Skip to main content

tv   Vietnam War - Lessons Learned Ignored  CSPAN  December 24, 2017 4:30pm-6:01pm EST

4:30 pm
brought home. a water stand, when replenished daily, helps to maintain maximum freshness and fireproofing in the home. what we have seen is the end result of man's ingenuity in improving on a natural product.d result of man's ingenuity and improving on a natural product. he has established a significant new industry by creating a more beautiful product, the cultured christmas tree. remembering vietnam is a national archives exhibit an series of programs marking the 50th anniversary of the war. next, on american history tv, two former members of congress and two former vietnam war veterans appear onstage for a panel discussion titled "vietnam: lessons learned and lessons ignored." the national archives and the u.s. association of former members of congress cohosted
4:31 pm
this 90 minute conversation. >> now i ask all vietnam veterans or any united states veterans that served anytime between november 1, 1955 and may 15, 1975, the vietnam era, to stand and be recognized. [applause] >> veterans, as you exit the theater, national archives staff and volunteers will treat each of you with a lapel pin. on the back of the pan is embossed, a grateful nation thanks you. united states of america vietnam war commemoration is a national initiative, the lapel pin is the
4:32 pm
nation's lasting memento of thanks. tonight's program is one in a series of conventions we are presenting in conjunction with our new exhibit, "remembering vietnam," which just opened upstairs. a media rich exhibition of the vietnam war, featuring analysis and interviews with american and and newly veterans discovered iconic original film footage and artifacts that illuminate 12 critical episodes in the war that divided the peoples of the united states and vietnam. remembering vietnam draws on national archives records from all parts of our agency. federal and civilian military records, presidential library, still photography, motion pictures, sound recordings, electronic records. the title of the exhibit, "remembering vietnam" was inspired by a quote, "all wars
4:33 pm
are fought twice, the first on a battlefield, the second time in memory." documents and artifacts we display help us sort through the lessons of the war, but those lessons are also formed by memory. i look forward to a stimulating discussion. it's my pleasure to welcome peter white line to the stage. in 2003, he served as the officer of the former members of congress. to reconnect citizens with their representative government. he plans and directs all policies and initiatives for the association, represents them in the community, and serves as its spokesperson to the public, in media, and the public. he holds two degrees from pennsylvania state university,
4:34 pm
he attended law school at the free university in berlin and completed his studies -- his legal studies in washington, d.c., at the catholic university of america. [applause] peter: thank you for the introduction, and thank you all for joining us tonight for this discussion. i realize i am the only thing standing between you and the outstanding panel we have assembled. in that spirit i will be brief. to spend a quick word on the association and the work we do. we bring together, under the fmc umbrella, a bipartisan group of former senators and representatives who work together on a wide variety of projects. our mission includes strengthening the work of the
4:35 pm
current congress by promoting a collaborative approach to policymaking as well as deepening the understanding of our 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 on issues that affect our nation and 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 here at the national archives as well as the 10 part ken burns documentary that aired last month, made that abundantly clear. tonight, we want to explore some of the impacts the vietnam era had on those who lived through it. we want to take a look at lessons we have learned, lessons we should have learned. we also want to compare the
4:36 pm
challenges we faced as a nation in the 1960's and 1970's, and compare that to america 50 years later. we have recruited an exceptional panel. i now invite them to join me. unfortunately, secretary chuck hagel's schedule changed last-minute but kirk bauer rearranged his calendar so he could join us tonight. we are appreciative of him doing so. please welcome our panel and please hold your applause until all of them have joined me on stage. moderating this important conversation will be leonard steinhorn, professor of communications and history at american university, a political analyst for cbs news radio, as well as a political commentator for several news outlets. he has authored books and articles examining american politics and culture with a focus on the 1960's and race
4:37 pm
relations in the united states. jim jones is a former member of congress from oklahoma and the former ambassador to mexico during the clinton administration. he now serves as chairman of monarch global strategies. kirk bauer focuses on using sports to help wounded veterans in their rehab. i have known him for over a decade. he is -- he is a friend, a mentor, and in survey should -- and an inspiration. harry robinson is an award-winning architect that has served for many years on the director of the memorial fund, which develops 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 who was named to the house armed services committee as our involvement in southeast
4:38 pm
asia was beginning to wind down. he served in congress until 1995 and now teaches politics and government at george washington university. with that, let's welcome a great panel with a round of applause. [applause] leonard: thank you all for being here tonight. i appreciate the involvement in the community of ideas, the opportunity to speak about something important and many of our lives and also our history. a special thanks to the national archives for hosting such an important conversation and doing what we need more of in our society, which is conversations about the past and how they translate to the present, how we make sense of our lives years
4:39 pm
ago and how they connect to today. as you know, our topic is the vietnam war. anyone who lived in the 1960's knows that this is a topic that reverberates. it's a flashpoint in every one of our lives. it's a war that divided our country, it is a war that eroded trust in institutions and individuals. it's a war that arguably germinated culture wars and set apart some of the populism we see today. it is a war that magnified some of the racial issues in our country. it is a war that arguably undercut lyndon johnson's great society and helped us split apart new deal liberalism, which had been the postwar consensus of that era. it's a war that sort of magnified the role of the media.
