tv Secretary Kerry on the Vietnam War CSPAN May 15, 2016 10:30pm-11:41pm EDT
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next, secretary kerry sharing his views on the war as part of a three-day conference hosted by the lyndon b. johnson presidential library. after his remarks, secretary kerry sits down for a common -- or a conversation with the liquor can burns, whose 10 part documentary on the war debuts next year. this is about one hour, 10 minutes. >> >> please welcome president of the university of texas at austin. [applause] >> good evening. welcome to tonight's keynote address the vietnam war summit. , the university of texas is truly honored to welcome secretary of state john kerry. just last friday, on earth day,
secretary kerry helped lead 175 countries in signing the landmark u.n. paris agreement on climate change. [applause] >> there is a lot of work to achieve the goals of the agreement. earlier today, the secretary toured our research center where ut faculty and students are developing innovative technologies to generate renewable energy. a lead a tremendous roundtable discussion with faculty whose , research can help achieve the goals of the agreement. i can tell you secretary kerry , was focused, extremely knowledgeable about the technology and science and the policy and business issues involved in reaching those goals. tonight, we are very much looking forward to hearing the secretary's thoughts on a very
different topic. one that is so important to his life experience. the vietnam war remains a complicated and controversial part of american history. as a young boy, i grew up during the vietnam war, watching it on the news, usually the cbs news. and hearing the support and opposition for the war, it was a formative time for my generation. and, i am proud that the lbj library and university of texas are now convening this dialogue and this introspection, so we may learn from the past educate , our students and ourselves, and work to build a better future for our country. thank you, secretary kerry, for coming to the vietnam war summit. and now, it is my pleasure to
introduce the honorable ben barnes, a distinguished alumnus of the university of texas, and he formerly served as the speaker of the house of representatives in texas, and is the 36th lieutenant governor of texas. the youngest in the state's history. johnson, benlyndon took to heart the president's belief in the importance of education. his legislative legacy in texas has benefited students in the state. as speaker, he established the higher education coronary board -- coordination board. and throughout his terms in office, texas increased funding for higher education more than threefold rising to the top of , its rankings among the 50 states. during his tenure, several universities and graduate schools were created. there is no doubt that the state
of texas advanced because of his leadership. ben has taken his leadership skills to washington dc, where his law firm is located in the former home of president teddy roosevelt. when i visit been in his office i think of the office as the , embassy of texas in the nation's capital. please welcome the honorable ben barnes. [applause] mr. barnes: thank you very much. it is my pleasure this evening to introduce our secretary of state, my friend, secretary john kerry. as he prepares to speak tonight, i am reminded of the many years of dedication and service that he has brought to our country. before graduating from yale university, secretary kerry voluntarily enlisted in the u.s.
navy, serving two tours of duty in vietnam as an officer. he was awarded the silver star, the bronze star, and three purple hearts. upon his return from vietnam, he became a national spokesman for the efforts of veterans to end the war speaking about the war , that he believed had gone off the tracks. his words accor -- his words echoed with valor, sincerity, and deep consideration, qualities that he has always embodied. i first met secretary kerry when he was serving as a united states senator. during his 28 years in the senate, secretary kerry served on the foreign relations committee, where he was one of the most respected voices on issues of foreign policy and national security. in he was the
2004, democratic nominee for president of the united states. in december of 2012, president obama nominated him to become the united states secretary of state. upon his confirmation, he became the first sitting chairman of the foreign relations committee to become secretary of state in more than a century. winston churchill once said, "success is not final. failure is not fatal. it is the courage to continue that counts." as secretary of state john kerry , has shown this courage time and time again. he has traveled over one million miles, visited 81 countries, and what i think the most impressive thing is, he spent 2368 hours, or 99 days, in flight time and we complain about sitting in traffic on i-35.
