tv QA Elizabeth Becker You Dont Belong Here CSPAN March 30, 2021 12:56am-1:56am EDT
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♪ host: elizabeth becker, your new book is titled "you don't belong here." what is the story you're telling? ms. becker: i am telling the story of three amazing women who went to vietnam because women in that era were not considered capable. they were mostly in women sections of newspapers, and these three women went on their own, arrived in vietnam without jobs, without places to stay, without anything and they were told you do not belong here. host: we will have an opportunity to talk about each of their lives, but what are the names. ms. becker: catherine leroy, a french photojournalist, frances fitzgerald, an american reporter, and kate webb. an australian combat reporter.
host: your subtitle makes the case, how three women rewrote the story of the war. their work provided a counter narrative to the kinds of news the pentagon was serving up to journalists and the public and more conventional coverage. how did they do that? ms. becker: they did it by -- it is interesting you said counter because it was enlarging. they certainly were out covering the combat, but they enlarged what they reported on and what they photographed, and as outsiders they did not quite realize as they were going along how much they were changing. they made a more humane picture. they looked at the country deeper, the society and culture is deeper. catherine did not take photographs that were patriotic.
she took humane use of the anguish, the fear, the determination of the battle. frances fitzgerald, who was known as frankie, she really bored into the country, and in fact a lot of her colleagues say it she put the foreign and foreign correspondence, because she took such a determined look at the vietnamese. she came from a very privileged background, and she was truly taken aback by the destruction of the country. she had never seen anything like that. and kate, she is a wire service reporter, which does not mean as much nowadays but in those days that was the fastest turnaround time, and she definitely made her wire service stories ring with the human story.
she even took her vacation to cover the vietnamese army because she did not think the vietnamese army was covered enough. they did it by enlarging and going deeper. host: by telling their stories you are also telling the story of the vietnam war itself and how it was prosecuted by presidents johnson and nixon, by their generals and advisors. you have the advantage of looking back a couple of decades over this. what is the story of the war you want readers to know? ms. becker: i want them to know if frances fitzgerald could write in 1966 the root problem of the war and why the united states was not going to win it, why did not the generals or diplomats or the politicians know that? i want them to know that the united states using new words
inherited the french war that the vietnamese had fought against, and like the french they lost. i want them to see the cost of that mistake, hanging in there with destruction, the cost to the vietnamese and also to american society. it was the most divisive war we had since the civil war when we were fighting each other. and it sort of foreshadows what we now call the forever wars in the middle east in the 21st century. this is a serious issue. these women, as green and outsider as they were, they thought, and i want the reader to finish the book and say, now i understand the war, and i understand that these women could perceive these problems. what has happened to our country that we could not? host: we will talk about their individual stories but let's set the stage a bit. we are 20 years after world war
ii, which had extensive coverage. what were the rules from the pentagon for covering the vietnam war? ms. becker: the rules were not real rules. the pentagon was not following world war ii rules, which prohibited women from covering on the battlefield, required all journalist males covering on the battlefield to be dressed in uniform, to be part of a unit, and to have their copy censored, but because president johnson did not want this to be perceived as all-out war, more like a police action, at first there was essentially no rules, so journalists could go in. we are talking the american war beginning in 1965. american journalists could go in and if you could get a commander to agree to allow you to cover them you would get on a
helicopter or armed personnel carrier or a truck. one general said it was like having a euro rail card. you stayed as long as you thought was necessary and you went back to saigon and filed, and maybe you went out to dinner. there was no vetting like we have now. there was no military censorship per se so it was probably the first and last uncensored american war. the south vietnamese had their center ship -- censorship. so it was for women a gift, not because this lack of codification, this openness that women could get through what had been the biggest barrier of war correspondents that you were not allowed on the field. we know and love martha gellhorn, but she was not on the
