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tv   History Bookshelf James Robbins This Time We Win  CSPAN  January 27, 2018 4:00pm-5:01pm EST

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we win, revisiting the tet offensive. he argues the tet offensive was a failure for the north vietnamese and that the u.s. media and left-wing academics created a false impression of its importance. it was recorded in san diego in 2011. it is about an hour. james: thanks, tj. good morning, everybody. happy to be here. thanks for inviting me. i'm really delighted. i noticed on your website that it identified me as writing for "the washington post" and not the washington times. [laughter] james: i'm not offended. maybe they are. [laughter] james: slight difference. just wanted to point that out. i'm really happy to come and talk about talk about my tet , offensive project and also talk about current events, and first i'd like to address tet
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and my book, "this time we win." a question i frequently get is where did you get this title, "this time we win"? actually, it came from vietnam veterans. i would talk to them about what i was doing and say i'm writing a book on the tet offensive, and many times they would say, do we win this time? hence the title, "this time we win." it goes along with the other old cliche that you hear from the vets, that we were winning when i left, they say. so, yeah, part of the reason i wrote the book was to try to get the truth out about what happened in vietnam, and to honor the men and women who won that war for us, before the politicians threw it away. you frequently see tet in the headlines these days. wherever anything bad happens in the world, terrorists do some kind of attack, insurgents have some kind of spectacular bombing or something, you'll see a pundit or a commentator say, this is just like the tet offensive.
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iraq, afghanistan, wherever. i saw a headline about tet referring to northern mexico that some kind of tet offensive was going on there. time magazine said that the wikileaks document dump was just like the tet offensive. you know, i don't quite see how you can make the analogy, but anyway, the point is that tet is out there. and the problem with this is that every time you say tet, what you're really saying is defeat. what you're saying is that whatever we're involved in is like vietnam, it's a quagmire. we can't win and so forth. and, in fact, the bad guys out there, the terrorists and the insurgents, talk openly about the tet offensive and vietnam as their model. this is how they want to win. because terrorists and insurgents are weak. they can't really defeat us on battlefields. they can't defeat our forces militarily. that's why they're terrorists. that's why they're insurgents. if they could fight us head to head, they would do it, but they can't.
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so, instead, what they have to do is try to attack our national will. they have to try to attack the thinking of decision makers. because in the end, like in vietnam, if you can get the decision makers to conclude that the war is no longer worth it, then they'll leave. and osama bin laden and other people like that have made explicit statements saying this is what they're trying to do. so whenever they do something that's spectacular, and then whenever somebody on our side says, this is just like the tet offensive, we're really playing into their hands. so part of what i wanted to do in this project was get people to stop doing that. because it doesn't help us, number one, and number two, it's not really true when people compare things to the tet offensive. most of the time, it has nothing to do with the tet offensive. now what most educated people know about tet, and what you see in most history books, is that
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it was a surprise attack by the north vietnamese and vietcong against largely symbolic targets in vietnam intended to turn the american people against the war and drive lyndon johnson to the bargaining table. and of those four things, i found out that none of them are true. so let me just go down some of those with respect to the tet myth, for example, that it was a surprise attack. it certainly took a lot of people by surprise when it happened, but mainly the journalists in washington and folks in the united states who weren't paying attention. they were taken by surprise. but people on the ground in south vietnam knew it was coming. we had captured documents months in advance that detailed what the enemy was planning. the u.s. embassy, a month before the attack, gave a briefing in which they talked about what they thought was coming. if you go through january 1968, which was the month before the
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attack happened, which took place right at the end of january, our forces went on progressively greater states of alert. our decision makers talked about the coming attack. there was a story three days before the attack in "the washington post" saying, talking about the expected spring offensive that was coming. and then, furthermore, the enemy -- when they finally launched their attack, because of miscommunication, some of their guys attacked two days too early. some of their guys attacked the day before they were supposed to attack. when the attack finally came the day it was supposed to come, the whole country of south vietnam was on alert. so how do you get a surprise attack out of that? well the point is that the press , settled on a storyline. they decided since some of the people in washington were surprised, everybody must have been surprised. they asked the johnson administration, if you knew about it in advance, why didn't you tell us? and the johnson administration said, well, you know, the fact that we knew the enemy's plans
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doesn't mean we're going to tell you guys. then the enemy will know what we're up to. we were planning a trap for them. but because of the credibility gap they said, oh, lyndon johnson, you're just lying to us. so you didn't really know anything. it was an intelligence failure, and so they stuck with that storyline, that we were surprised. in fact, we weren't. the second point about symbolic targets, the tet offensive was a large-scale, last ditch attempt by the north vietnamese and the vietcong to win the vietnam war involving tens of thousands of their troops and going over a number of days. the plan was to foment this massed uprising in south vietnam because they thought the south vietnamese people were raring to go and would join the communist revolution if only they had the encouragement. so they're going to take the cities, foment this uprising, and then the rationale for the american presence in south vietnam would be undercut, and we would have to leave.