4:40 pm
for some, the media became a hero and for others, the media became a villain. in a lot of ways, it shook up america's image in the world. 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 questions for the next generation. i teach a course on the 1960's. there's a former student from that course in the audience today. he is sort of a testimony to the questions that this generation wants to ask about the war and how it influenced us. they want to know how so many young men in particular, their parents and grandparents, were sent off to war, that our leaders could barely justify. they want to know about that. they want to know how the personal wounds, cultural wounds, political wounds reverberate in our society
4:41 pm
today. i am hoping that we will be able to answer some of those questions for all of you and for the audience. i'm going to kick it off and sort of ask each of you to say, in some ways, how this war changed you personally. to magnify it in terms of a sense of how it sort of reshaped and changed our country. ambassador jim jones had a very special place in the war. he served in basic training. after that, he didn't go to vietnam -- he went to another place some might call a war zone, which is the johnson white house. first, he served as an army intelligence officer, then on the staff of lyndon johnson, and ultimately in the position of appointment secretary, which we now know as chief of staff. ambassador jones.
4:42 pm
jim: summary things came out of vietnam, from my perspective -- so many things came out of vietnam from my perspective. one of the things, 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. you had a sense of trust in your government. i think the thing that disturbed me more thanrbed anything else is how information from the front lines could get so distorted by the time it got to the president of the united states that 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 just take anybody's word for it. when i left the white house, went back to my home state of
4:43 pm
oklahoma, and ran for congress four years later, it turns out that, in those days, you could be bipartisan, you could have friends on both sides of the aisle and work together. one of the things i found out after getting elected and coming to congress was that democrats and republicans alike heard from their constituency when they were getting elected how government had 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 the introduction of military personnel on foreign land. that worked for a while. it never worked as intended. now, i think we do need to rediscover that and perhaps put
4:44 pm
some sort of program like that in. leonard: thank you. kirk bauer, in 1969 you were in vietnam. you received two bronze stars for heroism and a purple heart. obviously, the vietnam war had a deeply personal impact on your life. please say how, in sort of a larger sense, how it changed who you are. kirk: first of all, my perspective is going to be a little less elevated. i was a noncommissioned officer, one of the grunts on the ground in the ninth infantry division. slogging through the swamps of the mekong delta. actually, even now, still very much ground level because one of the things that -- when i got hit and lost my leg, my life
4:45 pm
changed personally and physically forever. i became a person with a disability. i did not know what that meant. i was a young recruit. i was a young recruit and suddenly i was flat on my back and had tubes coming out of me, pins in me. it was a devastating experience. personally, it affected me, but one of the things it did do was to get me focused on what really helped turn my life around and save my life. it was the sports programs that the v.a. and the military offered to get us back into life again. we now focus on health care, physical activity, the war fighter's sports program, on serving the warriors with the sports rehabilitation program. we do see now, one of the lessons learned, is there is much more of a focus on the complete care for the wounded
4:46 pm
and health and wellness activities that are going on. education is the key to getting the jobs. fourtion is the end point -- for everything we are doing for our wounded and those transitioning out of the military. it changed the course of my life. leonard: we have a sense of our relationship with government, we have a sense of our relationship with veterans. harry robinson, you went straight to vietnam out of army ranger school in 1967. you were a platoon leader. you were stationed in a very dangerous area in vietnam close to the cambodian border. harry: i think it is important to give you context. the notion of patriotism and listen to the government ran very strong in my family.
4:47 pm
since the first world war, all the males in my family joined the military. my uncle was the highest ranked negro when he retired from the service in 1954. his grandson had two sons that both graduated from west point. when he was in the white house, he was johnson's military aid. and i try tonam get an assignment that he did not want me to have because he said it was too dangerous. i wrote him letters and i called him. he said, go to the first division, that would be a safe place to be. that wasn't quite true. the change to my life runs that i did ranger school, vietnam, then grad school. walter reed for a long time, and then grad school.
4:48 pm
when i went to grad school, i was a very difficult graduate student because i wasn't afraid of anything. my position was, what are they going to do, send me to vietnam if i don't finish this paper? it's not going to work that way. the notion of personal confidence that came out of the experience at a very high price. it's a gamble that i took. i took that gamble because i decided, when i was in my 40's and 50's and 60's, i wanted to be among those men in the country that are running the country. that plan worked out exactly as -- worked out exactly well for me. we've had some opportunities to do some things that we would not have done 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 unite us.
4:49 pm
and to save the country from itself. now, the military has honors as they are in a war. i think that is important as to where this country is now. leonard: obviously, it is the question of how vietnam divided us and how people have tried to knit us back together. that is an important story we have to discuss. bob carr, former member of congress who ran for congress because of vietnam. and civil rights. you were an undergraduate, i think in law school, at the university of wisconsin, which was really one of the hotbed areas of protest at the moment. what has driven your political career and activism is your experience from those years. bob: my story isn't that remarkable. i was a scrawny kid from janesville, wisconsin, growing up thinking i would be a nuclear physicist. i was very good in science.
4:50 pm
i went to the university and signed up for all the science courses, but they made me take a -- well, they didn't make me. it was required to take a political science course. i took my very first political science course. i can recall that it was a turning point because, with my nuclear physics interest and the book that they required us to read, it was kissinger's second book, his nuclear weapons and foreign policy book. i read that and i thought, oh my goodness, the war is just percolating along. it was not reaching a fever pitch at this point. like most americans, i had a sense of patriotism. i said the pledge of allegiance, saluted the flag, and believed what my leaders were telling me.
4:51 pm
we were fighting communism. the kissinger book sort of slowed me down and caused me to think about some things in ways that i had not thought about them before. my moderate republican upbringing -- my father didn't like joe mccarthy. it started to get me to rethink some of the things i was taught at home. things progressed and i was going to vote for barry goldwater the first time i could vote for president. in may of the election year, he started talking about, well, maybe we ought to use nuclear weapons in vietnam. i thought that was crazy and i couldn't vote for him. the protests started percolating at the university of wisconsin.
