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tv   Max Hastings Vietnam  CSPAN  December 8, 2018 1:14pm-2:33pm EST

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just to embrace your obligations and it is politically -- >> i think that this is it. this is a great discussion and it's been a wonderful audience. and a wonderful book. [applause] >> thank you! thank you for being here. [inaudible conversations] >> and now on c-span2 booktv. more television for serious readers.
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>> i am so glad you've joined us this evening. to our valued members that make a direct role in making time possible and hundreds of similar events each year, our thanks and a warm welcome. and for potential members to be joining us for the first time an equally warm greeting and an open invitation to explore the wide range of programs at the smithsonian associates. we have exciting programs coming up including of course on u.s. russian relations beginning on wednesday. an evening lecture on church hills secret army in october 2 . and china japan history of empires on november 6. more
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information is available that you can grab on your way out. please make sure your devices are on silent. and thank you for doing that. we are thrilled to welcome our speaker this evening. sir max hastings. his work has appeared in every british national newspaper and he now reviews regularly for the sunday times and the new york review of books. he has published 26 books including the secret war, spies, codes and gorillas. catastrophe, europe goes to war. finest years, churchill, armageddon the battle for germany among others. he spent most of his years as a correspondent for bbc t.v. and the london evening standard. reporting 11 conflicts including vietnam. he was editor then editor-in-chief of the daily telegraph from 1986 until 1985. end of the evening standard 1996 until 2002. he has received many rewards both for his books and journalism. he was journalist of the year and reporter of the year in the
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1982 british press awards and editor of the year in 1988. in 2012, the military library chicago presented him with $100,000 literary awards for lifetime achievement. his most recent book, vietnam, and epic tragedy is available for purchase and signing in the lobby following his presentation. now please join me in welcoming, sir max hastings. [applause] >> thank you so much. thank you all for coming to hear me tonight. i feel rather an intruder is a mere english and writing about a war that above all, was a tragedy but then also an american tragedy. but this war in the country has meant a lot in my life. and to meet so many veterans
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some of them right here in the city. on 20 may, 1968, a 20-year-old u.s. marine machine gunner in vietnam. today all they're doing is walking in mountains looking for groups. i would thought i would drop you a line to say everything is fine. five days later, however, it stopped being fine. the parents in massachusetts received a telegram. marine corps commandant to confirm that your son died. from friendly airstrikes in the target area. his remains will be prepared, encased and shipped at no expense to you. accompanied by an escort by the funeral home and national cemetery selectively. you will be reimbursed in an
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amount not to exceed $500 toward funeral expenses. 16,899 such telegrams were received in homes across the land in 1968. over 300 per week. by the end of the war, in may 1975, 58,220 had died with 18 russian, 14 north korean, 771 chinese, and more than 2 million vietnamese, along with other peoples. in a succession of events lasting three decades the human cost of the 21st century wars in afghanistan, syria and iraq. moreover, vietnam made a cultural impact upon its times
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than any modern strike. in the last phase, especially, it brought the dismay of hundreds of millions of western people. destroying when u.s. president and contributing to the downfall of a second. in the labor protest against authority, they swept the west in the 1960s, rejection of old sexual morality and enthusiasm for lsd. and capitalism and imperialism which vietnam appeared an exception manifestation. many older americans act simply for any of the causes and oppose the war because they saw themselves as systematically deceived by their own government.about an enterprise doomed to fail. the 1975, the fall of saigon, inflicted humiliation upon the
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planets most powerful nation. revolutionaries prevailed in the western world. the stairway of which of the evening of the 29th, fugitives descended to helicopter secure the place. for me and my generation, the struggle was among the foremost experiences of our careers. i was one of those. in this tumultuous terrifying day. and even before i foresaw vietnam, in january 1968, age 22, i was among a group of journalists who visited the white house. we were addressed by president lyndon johnson about his commitment to the war. that morning, his personality less formidable.
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some like blondes, stomach redheads and some may not like women at all he declared. gesticulating constantly to emphasize his point making broad pencil strokes. i'm here to tell you what kind i like. i want to meet -- in a nice hotel with nice boots and we can sit down and talk to settle this thing. after making his pitch, this big man, left the room abruptly without taking questions. we were preparing to leave when suddenly, the president put his head around the door again. now he said i want to ask, do any of you feel any different from anything you've read or heard about me before you came? we were stunned into silence. by this glimpse of johnson's awesome vulnerability. in those days, vietnam
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represented the world consciousness, both natural beauty and man-made horror. my book emphasizes the struggle was above all a disaster with the people in china which an american tragedy would overlay. i interviewed scores of men and women communist and anti-communist as well as u.s. veterans. i read thousands of pages of translated memoirs and documents from both sides. let me recount to you, a minuscule wartime incident such as was repeated 10,000 times. one warming in all of this, 1964, the south vietnamese, a pollution was led in search of communist. as they went through a ravaged village he saw a young woman sitting silent on the floor of a wrecked house holding a
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wicker basket. her eyes looked straight ahead in a blank, stupid stare. and he asked why she lingered in the midst of a battlefield. she remained silent, her stunned eyes with a flash of terror. suddenly, performing a gymnastic exercise, she thrust out the basket toward him. it contained two sets of clothes, headscarf, two gold necklaces, and a pair of earrings. the soldier motioned the girl away. but he called her back holding up the basket. her hands trembled so violently that she was unable to take it. but instead, began to unbutton her blouse. the man was deeply embarrassed. she'd read his rejection of her most valuable property as a son instead, he wanted her body. what kind of life had she experienced? that she would offer herself to
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a soldier who could be her younger brother while tears ran down her terrified face. he persuaded the girl to follow his platoon to a nearby river. carrying fugitives from the fighting. people were calling out, among voice screamed lie, lie! a woman that recognized the traumatized -- the girl stopped. as if she is trying to summon a memory from a past life. then she cried, mother, mother! our house is burned down. our house is gone! they described her walking away towards the water like a person in a trance. this is what wars among the people are like. the people, especially women, who are not green beret but
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instead, victims, whether in vietnam, iraq, afghanistan and syria. between 1945 and 75, such tiny tragedies were repeated countless times in indochina. foreign eyewitnesses concluded that most french, and then americans and south vietnamese clients unleashing devastating -- yet a key theme for my own book is to blame seems rightfully to be shared with the communist that committed nonetheless atrocities and pursued a revolution that brought misery among their own people. photographs exist which have become notorious of south vietnamese police chief shooting that a captured vietcong in the 1968, screaming child naked after 1972 south vietnamese strike. in homes of peasants setafire by american soldiers .