secretary kerry has dealt with a wide range of the most difficult problems confronting a world, including the rise of disturbance in the middle east, the ebola epidemic in africa the , emergence of isis in syria and iraq, the russian invasion into ukraine, a global refugee crisis in which more people have been displaced then at any time in the history of our world since world war ii. i agree that our world is much kerr thanks to secretary ry's leadership on the iran nuclear deal. [applause] mr. barnes: this past august, secretary kerry, in front of all of the eyes of the world, raised the flag up on the united states embassy in havana, cuba as it , reopened for the first time in
five decades. [applause] mr. barnes: in the words of harry truman, "america was not built on fear, america was built andourage, on imagination, an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand." i do not know a person that embodies the courage, the imagination, the unbeatable determination more than secretary john kerry. mr. secretary, we are humbled to have you here tonight and i can say to all the people in the sound of my voice and other people that will learn of your service, that when history is written, for the last quarter of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, the name of john kerry will be indelibly written as a voice for unity and not the vision as a , voice for security and liberty
for all of the free people around the world. please join me in welcoming the very distinguished and honorable, john kerry. secretary john kerry. [applause] secretary kerry: very nice. thank you. thank you, thank you very much. everybody. thank you ben, for an , extraordinary introduction. i will have to find some way to bottle that one. i am enormously appreciative of it and humbled by it. it is good to have a good friend like ben barnes. anyone in politics in austin during the 1960's knew about ben, who had barely started shaving before he was elected to the texas house of
representatives. then, he went on to become the speaker and later lieutenant governor. now, he continues his service at the lbj foundation. and wherever you are, ben, thank you so much for being a friend to so many people in public service, and for your continued contributions. it is much appreciated. [applause] secretary kerry: i want to thank greg for the welcome to the university of texas. he mentioned in the introduction, the time we were able to spend over at the research center. what an extraordinary place, what extraordinary people. what really struck me as morning was that while texas is so well , known as the oil-producing part of america and has built a reputation on that for years, it
really is now the energy producing center of america. and what you are doing with respect to research on solar and wind, alternative, renewable is , exactly what president obama and i and others hoped would happen in the context of our efforts on global climate change and the agreement that we signed in paris. the agreement will not guarantee that we meet a two degree centigrade increase in temperature, but what it will do is send a message to the marketplace, exciting the allocation of capital, exciting our next thomas edison or bill gates or steve jobs to find a way to have battery storage or a cheaper form of a solar cell and that is the way that we will solve this problem and the university of texas will contribute to that significantly. so, greg thank you for what you , are doing. i want to add my voice to that
of so many people here, that i know beforehand have always been praising what ken burns has done to the study of history and the art of documentary film. i listened in the corner to the conversation that was taking place and it was fascinating, honest, which is important, on this topic. and i thought immediately that what i need to do is not give some long, "keynote addresses," but try to share quick observations with you and then have the time to be able to have ken grill me and we can have a good conversation. i think that might be a little bit more productive and rewarding for everybody. but his unbelievable
accomplishments, on the brooklyn bridge, the conservation of our national parks, the epic narrative of the civil war, his latest film on jackie robinson, on baseball -- this guy really taps into the pulse of our nation and he has a way of presenting it that is absolutely sheer delight. subtle, brilliant, honest. i am absolutely more than confident that the extraordinary time and passion that is consumed this particular project means that the final product is not only going to be a work of art -- and you heard him, they are changing a word or two -- it is going to be the definitive examination of vietnam with , profound impact, not only on the way that america thinks
about that war, but i think on america's engagement with the issue of war itself. i think it will do so for the better. i know that this conference and tonight, this topic, these couple of days, call for a serious analysis of what happened and why. it is about history. but it is also about us, our heart and soul and our gut. how wrenching it was in the ways they just described to you. and this examination will help us to understand the famous warning to those who don't heed the lessons of the past. so i look forward, when i finish to a good exchange.
to lay the groundwork for that conversation, let me make a few points that i think are key, that might not otherwise surface as we are principally looking backwards. first, those who express concern about the way that the war in southeast asia was conducted, were, i think the film will show, clearly justified in those concerns. i am not going to dredge up all of the old arguments. that is well trodden ground by myself and by others, including, i thought quite definitively, bob -- definitively, by the sheehan.by neil ken'sl be reminded by
documentary that there were mistakes and leadership, mistakes and communication, mistakes in strategy, huge mistakes in the basic assumptions about the war. so it is not a surprise that public support virtually disappeared at a critical point of time. and we can talk about that a little bit. my second point is that the confusion that some americans showed in blaming the warriors for the war itself was tragically misplaced. our veterans did not receive the welcome home. [applause] secretary kerry: our veterans did not receive either the welcome home nor the benefits, nor the treatment that they not only deserved, but needed. and the fundamental contract between soldier and government simply was not honored. as a result, the vets themselves
tend to go out and fight a whole new round of battles. i know that well as one of the four cofounders of the vietnam veterans of america. they had to fight to get an increase in the g.i. bill, to deal with homelessness, to deal -- to have the ultimate sacrifice of their buddies memorialized on america's national mall. i think thank mr. scruggs in his extraordinary leadership with respect to that. [applause] secretary kerry: so when we talk about vietnam, to me here is lesson number one. whether a war is popular or unpopular, or not even what we call a war, but a conflict we , must always treat the returning vets with the dignity and respect they have earned by virtue of their service to our nation.