4:52 pm
they had a protest over dow chemical, which was the very first violent protest. there were many protests of the vietnam war, but this one went violent. the whole campus was in a state of shock. upon graduation, you had to think about the draft. the draft was very present in our daily lives, what is going to happen next, what is the draft board going to say, what do we do? it just so happened that there were graduate deferments thence i went to law school and continued to get a draft deferment. i wrote my law school thesis, if you will, it was on the selective services. i had this connection with the draft, those who were drafted.
4:53 pm
after leaving wisconsin, i went to michigan. again, influenced by, among others, participatory democracy, an engine for civil rights and the antiwar movement and those kinds of things. i get to michigan and i'm appointed by a federal judge, defending people who are claiming conscientious objection. we do not know that today, but if you were a conscientious objector, the only way you could appeal a draft board decision wasng we do not believe you 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. it ended up motivating me to run for congress. tocongress, i was privileged
4:54 pm
put the period at the end of the sentence. on march 12, 1975, it was my resolution to cut off funding for the war in vietnam. leonard: that really just turbocharged your life in so many ways. thanks for sharing. i'm wondering if you think we, as a country, have learned lessons from the vietnam war. what does the philosopher george santa ana say, that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it? do you think we have learned lessons and what lessons might those be, coming out of that war? does anyone want to take a crack at that? >> i'll take a crack at it from a ground-level. i'm going to accuse pete of a bait and switch. you were supposed to get chuck hagel. instead of the defense secretary you got a jock who love sports.
4:55 pm
i think one of the things that impressed me the most is the public reaction to these current wars versus vietnam and to those who served in vietnam. in vietnam, because there was such a division in our country about the war and a real violent hatred for the war, that translated over to some of those guys who served. we were all tainted. it really did affect our psyche in terms of how we felt about ourselves and how we felt about our service to the country. now, i think the country has learned, whether you are for or against the war, they support the troops and their commitment to serve for this country and sacrifice for this country. it came to me rather graphically when i was over here at the 9:30 club, a nightclub here in d.c.,
4:56 pm
and a foundation founded by the grateful dead -- they were long dead -- really dead. [laughter] kirk: but they had this organization that had a foundation and i was get funding for the war fighter's program. from 900 dead heads standing around the 9:30 club. i thought things have really changed. i think that is really one of the things. the other couple of things that we are seeing, i went through the rehab program, which was a good program back then to help us get on our feet again. i ended up going to law school through that program. now, the g.i. bill is as good as the programs back then that was just for the wounded. that is good. and there's no limits on it. i can tell you, i've been in the deputy secretary's office,
4:57 pm
,nformally, not formally arguing for those veterans that fell through the cracks and 10 or 15 years later, we were trying to get them back into some rehab. so these educational benefits are now available without time limits. that's an improvement, in my opinion. to focus on ptsd. we didn't even define ptsd coming out of the war. i got discharged on the last day of 1969. i had my first session of ptsd counseling in 1982 when my marriage was falling apart. that is different because now, we try to encourage the warriors to get in and see some help. no matter what happens, you do have some post-traumatic stress. we don't want it to become post-traumatic stress disorder. that is when it becomes dysfunctional. those are some of the positive changes we're seeing compared to vietnam.
4:58 pm
leonard: just a quick follow-up -- do you think the vietnam veterans -- the narrative early on was divided. there were lots of issues related to vietnam veterans. do you think our country has welcomed vietnam veterans more? kirk: yes. >> i think it is a major change from the time of the war itself. it was really sad to see people coming back from vietnam or military service and being ashamed of their service because the communities where shaming them basically. i think that's one of the good things that has happened in the last few years is that the human beings who fought this war are being recognized for the patriotism that they exhibited. i think that has an effect on the response of political leadership as well as the citizens at large on soldiers
4:59 pm
who are fighting today's wars. i think that, even though the country was fairly divided on the iraq war, for example, they were not divided on the people who were fighting the war, and they did give them 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. every freshman and sophomore was required to take it. that fell apart. when i finished at howard university, six of my classmates were killed in vietnam. in my senior class, we had at least 60 second lieutenants who graduated. us do not know somebody who is in the military.
5:00 pm
almost everybody knew someone who was in vietnam, most knew people who were other wounded or killed in vietnam. that's not the case now. you see on tv, if you go to arlington you can see it every day, but it is not the personal. ken burn'ss about documentary on vietnam -- everyone who went to vietnam will agree with me on this -- it was sanitized. there were no smells that went with that documentary. you are watching essentially a war cartoon that someone has put together and put their spin on it. it wasn't the gritty, grimy, very difficult war that people who went to vietnam experienced. that context influenced what ken burns and lynn novak did.
5:01 pm
the only kid i knew that was in the military was one of my graduates who went into rotc. i used to know hundreds of my friends and relatives and associates who were in the military, many of whom had gone to vietnam. not having that intimate relationship with their experiences, the american populace to now digest this a lot easier than they could in the 1960's. leonard: let me ask a flipped question. if we come to terms with the veterans who fought in the war, do you think we've come to terms with the antiwar movement overtime? the antiwar movement itself was a major movement in this country and people still harbor resentment, thinking it was unpatriotic.
5:02 pm
bob: i was about to say, we tend to think of things as monolithic. the antiwar movement was not monolithic. there were deep divisions between those who disrespected veterans, people who served, and they were blaming the veterans rather than leaders. there was a lot of tension between groups about tactics, respect, those kind of things. similarly, there's a lot of vietnam vets, many of whom came back and joined the movement, then they had their own tensions with their colleagues. we know that veterans organizations, from world war i and world war ii, the american legion, vfw, all these other groups, initially had some hard times accepting the vets. the vets had to create their own organization.