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the policy of silence pursued by all communist regimes, will serve ho chi minh. no pictures were ever published of the vietnamese being buried alive before his fellow villagers for the mere crime of being a landlord. he pleaded and was told contemptuously by his brothers that they save their bullets for the imperialists. no photographer recorded thousands of innocents killed in cold blood and buried in mass graves in the occupation during the 1968 defensive. nobody in modern vietnam, where tourists are so warmly welcome, permitted to speak of the thousand skilled during the first years of ho chi minh 's rule in north vietnam. the american advisor, described the typical episode during
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later struggle in which a typist of the headquarters were seized. her head was beaten with a rifle, a young brother stabbed to death to pursue an attack on u.s. compound.the officer wrote, she was maybe 20 or so, devout christian, very pretty, very much a lady. my team is to sit on the porch in the morning and watch her stroll into work with imagine umbrella protecting her alabaster skin from the sun. she ignored us and you can only guess that maybe she disliked the foreign admiring her beauty or maybe not. likewise, and advisor described to me landing a helicopter where they found a limp figure hanging from ropes to a tree. his wife had been less -- this
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corrupt regime which was supported with heroes of the vietnam wars, merely all historical events, neither side demanded a monopoly. we should pause before the good guys, as did native western protesters in the 1960s. many moralists would say as i do myself, while the ho chi minh people deserve the triumph over the french colonialists, neither side deserved victory. and what came afterwards. ...
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in disthe french suffered soaring losses and defeat, until in november 1953, the launched an operation to lure the enemy into battle on their terms, by fortifying a chain of low hills, called -- they suffered catastrophe, the host military chief mobilized 60,000 supporters to man handle who ton artillery pieces 500 miles across some of the worst country in the world to ravage the french camp. the sag a againsted in surrender of survivors of the 12,000 man
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garrison to the rade-assed communist army. the ensuing geneva conference on indo-china, what was amazing waltz that the chinese and russians proposed to partition of the country, instead the whole country should but surrendered to him. the explanation was the following western intervention in he recent korean war, the communist parts per desperate to averred a replay. beijing told moscow to content themselves on half a loaf when elections were held and the americans lost interest. a hill or two unknown south vietnamese.
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with influence american co religionists, clung congressman john f. kennedy was installed as ruler and ho chi minh's o'hit bureau humid power in hanoi. the communist regime implemented the ideology with conspicuous brutality. deprivation, oppression, and starve vacation became the common law of north vietnam, and occasional revolts were invisible to the world there was a desperate search for taste treats included stew raf receive saffron, rat, beatles, silk worm larvae. no pet was safe. a which areished pooch was left behind and strangers took it away and i understood they were
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going to kill it. the dog was said to taste if the flesh was beaten and softened before the animal wag killed. in the relatively rich south, almost everyone has enough to eat but the diem promotes catholics in overwhelmingly buddhist dust --ist country and ruled with abysmal incompetent, ho chi minh secured the ownership of vietnamese nationalism, heroic stature as victor of the french. the cruelties cruelties and bacs were concealed from the world by censorship. the low slowly started in south with so-called viet cong taking this place of the viet menh. the new rulers presented pleasant hot station to the diem
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regime rather been big driven by hanoi or beijing as washington delude it itself. in 1926 the north vietnamese, leveled no longer ledty the aging hoe which i minimum provided serious backing. in 1964 the u.s. decided unless it dramatically boost evidence military aid, the south was doomed to collapse, which president johnson believed unassettable to the american people. 1965, he began dispatch major combat units of a scale which climaxed in 68 and 69 with half mable troops waging a war against soldiers dispatch fled north, supported by 61,000 allied troops, together with
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600,000 armed south vietnamese. each month, u.s. forces unleashed an average of 128,000-tons of munitions at a cost of $2.5 billion. the culture shock was huge for young americans, meeting asia for the first time. private ridge edwards was surprised had nothing to do with death and devastation but instead another finding even tiny children smoked which seemed horrible. the first vietnamese were left to say when cigarettes are bad for your health and the boon docks many men withnervous of snakes, and the loathed the leeches. the johnson administration also embarked on an air campaign against north vietnam which hurt its own cause far more than the communists. the bombing united ho chi minh's
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people of the earlier unification struggle in the north, reason than the fashion the nazi blitz brought town the british people in 1940. it was said that in the north air attack made small impact and although completely contrary to western perceptions perceptionss and chinese were reluctant to lavish resources on the struggle and had little control over hanoi politburo and moscow dispatched glad guns and sam 2 missiles which shot down lamb thousand u.s. aircraft. in the eyes of foreigners the warmaking of a giant symbolizes by the b-52 bomber, which killed tens of thousands of vietnamese, seem repellent, con traversed we the courage of communist soldiers, wear coolly hats hats and rubber sandals, the women digging trenches and repairing bomb damage, in hanoi in december
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december 1966 the premiere inquired of a visiting "new york times" correspondent, how long the americans want to fight? one year? two years? three years? five years? ten years? 20 years? we shall be glad to accommodate you. as for the men doing the fighting, infantrymen, don wrote are for many soldiers vietnam was depression, despair, a valley of terror. much of the anxiety came forgot from the enemy or the jungle, it came from being taken away from wifes and friends and family and being totally out of control. many fire fights were brief and one that lasted just 30 seconds, 15 of 35 patrolling marines were killed or wounded. often the handful of vc used weapons and then pulled out before artillery or aircraft
