were a couple of million Vietnamese who died
in Vietnam. I do hope they take away from that single question that the human experience
has to be much larger than any particular policy or decision that goes on in one nation
or that we have to understand the consequences of those policies and decisions because in
the long run they do boomerang back home. In any case we are out of time and please
thank our panelists for their thoughts and insights.

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