5:03 pm
things fractured a lot. it wasn't just vets versus peaceniks. there was a lot of turbulence. one of the things i would like to say is i joined the armed services committee. i didn't serve in the military but i learned a lot through my service on the armed services committee. my respect for the military grew and grew, still grows to this day. i think we can count on some of the best lessons learned being learned in the military, in military doctrine, military manuals. their ability to incorporate the lessons learned and pass it on whereas some of us can learn but we can't pass it on. one of the things that really -- and i would like some comments from my colleagues -- i have a little theory that we've learned the limits of military power
5:04 pm
during the vietnam war. we learned that as a society, as a culture, that you can't kill an idea with a bullet. there are other things. diplomats are on the front line. fails thatdiplomacy you call in the military. i think that there was a generation of military leaders during the vietnam war who learned that and who were a restraining force on military interventionism. sadly, they began to retire and age out. a new generation came in. i've always wondered -- i thought that the legacy, the military legacy of vietnam kept us from going overboard when we rescued kuwait. then, a few years later, that military resistance to civilian
5:05 pm
authority began to crumble. leonard: thoughts? >> a new set of careerism kind of took over. >> i think you learn the lessons by mistakes you have made and then, when you get into a higher position, you don't make those mistakes again. then things roll along, i think we make the mistake, as you say, of thinking military can just go in and change minds with our might and bring everybody to our way of thinking. that just doesn't happen. we see that all over the world today. i think we have to relearn those lessons. >> can i make a point?
5:06 pm
as an architect, you learn to think around the box. that was really to my advantage in the military. many of my commanders didn't like that i did that. but it was always to an advantage of those who i was leading into the mission. i'm going to give you an example. i use this all the time, and when i tell the story, i get the cold chills. i was a platoon leader in the first division. then they needed somebody to go to a special forces camp on the cambodian border. they needed a task force engineer to maintain the roads from the cambodian border back down to claymore corner and to do everything in between. build ammo dumps.
5:07 pm
prepare for the big battle that was going to happen. the cia had a little hut in the encampment. i would go over every day and get the intelligence reports. i would read it. my street instincts from growing up in washington, d.c. told me this just wasn't right. one of the things my father did when i was a kid, he would take me to the o street market. he lived in the neighborhood. i would go there as a kid. what i discovered from that was that was the voice of the community. it is where people met, where they exchanged ideas, where they exchanged goods and currency. the same thing occurred in vietnam. , there was aarket buddhist monastery, a small
5:08 pm
school, and this market in the town square. i would go there every morning. i would get my jeep, drive there. when i would go there and they weren't speaking, i would know that the north vietnamese were in that market. i knew they were in the area. i would go back to the cia and say this is wrong. let me tell you why this is wrong. they would say, how did you think of that? because i'm an architect. i'm an urban designer. i understand places. this was an important place. i will make the story short. we took a delegation of corporate executives who were in vietnam back to vietnam for the 25th anniversary. jan and i had a meeting with who
5:09 pm
-- with a woman who was now the vice president. i said, i'm harry robinson, it's good to be back in your country. she says, 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, walk around and buy things, talk to the vendors and lee. ? at were you doing i told her. she thought that was what i was doing. why hadn't the cia thought of that? why hadn't they looked at how people lived there and make that work for them? >> that helps me a little bit. i mentioned in the beginning that it always puzzled me how the information, when it finally got to the president, was so different from what we heard happened on the ground. it used to drive the president
5:10 pm
crazy. i started my day in the president's bedroom about 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning trade -- about 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. the night before, we had given him all this reading. i basically filtered all the night reading, situation reports, intelligence reports, as well as domestic stuff. we would discuss it in the morning and give out assignments. he had three televisions. in those days, you only had three networks. he had three televisions in his bedroom, watching them all at the same time, reading the new york times, washington post, etc. i came into the bedroom and he was just cussing. who is this god damn apple, new york times reporter? either we've got a bunch of nincompoops working for us or he's a communist. the reports of the same situation were night and day
5:11 pm
different. that gives me some insight. i think some of the other insights were, as you went up the ranks, you didn't want to be the one who said we were failing, so you would change it a little bit until it finally got to the president. it was a disservice to the president. leonard: i have to ask you and lbj question. how much doubt did he harbor about the escalation of the war? jim: we harbored a lot. we had meetings on that with secretary mcnamara, rusk, the cia director, etc. he used to press them very hard. i remember one time, we had a late night meeting, walking over from the mansion, and he said -- i think it was general abrams,
5:12 pm
he's going to have to rape me before i give him any more troops. leonard: that sounds like lyndon johnson. [laughter] >> you might want to rephrase your earlier statement about starting your day in his bedroom. [laughter] jim: that's the way he worked. he worked from bed for about two or three hours in the morning, then got dressed and started his official schedule. it was frustrating. he had lots of doubts. in 1954, i guess, when he was in the senate, i didn't know him at that time, but he was one who was very skeptical about the division of vietnam. he was skeptical all the way through as president. the reason he did not run was not that he could not win, but
5:13 pm
he thought the only way he could get peace in vietnam while he was in office was to not run for office. to have complete freedom to do whatever is necessary. that turned out to be true. we almost had peace in vietnam if it hadn't been for the republican candidates getting the message to madame, what's her name, i've lost her name? i'm talking about here in washington. the chinese. anyways, she was very close to saigon. the fbi intercepted a message from vice president candidate agnew to her, then she relayed the message to saigon to the
5:14 pm