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that was their plan. and it was a very bad plan. it had no chance of succeeding. it was based on a lot of flawed premises, particularly that the south vietnamese people would join in their attack, which they didn't want to do and, in fact, didn't do. but because the plan was so flawed, people on our side, analysts in the cia said -- looked at it and said this plan has no chance of succeeding. therefore, they must be up to something else. what else could they be up to? well, it must be a symbolic attack on our, on our will. like, they're just trying to make a point. and actually the cia analysis on the first day of the attack said they aren't really trying to win. they're just trying to make a point. and so this got into the johnson administration's talking points, and the president and secretary of defense mcnamara made this point before the press. they said, well, the enemy is just attempting a symbolic attack.
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so the press said, ok, fine, it's symbolic. now that is really critical because if you do an attack if , you're the enemy, and you attack and you're defeated, it's easy to see that you're defeated. you're not holding the ground, you didn't reach your objective and so forth. but if you say an attack is just supposed to be symbolic, you're just trying to make a point, who's to say who won and lost? how do you judge winning and losing if it's all up in the air, if it's all up to perceptions? see, that's a battlefield they can win on because they're just arguing about the perceptions of it. and so, for example, when they attacked the u.s. embassy in saigon, which was the major news story of the tet offensive, in the overall enemy plan, it was hardly relevant. it was just this little attack. but in terms of the news coverage, in terms of the symbolism of the u.s. embassy being attacked by 19 vietcong
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staffers, that became a big deal. now, their objective, their orders were seize the embassy, hold it, and wait for reinforcements. thank you. and they didn't. i mean, they didn't seize the embassy. reinforcements weren't coming. most of them were killed, and that was the end of that. but because of this argument over the symbolism of it, it became a great victory for them because, you know, in symbolic terms it was an attack on u.s. prestige. also, an argument erupted over did they actually seize the embassy building proper, or were they just on the grounds? they actually did not get in the building. peter arnett said he overheard someone say they were, so he reported that, and then the administration denied it, and people just said, well, it's just lyndon johnson lying again, and so this great debate broke out. so instead of covering the fact that the enemy were wiped out, there was this argument over did
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they hold the building? there was this argument over what was the symbolism and so forth. and so things like that made this symbolic attack storyline solidify. and, again, it sort of handed them a victory because if you're , arguing on the basis of symbolism, who's to say who won and lost? now, the press coverage of tet was highly negative. before tet -- i have some data for you -- 79% of editorial comments regarding the war were positive. after tet 72% were negative. and during tet, 100% of editorial comments regarding the war were negative. so the press was not too interested in touting the administration line on tet. now, it's easy to blame the media for the loss in the vietnam, but not everybody in the press was against the war. for example, howard k. smith of
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abc news was a very pro-war guy in his private views. his son actually fought in the , which mayberang you have seen the mel gibson movie "we were soldiers" that dramatized that battle. his son was in a unit in which he was ambushed and most of the people were killed, and he had to play dead to survive, and the north vietnamese used him as a sandbag in their emplacement in a pile of bodies, and his nickname later was sandbag smith. but walter cronkite became the symbol of the reporter who became -- you have been in favor of the war who became an opponent of the administration policies. and from his reporting from saigon and from wei, he basically came out against the war and against the conduct of the war and said we should negotiate a peace and get out of there. and lyndon johnson allegedly said upon seeing this report, if
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i've lost cronkite, i've lost middle america. and there's a great power in that story because if you're a journalist, it's really something to say, wow, i wrote a story, or i did a report, and suddenly administration policy changed, you know? i disheartened the president, or or i moved things on a grand scale. journalists love that story. but, again, is it true? probably not. the images that we get from that time are that the american people turned against the war and that you had protests in the streets and so forth. one really interesting thing i found from the study, if you look back at the polls, and looking at the people, of support of the war by age group, actually the group that most supported johnson's policies and supported the war were young people. isn't that interesting? i found this in gallup poll, harris poll, and internal white house polling that young people
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were actually more supportive of the war. you'll never get that from the cultural representations of the time, you know, the forest gump view of history or, you know, whatever you want to call it. probably because the people who were out there wearing love beads and smoking dope and carrying signs were the ones who then became professors and then wrote books. so, you know, all of their friends were out there doing it so, you know, of course, that's the way it was. but if you look at the data, actually young people were more supportive of the war, and the group i found that was more supportive than any were draft age young men for some reason were the most supportive of the war effort in vietnam. you know, it'll take a while to rewrite that part of the history, but it's just worthy of note. but the myth of tet is that because of this symbolism of tet, the american people gave up on the war, and that is simply not true. if you look at opinion polls that ask, do you support
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johnson's policies, there was a slight dip after tet. but if you go to the next level and say, ok, if you don't like what lyndon johnson is doing, what should we do? should we escalate or should we get out? the majority of americans wanted to escalate the war at this point. they understood that the tet offensive was a major defeat for the enemy, and it was -- the enemy was wounded, and if we just put a little more effort into this, we could win the war. over 60% of americans self-identified as hawks, you know, as proponents of escalation. and this number had actually increased from before tet to after tet, not gone down. the number who identified themselves as doves, people who wanted to pull out, actually declined after tet. so it's wrong to say that tet, the effect of tet was to make people in the united states want to give up. it made people want to win because they saw there was an opportunity. and, in fact, the number of people who wanted to pull out,
