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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  September 21, 2017 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight we talk to filmmakers ken burns and lynn novick. their new series "the vietnam war" is currently airing on pbs. >> we have stride over the last decade to take advantage of 40 years of new scholarship, new access to the country, and also the willingness of these veterans now, sometimes for the very first time across-the-board, north vietnamese, soldiers and civilians and south vietnamese soldiers and civilians, guerillas and a whole pan plea of americans to start asking that question, what happened? >> there's been a lot done about this subject, books, documentaries, feature films, novels. it's not like no one has ever tried. but it remain this kind of unfinished business in american history. in order to move on with the country at all, we have to really understand what happened. and we've never done that with
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vietnam. >> a good time now, the decades have passed. we have always felt that in any kind of historical presentation you have to have 25 or 30 years perspective, the kind of try angulation that can take place from that pass age of time. >> rose: burns, novick and a remarkable 18 hour series on the vietnam war, for the hour. funding for charlie rose is provided by the following: bank of america. life better connected. is >> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose.
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>> ken burns an lynn novick are here to introduce their pbs series about the vietnam war. more than 40 years after the war ended americans are still struggling to make sense of it. the war lasted more than a decade and cost its lives of $58,000 americans and 3.4 million vietnamese. it divided the country like no conflict since the civil war. the film by ken and lynn look back at those cataclysmic years. the vietnam war say ten-part 18 hour documentary. it took ten years to make. "the washington post" says the vietnam war is a master piece and a model for assessing our history. here is a look at the trailer. >> i think the vietnam war drove a stake right into the heart of america. unfortunately we've never moved really far away from that. and we never recovered.
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>> there was no way we could avoid telling the story. wars are so extraordinarily revealing, obviously, as the worst of humanity but as it turns out also the best of humanity. >> there's been a lot done about the subject. books, documentaries, feature films, novels. it's not like no one has ever tried. but it remains this kind of unfinished business in american history. >> so it's' time now. the decades have passed, and it's important mow 20 go back and try to understand it. >> the real heroes are the ones that died, to see these kids who had the least to gain, and yet their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire. was just phenomenal. and you would ask yourself how does america plow young men like this-- produce young men like this. >> we wanted to get to know the people, get it know the place, we wanted to spend time there, try to figure out how we do what we do.
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and vietnam was really a challenge. >> there's no one american side. and then within vietnam, there is no winning side. there is the losing side. they were our enemy and our ally. there's just so many different perspectives. we tried to bring them all together. >> this is without a doubt the most ambitious project that we have ever undertaken. pbs is the only place it could have been done. >> i think the country is ready to have a conversation we've never had about the war. which we really need to have. >> this film is not an answer. but a set of questions about what happened. >> glor: joining me now are the filmmakers ken burns who is responsible for some of the most monumental documentaries in our time, the civil war, baseball and jazz and lynn novick who has been a principal collaborator for nearly 30 years. i'm pleased to have both of them back at this table, welcome, welcome. >> thank you, charlie. >> thank you, charlie. >> rose: these are friends of
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mine and i am hugely admiring of their work, this and other things. but this, because this war, it left so many questions. what is it that divides the country about vietnam? >> i think the principal thing is that the experience of it for americans was so wrenching, this did not have the di fin tiff good and bad side that world war ii had. and most of the kids who were fighting in it were children of world war ii, veterans or knew somebody that was a world war ii veteran it also didn't turn out very well for us. and so we've done a couple of things. one, we've left it unexamined, we buried our head in the sand like ostriches, or we retreated to our hardened silos where we have a def opinion or argument that is often without any now factual base. and so we have tried over the last decade to take advantage of 40 years of new scholarship, new access to the country, and also the willingness of these veterans now, sometimes for the
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very first time across-the-board, north vietnamese soldiers and 1eu68ian be willing, viet cong guerillas and a whole panoply of americans to ask asking that question, what happened harks happened as the first talking head in our film says. we spent that decade and 18 hours not answering it. but sort of fully investigating all the aspects of why this war remains such a lightning rod. >> glor: >> rose: is it an achievement of this film because you insisted that we see the vietnamese side, we hear the vietnamese voices. we want to know what they saw what we saw. >> that was a story very important to all of us. it was a big question mark, could we get g to vietnam, meet people there, get to know them well enough the way we get to know the people we talk to here it turned out to be chalking but no more challenging than finding veterans and other people who experienced the war to tell