battlefield for most of world war ii. she snuck down to normandy but she was not combat because she was not allowed. women were with the nurses. with kate webb and catherine, they were on combat. host: did journalists have to be credentialed and who would provide those things? ms. becker: credentials came from the united states military, press passes. that was essentially to say that you were legitimate. someone was going to buy your work, and you are with and accredited company, so these women went out without jobs. they immediately had to have their accreditation letters. the frenchwoman and the american frances fitzgerald had already got letters saying they would be interested in the work therefore they can get their credentials right away. kate webb was so out of it she did not know that she needed that. so she didn't have one, and it took her a while to get a letter, but that was essentially
the euro card. host: given the openness for journalists to cover this in the mid-1960's, do you have any idea of how many journalists were on scene and were they mostly americans? ms. becker: when kate arrived there were 1000, and there are now numbers that are dicey about how many. lots of people on the scene but many did not live there. many were just coming through. some were spouses so it is hard to measure. there is a list in the thousands. they were european, and of course american was the majority. when i was in cambodia i worked with very few americans. there were as many europeans and asians as there were americans. host: overall how many of them
would be women? ms. becker: that is a tough question and i spend a lot of time not getting a good answer. according to the pentagon list, over the 10 years, there were close to 500 women reporters, but you dig into the list and they were not reporters. they were office managers, girlfriends, spouses. they were in and out and a lot of them needed a car to get to the px, and some of them were legitimate reporters and they were not on the list. i did my guesstimate of maybe a couple dozen residential full-time women out covering the war. host: how did you choose these three for your book? ms. becker: it turned out to be easier than i expected. the hard part was figuring out how i would write the book, but
then once i sat down, who were the three that not only broke the barrier, but who really stood out or were changing how we see war? frances fitzgerald wrote the book fire in the lake. no book before or since has won more awards and she published that when she was 31 years old. this is the book that told the war not only from the american but the vietnamese side. that was a given. no one came close and her work during the war was amazing. catherine, she was the only woman combat photographer for the first few years of the war. and just before she started, a woman who began in world war ii was there, and she was killed on the field within months after arriving, and after that, the photo agencies did not want to have another woman because they were afraid of seeing another
woman dead on the field, so catherine had it to herself and her photographs were stunning. so much so that she became the first woman to win the george polk award for photography and the first woman to win the gold medal award. anyone winning those in their first year is amazing. for women in combat it was stunning. and kate, australian, she was remarkable for being that combat reporter we have never had before. women were not allowed with the u.s. military in world war ii. sometimes they would get in and out. kate spent years with the military, the u.s. military and
the south vietnamese and later the cambodian. she did so well she was named first the deputy and then the actual bureau chief of united press international. i could not find a similar instance where a woman was put in that kind of role reporting and managing a full-time bureau in a war zone, and it was deadly. host: how were the women accepted by two different sets of people, the military and the men reporting in the field? ms. becker: back in saigon, the higher uppers tended to be a little more paternalistic, not as welcoming of women, but once you get in the field, the soldiers all loved the women, so that is not so much a problem.
the problem was when general william westmoreland, the military chief in vietnam, he had no idea that this handful of women were out on the battlefield, and once he went to inspect a unit and he saw a young woman there whom he happen ed to know. she is from hawaii and writing for a hawaiian newspaper and he said, what you doing here? and she said, covering this unit. how long have you been here? a couple of months. -- a few nights. it is nice to see you. his wife laid -- played tennis with her mother back in honolulu. he went back to saigon and said, i cannot believe there are women out on the battlefield. it had not reached the higher levels just how much women had taken advantage of the opening. it took catherine and a few other women to concoct a
strategy to calm down the pentagon and not reimpose that world war ii ban. they succeeded. they did a few windowdressing compromises but they succeeded. the ban was never reimposed ever. those young women got rid of that ban, but they never told their story. it took 30 years, because they were afraid if it came out what they were doing -- now this is 1966, 1967, that the ban would be reimposed by somebody in washington. so it was all on the down low. they had to keep it quiet, because somebody in the united states might say something, but the men were a different story and more than their male colleagues they said you do not belong here. this is male terrain. this is the very early days of women's liberation when it was a joke to the men.