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other could work on them. amid incoming fire the great brown wrote of the stiff harm of a bullet like a fist, the way it knocks the air out of you and make cough, the sound of the gunshot arrives a ten years liter and the things you think but and say and do rail afterward, the way your eyes focus on a tiny white pebble or blade of grass and you start think, that's the last think i'll ever see. that pebble, that blade of grass. which makes you want to cry. there were booby traps, booby traps, what the 21er in century calls ieds and and how they hated them all. most were from savaged u.s. armaments. a 81-millimeter took off a leg and maybe some fingers and an elbow. a 105-millimeter round would take both legs and often an arm. and a 155 vaporized its
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immediate victim below the waist and almost certainly killed anyone else within 20 yards. grunts engaged in macabre debates about which him they limb they would soonest level. most preferred to keep the knees and what was above them. in one period a sing mall recent company lost 57 legs to mines or bob by traps which as an officer bleakly observed, amounted to almost a leg a day. among some total deeds, virtues ones aren't deserves emphasis. texan, shirley, was a veteran nurse, summoned to active duty in 1966. she took a passionate pride in her work, i really didn't have a political commitment but there were american troops there that needed help. she was thinking, for instance, of a young infantryman who triggered a bouncing betty mine.
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this young man had been literally ripped in half from this knees up and just below his ribs down. it was like hamburger meat. all the internal organs were chopped it but his legs and his body and mine was alert. he was looking at the sense that went over the entire unit i with that young man in the emergency room, dying because there was absolutely nothing we could do for him, it was like nothing i'd ever experienced. the terror and frustration of the doctors eyes because with all this training and knowledge, we still couldn't give this man a chance. he looked up at me and said, well, how does it look? i had to tell him, it doesn't look good, but you won't be long. that was really all we had to offer him, that he would not be alone. shirley had been a tee totaller all her life, when the officers club she started on screw
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drivers and who could blame her. later she could never bring herself to watch "m*a s*h." on tv because her memories imposed a veto upon laughter. could the u.s. involvement have had a different outcome? many americans who went to vietnam were inspired by higher ideals of service. one of them, fine officer named named berry rote mime, i'm convinced of rightness and importance of our being here. i have come to have great respect affection for the vietnamese, they do surprisingly well under circumstances more difficult than our country ever imagined but a long road lies ahead. i hope that our country and our countrymen have maturity, stamina, patience, guts, faith to stay the fight as long as is necessary. a colleague recalled the words a legendary manic advisor colonel
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vann who devote most of the last decade of his thrive the war. john said that we had assisted the vietnamese to rise high in the sky in a heavier than air machine and must help them come down as gently as possible rather than crash. the difference would we there are mow survivors that way. the two men once landed a tiny chopper at an outpost overreturn during the night. climbed into a cockpit a badly wounded a south vietnamese soldier and then headed fast for the hospital. yet the man died in the air. when they landed, vann study banging his fist on the plexiglas, saying again and again, just another 20 minutes, just another 20 minutes and he would have made it. his companion thought, this is a guy whom john has never met in his life, yet he cares about him because he is on our side. the anecdote is moving, yet the
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american commitment was fatally flawed by us foundation not upon the interests of the vietnamese people but instead on the perceived requirement of u.s. domestic and foreign policy. an american prisoner, doug ramsey, who ensued an appalling seven years in a bam buie cage in the jungle at the handeds of the vet congress once told his i interrogators he thoughts his come patriots presence in their country was prompted 10% by concern of fer vietnamese and the rest by determination 0 check mother say moor say stung, his cappers demand why doout no fight him in china? we do not like the chinese either? the decisions were escalation by successful u.s. administrations, common at the bewilder. of posterity because key players recognizes the rickety, rack ity character of the regime on which
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they depended to provide an -- in great states unsurprisingly like to fight the kind of wars that suit their means rather than the ones they're got. america's leaders deludessed themselves but all the difficult tide, cultural, social, political, could be overcome by an overwhelming application of fire power, as if by using a flamethrower to weed a flower border. since this was the core policy failure, it seems to me wrong to lay extravagant blame upon america's generals, unimpressive though some of them were, david elliott, wise civilian who spent years in vietnam, says there never was a clever way to fight the war. general jim garden, the world war ii hero was among nose who warned at the start, if a village is fought over five or six times, a great many
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civilians will die, the whole pattern of life will be altered that the war continues to drag on. we ourselves destroy the objective for which we fight. even the thought considering the consequence officers bombs and shells, washington's decisionmakers failed to recognize the cultural impact of a foreign host on an asian peasants society. a local sect tear earned more than a south vietnamee colonel. we ravages the he environment before guns began to fire, helicopters to swell overhead, huge soldiers to purchase the sexual favors of tiny women. that if was not a curse unique to vietnam. in the 21st century overhangs all western military intervention friday farflung places however will intentioned. the communist enjoyed the
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critical propaganda advantage that they were almost invisible to most of the people, most of the time. they sit a light footprint on the land contrast evidence waiver foreign power, four million torches american bombs fell on the south. to this day, western military commanders failed to under the folly of sending their soldiers to wage wars among the people wearing sunglasses, helmets and body armor, but give them the appearance of robots ohm powered to kill but impossible to love or even to recognize as fellow human beings. in both north and south, wherever the communists were, they propagated terror and confiscated personal freedom. for all thes a adulation, the heat on ho chi minh they paris provides over a unhigh main