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their stories. such a painful, tragic event. and people are reluctant to speak about it there as well, as ken was saying t is sort of shut into a closet in vietnam that it is so painful. the scale of tragedy and loss is monumental. and the government there has sort of perpetuated the story of the war that doesn't really have people in it. it is sort of a grand political narrative. >> rose: and therefore they removed the resistance to open up because it went against the narrative they had? >> i think actually paradoxically that is true but they were also very willing because it was an opportunity to tell this human story. which they don't normal lee get a chance to do. so part of our job was to find those people who were willing to speak really openly and to sort of, you know, describe the true horrors and terrors of this war, and the losses, because every family in vietnam lost at least one person. so it's epic. >> rose: you said out to do this ten years ago. what did you know you had to have? you knew you had to have the people who fought the war. >> right. >> rose: you knew you had to have the people who sent them to
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war on both sides. >> that's right. >> rose: you knew you had to have what factors lead them to war. >> that's exactly right. we needed to basically unpack everything that had happened in a war that had become so superficial, sort of so imprisoned by conventional understanding that it needed to be liberated from that. and that meant with the americans, that we had to have gold star mothers and draft dodge ares and antiwar demonstrators and deserters and military families torn asundayer by those political questions as well as the policy wonks from the pentagon as well as the wet behind their ears reporters like neil shee han who were hang shus to go there and report on the triumph of democracy over this evil communism and only when they got there and suddenly realized the reports from the field were not what the press offices in sigh gone or the pentagon were saying that they suddenly become our agents in this, saying what is going on. and then we have these two presidents, johnson and nixon who are tape recording
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themselves and have forgotten it. which is the greatest gift to historians. >> rose: we'll hear from swron son. but we also hear his doubts about the war. >> that is the thing so amazing. usually we're trying to do a bottom up story, so called ordinary people across every stripe. and then you've got this more abstract-- abstract top down policy consideration. but when you've got a guy who is making that policy, showing his-- his anxieties and his concerns, his angst or you hear the real-- . >> rose: almost crying out to his friends saying what do i do, i don't want to send these young men to die. >> i'm stuck, i feel like a jack ass in a texas hailstorm. i can't run, i can't hide and i can't make it stop. and you feel that kind of tension. and with nixon you feel, you can hear the calculations. you can hear the calculations that in both cases run counter to what the positive public pronouncements are about the war. everything is going well. >> rose: including the generals. >> what is really devastating is
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that they are getting advice that it is not going to work out it is not like they don't know. they have very accurate advice from the cia, intelligence, from the defense department and also, you know, that this is not going well. and it's not going to work out. and yet show the option to not do it is not an option that is really taken seriously. >> rose: johnson was scared of the idea that he might be the first american president to lose a war. >> exactly. >> and nixon spent four years from the time he took office to the time of the peace treaty sort of avoiding and doing this wonderful slight of hand trick so that we don't consider him the president who lost the war. he redefined the 2er78s of it. he focused on prisoners of war. he suddenly made it not about south vietnam and our defense of them. it was something else. and there were a lot of smoke and mirrors there. but also a lot of dead americans and dead vietnamese by the hundreds of thousands in the latter case. so there is a lot of explaining to do. and while we don't have a political agenda and we're not-- we don't have an axee to
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grind. we're trying to umpires calling balls and strikes as we see them, we just wanted to make sure that we could bull doaz into our audience's view, all of the stuff, however inconveniently complicated. you know, storytelling is in itself a kind of editing and simp if i kaition of a complex stuff, what we try to do and what the hallmark of the ten years was relishing in a what we didn't know, so we could leave our baggage behind right away. but also relishing the fact that every single thing we're going to talk about was more complicated than we thought. even when we knew it was complicated, it gt even more complicated and we tried to make a film that would contain those complications and trust in our audiences, intelligence to put it together. however they wanted to. and it's for everybody. if you think we should still be there in vietnam, there is a place for you in this film. if you knew from the beginning it was wrong, there is a place for you. but more importantly, it mostly is contained with people and examples that represent all the
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confusing stripes. and the battles aren't just taking place on the ground. they're inside people in this film. they're undergoing startling psychological changes. >> rose: how is it reflected ll, how is it not reflected in the political life today. we started on this journey, this odyssey because we felt that this was still sort of the half-life of it was still playing out, echoing, reverberating through most aspects of our political life, the rancor, the disunion, the destructive government, the lack of faith in ourselves and our ability to do good in the world. you know, the distinct differential yaition between classes, between red state and blue state, urban, rural, elite, working class. just the kind of sense of entropy, things falling apart, that kind of feeling very much sort of bubbled up in vietnam, in fact exploded really in 1968, an epic year which is coming up on sunday night in our show. there is just this sense that we
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are kind of coming part at the seems. and that we don't like each other very much. and that we can't get around to having a civil conversation about something very, very important. and we feel, the roots of all of that, you really can find in the vietnam war. >> rose: before your story began, your story began with americans leaving the roof of the embassy and then you go back. >> right. >> rose: you go all the way back to the 1858. >> that is when the french sort of invade, take over, assume control of in that grand patronizing colonial way, what we both called indochina that clawed laos, cam bodia and vietnam. and then plow forward, you know, very quickly into world-- end of world war ii where americans are essentially on the side of ho chi minh arming him, saving his life, many believe, and to fight the japanese. and then we're kawtd on the horns of a dilemma which is our natural inclination as americans, the original anticolonialists, right, to go