my third and final point is that we were right to work hard. in some cases we still are , working to move forward from the pain and division of the war, to begin the process of healing, within our country and between the united states and vietnam. we were right to think about what had gone wrong and enact laws that shed greater light on how our government goes about its business. we were right to take steps to help american asian children and to welcome the many thousands of vietnamese refugees after the fall of saigon. our supreme court was right to uphold the publication of the pentagon papers, so that more of the truth of the war would be revealed. and we were right to pursue a full accounting of our fellow citizens who were missing or
unaccounted for, even after our pows returned to our shores. [applause] secretary kerry: let me say a word about this accounting. it is not a well-known story in america, but it should be. for those of us -- john mccain and myself particularly as we approach the issue of normalization with vietnam -- the accounting for p.o.w., mia, was absolutely a prerequisite and nonnegotiable. this process of accounting frankly tells you something that only about us as americans and our keeping faith with those who have fallen in battle, but it also tells you something quite remarkable about the extraordinary openness of the vietnamese people, who helped us search for the remains of our
fallen troops. even as the vast majority of theirs, one million strong probably, would never be found. they allowed helicopters to land once again unannounced, that brought back bitter memories of the war. i remember negotiating with them and they permitted us to do that. we had to have the element of surprise in order to prove they weren't moving people from where they were kept. the vietnamese did so because they wanted also to move beyond the war. they dug up fields and let us into their homes and history houses, their jails. on more than one occasion, they guided us across what were actually minefields. even today as i stand here, thanks to a process that was
fully embraced by president george h.w. bush, with whom i had the pleasure of visiting yesterday in houston, one of the greatest people in america. together, we are able to engage in what has become the single most significant, most comprehensive, most exhausted accounting of the missing and dead in any war in the history of humankind. and i think that the united states should be very proud of that. [applause] secretary kerry: literally, we have people over there still today as we sit here, working to , complete that task of accountability. i have to tell you, having flown in a russian helicopter, which was an experience of holding your breath for hours, across vietnam and landing in these places, i remember walking down
20 feet deep into a pit that was done by archaeologists because it was the crash site of a c-130, and looking at the wall of mud in which there was the c-130, looking for remains to bring them home. that is the extent to which we currently go. now, to be clear, i want to emphasize this today, certainly for me and i think for most veterans, whatever their feelings were about the war and what happened in america around the war, the process of reconciliation and restoring diplomatic ties was not about forgetting. if we forget, we cease to learn. and the tragedy of what happened in vietnam has to be a constant reminder of the capacity to make mistakes, the capacity to see things in the wrong lens, the
capacity to miss the signals and ultimately to miss the constant reminder of the horror end the suffering that war inflicts. neither should we become the prisoners of history. i want you just to think for a moment. this is what i thought was a little different where i thought we would be otherwise. i want you to consider how far we have, since normalization. 20 years ago, there were fewer than 60,000 american visitors annually to vietnam. today, there are nearly half a million. 20 years ago, bilateral trade in goods with vietnam was only $451 million. today, it is more than $45 billion a year. 20 years ago, there were fewer than 800 vietnamese students
studying in the united states. today, there are nearly 19,000. i was very proud as a senator to join in creating with my friend and others, the fulbright school that exists today in ho chi minh city. later this year we will be , moving ahead with the founding of the fulbright university in offer an, which will world-class education and deepen the ties between our peoples. i can tell you that a huge percentage of the current government of vietnam have attended, or come over here to go to harvard or some university and share in education. that is a small measure, those statistics, of a remarkable transformation. and i can tell you a story, i
remember during the war, securing a short pass to get to then saigon, and coming up from the delta where we were and we were sitting on top of a hotel in a momentary pause from the craziness, and i was watching the city at the night and seeing flares flying around, and the occasional bursts of gunfire or the roar of a c-130. it was surreal. an oasis of sorts, but still the very essence of a war zone. you go back there today, which i have done. same hotel, same rooftop, completely different view. a completely different nation. the traffic circle outside is filled with motorbikes, teaming
type ofsengers in every commerce from air conditioners, , to computer monitors, smartphones, nobody is thinking about the war. in fact, most people, the majority, are too young to remember it. it is a different era and that calls for a very different relationship. no one back in 1968, i can tell you, could have imagined the general secretary's visit to washington last year, or president obama's planned visit to vietnam next month, which i look forward to joining him in. nobody could have imagined the broad bilateral agenda agenda we have developed, including change,n, climate science, health, the internet, and military to military cooperation. and nobody could have imagined the united states and vietnam joining 10 other nations to achieve a priceless opportunity on trade, the transpacific
partnership agreement that represents nearly 40% of the world's gdp. and it will create jobs, enhance the environment, improve working conditions strengthen commercial , ties from hanoi to tokyo to fancy the ipo to washington. and to be sure, let me make it clear, the true measure of the partnership is not just whether our economies grow, but it is but how they grow. we are working carefully on all those issues with respect to freedom and human rights. by the way, within the transpacific partnership, vietnam has accepted labor unions, the right to strike. some of you may think we made a catastrophic mistake, but in fact, their rights have been enhanced. i have to tell you all, i never thought when i was patrolling in vietnam, that nearly 50 years later, i would be involved in a plan to help save that river.