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totalitarian wreck identity but its mandate was more credibility of the saying gone generals. while few vietnamese has little necessary communist their russian many were sedes dueses by the promise of a revolution that would cast all the yoke of land owners. 0 southern its said the communist could cease lilly remind us how humiliating to be occupied by the americanes, the other side had the monopoly at patriotism. hanoi depended upon soviet and chinese cash and weapons, but few vietnamese encountered these foreign armers, seeing instead only their communist fellow countrymen, conspicuous for lack of possessions, alongside the ostentatious spoils the mercedes and jewels amansed be saying gone. i was plain to the humblest peasant that the men who ruled the south couldn't get up in the
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morning worth asking their long nosed paymasters which side of the bed to get out. the 1964-65 u.s. takeover of thesight, which is what took place, log legitimatizes theamese communist, the hanoi triumph was attributable much less to the soldiers military pairs than the fact they were vietnam. >> the northern o'powe lit bureau lied about men but toll truth as e when i denounce saigon rulingers as puppets. a key lesson for vietnam is that it's very hard to exploit mere battlefield successes to build sustainable societies. that fine american officer, h.r. mcmastser described this successes commanding an armored regiments in 2004 iraq. he concluded, sadly, the problem
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was there was nothing to join up to. former saigon correspondent says, in south vietnam, too, there never was anything to join up to. and the absence of credible local government, winning firefights was and always will be meaningless. yet the war could not have been won on the battle field the u.s. might have contrived to make less damage bon the stature as a start bearer of civilized values. its common illusions bat beneath fatigues young westerners, including the british, fighting abroads, remain decent, hometown boys, some do, others do not. soldiers are trained to become killers. circumstances of combat oblige them to live a september any money -- semi animal existence, member warriors come to hold cheap the lives of bystanders,
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people they don't know specially when their own casualties are high. in vietnam, grunts, as they were always known, were often baffled by rulings of engagement designed to curb civilian casualties um one protested, that's what a flap top war it, i. if we can't shoot these people, what are re doing here? it's hard to fine tune the conduct of half educated young men and possession of lethal weapons who are like no soldiers most of the time, hot order cold, filthy, hunger, suffering constipation or diarrhea, thirsty, lonely, weary, ignorant, holding their nerves and rifles on hair trigger because only thus can they themselves hope to survive. soviet and nazi precedent suggests that merciless occupiers can suppress resistance by force. in vietnam, the u.s. army
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contrived to be sufficiently intrusive and contemptuous and enter met tently murders to earn the hostility of the population, yet inadequately savage to determine any -- deter peasantses. exists while not universal, was sufficiently common to show that many americans considered asians inferior beings, their lives were less than those of around eyes -- round eyes, terrible symbolic mistake to enlist vietnamese to shine the pfc boots and sweep his quartes. in the later stages of the u.s. commitment from 1969 to '73, guerrilla warfare -- the u.s. army might have defeated
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the communist had not the will of the american team and commit of its many of its soldiers already been broken. even if fire power prevailed, it's hard to envision to what good end. the saigon regime still commanded neglect lidge ilk popular supports, still nothing to join up to. when the south vietnamese officer discussioned his country's 100 odd generals with comradeses they concluded that 20 were competent and honest, while ten were both monster obviously corrupt and irredeem by incompetent. the midst of a discussion with the americans, about how the moral of saying gone troops might be improved, one south vietnam general's contribution was to repose re-introducing the french army system of mobile field brothel. arguably, the people of vietnam had to experience the communist model as they did at dreadful
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cass after the north vietnamese achieved victory in before they could reject it. the war cost the u.s. $150 billion, much less than iraq two generations later. yet the true price was paid not in mere money, nor even in lost american lives, but instead in the trauma that it inflicted. neil, observed that previous outal experience showed americans that foreign wars were good thing, you won, were welcomed home, then vietnam came along, a lot of people get killed for nothing. all the other u.s. war memorials honor victories. the vietnam memorial commemorates sadness and waist. the u.s. army, marine corps, took 15 years to recover from their dissents into mutinous in the 1970s. the american people's belief,ing about the their moral rectitude and military invincibility,
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created by the outcome of world war ii, marched by an economic success so awesome that it seemed only logical to believe it reflected the will of hire being was injured. the general says the vietnam war did nor to change this country than anything in our recent history. it created the suspicion, a mistrust, we have never been able to redeem. even though the antiwar movements, zealots flaunted the naivety by proclaiming the visiters to of ho chi minh, the geoff vara and correctly identified vietnam as a cat exterior. taken ellsberg said, i wonder if it occurred to you to ask any other officials involved how they justified themselves not doing what i did. what made them people they had a right to keep silent about the lives that had been -- the lies
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that had been told, the crimes commitsed, the illegalities, the deception of the american people. elseberg made a critical point, walt boomer says the great lesson he himself carried home from vietnam, tell at the truth. i myself argue that the overarching mistake made by america's political and military leaders was less to lie to their people about vietnam than to lie to themselves. major don hudson, who commanded infantry company in 1970, said of the disillusionment of u.s. veterans, they thought they were going home with their uniforms on and little medals and everybody would be really happy to see them, and they found out that was not true. another veteran, he field medic david roger is is among many who still looks back with profound emotion. experience was huge. i had a lot of trouble coming home and going to church. i couldn't confess.