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with this guy who has just declared independence citing thomas jefferson or our french allies who are insisting that if we don't help them restore their colonial empire they might have to fall into the soviet orbit, dugal is threatening that. so what you have is a overlay of so many things. a civil war, an independence movement and then this cold war dynamic, one of our talking heads says, good and evil. and we know who was good. and we knew who was evil. and it just plows towards that. and a lot of the mistakes are the superimposition of this kind of globalist sense that if we can't fight a thermonuclear war which is being to end the world, we're going to have limited wars, prksy wars in this place. >> this was a proxy war. >> yes and what happens is the casualties are immediately the truth, the culture of the people, the language of the people, the traditions of the people, the on the ground exogennies that are going to influence, if you km armed with
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your experience of the second world war and korean war, and now faced with the guerilla movement, it's not going to turn out really well for you. >> let's talk more about what you did in this film. you have peter coyote again, is he your narrator. >> but it is jeffrey ward's words. and i don't think he has ever, ever written a crypt as beautiful as this, as newanced as. this and for it to be a writer for our films means you don't turn in the script and that's it. it is printed. it undergoes 20 or 30 revisions. and are you constantly learning. and is he a main member of the team. >> as ken was saying because we didn't have a political agenda, the writing was extraordinarily important to not have opinions in the writing about interpreting what is happening but really just explain what happened, in a very neutral way without a lot of adjectives, without a lot of, you know, sort of shading one way or another, just telling what happened in a direct way. and making it come to life. that's what. >> jeff would call me up and say i got to talk to you about
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something in the writingment can you call back. he goes listen there is an add ject riff there, maybe an adverb, i think it is too much. maybe you need it in the beginning when we were building this thing but now to t is scastledding and false work, let's take that out because now it puts an imperceptible on, we don't want that there. >> the coman onbook, called the vietnam war, based on the book. you use you will the things that made booth your films great. you used photographs. and they're classic photographs coming out of vietnam. you used people who were around including a young marine named carra who was he, how did you find him. >> we had the very great good fortune that carl was in the marines served in vietnam in the late '60s and went into business. for 25, 30 years he worked on a novel he could not get published. when we started working on the film his book came out after 30 years, it is called matterhorn, his first published work about, it is a novel about marines in
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vietnam. and as soon as the book came out we called him up and said your book is incredible. it stel tells the story of the war we never seen, would you be involved in this project. >> a guy that went to yale, a scholar. >> yes. >> and joined the marines when the war came. >> he was in the marine corps officer training program when an undergraduate at yale and was very uncomfortable because at that time the antiwar movement was pretty powerful. he felt like a fish out of water and really was shocked that the president would lie to people. and he just was a very naive country boy from oregon. he was a rhodes scholarship awarded and marines said he could come back and do his service after the rode scholarship but he went to oxford and felt so guilty to be there comfortably while other americans were fighting and dieing in vietnam that he gave up his rhodes scholarship and went to vietnam. >> even though he thought the war might be one of the great crimes of the 20th century
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it is an unbelievable thing. that is what i mean about these wrenching stories of battles within people as well as the battles that they're going to fight on hills and in rice patties in vietnam. >> he did go back and his philosophy degree, i think he is a philosopher of war, he lived it and thought deeply about what it means to go to war. >> rose: here is carl, take a look. >> one of the things that i learned in the war is that we're not the top species on the planet. because we're nice. we are a very aggressive species. it is in us. and people talk a lot about how well the military turns kids into killing machines and stuff. and i will always argue that it is just finishing school. what we do with civilization is that we learn to inhibbity and rope in these aggressive tendencies. and we have to recognize them. i worry about a whole country that doesn't recognize it. because to think how many times we get ourselves in scrapes as a
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nation because we're always the good guys. sometimes i think if we thought that we weren't always the good guys we might actually get in less wars. >> i think the question today is about why the war is so painful and devicive for us, i think article is getting at that a little bit, in the sense that we, there is a congress any tiff disonance, a disconnect between who we think we are, who we want to be as a country, who we believe we are, what we did in world war ii and the triumph fant experience of doing the right thing for the right reasons, at tremendous cost. that is gut enbrained in our dna and vietnam was sort of not the opposite but certainly undermined that sense and called into question our exceptionalism and our destiny and we have never really been able to filling out what happened. and how we feel about it because of that. i think what carl is saying there is part of the issue that we're dealing with. >> here is also what is true. we have a clip on there too. you do sense that soldiers on either side come to appreciate