you need women's liberation because you cannot keep up with us. women were not accepted, per se. they were patronized, gossiped about, and if they started to show that they were competitors it could be a problem, and one of the stories i tell in the book, through the freedom of information act i retrieved the personnel file of kathleen lacqua. she was pushy, she had a coarse language, she made people mad. it turns out behind her back as she was doing so well, the head of the wire service in the french language, he and some
anonymous reporters worked behind catherine's back with some of the military spokesmen to take away her credentials. there is no legitimate reason to do that. you only take away credentials if you actually break the law, like manipulate black-market or lie about your credentials, but they made up this category of not being proper for the press corps, that she was somehow damaging the press corps. when i read that file i could not believe it, the length they went to try to get rid of her. she fought back. host: was it competitive in nature? ms. becker: if the women are just to the side and they are decoration could -- decoration. you know, i know susan, she is cool but she is not going to be
the anchor on c-span. that sort of thing. once you get into that position, then of course the misogyny comes out. the men were competitive with each other but nobody had no intent to go behind the back of the men. the words they used were very misogynistic. host: your first chapter on her is entitled petite lady. if we could have her standing here today, what would we see? ms. becker: she looks like an elf or pixie. she is barely 5 feet tall. how to hard time keeping enough weight on to reach 90 pounds, blondish. there she is. sparkling eyes, and acrobatic in her whole manner, but with a lovely french overlay. host: did her small size work to her advantage and sometimes disadvantage?
ms. becker: overall she used it to her advantage. it could have been a disadvantage but she refused to allow it to be a disadvantage. she had a rule, wherever she went on the battlefield she would not allow any marine or soldier to help her. she took the backpack, she marched with them, she lived in the horrible hovels, etc. and as the only journalist who was trained to jump, which was her hobby, when she was a teenager, she jumped with the 173rd airborne into a combat zone with an incredible parachute on, three cameras around her neck. she jumped into a combat zone taking pictures. host: is that what this recording this? she is recognized for the jump? ms. becker: that is one of her -- and look at how small she is.
she was that size in the middle of the battleground. she would be on the ground. most of the soldiers would not see her. they would say, it is impossible anybody was that close to me, but she would crawl. some of the later photographers , historians of photography, marveled at the different angles she got when taking these pictures. host: she could fit in. how did the fact that she was french affect the work that she was able to do? on the one hand she spoke the language of the elite in vietnam. on the other hand she represented the former colonizers. did that hurt? ms. becker: the french were much more common than just the elite then. it was middle-class, professional, so that helped. it helped that she grew up
thinking and knowing and talking about indochina, vietnam, so she was familiar with it. it was not just exotic the way it was for the americans. she learned english from the marines, and it was hideous, of course. i think in a way catherine helped france, because as a very successful former journalist, she is one of the photojournalists that helped make paris a center of photojournalism in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's, so in some ways she was a help to paris. host: you wrote she set a record for the number of military operations covered by a journalist in 1966. explain the path she took on for itself and what kind of work she produced. ms. becker: she made it a point to spend an awful lot of time in the field. she joked that she did it because she could not afford an
apartment back in saigon, but she wanted to get everything, so she was with the combatants when they were in the middle of the firefight. she was with them when they were praying with the visiting chaplain. she was with them when they were disappointed when they did not get any mail. she was with them when they found the dogs. she was with them every moment and it showed in the respect they had for, because she was telling their whole story, not just what happens when they were in battle. the most famous example is from the hills battle, and she was crawling in the middle of a ridiculously dangerous operation, and she captures a marine medic as he is trying to
revive a marine who dies, and he looks up in anguish. she takes all of that, anguish, anger, and then tears. click, click, click, those photographs were everywhere. it was amazing. host: we were delighted to find in our archives, she gave us an interview in 1985 where she talks about that piece of work. we will show a little bit of that so people can hear her. [video clip] >> he became very famous. his name is vernon. after that photograph. a number of mothers in america were absolutely convinced it was their son and i had to go back to the company a few days later and get his name and identify
him. it was assault on a hill and he was bending over his dead comrade and picked up his rifle, saying, i killed them all. it was one of the many stories i did there, but that story it was particularly strong and had a big impact on people who were not used to seeing images of the war. host: she said it made her famous. what happened to her career after these photos? ms. becker: she gets the george polk award. she gets commissions from all over the place. at one point she was so poor she had to get into what she thought was a student hostel, but it was a brothel. now she could afford what she most needed, good cameras,
equipment. remember, she is a freelancer. everything she has to supply herself, and going very well , but because it is war, she gets injured. i have to say one of the greatest heroes of this book is a guy, head of photography for associated press, german himself, pulitzer prize-winning photographer. he made sure she was cared for, that ap took care of her. then there was the way the operation of the tet offensive. she goes and becomes the only journalist, male, female photographer or writer, who crosses over during the operation at any time in the war, and it is captured by the
north vietnamese, takes their photograph, recrosses, then covers the rest of the attack from the american south vietnamese side. she is extraordinary. host: we have to underscore how dangerous this work was. ms. becker: unbelievable, she had shrapnel in her the rest of her life. ptsd is something we did not understand. for soldiers, much less for journalists. both she and kate had serious trauma, and i wrote about how she talks about the trauma in a very poetic way. host: let's move to kate webb. what was really impactful about kate webb was her early life. the tragedies she suffered. how did they affect her and were they the reason she wanted to get away from her life? ms. becker: with all three women there were reasons why they rebelled, and kate's was the
darker one. she witnessed her friend's suicide, and not only did she witness it, she had given her the rifle she used to kill herself. as a teenager in australia. she was briefly charged with homicide. when her father testified he fainted on the stand, saying this is a horrible tragedy but kate did not think she would kill her. these are 15-year-olds. the charges are dropped. the family somehow -- the treatment was to have an episcopalian nun help her learn how to sew. that was not exactly the best. she gets to college, is doing ok, and then both of her parents died in a car accident, so she is orphaned. host: how old was she when she left australia and came to vietnam? ms. becker: 25.