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i felt dirty. i'd been part of killing. any memory that still matters to rogers, like millions of his former comrades, is that of his own platoon. to be able to say that as a medic i was there for them, around a third of his people were killed or wounded. living close to washington, he sometime visit the memorial at 5:00, 6:00 in the morning. won't go there when there are others around to me it's a big headstone. i'm glad have to it. i have about ten names. tony from chicago, jerry from minnesota, sam from samoa. moments come back, see treeline at martha's vineyards i thought that's from vietnam. the pretty is sights were chops over tree lynns, writers, i get so angry with them, the people who ran america, they knew what was happening. we didn't. i did the platoon pace count
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that was it. this distance of time it may also be possible to step forgiveness to big people who made disastrous decisions that damned if the reputations for which they later repented. late one 1967 afternoon, in the huge pentagon office of robert mcnamara, who played almost as critical a role as presidents kennedy and johnson, i in getting america into vietnam, was discussing ammunition wreckry situations with an aide. that would be 2,000 round ford every enemy fin traitor that is correct ought to be enough. then the young officials in the defense secretaries' body was shaking highway was staring with tiers streaming down his cheeks at the portrait on the wall of his pred scissor, whose career also been destroyed by holding the office of defense secretary. counterfactuals are seldom profitable, but it's interesting
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to speculate upon the consequences had hanoi held back from sponsoring arms struggle in the south. the local viet cong could probably have been contained. in manning other nation countries between 1960 and 1990, authoritarian military rule gradually gave way to democracy. absent a war, vietnamese energy and ingenuity could have enabled the southern economy to prosper, success justifies all, nobody outside pyongyang questions the legitimacy ofsight core core because it's a democracy with a dynamic economy and south vietnam was no more and no less. a credible state. granted the same opportunities it, too, might have p preserved is status and prospered but we shall never know. meanwhile, only the so-called
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liberation struggle on hanoi's military triumph con federal the prestige and legitimacy that have enabled the old northern recoiling and its successes to retain power to this day, clinging to fig leaves of at the trappings of revolution. the conflict continues to define vietnam, as surely as she second world war does russia. victories in the respective conflicts, are the communist parties most successful, most conspicuities and almost only successes since 1917. in 1993, veteran david rogers returned to vietnam as a guest of its government. was taken to the area where his own unit had fought. he found himself fated by former viet cong who were under orders to embrace americans because they needed congress to pass a trade deal. rogers, found himself reflecting, if all these guys
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wanted was a mcdonald's, surely we could have work this out a long time ago. modern western tourists are disremembered a by the warmth of the welcome they receive in vietnam from people mostly unborn when the war was fought. this is partly because an overwhelming majority now recognize the virtuals of liberal democracy and she shortcomings of the alternative, president obama received a rapturous reception when he visited vietnam in 2015, con taste with the frosty one offered a year later towards china's president xi. visitors impressed by the glitzy saigon, the narl beaut of the countryside, failed to notice the denial of freedom of speech and poverty. the the rulers of 21st center vietnam concede to their people some latitude to make money, but none to express political
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opinions, frankly to debate the past. i write much in my book about the americans so-called credibility gap during the warrize but in hanoi mendacity's institutionalized. a conspicuities lesson of the last century is that economic force are at least as important as military ones in determining outcomes. north vietnam's dead revolutionaries would recoil in disgust from mod attorney sigh gong, the name ho chi minh city with probably vanish in the way len he begin grad became st. pete'sersburg again. shops, burst evidences we brand names names and jewelingly and see diners clouts, it may be argued, i would argue, that while the united states lost the war, militarily, almost half a century ago. itself has since seen its economic and cultural influence reverse this outcome.