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the bravery and the humanity of the other side. this is what i found in every war that we've ever studied. no more so than in the civil war but also here which is the opposing sides. once you separated the policy, once you have separated the strategy and the tactics and the plans which go out the window the second the firing starts. then are you dealing with human beings who you have asked to do really terrible things. on both sides. and they become very similar to us. and what we've enjoyed is sharing this with our veterans and having them go, i just want to see. we showed you john mccain. all we want to see is the stuff of the north vietnamese showing what they felt. because it is so revealing or the viet cong guerillas. 57bd what you begin to see is what happens on the front line at that point of come bat where none of us who haven't experienced it have no idea of how vilified life is, they report back from there, not just the worst of us, but sometimes
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the very, very best of us. >> rose: let's take a look this. a former viet cong soldier talking about the humanity he recognized in the enemy he was fighting. within war is the ultimate
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dehumanization of the other, in order to fight a war you have to create a kind of one-dimensional portrait of the other. >> so are you not nervous about pulling the trigger, thinking you might save a colleague. >> exactly. and then what happened s is you get into war and all of a sudden you begin to see that this pact that you have to make with the devil, there's gaps in testimony and you can see the other side in his case, and the americans as well. and we have a marine talking about how scared he was. and how much he respected and how much he hated all in the same beptd the people he was fighting. and you get celebrated american colonel who is saying i would like to have 200 of these veet congress kong, they are the finest soldiers ever. and the report arer is going the viet cong, did you make a type graph kal error, and he's going way, they are the finest soldier, after he had held them off thrk is charging charlie beckwith after holding them off for days and days and days. i fietder pilot, meryl mcpeek says in war you have to get on
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the right side. i really have respect for the people down there that kept the ho chi mirn trail open as i was trying to bomb it. i'm unhappy i was unable to top traffic there, that was my job. >> we translated the entire film into vietnamese and there is vietnamese subtitles and it is available in vietnam and hundreds of thousands of people in vietnam are watching it as we speak. and there is great interest there. >> the irony we have come to, very good relationship with vietnam. >> yes. we have. potentially common enemy. >> and used them as an ally in whatever competition we have with the them. >> but the larger thing is they are as conflicted about the war now as we are. we have great regreat relations. >> they viewed it as a war of independence. >> but they is a whole southern population that a lot of people weren't involved and they have been treated poorly. they haven't been able to reconcile. also their strategy was that they would not count the cost as their leader-- which means they
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have those three million casualties. >> and they are agonizing, could we have done it better. could we have done it with negotiations. and so i think in the same way that we are struggling, they're struggling. and perhaps the fact that our two countries have come together, that americans visit there, they love the americans, they're an entrepreneurial sort of forward thinking people. they represent not just an economic but a potentially strategic partner for us. you know, you just sort of wish you could skip to the reconciliation part right away. >> i want to get to two things. but what is interesting about what you just said, ho chi minh was not necessarily the most powerful person. >> he was the george washington of the vietnam yims movement. he founded the army. you know, the resistance movement and put-- in charge of it and he is great and remained to the end a figure head to his own people and to the world. but the face of revolution, i would even say figure diminishes him. but 1959 he was competing with hard-liners on the politburo for sprem see, aggressive
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hard-liners who were favoring much more direct engagement and more violence and he was more moderate and trying to temper that. and so he in some ways lost his power on the politburo and other people including-- we recognize as essentially the person we were fighting if an ordinary grunt on the viet cong or north vietnamese thought it was johnson or richard nixon. >> rose: laz d-whan. tim o'brien has written well about many things including vietnam. you came to him to be an interviewee, he said i will do this on one condition, that you include gold star mothers. >> yes, he did. >> he did, indeed. it was the best have i we got. >> rose: take a look at this, tim o'brien on how courage was defined in vietnam. >> somewhere around 80% of our
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cash eultds came from landmines of all sorts. in vietnam for me just to get up in the morning, and look out at the land, and think in a few minutes i'll be walking out there. and will my corps be there, there. will i lose a leg out there. i always thought of courage as charging enemy bunkers or stabbing up-- standing up under fire. but just to walk day after day from village to village and through the paddies and up into the mountains. just to make your legs move was an act of courage that, say you were living in sioux city t wouldn't be courageous to walk to the grocery store or down main street. to just have your legs go back and forth. but in vietnam, for me, just to walk incredibly brave, i would sometimes look at my legs as i walked thinking how am i doing this. >> rose: every step was a
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dangerous step. >> and it was not just landmines. just the fundamental existential of war, you know, if your violent death is possible and any second, what happens to you. >> rose: which is an interesting point. in women who fight war, don't like ideas of winning and losing, do they? because they say all war is devastation. >> you know, we've had the privilege and wisdom of speaking to many veterans on all sides. and at this point in their lives, these veterans who have been in that place, that ken was describing. they're not interested in-- i will say this, when you ask them what do they want the world to know about this, they want people, people making decisions, the leaders to think about the real cost of war. to start a war and these young men get chewed up, and now a das young women as well, in the vietnam war there were young women in the north vietnamese side. and people making decisions are not think being the actual human cost. and these guys know what it was.