president of south vietnam saying, hold out. this is when we were getting started on the peace negotiations in paris. she said, hold out and nixon will give you a better deal. everything went cold after that. i think we would have had peace in vietnam but the settlement took us six more years to get and we never got it in that respect. leonard: following up on that, politically, are we still fighting the battles of vietnam? jim: i don't think we are. >> i want to agree with some of the congressman carr's statements about, when you've seen the horrors of war, i don't care how patriotic or how committed you are, it really
5:15 pm
makes you think twice, three times, four times about getting into war. you understand on a very human level the costs of the war, the tragedy and the horrors of war. i think some of the members of congress who have been in the military are the most hesitant to make that commitment. when you talk about that transition, it happened with s -- of the healthy skeptic a lot of our guys over there are healthy skeptic's. that started to fade when the second round of iraq started rolling forward. i think that had to do with leadership change and different perspective, people who had not been in the middle of war and had seen some of the pitfalls and some of the fallacies. there was incredible pressure at the ground level for us to
5:16 pm
report inflated casualties because it was all about body count. it was done. it was false, but the pressure was creating so much. if you did not want to go into an area that somebody -- that you are just shot up, because you figured somebody was in there ready to kill you, you would make an estimate. that brought false information. also, one real-life situation, when our captain, who we thought was kind of incompetent, in the middle of the night he got lost. he had to put his spotter light up. of course, that immediately alerted the viet cong and the next thing we knew, somebody with a 50 caliber machine gun was blowing us apart. they did not demote this guy, they promoted him to get him out of the field. that actually happened. it was like, you just shake your
5:17 pm
head and say, you've got to be kidding. it does create a very healthy skepticism, not an antiwar skepticism, but a healthy skepticism. these are human beings that make mistakes. as we say, shit happens. >> in the 1960's, there were a lot more veterans in the congress then there are today. i think they were more willing to be trustworthy of the presidential leadership, of the military leadership. today, there really aren't that many who served in any kind of combat or military service in the congress. harry: if president johnson had gone from one each up from private to four-star, thinkers, and asked them, can we win this war? everyone of them would have said no.
5:18 pm
every one of them. from the guy who, in the morning, gets up and drives a bulldozer building airfields, to his commander, to the division commander, who are thinkers, they would have said no. most of us at that time over there, with that in mind, let's do the best we can and get home. leonard: you mentioned richard nixon. richard nixon spoke about the silent majority, and that was a vietnam war speech. he talked about the forgotten americans. all of a sudden, 48 years later, donald trump is talking about the silent majority and the forgotten americans. was this a mere rhetorical device or was he still carrying some of the issues from the late 1960's until today? bob: i think there's an element
5:19 pm
of that. i also think we need to go to human behavior. our neuro bandwidth is limited. people are overwhelmed with information. the complexity and velocity of information today is much greater even than it was during the vietnam war era. i think people are really vulnerable, 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, if not in our leaders, at least in the information stream we were getting. today, what's going on? >> arguably, some of the resentment toward journalists -- if lyndon johnson was talking in "the new york times" wondering what his
5:20 pm
opinions were, he was certain angry with -- he was certainly angry with the report in 1965 on vietnam. there are many who blame journalists for losing the vietnam war. once again, that cultural touch point. >> i want to turn it over to the audience. to give an opportunity to ask questions. we have microphones on each side. my request here is an important one, which is, please ask a question. please don't make a statement. and, please allow for the opportunity to have a conversation go on. >> as a michigan state graduate from 1979, mr. carr, you are the first member of congress who i voted for. when we talk about vietnam, from -- versus the treatment of
5:21 pm
veterans and modern wars, from my generation, i never saw vietnam as a win. the veterans from vietnam were part of what we saw as a losing war. afghanistan, iraq, it's hard to call those wins. in the beginning, they all had clear victories that sounded like wins. do you think veterans today would be treated differently if afghanistan and iraq have gone worse? >> i don't think they would be treated differently. the wars aren't going too great, actually. about 40% ofolds the country right now in afghanistan. that is one of the lessons our society learned. we have seen them be very supportive as we serve the severely wounded, about 12,000
5:22 pm
severely wounded. these are guys that have lost limbs, had severe traumatic brain injury, have been severely injured, and we had tremendous support from the public for them and their recovery. we see a lot of respect. i think that they have separated out the soldier from the politics. whether they are for or against the war. ishink that support, that one of the changes i find most gratifying, the difference between vietnam and now, is the general public supports our soldiers and supports their service and sacrifice. andink that is appropriate right and good because it will help them to recover, to know that they are appreciated. we see them proud of what they did and trying to move forward despite their challenges. i think that's because of the public support. i think your question was, what the public's reaction have gone differently if it went sour.
5:23 pm
i don't think so. i think the support would be there. >> i might offer an idea that we used to think in sports terms. winning and losing. think there is another roll for the military that is gaining greater appreciation. we use the military to buy time. it's not about winning and losing. we have people on the front line to help us buy time hopefully for diplomacy to work but maybe some other factors to work. maybe a change in election, change in regime. there's actually a diplomatic use of the military force. i think it wasn't that appreciated in the vietnam era. that was all war fighting, war winning, and the shame of not doing so. i think that people who served today can do so with another purpose. >> there is also one other
5:24 pm
difference -- there was a trapped then, there is not a draft now. ?o you think that had an impact >> yes. >> i don't know how many times i've heard this statement from the wounded guys and gals, when signed up i realize this could happen and i accepted that responsibility. when you're drafted and forced to go in, there is a resent me -- there is a resentment because you did not make that choice. i signed, i knew what i was doing, i accepted that danger and that risk, and now i'm going to have to live with it. >> i also served with the first infantry division in 1969-1970. i would like the panelists to address the moral dilemmas that we faced going into the war.