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the doves, was actually smaller than the number of people who said let's use nuclear weapons to end it, which was about 25%. it was about 24% wanted to pull out, but over a quarter wanted to use nuclear weapons. that's pretty strong. i'm not saying that's what we should have done. i'm saying as an indicator of public opinion. it's very significant that the number of people who were nuclear hawks who just said, you know, just finish it, was actually greater than the number who wanted to pull out which history has represented as being the majority. in fact, they were not the majority. they were a minority. and the final bit of the myth is the notion that tet drove johnson to the bargaining table. johnson did not need to be driven to the bargaining table. he built the table. he was there all along from 1964 on. the united states proffered 70
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different peace initiatives to the north, attempting to get them to talk. every one of them was refused. we tried bombing halts, we tried offers of aid, we tried everything, and the north vietnamese refused to talk. so when walter contrite -- walter cronkite said it is now time to go to the bargaining table johnson was already there. , it was the north vietnamese who did not want to talk. but after tet they agreed to talk because after tet they really had nothing left. they were militarily weakened, and they were in danger of the u.s. escalating and attacking them, so they agreed to talk to try to forestall that. but johnson wasn't going to escalate anyway. general wheeler, the chairman of the joint chiefs, had suggested this. general westmoreland had called for more troops. the debate broke out in the administration should we, , shouldn't we?
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it went on for a long time. if we do escalate, how many troops? do we go over our troop caps? i mean all of these little bureaucratic things. basically, for two months they argued it to death, and ultimately, johnson -- after news of this debate leaked to "the new york times," their great headlines about, you know, a secret escalation in the works, you know this kind of , thing, and can johnson just said to heck with it. we'll just call for more peace talks. and this time they had them. so it wasn't that tet demoralized the united states, tet just demoralized lyndon johnson. and it wasn't that johnson lost middle america. middle america lost the president. and that's why tet was sacrificed. it wasn't just the press. it was mainly lyndon johnson. he gave up on himself. so the lessons, i guess, from tet that apply to today are things like, don't give the enemy credit for having a better plan than they have. sometimes today you'll see
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people talk about terrorists like they're some kind of geniuses, long-term planners with this sophisticated plan that we can't understand, and everything they do is part of this unfolding of history. well, maybe they're just making mistakes. i'll tell you, i don't think that osama bin laden thought that 10 years after 9/11, he'd be holed up in some cave somewhere, you know, wondering when a hellfire missile was going to come down on his head. i don't think that was part of the plan. i think he thought he'd be the head of saudi arabia right now. you know, that was the plan, not what's going on right now. so, you know, don't give 'em credit for being these geniuses because they're not. secondly, don't redefine their objectives down to a point where they meet them. i mean, the terrorists and the bad guys, they want to win. they want to take power. they want to rule. they don't want to remain terrorists all their lives. so when they're not taking over countries and when they're not achieving victories, don't give them credit for oh, they blew up a guy with a suicide test.
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they made a small scale attack on a police station. these are not significant victories, even if they pull them off. they're no big deal in the grand scheme of things, so don't give them more credit than they deserve. another lesson is that in unconventional wars, press coverage is going to tend to be negative, and there's not a lot you can do about it, because in conventional wars you can, like look at a map. have we advanced closer to the enemy capital? have we destroyed their armies, have we you know, seized our , objectives, and you can report good news. but in unconventional news, you're fighting in the same place, you're, you know, defending the same village, it just goes on and on. there's really no indicator of progress. so bad news tends to dominate, and there's really no way around that. another point that public opinion is not as malleable as people think. you know, the notion that the press reported negative things on vietnam, and then the public turned against it and we lost is just not true. the public was going -- during
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tet, going in the opposite direction of the press. the press was turning against the war. the public wanted to escalate. it wasn't until later that the public sort of gave up on it. it was after johnson gave up on it, you know, the leader of the country gave up on it that the people said, to heck with it, if he is not going to fight, then we're not going to fight. but it wasn't the press that was out there making things happened. i'm not saying the press isn't biased, believe me. we all know about the mainstream media. but they are not the puppet masters of the nation either. people have minds, and they make up, they make up their own minds, they make their own decisions. if press controlled everything, ronald reagan never would have been president. and then a final point is that you have to have strong executive leadership. and here if you compare where lyndon johnson was to where george bush was in 2007, it's very revealing. george bush was a lot more
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unpopular than lyndon johnson ever was. in fact, george w. bush had some of the lowest public approval ratings of any president. he had a hostile congress in 2007 and a pretty bad situation in iraq. but he had the surge plan that he believed in. he stuck with it, and he kept it going. and now we're going to put iraq probably in the win column whereas if we did what people incongress wanted to do in 2007, including our current president, and just left, iraq would have gone in the lose column. but because george bush stuck it out, that one's going to be a victory. lyndon johnson had a lot more advantages in 1968 than george bush did in 2007, but he just gave up on it. and that's why vietnam, ultimately, went into the lose column. and call me crazy, but in my opinion when you go to war, winning is better. so in any case.