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and just going around the country, hearing them say why don't the people who make these decisions think about what the true cost is. people come home with arms and legs. people are badly damaged psychologically. mothers lose their sons. one of the north vietnamese soldiers that we met in vietnam, he was the only one of six young men from his apartment building to come back home from the war. so he carries that with him. >> rose: the same on the vietnamese side, a mother who lost six sons. >> yes. >> and send the next one into the war. >> rose: the other interesting thing too, for all the soldiers that i interviewed at this table, you ask them why they fought. they don't say i fought for my country. >> no. >> rose: i fought for mike. >> the guy next to them. >> at the point when are you down in the trenches, the abstraction of country sort of falls away, even if that propelled you there. >> rose: it's about them. >> it's about saving your buddies. and that was well-known in world
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war ii when our military figured out that is how you train people. but in vietnam, it became quite wrenching. because there wasn't that overarching faith that it was the right thing to do, as an effort. even just-- . >> rose: the idea that it was the right thing. >> it one unambiguous. >> and that alters that dynamic. but you can see just in the photograph and the clip of the americans grieving so genuinely over the body of what is clearly a friend, not just an abstract person on your side it is a buddy, it is a loved one. >> rose: here is vincent on the heroism of service members who died in vietnam. >> you know what, the real heroes are the men that died. 19, 20 year old high school dropout. they didn't have a escape route
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that the elite, wealthy and privileged had. and that was unfair. and so they looked upon military service as like the weather. you had to go in and you do it. but to see these kids who had the least to gain, there wasn't anything to look forward to. they were going to be rewarded for their service in vietnam. and yet their infinite patience, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire was just phenomenal. and would you ask yourself, how does america produce young men like this. >> rose: the soundtrack of this film is also the soundtrack of america in the '60s. >> it is, indeed. we were very fortunate to get trent resner and at i kus ross of nine inch nails to produce
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three hours of original spectacular music and yo- ma added new exotions in vietnamese tunes in their own familiar way. but we were able to enjoy through the efforts of our producers, 120 songs from the period, the very best, perhaps the most fertile. >> rose: from the rolling stones. >> and the beatles and bob dylan. and we couldn't have afforded 12 had they not realized what we were doing and willing to take in many cases artists like the bateeettes or crosby stills nash and young, tunes never licensed, to license to us and permit us to fold in and interbraid their music which was so seminal to the time and sometimes commenting on the times into this narrative this then makes it i hope that much more authentic. >> rose: to speak about how you cover and the significant and impact of the antiwar movement, which included veterans throwing their metals
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away. >> it was interesting to understand and figure out the chronology here. the antiwar movement began as a civil rights movement and antinuclear movement in the early 6 0see. theres with a sense that any war was immore ral, war was wrong there were quakers and peaknicks you can say, as this war developed and escalated more and more americans got sucked into it and more information came back to the u.s. that the damage of that american bombing and shelling was doing to vietnamese civilians anmore evidence of the south vietnamese government corruption, and lack of stability. the antiwar movement grew. and also the draft calls grew, more and more young men were subject to the draft it was also very unfair the way the draft was implemented. so there was a lot of tension around that. essentially as the war escalated, the antiwar movement grew and grew and grew and had more and more presence in our society. but it also is not representative, per se, of every american's point of view. the polls were taken throughout the '60s and throughout the war
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actually where the american public has an evolving perspective on the war. and never wants to lose. and eventually by the time of 1-9d 68, the antiwar movement sort of moral questioning of the war, we relentless casualties, the lack of credibility in the white house turned the public against the war. >> one, two, three, four. ♪ i never considered the vietnamese our enemy. they had never done anything to threaten the security of the united states. they were off 10,000 miles away, minding their own business. and we went there to their country. told them what kind of government we wanted them to have. >> i see the war protestors. i react on a couple of levels. intellectually, i certainly
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understand their right to the freedom of speech. but i will tell you that when i see them waiving flags, the enemy, that i am and my friends had to fight and some of my friends had 20 die fighting, that doesn't sit very well with me. >> on november 15th, 1969, half a million citizens turned out against the war in washington again. >> this time buses provided an empen trabl wall around the white house. president nixon claimed he was too busy watching fat ball on television to pay attention. but he did suggest that army helicopters might be used to blow out the marchers candles. hundreds of thousands of others demonstrated in san francisco and new york.