5:25 pm
the costs in our consciences following our experience in vietnam. i was against the war. i was in graduate school at princeton, studying public affairs. 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 3, 4 blocks away into the african-american neighborhoods of princeton, and there wasn't a storefront lawyer helping these kids get out. while i was against the war and had actually worked on the eugene mccarthy campaign in wisconsin, i had to face the choice.
5:26 pm
do i earn my draft card, do i go to canada, which had lifelong costs to my career, or do i just go along with it? 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 u.s., i threw away my bronze star, my commendation medals, my air medal. i was embarrassed. i was ashamed that i had served. i would have felt even more ashamed if i had refused to go. it's a conscience that i'm still grappling with.
5:27 pm
i'm just wondering if the panelists can address that. >> you know, one of the ways that many of the troops tackled that, the nature of the war, the objection of the war, was to do as much good as they possibly could every chance that they got. medics sent to villages to help kids. there was a village -- we adopted it. we did a lot of medical things. we took care of the kids. that was multiplied across vietnam. when you got a chance, you always solve photographs of troops holding kids. we respected that and we had a love for them and we enjoyed it. it took a little bit of the sting out of being in that country.
5:28 pm
bob: i've always had a little haunting feeling. i didn't go but, because i did not go, i did not feel that was a personal victory for me. i was wondered if, because i didn't go, maybe somebody else did, and maybe they didn't come home. >> let me follow up. have either of our two veterans followed up or seen any of these atrocities committed by american troops or seen the consequences of napalm being dropped on civilians? >> napalm, yes. it's horrible. when you walk through an area that's been hit, there's
5:29 pm
streamers of plastic and grotesque damage. we did see that, watched it happen. war is kill or be killed. a lot of guys like myself, and i will include myself in this, the moral dilemma was resolved -- it may have been a rationalization, but when we were there, the saying is you literally owned the ground you are standing on, that's it. there were no front lines. we were there to protect our men and ourselves and basically help our bodies get out alive. when we got shot at, we returned fire. it was a rationalization that, i'm saving my buddies and myself, and the moral question gets pushed out.
5:30 pm
as far as any atrocities, aside from the types of weapons that we used, i didn't see any. but when you get heavy fire from a village, you have no choice. you have to fire back or your and you do. you call and either helicopters to fire rockets or you call an artillery. there are people in that village who are not shooting at you but there are a lot that are. those of the types of moral dilemmas you have to shove back. you don't have time to think because that's the only reaction you can have. the collateral damage issue is real. we realized it was happening. it is horrible. in that moment, you are just trying to save your buddy's life or your own. >> thank you for your presentation and discussion. thinking about veterans day,
5:31 pm
they have to sacrifice a lot. they just follow the orders. the war and the veterans sacrifice is really a part of a big social problem. our system is rigged. you really cannot ask the dod to cut the budget, close the military bases, it is a vicious cycle. i'm also concerned, the veterans, maybe they have to be treated for mental illness. i think a lot of victims are victimized. because they are labeled mentally ill -- the benefits are there the costs are depriving others for help or facilities. they are victimized, they are
5:32 pm
alive but they use rehab and hospital as a prison, then they charge them. all the benefit and incomes and savings will be gone. they charge them everything. government resources are being charged by those evil. we waste a lot. my question, can we really pay attention to the abuse and fix the system? we cannot allow them to have a look at system. -- they arefamilies all destroyed. oldre thinking, young and from one hospital to another. it is useless. >> i'll just step in. is the system broken?
5:33 pm
>> no. visit operating perfectly? no. but, what we need is a program trying to address the issues that you are talking about. post-traumatic stress -- the two big issues we are dealing with our traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress. >> i am not saying that if they have a problem, they should be treated. i am saying they are not having that type of problem -- they are mislabeled. then they eat up their resource and their savings. >> again, both the government and the private sector realize
5:34 pm
the deficiencies of vietnam. they are attempting to address those issues by offering programs that deal with counseling, sports and wellness programs, that get the warriors back into health and fitness again. education, the best education bills we've ever seen. the real focus by a lot of companies across the country on hiring veterans. those are going on now, and they are much more impressive now and much more efficient now than they were during the vietnam war. those elements are there to try to help transition the warriors back into civilian life and back into a healthy lifestyle. is it perfect? no. it is certainly a lot better than it was during vietnam. >> thanks for your comments. i want to get to somebody else. >> i'm one of those journalists
5:35 pm
and i wrote a book, the had some the haunted generation. my question is a real deep question about the morality. we all know that the student deferments were amazing, and the numbers of people who did go -- i want to ask if you are all familiar with project 100,000, which was mcnamara's program, build as a great society program, that got him 350,000 men that had flunked originally the physical and mental tests. they were known as mcnamara's moron corps. they were sent when they knew the war was unwinnable. one had an iq of 62. this is a hidden part of the war that -- when you say draft, how disingenuous it can be, because there were so many deferments.