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just to end with a story, in 1968 jack fern, a producer at nbc, suggested that they produce a program showing that while tet had been portrayed as a military defeat, it was actually a great victory. and a senior producer, robert northshield, told him they weren't going to produce a show like that because tet was established in the public's mind as a defeat and, therefore, it was a united states defeat. but as the former south vietnamese ambassador to the united states said, history is written by the winners, but eventually the truth comes out. so i'll just conclude my prepared remarks with that, and we can discuss anything that you'd like. thank you. [applause] >> hi. james: hi.
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>> what do you make of the current situation in the middle east? james: well, there's an easy topic. [laughter] james: well, it's very dangerous. and i think it took a lot of people by surprise, and it has a lot of bad potential. if you go back to, you know, of last year, i don't think december anybody in the administration was worried about the prospect of egypt falling out of our coalition and, you know, becoming a hostile actor in the middle east. now they have to think about that. and that is extremely disturbing. because, you know, we've had it good for 30 years with respect to egypt. if you go back to before the camp david accords, you have a situation where, from the founding of the state of israel, there were four conventional wars fought over that, featuring israel and its backers against various coalitions of arab states.
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and the genius of the camp david accords was that, if you take egypt out of that equation, there's no other group of arab states that could get together to threaten israel. because egypt has the location, it has the manpower, and, you know, any other group without egypt in there, they just couldn't do it realistically. so, i mean, it was a very, a very smart thing. one of the accomplishments of the carter administration, one of the few. so for 30 years, fine, no risk of conventional war. what you had were other things going on, and to fought a, -- antifada, terrorism, stuff like that. now we have a situation where a government could come to power in egypt that will abrogate that accord and potentially go to war with israel with other countries. well, that's a lot worse situation than what we were facing six months ago.
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and, you know, i don't know what the obama administration is going to do about it, but that's what we're facing now. so we see these uprisings in other countries, in bahrain most recently. ok, so you have a shia majority people ruled by a sunni monarchy. but the iranians have been trying to destabilize that country for a long time. the iranians see great opportunity in all of this stuff to try to just foment unrest. and it is, it is a false argument to say, well, these either are or aren't iranian-backed uprisings. it doesn't matter who's backing them. the fact is that the more chaos you can produce in the system, the worse it gets for us, you know? the iranians have their own trouble in the streets. that's great. it would be wonderful be we had regime change there, but we probably won't. what we'll wind up with is either neutral or hostile
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regimes in countries that used be our friends, like bahrain, -- that used to be our friends, like bahrain, like qatar, like egypt. maybe saudi arabia, who knows? if that fell, then we'd really have trouble. so i'm not saying that the regimes that are there are great, but at least they like us. so now it's all destabilized, and people say rising for democracy, and that would be wonderful. it would be great if people, you know, people power took over, and then the next day it was like vermont, you know? all over the middle east. and everybody was having town meetings, and, you know, it would be beautiful. wouldn't it? that's not what we're going to wind up with. the best case is that we wind up with something marginally worse than what we have. the worst case is that we wind up with groups like the muslim brotherhood and other islamic extremists taking power, people who hate us, and, yeah, the israel issue is important. but sometimes that's all people talk about. it is not just israel.
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they hate us. they hate the united states. and from our self-interest, we don't want to have these people take power. even if they're democratically elected i don't care. , you know, it's going to be bad for us. when oil goes to $200 a barrel, when we have war breaking out in the middle east, when you have the iranians furthering their hegemony in that region, and when they get nuclear weapons, we're going to be facing a lot worse problem than we have today. so it's wonderful that people want to have self-rule and democracy and stuff like that, but our sort of hands-off policy that, hey, you know, you guys work it out, and we'll intervene later, is a big mistake because the actors in the region who want to influence events, like iran, like syria or other bad guy states or like libya, they're going to fill that vacuum. so we're either players in this, or we're going to be the victim of it. and i think the administration needs to get moving and do something about it. my two cents.