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where america's arm forced failed, the b-52, defoilents and spooky gun ships, youtube and johnny dealership are irrecess able. sam was a 1-year-old boy, wrestling with a friend on a hillside in north vietnam. on the day in 1975 that his village loudspeaker announced, triumphantly that saigon had been liberated. he wrote in a book into it they would winning side, according to what we had been taught at school, this would be the end of two decades of misery for south vietnam. i thought we must quickly set about educating its misguided children. yet in 2012, that same boy observed, many people who have kept or reviewed the past when they realize it feels the side that was really lib rated was the north. south vietnam, he argues, has
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proved historic victor because its values increasingly dominate the country. as for americans, veteran -- muses what was it all about? it bothers me we didn't learn a lot. if we had, we would not have invaded iraq. thank you all very much. [applause] >> well, i'm very happy now to try to answer some questions or even have some bread rolls thrown at me if you feel in that sort of mood, but i don't know who would like to ask the first question. anybody feel not like -- getting -- yes. >> um, the domino theory, tide johnson and the others really believe it or was this sort of
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just an excuse? that was the main, guess, most vacation for going war. >> they did believe it. there is no doubt they did believe it. indeed every president, eisenhower and kennedy, and johnson, reiterated again and again, in their private discussions, their conviction, first of all that if vietnam went, then other southeast asian countries would follows and also their believe that if america -- theirs is the trouble, the tar baby business that once you get into these things they again and again said their aid views yours and vice presidents, they said if we give up on south vietnam, what will other nations around the world that are dependent on our support, what message will they derive phenomenon this? once they felt that america's prestige was committed, they felt obliged to go with it. the question i am most often asked if kennedy had lived would he have stayed and any answer is, yes because he, again, going back to this business of the american political imperatives,
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i'm very impressed by the evidence of galbraith, kent's economic adviser who described hour kennedy repeatedly said to him, just almost a few weeks before dallas, he said, only just so many concession is can make to the communists in any one year and expect the americans to re-elect me. and, yeah, they really did believe in the domino theory. >> what prevented the larger communist movement from publicize egg the's bombing in cambodia? >> the u.s. secret bombing. the fact they weren't supposed to be n there either. one of the absurdities -- again, i think sometimes -- i do think the americans are -- fledges to flanneling racing on the subject of vietnam and indo-china in
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many weighed. the longer i study this thing and the more you become that while, yes, american and united states did some terrible things in indo-china so did the other sigh and why did they bomb in cambodia? because in absolute defiance of the interest of the cambodian people, the north vietnamese had been using cambodia as sanctuary for years years and the caminiti bodans -- the cambodians begged them to go away but the want. the bombing of cambodia was a disaster and the fact it was conceal from the american people was almost indefensible but the communists didn't dare say a thing because their troops weren't to be there either. >> in 1970, i served in vietnam as an adviser with the south vietnamese army the me maybe
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congress delta and i was there for one year and worked waiver the local people, the village people. i was involve in security issue. we had made great strides in pass-ification and i can tell you about village its visit who felt that we were effective, at least in getting the communists control eliminated to some degree, great degree, and progress was being made. much of the delta we could ride in the road at night believe it or not. i think part of this tragedy is, by the time we started to make progress that needed to be made, or to achieve a more balanced outcome, we politically ran out
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of time. the american government, the congress, the administrations and of course the antiwar demonstrations impacted greatly on all that. so it was just progress is made, we could have kept going, maybe have been successful, but politically there was no will to do that. >> one of the lessons which we're still learning in iraq and afghanistan, it's almost impossible to judge the way that modern wars go on strictly military criteria. the perception is call the simple with tet offensive. a military disaster for the other side. finished off the viet cong, and in a free society, initiated the tet offensive would have been coin signedded to user darkness but perceptionally it worked for the communist it's a huge problem in these situations. so much depends on how people see things i. don't buy into the
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line that the media lost the war for the united states or for that matter the south vietnam. i think one still that the problem that although of course you're absolutely right, all the numbers and all the everything showed that the communist today admit that 1969 was the worst year of their war, and that 1969-70 they were in a lot of trouble. but you still have this problem that the government in saigon was deeply unpoplar? deeply corrupt and one was making absolutely zero headway towards winning support for the regime and the other problem, i do think it is -- i was lunching today with one of my heroes of that vietnam era, who translated acres and acres of vietnamese dodges and i don't think it was in the end the great military achievements of the other side, the naval -- the fact that
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vietnamese, and i still think it's incredibly different i difficult problem to overcome. how do we the west e westerner, when we goo into other countries where it's iraq or afghanistan, how do we convince the local people we're on their side. some people in the mekong delta, you're absolutely right that you're right, the fantastic book about the whole history of the mekong delta he said 1969 in the delta were going better but still have a huge problem you haven't got a vietnamese regime that they feel that belongs to them. >> you wanted to try to shout or come up, whichever you like. >> can you hear me? >> probably best to come to the microphone and then everybody can hear you.