5:36 pm
trump, cheney, bush, all were deferred along with many others. can you really look at what is happening today. i read an interesting article saying they are not volunteers, they are recruited. i can understand some people wanting to go to the army. a lot of people are free from that. my question is, would a real draft, unlike the abominable one from vietnam, maybe censor more people to the thought of going off to war if their own children were involved. that is a bad legacy. anybody want to talk about that? also, the vietnamese who are still fourth-generation agent orange because our country has not taken the agent orange out of it. there is a ghastly continuing problem in vietnam. i know some people in vietnam
5:37 pm
who are working just as you are with victims of landmines, victims of agent orange. what bothers me it is buried. i wonder if you all feel you have a moral obligation to look at that and really speak out about the bad parts of the war? i haven't heard it so far. >> so, mcnamara's 100,000, there's a piece in the new york times. >> i wrote it in 85. >> i've been corresponding with him recently. the stories that he tells about people that he knew in vietnam that weren't capable of taking care of themselves and became cannon fodder in the war. it is sad and poignant and worth talking about. >> that was written in 1985 and it was written over and over by the journalists.
5:38 pm
no one of any military might has ever addressed it. it wasn't in ken burns. it's like it was a lost cause. i'm glad somebody wrote about it in the new york times but it's got to be addressed if people are going to look at what kind of wars we are going to go into and who's going to do the fighting. >> i think your question in the larger sense is, there are a lot of stories in vietnam that are very troubling. 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 injustices that 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 didn't necessarily choose to be involved in? what is our obligation to tell the difficult side of this war?
5:39 pm
>> it's very much an obligation. to go back to your point about the draft, i think if we had a genuine draft where there were no, except for rare exception, deferments, i think we would be in less wars. quite frankly. >> i think we have the responsibility, absolutely, to tell the truth about the horrors of war. again, not from an antiwar point of view, just because the truth has to be told. when i see these wounded war fighters in hospitals, they are in bad shape. they call it poly trauma. they have got traumatic brain injury, the impact of a 30 pound bomb is definitely devastating. you may see one or two limbs missing but you don't see the orthopedic damage throughout their body or the dramatic brain injury that occurs, and they will be dealing with that the rest of their lives.
5:40 pm
the public needs to know that. it gives us again, a healthy skepticism about war so that we don't just jump into it. that doesn't mean there will be situations where we feel as a nation we need to go to war, but it really does give you pause when you see some of the casualties firsthand and realize what the real-life impact of these people and their families does. leonard: when we talked about napalm, you said it was horrible but you did what you could to survive. does our country have an obligation to do some kind of moral reckoning with the fact that we did drop napalm and agent orange on another country, irrespective of how our own soldiers had to feel that they needed to survive?
5:41 pm
is that a conversation that we have had is a country? jim: the problem is that our country has a very short attention span. after sandy hook -- we are going to fix this problem. we have forgotten about las vegas, about texas. we have a very short attention span for the horror of things. something will happen, but not a response that has solved the problem. >> good evening. hopefully i can be heard. the principles of war haven't changed since they were formulated a couple hundred years ago. my basic question is this -- principle of war number one is, to win, you must invade the territory of the enemy and
5:42 pm
conquer that territory. i had three tours of duty in vietnam. my first was about 1966, 1967. a huge force was assembled on the 17th parallel, waiting for the gong to ring to invade north vietnam. after about a month, the gong rang, go back home. then, all of a sudden, the war became -- if there 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 ii. we won, but what happened? germanyto invade nazi
5:43 pm
and conquer that country. my basic question is this. was a decision made on high that we don't want to win this war, we violate the basic principle of war, to invade the territory of the enemy, then go into some kind of a holding action and start telling the press and the country body count is the way we are going to do it. i leave this open to you because this is such a basic principle, and the title of tonight is "lessons learned, lessons ignored." i think what was ignored was this very, very basic principle. >> there are many who do hold political leaders responsible for failing to prosecute this war in a way that left our soldiers holding more of that responsibility. so, there is that argument that it was the political leaders who
5:44 pm
failed to prosecute this war properly, that we could have won this war and that they just didn't do it right. >> i'd say several things on that. number one, the so-called domino theory had a lot of credence. it has been not well-received. there clearly was all kinds of intelligence that the chinese and the russians were wanting to move the spread of communism through southeast asia. so the main effort was to prevent that from happening. the first line of defense was south vietnam. we didn't want to lose the war, headlways hanging over the was -- do you want to make this a much wider war and bring the chinese and russians into the
5:45 pm
war, which is not a situation we had in world war ii. we basically had two enemies and we knew who they were and they were fighting. in this case, you had enemies but they weren't fighting yet. they had not been drawn into the war. our feeling was, you widen the war and there is no end to it. similar to what we did in korea, we were trying to hold the line. to keep the spread of communism from happening. you were not trying to hold anybody back. you are not trying to widen that war to a major confrontation. leonard: so it was a war of containment, not as much as a war of victory? jim: containment was victory throughout the cold war.
5:46 pm
>> that was the theme of the pentagon papers. this was all about containing china. >> for context i was at the , recruiting station today, looking to join up. there's some mention where you used to know everyone who was in the military and now it's harder and harder to come across someone. what do you think is the greater political reaches of that trend? also, i was writing an article the other day, military families are bearing more of the brunt. it is more that their children are signing up. there are fewer and fewer people qualified. given all those trends, what do you think are the political and social implications of that?