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>> rose: there were many times, one time it turned when cronkite went over after the teth offensive and broadcast on cbs and johnson famously said about cronkite. >> what we discovered in our research that wasn't true. >> rose: it didn't lose or cronkite didn't say it. >> johnson didn't say it. cronkite came back, as one intun with so much experience in war and had this incredibly dynamic commentary at the end of the broadcast. and it's really an important moment in american history. and i can't say that johnson sun influenced by it, and the decision he's going to make am but there are other things happening. and but johnson did not say that about it. and that's one of the things that we carried around as part of our baggage. and we had to sort of lose it in favor of much more complicated dynamics that obtained throughout the story of this very, very complicated.
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>> it really was just relentless steady stream of increasing casualties and no progress. and no sense that when is this going to be over. how will we know when we have won. that is what really turned the country against the world. >> rose: this is-- a phone conversation between lyndon johnson and robert nk namara on what to do. here it is. >> i hate to modi
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>> rose: that shows you something about lyndon swrn son, doesn't it. >> it does indeed. >> rose: it also raises the question about jack kennedy. >> well, you know, i think once again the conventional wisdom is that had kennedy lived he
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wouldn't have gotten us in there. but he did take on the entire foreign policy apparatus, the mcnam ar, rusk, the george bundy, and he used it and they plowed in towards it. but you can hear in that, johnson's hawkishness. there say memo circulating around it saying it is so damning that is revealed that we were there 70% to save face, 20% to contain china, and 10% for the good of the vietnamese people. and that's an early, cynical memo that is, you know, one of the devastating evidences that what they're saying publicly isn't what they actually believe and know and combine with doubts about the efficacy of their strategies and fighting a guerilla war, and all the things going on, that this isn't going to turn out very well. and it doesn't. >> rose: we will continue this conversation with lynn. i know you have to go. thank you for coming. >> thank you, charlie.
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>> rose: speaking the lyndon johnson, here is another conversation, and advisors we were talking about, george bundy being one of them. the national security advisor to president kennedy. and then president johnson. and here is what johnson is saying to him, expressing his doubts about vietnam. here it is. >> i will tell you the more i stay add wake last night think being this thing, the more i think about it,
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>> rose: a domino theory comes up and up and up. we have to go there, or it will be a domino that will knock down the entire anti-communist world. >> i find one of the most devastating pieces of footage in this whole film is in 1966, senator fullbright had here hearing to discuss what was going on and they brought george ken in there, the author of the containment philosophy that was essentially-- and so this is basically we have to contain communism, so it is a domino theory, we have to contain it in
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asia and george basically says if we were not already in vietnam i would see no reason why we should get involved. i don't think it matters. i don't think it will make any difference. our credibility is fine and we should not worry about some little problem on the other side of the world that doesn't make any difference us to. i'm paraphrasing but that is essentially what he says, he is prophetic. and nothing, you know, johnson keeps pursuing the same policy. >> rose: when you came to this project having worked with ken and the other films that you worked with him, what was your own sense of vietnam? >> you know, i knew it was something ternl that happened. i gnaw our country was torn apart by it. i was born in 1962 so i was a child. my earlier memories really were just being aware of the world at all outside of my family and my neighborhood was there is this war happening and it is terrible. and people are dying here and in vietnam and children are getting killed. and you know, what for. and that the country was in this terrible angst, sort of filled moment.
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and we didn't seem to ever get out of it. when you were a kid your sense of time is different. so my whole childhood going on never seemed to end. and i didn't really understand it. and then i sort of became obsessed frankly with trying to figure out what was it, what happened, why. i read tons of books, saw all the hollywood movies, documentaries, you know. and was just always feeling like some day ken and i are going to tackle the vietnam war because it's this thing that we don't understand. and it's important. we need to know. >> and you have gone from the vietnam war to earnest hemmingway. >> yes. well, that has been i pet project for a long time, visiting key west, visiting his moment, going to study and wonder being hugh that gave us remarkable works of art. we will was he. all the projects we do are things we don't know much b at least in my case. and we get paid to find out the answers to lots of question.