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yes, ma'am. >> we were speaking -- doctor, we were speaking about a few things about this crisis before breakfast, and two things that are uppermost in my mind are education and follow the money trail, which is oil. and we were also talking, ed and i heard the ambassador, former ambassador from afghanistan, the current secretary of the navy speak last friday, and what he was saying in afghanistan is all of the people there under the age of 45 haven't had to work for their entire lives because of oil. they get education, and three hours a day of their education is sharia law. when they proceed to be professionals, and they go to college, they get three more hours a day of sharia law. most of the countries in the middle east, what education they
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get is muslim law and very often sharia, not sunni, which is more benign. the other issue is following the money trail. recently, there's been a lot of talk about the bakken reserves of oil in the u.s. and montana and dakota, 503 billion gallons worth of oil, which is easier to process than oil and other places. it would only cost us $16 a barrel for that light sweet crude to be brought out of the ground. so we have the opportunity through education similar to stone martin for schools through education in those areas to help bring something to counter the shia education. the -- we have the ability to get oil and support our own country within our own borders, and nothing seems to be
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happening in any way to support our own internal infrastructure and economy, which is falling to shreds, when we have totally capability of doing that. it is a big, long question, two parts. thank you for taking that. james: with respect to education policy, you are right. the united states spends very little in terms of promoting education reform in countries that need it. even people in the region will say that they need to have this. you know, secular education with accreditation standards and, excuse me, all kinds of educational and bureaucratic things that we would be really bored talking about, but the fact is that it's very inexpensive to pursue these programs, but there's not really a constituency to pursue them either. it's not like the defense budget.
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so we definitely should do more in terms of doing that, and when we have pursued this, for example in pakistan, the terrorists, people like the taliban and al-qaeda, just viciously denounce these efforts as being imperialistic and things like that, which tells me it's a good idea. if we do something and the terrorists, you know, go mental denouncing it, then obviously we're on the right track. so more of it would be better. with respect to energy, it's true that to a certain respect we fund both sides of the war. we pay for our side, and then we pay for the other side with energy payments. but, of course, the united states doesn't import most of its energy from are the middle east but from other places like canada, for example. and even if we became energy self-sufficient, other countries like china predominantly would still be importing middle east energy, so you're not going to be able to defund the war that way. if we could find a replacement for oil and natural gas, that would be awesome.
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that'd be fantastic. that would really defund them. they could go back to doing whatever they used to do and not have the excess income to perpetrate bad things. i don't really know the solution to that. i mean, the president is, you know, pursuing this, too, with windmills and magnets, and all that kind of gee whiz stuff. i don't think it's going to happen. if we did have the kind of oil reserves where we could drive the prices of oil down to $16 a barrel, that'd be great too. that would effectively put them out of business. if that's the economy, great, we should be on that. we should have these national programs to try to pursue that kind of stuff. let's make the united states an oil-exporting country again, you know, where we can have the largest reserves in montana and the dakotas, fantastic. i'm all in favor of it. if we had a strategic view of these things, it would be even
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more helpful. but i just don't get the sense that model that we described is the working model in the administration. if they would adopt that, i think it would be more clear to them what needs to be done. but that threatens a lot of interests, too, so maybe it'll take another administration to do that. >> back to vietnam for a moment. you mentioned that first johnson lost the spirit, then the people did. the critical point, it seems to me, was when the congress withdrew its financial aid to the south vietnamese. i mean, that was the final straw, if you will. guere. when in that sequence did that loss take place where the congress strongly turned against the war? or any support ofthe south vietnamese? james: right. the congress started around the time of tet. that's when because of internal problems in the democratic party
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, challenges arising to johnson's leadership, that's really when things started to move in that direction. of course, we had mccarthy challenge to johnson and then later robert kennedy. robert kennedy was on tet immediately. he, he used it as a, you know, to denounce the war. the famous photograph of the general killing the guy, a terrorist, in fact, who was an assassin in the streets of saigon. kennedy made a speech about that days later, saying this is the moral indictment of the war, and, you know, who are these people we're supporting, and stuff like that. actually, in my book i go in depth into that event, who are the people involved, why was the guy getting shot, and the aftermath of all of that. it is not as -- you know the , photo is black and white, but reality is not black and white, so, you know, that very famous pulitzer prize-winning photo, if you just look at it on its face, it tells one story, but if you find out the real story, it's a lot more interesting.