but, together with partners in the initiative, we are working to improve vietnam's resilience to the effects of climate change, which they are already feeling, hugely. and we are focusing aid on clean energy and the development of sustainable infrastructure, and ecosystem resource management. we are also working together in the academic arena. the institute of international education, arizona state university, harvard medical school, and the university of hawaii all have partnerships with institutions in vietnam, several with participation in the private sector. two decades ago, when the united states and vietnam normalized relations, we might have been able to foresee that our countries would eventually cooperate on economics, but something far less predicable is
the new normal. we are cooperating on security issues, as well. now there is, particularly i might add with respect to the south china sea, but that is not all. on many other issues of security will are engaged in discussions and an actual programs. as i say all of this, is everything where we wanted to be? no. there's no question that our government, and the government of hanoi, obviously continue to have differences. but the good news is that we talk about them frankly, regularly, and often for anybody who tunes into what the original goal was, with respect to our efforts in vietnam, which were to break -- to protect the country from becoming
communists, let me make it clear to you today that while it is authoritarian and a one-party system, it is anything but communist. because communism is an economic period. they are as market oriented as any economy i've seen. but notwithstanding, within the constraints of a one-party system, it is still within the authoritarian model of china and others who , tries to content the population and move forward. history will determine whether that it works out in the long run. it is clear today that the vietnam we are engaged with, none of us could have imagined the context of the discussion that is taking place here in the context of the war. it is clear that vietnam is reaching forward, towards the globalized world. millions of people in vietnam are already freely expressing
themselves on facebook. many thousands of workers are freely associating to defend their interests even though sometimes risky. they are the ones asking the government to guarantee in law the freedoms that they are starting to exercise in practice. we know that the more progress that occurs in those areas, the more likely it is that our bilateral relationship, which has already come an extraordinary distance, is going to be able to ultimately reach its full potential. in 1971, when i testified before the senate about the vietnam war, i spoke about the determination of veterans to undertake one last mission, so that in 30 years, when our brothers went out the street without a leg or an arm and people asked why, we would be able to say vietnam.
and not mean a better -- bitter memory, but instead the place where america turned and helped it in turning. [applause] so it has been 45 years since that testimony, but it is clear that we have turned some very important corners. there are hard choices still to make for our relationship to reach its full potential. now we can say definitively, because so many vietnamese and
americans refuse to let our past define our future. vietnam, a former adversary, is now a partner in whom we have developed increasingly personal and economic ties. that is our shared legacy and is one i hope we will continue to strengthen in years to come. thank you. [applause] mr. burns: mr. secretary, this is an extraordinary honor for me to be at this conference and have the opportunity to have a conversation with you. we have lived with you for many years. we came to you at the outset of
the project and told you that we would not interview you, but you would exist, as your colleague john mccain would, in the film and the story. and you do. and it occurs to me that because your speech was so correctly addressed to the future, that we should dwell on the experience, but briefly, back in vietnam. how does the work come back to your consciousness? secretary kerry: mostly in the context of the current wars. i mean, we are struggling to end the war of absurdities in syria. to end the war in yemen. we are making progress there. to end the conflict in libya. to end the war in afghanistan. to prevent the war in korea. and to prevent other major
challenges in failed states that we are making great progress -- we are working very closely with nigeria to end the plague of boko haram there. and i believe we will. we are making progress in somalia, pushing al-shabab back. we are in a struggle against extremism in many parts of the world. i am constantly confronting a plethora of ak-47's, rockets, artillery, whatever, in too many places. in many ways, it is still living with war as a reality. but i am so pleased to be in a place to try to be making a
distant debt -- it -- a difference to end it. there are some things that are not well understood or arctic waited -- were articulated publicly, but we're making progress. if certain things are able to happen with russia or other areas in the region, we can do it must sooner -- much sooner. that is the way it comes back. there are always reminders. i do not think any veteran will tell you there are not moments where there is a flash of some memory or someone you remember. i just lost one of my crew members a few weeks ago. all my crew guys were in touch with me. some of them were just very
moved by that. it stays with you. mr. burns: we started asking questions even before the war ended. what should americans have learned from the conflict in southeast asia and to what extent have we put it into practice? mr. burns: i will -- secretary kerry: it depends on where you sit or who you are. people are going to take different lessons out of it. some people, unfortunately, our frozen in a place where their minds are not going to open up. they are not going to be able to move beyond the place they were treated to an found safety. that is too bad, that there are people in that place. but i think that, clearly, the lesson i articulated, number one, is don't ever confuse the war with the warriors.