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>> rose: questions everyone wants to know. >> exactly. >> rose: i will going back and show a clip of robert mcnamara. this is mcnamara talking to me. and the idea was how he saw the war and what he realized in the intervening years, her it is. >> i believe today that ho chi minh was not a follower of stalin and khruschev, which i thought he was at the time. he was an asian teacher, i believe the war in south neat vam-- vietnam was not a war of foreign aggression. i believe it was a civil war. i believe that it was the power of nationalism that was at stake there. i believe that under those circumstances, no foreign army can substitute for the people of that country deciding the civil war themselves. it is impossible. now these beliefs, they may seem obvious to you. they prpb obvious to me five
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years ago. that is robert mcnamara. >> yeah. >> rose: coming to that conclusion. >> a little late, i got to say. i mean you know, it wasn't obvious to him but it is not a secret or mystery either. so you know, i condition explain that tikszly. what i can tell su that he seems to have had very feked ideas and wasn't open to hearing the information that contradicted that. we interviewed several people who had briefed him during the course of the war an we're trying to explain to him that you couldn't just reduce the war to a statistic, that you had to take into account the human dimensions, that the feels of the people were important, the south vietnamese government was not stable. or that the bombing wasn't workingment and he was say nothing one tells me these things. and the government said well, you just don't ask. so there is a sense of just having blinders on, you know, saying robert mcnumber ara was the giant of washington, he was
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a genius, just brilliant analyst. and you know, he believed that for every problem there had to be a solutionment and that was his fatal flaw. asking the right questions. >> he was not alone. >> no, he was not alone. >> and even in, journalists went over thinking they would see this, and then they quickly realized they are seeing something else. >> right. so neil showhand. >> there were many reporters who came with one idea and came back with another, many soldiers that went over with the idea that it was going to be an easy victory, that we had all the firepower in the world, that the vietnamese wanted us to be there to help them throw off the communist aggression. and soldiers quickly realized it wasn't working the way it was supposed to. and if there had been openness tually been open to us seeingee the impossible of what they were trying to accomplish. >> there is an expression also that says when a young man goes to war, his mother goes with
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him. his family goes with him. cuz they suffer, they endure, they see you and sometimes they have the horror of somebody from the pentagon coming to knock on their door. >> it's devastating. i knee, hi the privilege of speaking to jean marie crocker who lost her son in vietnam. and she is in her late 80s. and she agreed to do this interview. she had never spoken publicly about this experience. her husband had always been the one to talk about it if anyone asked. and she really wanted to tell the story. i think she felt that by sharing her grief and her family's loss, and what they went through, first of all their son, her son while he was away in vietnam and not knowing if he was going to come home and worrying and seeing our country unraveling with tension over the war and questioning whether we should be there and not knowing what to do with that, and getting letters from him where he was clearly just not sure about what was
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happening to him, how to manage that as it was happening in realtime and to tell us about the day that the news came to their house. needless to say the worst day of her entire life, i don't know how she did it. i don't. and-- . >> rose: so many of them were so young. >> so yung. he was 19. and that-- . >> rose: a year out of high school. >> yeah. the the half leave of grieve for that kind of loss is forever. they live their lives, you know, but it's never the same. and there's courage in just getting up every day and getting out of bed. >> rose: who are the heroes of your book, of your film. >> wow. you know. >> rose: the people who fought the war. >> clearly, i mean. >> rose: or the people in conscience who risk things to oppose the war. >> this film and this story i think for ken, may and jeff ward and our producers, sarah, is a sense of what does it mean to be a hero. certainly itses to be a soldier
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and be baifer and save your buddies and do courageous things under fire. and it is admirable and gets rewarded but the metal hopefully in recognition there is no question that that is heroic. but it's also heroic to stand up to your country, if you think your country is not doing the right thing. and to ask questions, and people who protested the war, some were soldiers who came home and thought the war was wrong and wanted it to stop so their friends wouldn't die. that was brave too, and then you know, there are people in the film who wrestled with their conscience, getting drafted late in the war, and knowing a lot about what was happening there more than people knew in the early years, not wanting to g and feeling that the courageous thing would be to go to canada or go to jail. instead feeling incredible guilt and diskrim anythings that they went to the war instead it kind of upends your notion of what it means to be a hero. >> rose: tell me about general mcpeek. because he is somebody that you
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interviewed who had a chance to see the film. >> uh-huh, yes. >> rose: and asked what it taught him. >> yeah. he is a remarkable human being. he was a very successful fighter pilot and he rose to be the air force chief of staff after the war. he was running the air force during the first gulf war. and he is extremely smart and knowledgeable and very curious about what happened in vietnam. he was there in 68y, 69y and he says he could see right away the war wasn't going well. so he felt his job was to bring his guys home after he focused on, get the mission done. but the yefer all big picture he could see, it wasn't going work out. and he as soon as the war was over started devastate-- dedicated to learn the lessons from veet flam from a military perspective but was also extremely curious about the enemy, whom they prrks what they were doing, he studied the ho chi minh trail because he was trying to stop the traffic on the ho chi minh trail unsuccessfully. so he became a student, how did they do it.