host: you said she had no assignment when she got there. how did she establish herself? ms. becker: she grubbed around, and she found the one woman editor and all of vietnam, foreign editor, and american, running and alternative newspaper for gis and gave her press credentials and started to help her get assignments. pretty soon the wire services realized this was a good bargain, this kate webb woman. they gave her hometowners, something like the omaha paper said can you do something on this unit from nebraska? she was doing whatever came her way, and she not only was doing it, she was teaching them how smart she was and how good she was. she was also fluent in french. all three women spoke french, which was important, so they eventually used her to cover
cambodia. host: she made no money, and you describe it as a hungry life. she ate questionable street food. why wasn't she paid better? ms. becker: freelancers -- we all went through this stage. you learn to live on coffee and soup and street food and cigarettes, then if someone asks you to dinner, of course you went to dinner and then they paid. i do not think we expected comfort at all, and certainly not kate. kate, for her whole life, she would get a paycheck and forget to cash it. she lived bare-bones. host: we have kate webb telling about a different stage. this is one she was being assigned in cambodia.
i want to just let people see her and hear what she sounded like. let's watch. [video clip] >> upi was, i think, very enlightened at that time regarding women. probably my biggest problem was being non-american, but on the other hand i spoke french, so i had a big advantage. the toughest thing for me was this bureau chief, and i'm sure many people here in your audience know what it is like to make a decision, to send somebody into a battle knowing they might not come back, knowing you might have to write a letter to the family, knowing you are going to live with the decisions you made, and i had to do that, and i lost people. as bureau chief, i stepped into a dead men's boots. cambodia was a heavy cost on journalists. host: what more should we know
about her story? ms. becker: oh my gosh, that just makes me so sad. kate, after she did so well in vietnam, she was made first deputy and then bureau chief and cambodia and she said it was very dangerous. in the first four months of cambodia, as many journalists were killed in that space of time as had been killed in the previous six years in vietnam, and it was horrible, and finally kate's luck ran out and a year after she was named bureau chief she was captured and held for 23 days. in that period -- her byline was by that time known, there were no female bylines doing the combat reporting and doing it so
well, so when she was captive it was a big deal. she was hardly the first nor the last, but it was a big deal. during her time in captivity, there was an erroneous report that she had been killed and that the corpse had been found, so there were memorial services back home. her obituary was published in the new york times, and she is released. that is the legend of kate webb. in her youth -- if you could have seen her with her almost princess diana haircut, her sparkle, knowing that she was alive, she had recovered, the whole world went crazy. host: how strange to read your own obituary. the dark side is that she responded to what she saw by drinking a lot. ms. becker: yes. host: how did alcohol affect her
life? ms. becker: she was a functional alcoholic. i spent a lot of time with her sister rachel and her brother jeremy and we talked about it. she refused to seek any help, and i know now this is classic, because underneath it was a lot of shame and guilt. so she continued to do remarkable work until she retires, she dies quite young, 61, i believe, of cancer, and she did not take care of herself, and she continued to smoke. during the war we all smoked but most of us quit afterwards, but kate kept going, and you could do a whole study of ptsd looking at kate webb's life. it is stunning. host: time to move on to frances fitzgerald.