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congress turned against the war at that time or started to. after 1974, and you had a very left wing democratic congress come in after nixon's resignation in august, and then the elections in the fall, this big democratic majority, and it was that congress that really cut the aid. actually the outgoing lame duck congress in december of 1974, the communists then a week later the with north vietnamese had a meeting. they decided now's the time, we're going to invade the south. they did it in the spring, and then that was the end of that. but it was because the united states abrogated treaty agreements under the paris accords where we had told the south vietnamese we would support them, and then congress said, we will not honor the agreement, and that was the end of that. and it was a great moment of shame for the united states to abandon our ally. but this is what the terrorists say to the regimes in the middle east. they say look at how the united states treated the regime in
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saigon. that is what they are going to do to you. when the going gets tough, the united states will cut and run. and, you know, i don't think events in egypt have enhanced our reputation with respect to supporting our allies. >> if i could go back to the middle east a little bit and its ramification here in the united states and maybe some very similar aspects that are in the middle east that are both here in the united states and what would happen -- we're seeing young men with no hope unemployed, educated, connected with twitter, sms, facebook, food prices that they can't afford because we're off on a tangent using our corn for ethanol. and you have countries even like spain that have 40%, over 40% of their young people between 18
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and 26 are unemployed. and so when you have young men with no hope and connected, you have problems. aren't we facing that similar situation here, and do you see it, this contagion of going from country to country, maybe even spreading to europe? james: the main difference between the middle eastern regimes and the united states or western europe is that we live in democracies where people can reasonably say that they have a voice. in a country like egypt or bahrain or wherever, people have a lot less of a voice or no voice. so a lot of the frustration you see in the streets are from people who want to have input, who have just been denied it systemically. and i think that's one difference. now, you do hear these sentiments from be some people who are activists in this country, particularly in the tea
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party movement, that, you know, the government is a closed shop of people being reelected from safe seats, and what we need is rotation at the top, term limits or something like that. but it's channeled differently. it's not channeled into, you know, occupying the mall in washington and sitting there and building camps and calling for the resignation of the president although i'm sure there are some people who would be willing to do that. it's channeled into political activism through the system that we have. and that seems to be sufficient. if you look at the results of the last election, for example, people were upset over the composition of congress, so they radically changed it. you know, nancy pelosi was the -- had the lowest opinion rating of any speaker of the house that we can find. so, fine, she lost power. rightly so. i don't think we will see that kind of demonstration for change in this country because people do have input whereas
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they don't in those countries. on the other hand, if people start to conclude that our system is illegitimate, if we can't come to grips with our or economic problems, and if for some reason the political system is not responsive to these folks, then in those circumstances we could see it. but i think we're a little ways from that now. if the last election hadn't gone the way it did, i think we would be seeing that because there were a lot of people who were really upset, and if through some method the democrats had held on to power in the house, i think we would see a lot more revolutionary type of thinking going on in this country. but luckily our system responds. but their system don't. and that's why we're seeing this. also i don't think any iranian-backed, you know, political groups are going to make much headway in this country, so we don't have to worry about that as much, i hope. in any case.
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>> jim, back to vietnam. do you consider vietnam a just war? in other words, should we have gotten involved and could we have won? james: oh, yes to both. it was a just conflict. we were there defending an ally against communism. and i, you know i have no , problem with that on a moral level. our system, western-type systems are morally superior to the communist system. plus, we had obligations that we had made to them to say that we would help defend their freedom, and the south the enemies government may not have been a model of democracy and inclusion and good government, but it was a heck of a lot better than what ho chi minh had erected in the north. in the book, i go into the difference between, you know the , moral difference between melai massacre.nd the huwei
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where some of our troops went out of control and killed a bunch of south vietnamese civilians. the wei massacre took place during tet when the communists wased the city of huei where the they were there for about a month. and they proceeded to systematically kill thousands of people who were considered undesirables. you know, cold-bloodedly and systematically. it wasn't like they just, you know, went crazy. they had lifts coming in, they knew who they wanted, and once they got done with those, they lists and more even when our forces were getting them out of the city, they rounded up people and took them outside the city and killed them. i mean it was very systematic like the killing fields. and there is a moral difference between those two things. in one case you had american troops who on their own just decided they were going to till -- kill some people, they did, and it was broken up by other american groups who came on the
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scene and threatened these guys. they said, we are going to kill you if you don't stop. they stopped, there were investigations people were , punished and so forth. on the other side, you had people who were acting under orders systematically killing folks who were innocent, and i don't know if killers survived, but if they did, they probably got medals instead of being punished. those are two very different moral equations, yet the melai massacre is held up of being emblematic of our war effort. here is what we were really up to. that is not what it was. we were there to defend south vietnam, and these guys who kid -- who did the melai massacre was wrong, and they were punished. on the other side you had communists whose whole plan was we're going to kill anybody we don't like who's a liberal or a democrat or a shopkeeper or a catholic, whoever they didn't like at the time. so no not only was our war a
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moral cause, their war was profoundly immoral. and could we have won? we definitely could have won. the problem is that lyndon johnson didn't want to win. and by the time nixon came in, the whole equation of the war had changed. i mean, at that point we were pulling out. so there was really no chance. but even at the end where we had the paris peace accord framework, where we were just going to give air support and material support to the south, we still could have won if we had kept our agreement, but we didn't. we cut our ally loose, and that was it. very shameful episode. >> hi, dr. robbins. i'm really interested in a contemporary sense about your theents regarding 4chan, network's attack on the iranian nuclear program and kind of the feedback of that from a private internet association and affecting a nation in that way.
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james: how human -- you mean stuxnet and the attack on the iranian nuclear program? it's fantastic. it's great. i mean, these people are geniuses, whoever did it. you know, how did they get it inserted into the network? how did they, you know, how did they do the whole thing? i was reading about it, and it's just amazing. and it's a great example of the way to use tools other than force to try to reach the conclusions that you want. and then there are a lot of war games dealing with how could israel bomb the iranian nuclear program like they did in iraq or in syria and somehow knock it out that way, but they're deeply underground, and they might just slow them down. would they destroy it? but here they figured out whoever did it, you know, figured out a way to get inside their system and just completely mess them up. and solutions like that are
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fantastic. it is clever, it is nonviolent, and it gets the job done. we need more things like that. and hopefully, our hackers are better than the other team's hackers, you know, because we're -- the united states is completely vulnerable to things like that and it's highly thatgerous for things like to go on. but the question is it more dangerous to try to lose these bugs out into testimonies or to allow tamron to get a nuclear -- tehran to get a nuclear weapon? in my opinion, a nuclear-armed iran is the worst net that we face. if it comes down to the use of force, then that's a bad thing, but it is better than accepting a defeat on this issue. but if they can do it through, hackers figuring half out some code that messes up the islamic regime in today land, then more power to him. -- them. >> thank you.