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why couldn't we stop the traffic. we dropped so many bombs. it still didn't work and he was deeply interested in that. and when prepare fog go to vietnam and the people without worked on the trail under his bombs, he worked with us to kind of talk what would you like to know from them. what was he curious about. and they asked him what they would want to know from him, they were able to have them have a conversation in the fim am even though they had never met. and he also helped us just come to screenings and just look at the film from, you know, a little bit removed having been there. and then having been a high ranking military student and student of the war. indispensable. >> civil war was-- split the country apart. this war is probably the most di vicive war this country has fought since the civil war. >> yes, it is very painful to this i da. we've talked to so many people who lived through this time who get upset just even just bringing up the word vietnam. people said to us, i don't think i can wamp the film. it will be too painful, why do you want to make a film about
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the vietnam war. that is just throwing salt in the wound and ken and i have said from the beginning, we don't think so. we think that we can maybe by shing some light on the story gives our country a way to talk about it that is not, sort of, i hate to use the word healing but it makes you think of that screening, people come to our screenings from many different per speblgives about this war. and because of the, i think the courage of the people speaking, and their honesty about their own feelings about what they went through, on a variety of perspectives, you know, there is something about the way that people are open in telling their stories in the film that what we have seen is people watching it show are willing to listen each other. in a different way. we've seen it over and over again as we have been going around the country showing clips and screenings internally, as we develop the story. it's di vicive because 58,000
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people died. and-- 58,000 feel died and we can't con come to any conclusion why. >> 18 hours, ten episodes, did you tell the story you wanted to tell. >> it is a really, really great question. we thought about it a lot, when we started the film it was just an ideas. we'll tell the story of the vietnam war, from the eyes of people in america and vietnam and try to find out what happened fsm we could have predicted then what this film would look like, i don't think this would be possible. for all of us it exceeded our compensations in every possible way, the nature of the testimony, the veert of perspectives, the genius of our editors in putting together this incredible treasure troaf of material. the access in vietnam. we didn't know if we would get that, we didn't know if we would be able to bring back the many different ways the vietnamese view the war. the generosity of the south
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vietnamese, veet nam ease americans who suffered unimaginable loss of a country and family members and are here trying to make new lives. so many people opened their hearts e pieces of this huge puzzlen and have it make sense. and there were many times and there are in every project where we wonder are we going to be able to pull it off. is it going to mick sense, is it going to be coherent, will it help shed some light on this story. i think all of us who worked on this feel very honored to have been part of this effort. and-- . >> rose: once you finish it, tell me what that is like. i mean this is a ten year project you have been working on other projects all along. >> we have been working on many other projects. ken has been working on a number of big projects, sara and i working on a film about people incarcerated going to college and working on a film about hemmingway and a number of other projects. but when we finished the editing on this project, i certainly cried. many people were sorted of emotional because it feels like the most challenging work we've ever done. and because of that the most rewarding an perhaps the most
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meaningful. and it was a joy to work on it every day. and it was incredibly hard. and i don't know what we are going to do now that we don't have to do it any more, seriously. all of us were talking about it last night, we had a screeningk we watched episode three in my apartment with a number of people that worked on it. everybody is happy to see the film go out and very sad we don't get to work on it any more. >> rose: thank you for joining us and congratulations. >> thank you for having me. >> rose: pleasure. ken had to leave. >> i didn't know, thank you for keeping me, i didn't know that we were going to continue the conversation. that was great, thank you. >> rose: thank you for doing it. let me mention a couple things. the vietnam war bees it, 18 hours over ten evenings, episode four is. >> if you run this tonight episode four will have already been on, episode five is fom night. the book companion back by jeffrey ward and ken based on the series is called vietnam war, which is a remarkable book. and as ken said, jeffrey ward and his own sort of brilliance with language, all of that, here
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on pbs. go to thank you for joining us. see you next time. for more about this program and earlier episodes visit us online at and charlie captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh
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>> rose: funding for "charlie rose" has been provided by: >> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. >> you're watching pbs.
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♪ >> pati narrates: how can i describe oaxaca? not an easy question to answer. vibrant. complicated. rich. words just don't do it justice. oaxaca is an experience. >> i love this! >> pati: the first day of any trip is the most exciting. i always try to see, and eat, as much as i possibly can. this trip to oaxaca is no exception. [pounds meat] >> oh yeah. >> pati: in my kitchen, grilled tasajo torta with smoky guacamole. crunchy nopalito salad with pickled chipotle. creamy natilla with fresh berries. recipes inspired by my food fuelled day, and one hungry boy to help me eat them.