you referenced that her background was very different from these two, she came from wealth, but her wealth was extraordinary. what was her early life like? ms. becker: she was surrounded by servants. a chauffeur drove her to her private school in england and she moved to new york city where she has horses and stables and -- stables in long island. she is a great gatsby kind of character. it is not new wealth. part of a very patrician, mayflower kind of family. we work hard but we also have this amazing life. the parents were elites. her parents divorced early and her mother remarried into great wealth, the marshall fields department store, and money, and her dad was number at the cia. three she was gilded. host: how does a young woman from a background like this find herself as a war correspondent in vietnam?
ms. becker: exactly. she arrives because she was so extremely smart, very precocious. i read all of her stuff. i could not believe a 10-year-old was writing what she wrote in her diaries. she wanted to be a writer. she applied to new york magazine. -- to newsweek magazine after graduating with honors from radcliffe. they said, no, women are not qualified to be writers or reporters, they can only be researchers. she got to do some profiles for a newspaper but that was it. she was boxed. she could have been married and lived a glamorous life, but she fled that and she did not know what she was doing. none of the three realized what they were doing. she fled that golden cage and went to vietnam, and of all the
three, i think she was the most stunned. she did not know what middle-class was like really, a debutante and the whole thing, and here she was with people who were -- old culture, not wealthy, rural, and their country was being blown to smithereens, and it was the most important story in the world, so that is how she got there, and she realized the story had hooks in her life. nothing had ever affected her before. host: you wrote that she had her political awakening in vietnam with the march buddhist insurrection. how did that impact her? ms. becker: this was the first time she could see the american war through vietnamese eyes, and she saw that the buddhists were in a sense the alternative
political voice rather than the government, something she had not understood, being an assiduous newspaper reader back home, so that told her there was a lot more to the vietnamese culture and society and politics. that was what she wanted to know. she wanted to know why the buddhists had to be put down by the government, and what else was going on in the world of vietnam that she did not know about. host: how did her -- she was writing for magazines. what was she able to do with longform journalism that photography or wire service reporting could not do? ms. becker: i was surprised, it is a good question. she did this piece on the life and death of a vietnamese village that you could run today almost.
she lived the life. she had to have an interpreter but what would -- we would call invasive, intrusive. she would live the life of the vietnamese, discover how they felt when their villages were being torn apart. she would go and stay at length in a hospital to understand why corruption was ruining health care in the whole country. the same in saigon. she did not cover the fancy city. she went to the slums, and she wrote this in longform. she could put all the nuances in and not just do a short paragraph. she would do -- this is why the united states will lose this war. host: and what -- let's listen to her and talk more about her work. this is from 1999, the only one of the three still with us and this is from our archives, 1999
, talking about the relationship between u.s. officials and journalists covering the war. [video clip] >> there was an antagonism between reporters and higher officials all throughout the war because they were essentially trying to say we are doing fine, we are winning, there is nothing going wrong at all, and, therefore, you found you had to examine every single statement that was made practically to see whether it was really the case or not. it made reporting difficult, i will tell you. you kept having to go to the captain to find it what they were saying or not. this antagonism created more of a sense that reporters were on on one side or another, where is -- whereas i do not think they really were.
they were just trying to do their job. host: she brought to her reporting the connections, father having been a top official in the cia, so she understood the relationship between politicians and the military. did that affect her work? ms. becker: yes. she realized she would not spend too much time reading the tea leaves of the politicians. she will go out and see what is really going on, and she had the confidence. when you grow up among the elite, and going to her parents's cocktail parties, she hears them and she knows who is debating what. her mother had been an open lover of adlai stevenson, the former candidate for president. she was not buffaloed by this. she could see what was questionable, and she would go out and find the answers, and she very confidently wrote it up.