5:47 pm
>> i do think that we are creating a bit of a self culture of the 1%. people again -- this is why discussions like this are important. like you say, we have very short attention spans. we don't understand and appreciate the horrors of war and we don't understand the costs of war from a human point of view and because we haven't been exposed to it, we don't have friends and relatives who have served and can tell the story. we already in danger of falling into that situation where it's going to be easier and easier to make this decision to go to war. i think that's dangerous for this country or any country. not that we don't find situations where that is necessary, it is a lot easier to
5:48 pm
do it because it is such a small segment of the population that is experiencing what it is like. to be at the front lines and at the tip of the spear. >> so in other words, one of the results was to end the draft and create an all volunteer army, it may result in less people knowing the consequences of the war and not making informed decisions, which could potentially lead us to conflicts that may mirror vietnam again. >> i'm a veteran of the persian gulf war. in the 1960's, we had the gulf of tonkin resolution. this century, we had the claim of weapons of mass destruction. in the 1960's and 1970's, we had
5:49 pm
bombings of innocent civilians in cambodia and laos. in this century, there was a report in the washington post that the president himself has started droning innocent civilians in, i believe, afghanistan. my question is this. why isn't one of the lessons to be learned from vietnam, an 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 into an unjustified war or for slaughtering civilians? why isn't that one of the most important lessons we learned? >> you weren't there at the tonkin gulf, but there must have been conversations in the white
5:50 pm
house about the fact that tonkin gulf was not necessarily an attack on our ships. jim: when we were there, we still believed it. i think, at least during that four year span when i was there, the feeling was that you were trying to make the right decisions and you were not considering this tangential damage, collateral damage, because it was all in a war. you are trying to both protect our troops and get the military objective we were trying to reach. so, i don't think anybody ever thought of that, war crimes trials and things like that. that has only come up actually in fairly recent years, that someone would suggest our president should be tried for war crimes.
5:51 pm
>> i want to just point out, too, that our system is designed to prevent things from happening easily. so, the so-called check and balance, separation of powers thing, in the internet 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 could happen to rein in or give some congressional oversight or some kind of oversight to the first use of nuclear weapons. we have some structural problems in how our constitution apportions power and influence. it hasn't held up well in the velocity of information age we are in right now.
5:52 pm
>> there are serious consequences when you take nations to war based on inadequate information. and that does reverberate, and it leads people to have less trust and less faith in their institutions and political leaders. even if you don't go to the point of having trials and impeachment, it debilitating to our society but it's also part of the responsibility of our leaders to make sure that they tell us this information. jim: we had that in the mexican-american war, the spanish-american war. it has happened through our history. you don't recognize at the time, but it is inaccurate information. leonard: i think we only have time for this final question. >> vietnam ended up being an unwinnable war and today, many of our threats including cyber warfare, terrorist organizations, and the civil war in syria seem very unwinnable. what lessons can we learn from vietnam as our leaders are
5:53 pm
making decisions today about how to interact with global threats we are facing? >> a lot of it has to do with -- and this is where i have some faith in the military, frankly. on capitol hill, we don't engage in a lot of critical thinking. [laughter] it's all about ass covering, hand kicking, and credit claiming. i have to say that. congress is not a policy institution. it is a political institution. i'm heartened by what i learned and i've seen in the military. i think military does engage in a reasonable amount of critical thinking. i think they are looking at the threats in a more holistic way.
5:54 pm
they certainly are on the front line of having something disastrous happened, so their incentives are not getting reelected next week, their incentives are really in the proper place. i have some hope in that regard. it is hope, it is faith, because i don't have top security clearance, i don't know what's going on, but i'm heartened by what i've seen. jim: i think one of the other lessons, as you are making political decisions, you have to factor in the total cost of war. that is not sending young men or women to war, but what happens 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
5:55 pm
hope we can learn. kirk: another lesson is that we need to not overreact in a state of hysteria, if you will, over every act that happens. this is where you get the herd effect of stampeding out the door to try to solve something, when you need to look at the proportionality of what actually happened and not overreact to it, and keep more of a steady approach to these crises and problems around the world, because i think that's where we get into this escalation of what we do in reaction to it. leonard: i have a final wrapup question for you all. let's say you are teaching my course on the 1960's and, to my students in class, they want to know the one lesson they should
5:56 pm
learn from the vietnam war as they begin to take the reins 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? jim: be skeptical and curious. kirk: a healthy skepticism combined with patriotism, but a healthy skepticism. really requiring information and full disclosure so that we have our eyes open and we take action. harry: those two things and the value of the human capital of this country. some of our bright minds -- if
5:57 pm
died in vietnam. if you read the book "the long gray line" about the class of 1966 from west point, how one by one they died in vietnam. how the first burial at the cemetery was a big thing, that it was one a week, then three a week. these are people. these aren't soldiers, airmen, marines, they are people that have an opportunity to make a contribution to this country. bob: honesty and humility. i don't think you can have greatness without humility. and, being able, strong enough to put a period at an end of a sentence, not just another comma. leonard: there are times when i will ask my students, how many people died in vietnam? the answer i typically get is
5:58 pm
about 58,000. i say, no, how many people died in vietnam? there were a couple of million vietnamese who died in vietnam. i hope that they take away just from that single question that the human experience has to be much larger than any reticular policy decision that goes on in one nation, or that we have to understand the consequences of those policies and decisions. in the long run, they do boomerang back home. in any case, we're out of time. please thank our panelists. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit]
5:59 pm
>> tweet us at c-span history. that stillt an issue resounds today. his question is about how many gis --were fathered by u.s. gis in vietnam. how are they treated 45 years after the u.s. departure? >> you could be featured during her next life program. join the program on facebook at history. and on twitter at c-span history. on c-span's q and a. heritage foundation distinguished fellow lee edwards tropical his 60 year involvement in the conservative movement. >> i met joe mccarthy through my father who is something of a confidant to him. although wellh met. he liked a drink or two.
6:00 pm
as long as you did not talk about communism, you could not ask for a more on guy to be with. he was very serious about that. he was someone who did not take advice very well. he consequently said things and even did things that hurt the cause of anti-communism for some time. >> q and a. tonight at eight eastern. , american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. >> hi, i am dan to me. the largest civil war railroad ever presented. it coincides with the american sesquicentennial. the interesting


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on