tv [untitled] May 5, 2012 5:30pm-6:00pm EDT
gathered in the chairman's office, general earl wheeler, and discussed among themselves whether they should resign in protest. there were problems with the story. one, wheeler wasn't in the country. he was in germany on official business. and shortly after general wheeler returned to the united states he suffered a heart attack, and was in walter reed. the only two chiefs who were asked about this dismissed it, one in very crude terms, and wheeler later told the president that there had never been such a meeting. so that is about as far as i can go with that controversial story. as secretary brown alluded to, we associate this period with mcnamara, and with vietnam. but mcnamara's involvement in a whole series of other crises,
both foreign and domestic, is simply remarkable. we've heard about the dominican republic, the nato crisis, the middle east war, czechoslovakian invasion, demonstrations in the streets of the united states. any one of these crises could have defined a presidency. for example, if we look at president jimmy carter's administration, it involved notable successes, but it's best remembered for the iranian hostage issue. when the iranians took over the american embassy in tehran, and then held hostage americans for more than a year. think about mcnamara. in january 1968, the north koreans seized the uss pueblo naval vessel on the high seas. they in effect held a naval crew
hostage for more than a year before releasing them. though the pueblo is a mere footnote to the tumultuous events of 1968. robert mcnamara was involved as a major participant. we all know that. but what's remarkable is that mr. mcnamara knew the details, he knew the specifics of what was going on. in an interview once, i asked him how he could keep all of this turmoil straight in his mind. he looked at me as if i were mildly deranged, and he said, well, it's -- actually, it's quite simple. you just compartmentalize things and then just deal with them individually. i wonder now if dealing with these multitudinous crises individually affected his view of the interrelationship to the
whole of u.s. policy. i don't know the answer, but i just wonder about it these days. both secretary brown and professor herring alluded to clark clifford. clifford saw his major role as convincing president johnson to get out of vietnam. clifford was convinced that the american adventure was draining the economy, and threatening to reduce the united states to a second-class economic power. he was very, very concerned that that was the true strength of the united states, not its military might. in order to cajole johnson day and night, which is pretty much what clifford did, he let his deputy, paul nitze run the department of defense. the only time clifford actually
made a decision about the budget and strategic arms, he managed to mess up a five-year nuclear submarine program that nitze had to go and clean up. but clifford was successful in convincing johnson that it was a losing battle, and it was time to call an end to escalation and reduce the american commitment to vietnam. both secretary brown and professor herring have alluded to mcnamara's brilliance. george bundy, who served with mcnamara, had the following comment about the man. bob mcnamara is the ablist man in government. but when he makes a basic decision and gets up a head of steam, he does not always keep the sharpest eye out for new evidence. others of us could have been more alert than we were to guard against this one weakness of this extraordinary man.
as secretary brown said, robert mcnamara made his decisions after marshalling the available facts. normally quantifiable data and statistics. he believed that the more facts or information that you gathered or collected, the better you could reduce risk. but if we recall ecclesiasticus at least in abbreviated form, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learn ed, but time and chance happen to them all. time and chance happened to robert mcnamara, too. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> thanks, ed.
you've actually put your own book in context. i appreciate that. the english man of letters, samuel johnson, once wrote, the business of a scholar is to think in solitude and to speak in public. i believe we have been fortunate indeed today to have three scholars, harold brown, george herring, ed drea, who have shared with us what they have thought in solitude in a very public way, that is, on this stage. we owe them a lot. and join me in thanking them. [ applause ] now we are at a point where you can be on the show. our question-and-answer session. we have mikes set up on each side.