voilà. host: how much impact did her work have on politics back at home and did it affect the debate? ms. becker: very quickly she became a favorite of people who were opposed to the war, and she went out of her way to make sure that people realized she herself was not an antiwar person. she was a person who was trying to show how americans were losing and why, and in fact when her book won all of these awards, some of her more jealous colleagues said she only got all of those awards because she is a favorite of the antiwar people, and she tried so hard to say -- eventually she says we should
not have done it, but in an opinion piece and things like that, but she was in influence, no question. host: in her chapters there are famous names that come up. henry kissinger, daniel ellsberg of the pentagon papers. it wasn't unusual that she had interactions with these people? ms. becker: daniel ellsburg, no, because he was stationed there. she said he was the only one who would take her seriously. one of her great childhood friends was in the embassy and they were friends but he would not take her seriously as a reporter. but ellsberg did and knew all of the reporters. henry kissinger was probably just flirting with her, and she had a name. frances fitzgerald, people knew where she came from, so there was that kind of frisian --
frission too, the attraction, and the first days she comes back to the united states reluctantly knowing she had to leave the war, because it had gotten to be too much and the first thing she does is go to the most famous party of the 20th century, truman capote's black and white ball, and the first person she sees is the defense secretary. her life is gatsbyesque. host: if one were to pick up the book today, is it still a worthwhile read? ms. becker: yes, there is so much archival work that has been done since that it is dated and frankie herself said she would not write the same book, but it is a classic. you would read it and say in 1972 this was an extraordinary book. i asked that same question to the expert at harvard now who is considered a pulitzer prize-winning historian of vietnam, he said absolutely it is on that short shelf. a classic. host: we have about 15 minutes
left. this is a story of four female reporters because it is your story as well. we have a photograph of you in cambodia in 1974 that we will put on the screen. how did you get to cambodia? ms. becker: [laughter] i was in graduate school, asian studies. i am enough younger than the other women that i was consciously following in their footsteps. i was a student in asian studies, a member of something called the committee of concerned asian scholars. all of us through research and politics and history realized that we should not be in that war, so i came with that mindset, but the reason i went was because i had a dustup with my masters yeezus -- masters
thesis, who decided i should have an affair with him and when he rejected my thesis because i did not, he said that was not the reason, so i said, i am not sticking around here. i am not going to try to figure out how to get around this man so i took my fellowship money and bought a one-way ticket to phnom penh. is not as crazy as that sounds, because when i was a student in india between undergraduate and graduate studies i met a young woman who was also a student, and she was on her way to do graduate work in hong kong. along the way she somehow got to saigon and decided she would try to be a freelance reporter, and she put off graduate studies, ended up in phnom penh where she met kate, and started writing to me back in seattle, saying you have got to come here. put aside graduate studies for now.
this is really important. come and be a reporter with me, and i had ignored it until i had that dustup with my thesis advisor and i tried it. host: and you met kate webb? ms. becker: silvana arranged for kate to meet me in hong kong. i was flying from seattle, and in those days, it took forever. kate met me at the airport and it was like seeing a legend. she had already been released from her captivity, and she had been working in hong kong and she got me through formalities and took me to lunch, and made sure the next day i was on the airplane to phnom penh. in my backpack was the book fire in the lake, so i knew, and i foolishly thought if these two can do it there must be lots of women, but there were not.
host: what was your experience like? how dangerous was the work for you? ms. becker: i think this is one of the reasons i had so much admiration for these women, because i had no idea what i was doing. the first war that you are covering, you are not covering, you are shaking, i saw atrocities. young kids dying. soldiers shooting, it was like walking out your door and turning the corner and there is war. if a country is at war it is not like your battlefield in the movies, and the war got closer and closer. cambodia was a country that had been neutral through most of the war, from 1955 to 1970, so with
-- the american invasion and north vietnamese expansion creating this battlefield, the cambodians were unprepared, and it was a slaughter. by the time i got there, the khmer rouge, the communists were taking advantage of this, and it looked like they were going to win, so i covered and witnessed the carpet bombing of cambodia, and that was -- nothing could prepare you for that, and i am covering cambodia where these people do not know what an airplane is and the fire is falling from the sky and they think it is the mystical bird. they are allured by a misfire.
there are no supplies, people flooding into the city, and the beautiful city of phnom penh starts to look more and more like a refugee camp. it was very dangerous. host: there is a harrowing story of you and team members who survived an assassination attempt, and one member of your team was killed as she went back to cover the end of pol pot's regime. our time is limited. i would like people to read it in the book. it is an example of the danger all four of you expose yourself to in covering this war. all of you wanted to be on the scene as the war ended. why do you think it drew everyone back to see how this work culminated for america? ms. becker: you are covering a country, not a war in a way.