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>> i went to vietnam in april 10th, 1971, i came back in april of 1975, and i went there as a true believer and thought it was -- a good can and just 'cause and thought we would win the war. within six month is knew we were there for the wrong reason, warn going to win the war, and my -- i had several of these come to jesus moments. the first was i was an interrogator in vietnam, and i had to interrogate a rally or -- who rallied and they suspected he had gone back to see it congress so i interrogated him, and he admitted to me he had gone back to -- we arrested him on the spot and he was -- the police were literally taking him down the stairs and he stopped and he came running back and he said, i want to tell you, we love you americans, it's the
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corrupt government we hate. we absolutely hate it. and i will fight to death to change that. and i never saw -- well, on one of other occasion i work as a national gary guise -- do you know th aye -- the man with the white sign -- i interrogated a lot of viet cong, and i can remember going to the national interrogation center on one occasion, and they were interrogating that name, viet cong female and she took her tongue and put it between her teeth like dismiss slammed their chin and bit the tip of heir tongue off and spit it in the face of the interrogator. i never saw that kind of zeal on the part of the south vietnamese. they never believed it was their war, absolutely. did you have any contact with general ten niece? he was an advicer to the cia, in
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february of 1975, that's tet -- notate -- the offensive had already started with -- gentlemen just lost -- it was terrible. >> thank you very much indeed. think -- you're absolutely right. there was a lot of evidence from adviser who said in frustration that if we could certainly get the -- some south vietnamese units oar very good but nut enough. most though south vietnamese army rewere. they had been fighting for 20, 30 years, but, yeah. >> you keep saying the communists. is this a war of national liberation and many of the fighters against the united states were nationalists. when you good to vietnam now, you go to -- you land in hanoi and come out of the customs office and if you see across the
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building, popeyes, louisiana cuisine, downtown they're starbucks, talk to the vattese and ask. this they like americans. they say yes. you say, why, killed so many. they say, well the war is over, we won, and it was, we never saw the -- the united states never saw it as war of national liberation and no way it would ever end unless the won. we had no stake in their there and the idea that we're fighting communists is a political position was totally false. we could have -- the war should have ended when the french left and the election held, and we stopped the election from happening because ho chi minh would have won. he were not being honest to our own people for the victim niece knew that and the americans didn't. you team talk gut communist part and not the national liberation part of it. >> i'm not sure that i -- i've
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been very careful when i talk about ho chi minh and his people -- this was a communist nationalist movement. they were both. but on the ehand -- what i do try to say, a lot of historians have gone too light on one incredibly unpleasant and toto tall tarean regime. hoe she ming harnessed compulsion ideaol and patriotism in the same way stalin did in russia in the second world war. but i'm not sort of fundamental lively disagree with yourself but a as gastly misstair for america to be involved in the late 50s and early 60s and i think one thing that is extraordinary and prevails to this day, i have to say, one thing, amazes me, how incredibly bad western intelligence is, understanding a lot of this stuff, that a cia officer told
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me it wasn't until 1969 that the cia was able to put together a warring diagram of what the northern he leadership looked like. they had no understand at all for years that ho chi minh had been largely marginalized and we still see this in afghanistan, iraq, and syria, where western intelligence is brilliant about anything that you can intercept electronically but our understand offering tribal and-issues which this us about, was terrible. and it is awesome to realize hutch misunderstood, for example, i thought dish learned a lot writing this book i didn't know. that one key thing it one always did think that the russians and the chinese were supporting ho chi minh. brezhnev when he was running russian, said to the washington ambassador, i do not wish to
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drown in the swamps of vietnam. they were giving the north vietnamese half a billion dollars a year their dithat are utterly miserable but felt they couldn't abandon them. even late in the day, kissinger and nixon still believed that all moscow had to do is pick up the phone to hanoi and the war would be over, and to me what is amazing is that with all its huge intelligence operators, that you don't -- they don't understand this extort of stuff. so, where i think -- you're absolute -- i don't -- die think it's important to keep emphasizing, yes, it was a very unpleasant regime but the fact we didn't understand most of the nuances -- the west didn't understand what was going on the other side is quite amazing. >> what drove the protests
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against vietnam so much during that time? >> i think it was a mixture of things. all over the world in the 1960s you had rebellions against authority. you had a new mood among the young. the vietnam provided a focus for this, which of course was given an extra stimulus by that that that kid were appalled at the notion of being drafted which at best meant wasting years of their life and at worst meant getting them killed. so it was -- the mood was so divided. i lived here in those days so i saw all the protests and one was watching it all. but the protestors got one big thing right. you can say they were naive about the other side but they were dead right that the war was a catastrophe. >> my question is to bring it up
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to more modern times. would you say that vietnam now is more like china because china has free economics but very harsh when it comes to political stuff? >> you're absolutely right. >> is vietnam about the same -- >> you're absolutely right. what is scary is that the regime in vietnam is becoming more oppressive north, less, specially in internet censorship, when the vietnam president died, he vietnamese said we weren't told he was ill and had been eight times to japan for medical treatment but all of a sudden told he was dead bit never told when he died. having waded through, i say thousands of paces of translated 21st century vietnamese accounts of the war, most of them are not worth the paper they're written on.