we would like you to be at the mike and direct your question to whomever you wish to. sir? >> thank you. any person on the panel can handle this. one of the leading -- world's leading authorities on vietnam was a man named bernard full, who lived a 20-minute drive from the pentagon. why did mcnamara and his colleagues never bother to talk to dr. full, other than the reason that he never said what they wanted to hear? >> the story, there is a story about that. one time when the -- i think it was in '63, maybe '64, and they were agonizing over vietnam, and i think mcnamara may have been
the person who suggested that some expertise was needed, and someone actually suggested that hall, who was then at university, would be the ideal person. and eventually, and the context is not that clear to me, eventually, according to the stories i've heard, and this is something somebody tells in a memoir rather than something documented in another way, that they were skeptical about fall because he was french. this may have been a time -- yeah, right. i know. but that's the story. i'm just repeating the story that was told. and they went to an english journalist, p.j. honey, i think, who had written extensively on vietnam, and i think -- i don't know whether he was in the united states at that time or
not. but that's the only story i heard. and the only story i heard of. >> this is directed at all three of them. what do you think would have happened had not kennedy been killed? >> the inevitable question. who wants to jump on that one? >> i got the easy one. >> i'm going to go -- i'm going to try to be very brief about it, because it was a question that particularly when the movie "jfk" was hot, it came up at every forum discussing vietnam. it didn't matter. only in recent years have i begun to conclude that he might have -- i don't buy into the withdrawal business. withdrawal was so conditioned, and so specific to the time it was created, the withdrawal plan when his brother was actually pushing for the united states to scale back.
but the one thing that strikes you about kennedy over and over and over again, from 1961 on up to november '63, is that he has this powerful aversion to sending combat troops. now, that doesn't tell us what he would have done, if he were faced with the situation they actually faced in '63, or even worse in '64. but as early as the fall of '61, mcnamara, bundy, rusk, all of them were pushing for combat troops. and kennedy absolutely draws the line on that. could he have continued to?
we'll never know the answer to it. but the other side of that, that i've always insisted in talking about this is, whatever he might have done, kennedy left johnson a much, much, much worse situation than eisenhower had left kennedy. kennedy took office. there are relatively a small number of advisers. by the time kennedy leaves office, there are 16,000 and they're no longer advisers, they're actually taking part in combat. the whole situation has changed. with the coup of november of '63, the united states assumes a level of responsibility for vietnam it had not had before. so whatever kennedy might or might not have done, i think you have to keep in mind that he makes it much more difficult to get out with the commitments that he has made. >> i think for all those reasons, the answer to the
question is unknowable. because kennedy actually in his public statements said things that can be interpreted either way. >> ed? >> i think had he lived, he might have made it a popular war. i agree with what george is saying, the conditions have changed so much. i agree about notion of not committing troops. but he also had that rhetorical flair. he had, whatever, the charisma, the leadership that he could probably make some decisions that johnson was terrified about making. for instance, calling the reserves. johnson was absolutely terrified. because kennedy had called them in '61, and these guys played baseball. they wrote their congressmen and said, what am i wasting my time for. and johnson was a politician. he went and he asked his mentors in the senate, what should i do. i don't want to do this. so it's personality, it's the
times changing, and it's a different situation. but i think he could have made it popular. >> making it popular would not have necessarily made it winnable. >> oh, i agree, yeah. >> and indeed, johnson did, i think, get advice from his mentor, senator russell, who really argue against it. but at some point said, well, you're in it now, you have to keep going. >> let's go to this side. >> yes, i'd like to challenge politely dr. brown's claim that robert mcnamara was a great success in his first four years. didn't he really alienate the joint chiefs? not that they didn't deserve to be corrected or divided, but on the f-111 controversy, he forced admirable anderson out in 1962
and 1963. it turned out admirable anderson was right, and robert mcnamara was wrong, right, dr. brown? >> i think that deserves a lengthy answer. is it the function of the secretary of defense, the primary function of the secretary of defense to be popular with his subordinates? i think not. i think most of them in the end respected him. in the case of admiral anderson, admiral anderson was not nominated for a second term. and the reason -- it had nothing to do with the tfx. it had to do with the cuban missile crisis. during the time that soviet ships were sailing toward cuba, perhaps with reinforcements, admiral anderson decided that he
was in command. that, of course, is quite contrary to the statutes of the united states. the chief of naval operations, despite his title, is not in charge of naval operations. admiral anderson didn't realize that, or chose to ignore it. and when mcnamara went to the cno operations center, and asked what the navy was doing, admiral anderson said, why don't you just leave and let me run this operation. and i think that speaks for itself. had subordinates of admiral
anderson said that of him, dismissal would have been the least of the consequences. did mcnamara occasionally tangle with individual military people? in many ways, i think his arguments with general may, under whom he had served during world war ii, were more consequential and more substantive. but in the end, secretary of defense in the chain of command has as his function not to be popular among his subordinates, but to do the right thing. >> over there? >> thank you. we've talked about a rational budgeting process. one of mcnamara's claim to fame.