war is incredible surrender. you surrender yourself, you surrender your life to covering it, and once you do that, it does not leave you. so when kate was in hong kong, she pleaded with her bosses to let her go cover the evacuation. frankie was in hanoi when the final offensive began. catherine was off in the middle east and she got a flight to paris and then to saigon because she was going to see the end of it. it is not a story, per se. as any war reporter will tell you, it is your life, and their dedication i think shows up -- if you read their copy, look at
the photographs you will not be surprised. the dedication, the seriousness, the humanity of all of the works that they did, and everybody had a hard time getting back to real life. host: did you as a journalist feel a special kinship with the american service members during that period? ms. becker: i did not cover the americans. congress was furious with the invasion of 1970. remember, that was the biggest demonstration across the country ever, and congress said you cannot have the american military there for very long, so the american military was sent out. that was even harder, that the bombs were your bombs. that was difficult, very difficult. host: what compelled you to
finally tell the story? ms. becker: we are getting old. there are a couple of attempts at books, but i felt i had to tell this story in a strong narrative that people would want to read. their story is lost. their legacy is forgotten. people know martha gellhorn, they know christiane amanpour from the gulf war. i would ask around. women photographers had never heard of catherine, and if they had heard of frankie, she did a book but she did not cover the war, did she? kate webb is not well known in her own country. this is the piece that is missing. these are the women and their female colleagues, they are the ones who are the modern link,
the ones who broke through the thickest glass ceilings and changed how things were seen. you know, the advantage of having been following them, i knew their story, i knew where to look for all of the stuff and now i could read it. i was afraid if it was not told by one of us, it would not quite be what i would want, so there is a verisimilitude i brought to the book. but i admire them crazy. host: what was the experience like, digging back through the archives and reliving this part of your life? ms. becker: it was much better than i expected. i learned so much. i was so surprised by the complexity, the thoughtfulness. the ups and downs. i did not mind writing about them when they were crazy and i
did not mind saying that catherine kept shooting herself in the foot. the story was even more powerful than i could have imagined, so i guess it helped me too. i feel much more comfortable with my story. host: some of the reaction to , both reviews and on social media to your book, are from women journalists who are foreign correspondents and have written things like, things have not changed all that much. does that surprise you? ms. becker: it does not surprise me. i wonder if all of them who say that have read the book because things have changed a lot. does it take more than a few generations to change attitudes? yes. does it take more than a few generations to change institutions, yes.
but there is change. there is backlash, change, and we might be in one of those backlash periods. host: there was a generation of post-vietnam generals, analysts and the like, and the lessons of vietnam seem to inform policy going forward. but you alluded to the parallels between not knowing the country, vietnam, and what american policy has been like in afghanistan and iraq. where do you see those lessons that have not been applied about how important it is to know a culture? ms. becker: look at how the iraq war was voted on. it was supposedly a post 9/11 reaction. the information was false for the reasons for going in. their understanding of iraq was thin, and once there the mistakes were extraordinary, right off the bat.
i was at the times at that point and it was so hard to cover that. i said, haven't they learned anything from vietnam? and then afghanistan. i am not an expert. but again, it is military might missing military opportunities and not knowing how to respond. if overall it seems we still lead with the military and not with diplomacy, not with an understanding. look at the difference in the budgets. we continually build up the military budget and we starve the state department. i think we have lost the balance here. host: is that a compelling reason to look back and understand stories like this from vietnam?
ms. becker: if you say so. [laughter] host: i guess the question is why after 45 years people should read this. ms. becker: because you read this and say it now i understand a little bit why we have our forever wars. so we lost -- this is the first war we lost, and still today it is hard for the pentagon to say we lost in vietnam. there are whole libraries of books about why we did not lose. we did not recognize vietnam until after 1992. i cannot remember the exact year. we did not want to have to deal with it, and that is so small. we are a bigger country than that. host: the book is called "you do not belong here." how three women rewrote the story of war.
thank you for spending one hour with c-span and telling these three women's stories and your own. ms. becker: thank you for having me in person. ♪ >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at c-span.org. >> today is national vietnam veterans day and we take you into the c-span archives for conversations with the three women journalists in vietnam we just heard about on q&a. we start with a 1980 five interview with one of those women. -- 1985 interview with one of those women. >> this is a photograph, series of photograph you took in
vietnam during the war. what is the story behind the series? >> this is one view among many nameless in vietnam. it was a marine in may 1967. this marine became very famous and he made me very famous, his name was vernon. after i did the series of photographs, a number of mothers in america were absolutely convinced it was their son and i had to come back to the company a few days later and get his name and identify him. he was bending over his dead comrade, and he picked up his rifle could and screaming, i killed them all. it was one of the many stories i did, but that story wa
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