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and it is scary. you're absolutely right the mood in vietnam, economic success matched by absolutely ruthless repression, it's ugly. felt -- i did some interviewed in vietnam were worthwhile because one did hear fascinating human stories, but my interpreter was a very smart kid. he quite often would say to me, they're wasting more time on this guy. just giving you the party line, and most of the really interesting vietnamese entities that were in california or in the vietnamese exile community here. there are some vietnamese, north -- what is a former north vietnamese memoirs available now which -- a god send for people like me they were translated. now i'm afraid vietnam is not a happy place, and most of the
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young, there one idea is to get the united states -- >> can we -- i know somebody else wants to have a go, not just i'm trying to silence you. >> just a quick albion that. i go to vietnam four or five times a year and they're afraid that chinese and that's why the president was killed. i just came back from program and have friends who to move what is going on over there they're freud the chine -- what they are doing is getting leases in vietnam for 100 years on their land. >> i spent a year in phnom penh, 1972-1973 to try to bring american equipment to the army but i remember from that time the real impression -- this was a standoff between could mere arm which we liked and the could
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mere rouge question didn't like. in 1957 it was over in vietnam, and the people that i knew, not that many , i'm sure did not a single one of them survived more than a month in the killing fields. the mystery to me is of the ferocity of of kamir ruin, what motivated them to do the terrible things they did and if they're is in way that we can link american vietnam to that like your thoughts on that. >> i very -- because my book's already too long and if i brought cambodia into the story it would have been -- my wife's saying shouldn't write books you can't hold up in bed and if if got into cambodia -- but again, i don't think that americans should be too -- yes, a lot of bad things were done in cambodia but the fact is the kamer rouge
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war hanois creation and no one should forget that. i say both sides have plenty to be ashamed of about what happened in cambodia but this was not dish think one of the problem was distorteds the historiography of behind dough china is because there's such a huge amount of material and evidence available in the united states, that everybody assault researchers tend no focus on it, wheres so little reliable material is available on the other side, and this actually sort of sticks in my gut, the fact the degree to which the community policy of silence, although where you may be right, probably no longer really be described as communist, more totalitarian regime and i don't think marx would think highly of them. it always, all one is -- all people like me are ever trying to do is so see things in the
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middle to see things from both sides, and -- but anybody else? yeah. >> my question is more directed towards the generations of those men and women in the war. so, and -- an deck note, the last ambassador in saying gone who delayed getting people out, he wasn't going to be the man who give up saigon, and so i'm just curious but a generational thing. you can take a military history of west moreland learning from mcarthur or brad lye, going back to the first world war, and the same with the north vietnamese leadership where they're taking lesson from their older generations, and you get this stubbornness that's built into these generations of men who are leading the military on both sides, and it's a tar baby, as you mentioned and it's johnson learning from roosevelt's strength and the
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democratic party, whatever, but these men are so locked into their egos or their so programs or focused they can't show any weakings in at all and it drives them into this madness. erthere is a legitimacy? >> if one wants to be generous to american leaders, one has to remember that in the 1960s next wake of america's extraordinary economic achievement, that most americans felt -- i lived here then so i saw it -- that nothing was impossible for the united states, and the idea to be the president who told americans that, yeah you couldn't defeat this raggedy-ass guerrilla army would be. possible message i say in my book that while nixon and kissinger come out appall leg from the latest round of attend released but their cynicism that
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for the moment nixon took over he never believed the war was winnable but pred over the death of another 22,000 americans amed god knows how many more vietnamese because he was desperate to con seem from the american people the fact this was not a winnable war ask they were going to suffer absolute defeat. but where we had a real problem it was a message a lot of americans did not want to eves late as 1972 they lost am very tough message do bring home to a nation accustomed to success as the united states had been. >> if a everything that has been written but vietnam and all the fabulous things you have done in your career what motivated you to wade through this thousands and thousands of pages and however many years talk talk to, much of which were useless. >> me? this may sound weird but i thought before i started on this
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book, i had men traveled in many parts of the world interviewing peopling for books but i thought, can i really face trooping around the united states and vietnam into interviewing a lot of people and i thought shale send some young post grad to do the research and i thought i have to do it myself because i'm the same age as these people. was there. i saw it. so we can speak the same language. and you become completely gripped by social history because the conversations with people -- to me i live in the hidle class bubble in britain, and the people you are meeting are around the united states and you of hearing three or four hour conversations, absolutely riveted, had nothing do with the war. i meant an infantryman from appalachia and she said where i came from, in the little town i
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came from in an old mining community, in the late 1950s and 60s he said what all all the men got drunk and pete up their wives including my mother and that's what they did and this is well outside my read, and you talk to a black u.s. air navigator a missioned officer who is serve ing on a b-52 when you took his wife off the base no hotel would have them. this is also weird and so -- but you get absolutely gripped by the stories that people tell you. the vietnamese, and i interviewed a lot of other books, a lot of chinese, and i once asked a chinese a question, which he treated with a contempt i said was there any happiness in your school in me and looked at me with absolute contempt and
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said how could there be happiness? all we were doing all the time, from the moment of our birth, was struggling for survival, to exist. things in vietnam, on the mekong delta was better because there was real prosperity but a you see windows into packets of other people's lives that i still find absolutely rivetting and the hard thing is to take ones self away. one more story. at the risk of doug ramsey, a prisoner of the viet cong, i was on the west coast and i was told he was still alive in boulder city, nevada, and i thought, can i face driving 300-miles in ha hertz car to see him. thought, yeah issue got see this guy. and it was -- again i find it a rough drive but when i got
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there, he can hardly move, health was completely destroyed by the experience, seven years a bamboo cage, but he talked to me i was rooted by everything the told me hes a seen the viet cong, special vietnamese fluently and spoke with smu fair mindedness and even handed necessary, not for a minute was he communist simple simple sympathizer and he send a huge loose leaf folder. spend most of the years since he came back, writing, a memoir of his experiences which he said will never get published and it's true. it's too incoherent and too huge and everything but you get so cared away by these people. and i think one thing that shocked me was this guy had very poor medical care still out there in nevada, and he -- because he -- he was a -- he
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want qualified for veteran benefits. ... i still find it so gripping and fascinating to be allowed a window into other peoples lives, japanese and american. and i love telling stories and i hope i've done justice to some of them. anyway, thank you all very much indeed. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
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you are watching booktv on c-span2. every weekend we bring you author talks and interviews from around the country. for complete television schedule, visit >> your good. welcome everyone to kramer books. thank you so much for coming. i would like to welcome congresswoman jackie speier to kramer books. she is california's congresswoman and -- concluded in politico 50 list transforming american politics. "undaunted: surviving jonestown, summoning courage, and fighting back" is a fearless voicai


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