i'm wondering if any of the panelists, secretary brown more than others, can the current date, china spending 5.5% of the global share of military expenditures, and the u.s. spending $739 billion, 45.7% of the global share. so how do i, a concerned citizen, think about that? and, you know, the process of what's rational in today's world? >> well, i'll comment on it briefly. it's a pretty complicated and quite fundamental subject and question. the question is, and you have to pace it on what you think the united states needs to do for its own security. and what the effect would be on the rest of the world if the united states had a different attitude toward its security. essentially the united states
underwrites world security. that gets us in a lot of trouble often. and we overreach. and i personally favor a lighter hand. but the united states really does have global responsibilities. it can choose, and in the past has chosen on occasion to deny those responsibilities and let the world go its way. the consequences have generally been very negative. you can also point out that when we not let the world go its own way, there have been negative consequences, too. there is an intermediate position, and that's the one that i would try to find. the details of the budget are
such that you can argue with a lot of the individual pieces of it. and our budget is not really done the same way as other countries do theirs. health care is about $60 billion of the defense budget. in other countries, that's not in the defense budget. i'm talking about health care of not only active duty people or families and everything else, the health care system is outside of defense budgets in other countries. another way of looking at it is this. the defense budget of the united states is now somewhere between -- well, if you -- 5% or will be 4% of the gross domestic product, in the good old days of the 1950s, it was about 8%. so, in some sense, defense has become a less important part.
you can compare it with alternatives, compare it with health care. health care is 20% of the gross national product. there is no right number -- is the answer. and the defense budget grows out of what we believe our defense needs and international obligations and our things we do ultimately for our own benefit require. and that can produce almost any number you want, depending on what you think those requirements, those obligations, those dangers are. in fact, inevitably, it's largely a product of past decisions and the future will depend on what decisions we make
and if we choose to withdraw from the western pacific, we can save a lot of money for a while. >> okay. i have two brief questions. first, let me tell the brief history of myself. my father was in vietnam in 1968, and wounded in july 1968 and my uncle went right to vietnam, 1970, '71, was part of the warlord which is part of the merical, so my father was part of merical, too. so for one, my father died of cancer at 52. i mean, did secretary mcnamara find out about agent orange, and if he did, when and did he do anything about it, and number two, to my uncle who's still alive, he swears every place he went every battle they fought they won. and now, the war was lost, who is to be blamed?
secretary mcnamara. is it -- who is it? >> you're asking about the agent orange program and i'm sure mcnamara authorized it. i don't think the full kons quen -- consequences were known at the time. unfortunately. >> well they -- >> since they've become known, i know that the army set up a huge agent orange task force to try to address the program and try and it's -- if you are affected personally by it, try doesn't mean a great deal, but they have at least tried to -- remedy some of the worst abuses. but at the time, you know, they just came in 55-gallon drums and you threw it around, nobody paid much attention to it. because we just didn't know that that well. and it was -- as far as who lost the war, there's a whole list.