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now the turmoil seems to be worldwide, not just the middle east. we have north korea, etc., and what sort of responsibility do you put on the current administration for the world seeming to be in an upheaval? james: oh. i don't know if i could blame the current administration for everything that is going on. of course, some of the current administration want to take credit for it, that they somehow have inspired people for hope and change in the middle east or something like that. we'll see what the outcome is of all of this. if it turns profoundly negative, it'll be interesting if they keep taking credit for it, you know, once it once it spins out , of control. but in a larger sense, the united states for many decades has had a preeminent leadership role in the world during the , cold war as leader of the free world and post-cold war as just
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-- as top economic power and just generally being looked to for kind of leadership. the current administration consciously and specifically drew back from that saying we don't want to be the leader of the world anymore. the president has welcomed the rise of competing economic powers like china and has welcomed the fact that the united states cannot dictate networks anymore, according to him anyway. so this is very damaging because the question is, if the united states is not going to lead the world, then who is? and the answer from the administration said, well, we'll have like collective leadership or international organizations or something like that. but international organizations can't do it and don't want to do it because every country in the world has self-interest. and they will pursue those interests no matter what we do. if we choose not to pursue our interests, that's fine. they'll just keep going. so we pull back from the middle east, the iranians feel the -- phil the void. -- fill the void.
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if we do that and south america, venezuela is there building an alliance system that hates us. and there are a lot of people who don't like us in the world. and that's fine. what we have to do is just pursue our interests. the current administration has, i think, a flawed view of what american interests are in the world, and this sort of acceptance that of declining u.s. influence is very damaging because as a principle of politics i like to tell my students that power is defined by its exercise. if you do something and people acknowledge it, then you have the power to do it. if you don't do it, then you do not have the power to do it because someone else will do it. and if the united states -- it is one thing for the u.s. economy or influence to sort of shrink. it's another percent president -- another thing for the president to draw attention to that and constantly say it's shrinking because then it will shrink even more because a lot of what goes on in the world is based on influence. if you abrogate that role then,
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fine, you've lost it. and it'll be hard to get back. so all these things going on in the world right now are a consequence at some level of this drawing back. and you saw the same thing inthe -- thing in the 1970s. it was very bad. the only good thing i can say is that so far the mistakes of the administration haven't resulted in something that is just profoundly negative for us. there is just a lot of potentials for really bad things. but they may come. and, you know, the next two years are going to be interesting. >> doctor, what about china? are they destined to be a strategic adversary, or is the prosperity they are enjoying, is that going to create an opportunity for the rule of law and self-determination to kind of spread in that large country? james: well, we saw the results
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of chinese aspirations in tiananmen square, and i always -- when thinking back on those times and seeing the heroic pictures of the guys standing in front of the tanks and all of that, which is very inspirational, i always advise people to try to find the pictures of what happened hat -- at night. because one day they were there in the square and the next day they weren't. what happens when the tank doesn't stop? it is pretty gruesome. so the chinese communist party knows how to deal with aspirations and they know how to deal with it systematically and cleverly because they don't want a tiananmen square again. with respect to china being a competitor, there definitely is that potential. their economy, they recently passed japan. of course, if you go back to the early 1990's, people thought japanwas going to be the new hegemon. they actually their per capita
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gdp was 150% of ours welcome -- back then. pretty astounding. but in 1995 their economy hit a wall or hit a ceiling. just like flattened out and hasn't grown since then. so maybe china's growth curve will just flatten out for some reason. and by the way, their capita gdp is 8% of ours. their economy is growing but they have so many people that they are really not that wealthy when you spread it out. also the question is do they have international aspirations like we do? and there's some indicators that they do and some they don't. they are really not as active on the world stage as we are. they don't project power the way we do. they do it more cleverly through agreements. they do have troops around the world but not that many yet. they also have offensive nuclear capability. there's some story that they're going to start looking into aircraft carriers.