you know, as pointed out earlier, we've got the stab in the back theory that the american public betrayed the military, who was doing fine, or you have mcnamara as inept or you have people that criticize the army generals, the air force generals, maybe the best way to say it is, there's an awful lot of blame to go around and all of us share that blame. >> when did the admiral come back, and say, that his son had passed away from agent orange? >> was he the chief of naval operations then? >> yes -- >> no, he was in southeast asia. he was -- >> his son was in southeast asia. >> i think when he was chief of naval operations which would be mid and late '70s. this is when the effects. >> one more question over here and then we will have steve
baxter speak to us for a moment before the reception. >> would the secretary or the others comment on the gestation of the pentagon papers? any personal discussions that he might have had with mcnamara and clifford on that subject? and whether had they not ever been made public whether they would have anyway influenced government policy? >> my recollection is that mcnamara started to work on the pentagon papers well before he left, that he got him to run the show and it was intended an examination of the history of the vietnam war, essentially. and i think the papers themselves are pretty honest and straightforward attempt to get at that.
the way they've been used both by opponents and defenders and it is another matter. yeah, it was part of the same sort of thought processes that animated his trips to vietnam in 1997, to learn what things went wrong and what might have been done differently. i think the exact date, in the spring/summer '67, wasn't it? >> yes. and it's for the reason that secretary brown, mcnamara wanted to know how we got into this mess. and the one problem with the pentagon papers, the documentation, the department of defense documentation, you don't really know what the white house is saying.
and you are missing the key strategic level, and you really need that component to appreciate what defense is saying. because a lot of times, defense is making recommendations that no one in their right mind knows -- they're just going to recommend this and hopes that maybe they'll get the lesser version of it. and it's one dimensional in that sense. >> thanks, ed. i think this has been a very stimulating session of the panel. once again, i want to thank the three panelists and thank you for your attention and your questions and now i would look to before we break for the reception, i would like to intro deuce steve baxter, direct or of the vietnam center at texas tech, steve has been a friend to all of us who study and research on the history of the vietnam war and we in the historical office of the secretary are grateful to him for his support of the reception. steve? and steve will close down the event.
>> thank you very much, john. i'd like to begin by thanking, of course, our co-host, the mr. ferria at the national archives, john and john from the office of the secretary of defense historian's office and our distinguished speakers for their wonderful comments today. i don't want to take up too much of your time today. for those of you who have heard about our project, you are aware the vietnam center and archive for the past 23 years has been dedicated to collecting and protecting the history of the vietnam war and so we can learn more about it and perhaps understand better those remarkable events. the are too if, of course, compared to the national are too if holdings, are very modest, but we have approximately 25 million pages of historical material focused on the war and that includes an oral history project where we interview participants and also a virtual archive where we have digitized and made avail able approximately 300 million pages of historical text. outside in the reception area, we have brochures.
certainly welcome all of you to pick one up i you'd like to learn more about our project. invite veterans and participants in the audience, if you are interested in participating in our project, we'd love to have you as a memer of the friend of the vietnam center as part of our project to learn about the vietnam war. lastly, we are going to be working on future events as we look at conferences over the next few years that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the vietnam war. for instance, in next year, 2013, we hope to host a conference here in washington. we have invited dr. herring to join us in discussions later this month as we organize an event that will look back on 1963, and the pivotal events that occurred in that year. and so, we'll make sure that we provide information to everyone interested in joining us for
that event, again, that we hope to host here in washington somewhere. i'd like to thank our co-hosts for this event, our speakers, thank all of you for joining us and, please, welcome all of us -- all of you to join us for the reception outside and enjoy the rest of your afternoon. [ applause ] >> sunday on q & k. >> i don't regard this as just the biography of lyndon johnson. i want each book to examine a kind of political power in america. i am saying this is a kind of political power. seeing what a president can do in a moment of great crisis -- in a time of great crisis. great crisis. how he gathers. what does he do to get legislation moving to take command in washington? that's the way of examining power in a time of crisis. i said, "i want to do this in full." i suppose