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they have one that they bought from the soviets in the fire sale after the war came down. i think they turned it into an amusement park. it is part somewhere as some kind of display. but they're going to build a new one that they can project power with? it is kind of disturbing. in my reason there is no reason for any country in the world to have aircraft carriers other than us, you know? [laughter] james: the united states should have a lot of them. other countries don't need them because we keep the peace of the seas. and, you know, that's our job. if other countries want to do that job, we have to ask why. we're doing a great job at it. so why would any other country do that? if no other country had a navy at all other than like coastal defense, i'd be happy. yet there may come a day when we see a chinese carrier task force cruising around in the caribbean, you know, making ports of call in cuba and stuff like that. i don't think we'd before happy
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-- we would be very happy about that. so i wouldn't, i wouldn't sound the alarm yet but the potential is there for china to get involved, and as we see them taking these steps, we have to ask, why are you doing that? but, sadly, our administration won't ask china anything apparently. so, again, a problem to be left to the next president whenever that happens. >> we'll take one last question. james: ok. >> and allow these folks to go back to work and keep our economy moving. [laughter] >> i don't know if i should -- >> you're the people who do it, not the government. >> last question, dr. robbins, is on egypt. i'm confused because of our media. i really don't understand. they made us think, well, it is a good thing, you know, in democracy and mubarak, and so on and so on. every group that could take over is too splintered to take over. there isn't a group other than the muslim brotherhood except, am i correct in understanding,
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that their military is trained by us, and that this would not be a bad thing if they take over, or is that, is that -- or am i confused? james: no, i think that's accurate. the military in egypt is probably one of the better organized and one of the more pro-western or at least not anti-western group in the country. redo train a lot of their officers -- we do train a lot of their officers and do combined exercises with them, and we have a very close relationship with them, and we give them billions of dollars. so it wouldn't be a bad thing if they had a lot of influence over the new government. certainly, compared to a group like the muslim brotherhood whom we would like to have zero influence in the new government if we had our heads screwed on straight. i am really at a loss to explain why the administration keeps telling us that the muslim brotherhood is not a threat when they're openly saying things that are threatening. now i think that some of the
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muslim brothers have figured out, if they say, oh, we're not a problem, we are not a problem. we want egypt to be interested in things like sharia law or things like that. they figured out that plays well, and even our director of national intelligence, testifying for the congress yesterday was saying similar , thing. well, this is ridiculous. they're not a secular group, just look at their name. they're the muslim brotherhood, you know? they're not some nonreligious group. their whole agenda, their whole program is to have more religious law in egypt. and if it were just that, like, they just wanted to go off and live on their own and live under sharia and just, you know, live life, fine. that's great. but it has greater implications. it has national security implications for us. it has implications in western europe, where they're trying to export this kind of thinking and ideology.
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of course, for israel it has huge ramifications because their survival is on the line. so i don't really get why the united states is taking this kind of hands-off approach when if we could reenforce the people who like us in egypt and try to promote the agenda, we might have a better outcome. but instead, it teems to be this intellectual game going on and the quest for the moderate muslim brotherhood guy. you know, they are trying to find -- it happens every time. oh, there really are moderates out there. they said the same thing about communists. well, they don't exist, and and our search for them or this politically-correct approach for this is going to lead to bad things, and the administration just has to get its head screwed on straight about the really severe risks that we face in this crisis. it can, it can lead to something good, no doubt. but it is more probable to lead to something bad if we don't get involved. so however they do it, whether
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it's behind the scenes or whether it's overtly or something, but we can't just let it spiral into some kind of chaos and say, oh, isn't it great that they have democracy? you can go back to plato if you want and find critiques of democracy that say it can lead to bad things. it can lead to worse dictatorships that you've ever seen. so far, the iranian model is still operative. you know, they threw out the shaw. they had a period of interregnum where they had liberals facing off with the extremists. and let me tell you, every time the extremist wins, because the extremists are extremists, and they'll do things that the liberals won't do to win. look at the russian revolution, look at the french revolution, all through history, is the same pattern. first they throughout the bad guy, then they are left facing each other, and who wins? the extremists, and then the extremists start killing each other. that'll happen this time too if we don't watch out, and that'll be bad for us.
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[applause] which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] on history: bookshelf, here from the best writers of the past decade at 4:00 p.m. eastern, and you can watch any of our programs anytime and visit our website you are watching "american history tv," all weekend every weekend on c-span3. this weekend "american history tv" on c-span3 , tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on "reel america," saigon tiger -- target zero. >> needs the protection of the highway not far from downtown saigon. here the army succeeded in denying the communists the time to use the women and children as human shields. announcer 2: on sunday 10:00
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from theinterviews west point center for oral history with west point graduate and vietnam war helicopter pilot stephen darrah. >> made a major assault during that timeframe. that was a major big deal. we lost 24 aircraft the first day, 24 helicopters. the distinct memories i have of chinook flying down the valley with fire of the boac -- the back of the aircraft. announcer 2: at 6:00 p.m., wake forest >> professor shares his book on american art and the first world war. watch american history tv this weekend on cspan3. announcer: next on american history tv, historian robert
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watson talks about his book, "the ghost ship of brooklyn: an untold story of the american revolution." he describes how the british used the hms jersey, a former warship, as a floating jail for thousands of american prisoners during the revolutionary war. the museum of the american revolution in philadelphia hosted this 50-minute event. >> my name is michael quinn and it is my great pleasure to welcome you for a fascinating insight into part of the american revolution. one of the things we pride ourselves here at this museum is telling the stories of the revolution that you do not always know. bringing to life people from all walks of life who took part in the revolution, who took the ideas of the revolution to heart an


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