particularly in a volunteer status where people are serving their country to try to keep all of us safe and responding to all of the requests of leaders who are supposed to get it right. that is number one. number two, make sure that the flow of information is as open and free as it ought to be so everyone can make a judgment and invest in the decision. obviously, with respect to the iraq war, there are questions about that because of what we learned about the absence of weapons at a time when people were being told they are there. that still lives with us and we need to obviously insist on that. thirdly, we need to -- as we define our exceptions list, which i believe in deeply, but
which i believe we have to manage more carefully in terms of how we talk about it and brandished it -- because other people think they are exceptional too, and they are. i think it is important for us to look at whatever country it is we're looking at -- as a mentioned a moment ago, so many assumptions, fundamentalist options, were incorrect in vietnam. because we could only see it through one certain lens. it was a particularly-colored lens with respect to world war ii, korea, whatever frustrations may have grown about that. and i think never talked about enough, but i have always thought about it. because of the way we thought about the communist threat and the experience of joe mccarthy
and the scare tactics that took place with respect to communism, and people's fear that they never wanted to be on the wrong side and making sure we were tough enough about that, that, therefore, when threats of the entire asia domino theory were thrown at people, there was a bias towards accepting that notion rather than thinking about the history of vietnam or ho chi minh. mr. burns: seeing it as national liberation -- secretary kerry: and understanding the civil nature. i think those three things -- there are a lot more lessons. you can take the power doctrine, you can lunge through a litany of lessons.
mr. burns: you are on the diplomatic side now. obviously, that is intricately tied with military considerations. we tend to, as we made the film in vietnam, relies -- realize we were hearing echoes ahead to afghanistan, iraq, syria today. they are not mentioned, but they bubble up. what has been is now. it occurs to me that we have to look at this through the angle of perpetual war. the military-industrial complex and the extent to which we can fashion lessons that are idea -- easily identifiable with a particular conflict. we have to understand that we are the victims of momentum of warfare as a kind of perpetual state. dr. kissinger was talking about this last night. secretary kerry: i wish he had heard how he phrased that. i have talked to him a number of times in the last years about
these challenges. what he said to me is that we are dealing with a very different world. he acknowledges that right up front. if you read his book, "diplomacy," which i have read several times -- it is brilliant -- he talks about balance of power and interest in state interest and so -- and state interest and so forth. that is the world we have to define. the 20th century was far more defined in a bipolar way because of the strength we had coming out of the war one, the unfinished business of world war i, which was world war ii, and we were the only economic power left standing. but we understood what we were trying to go to with the united nations, with global pacts and agreements on human rights and universal values and so forth, which were translated into these international institutions. at the end of the cold war,
forces had been unleashed together with the profound impact of technology and globalization. all of a sudden, the world is small. -- smaller. you have millions of people running around with smartphones in poor countries, poor people who see and know what everyone is doing and thinking of getting on a daily basis. and it changes everything. so i don't agree with this notion that war, per se -- i think we are in a different cycle now. we are not seeing a moment, despite what russia is doing and the ukraine -- there is a reason that russia didn't go to kiev.
there is a reason there are limits to what it is doing and will do and can do in syria. what we're seeing today is less the 20th century of nationstates you willing to go to war with massive casualties as a consequence. now we have nonstate actors as the principal threat to every nation state. that is a different equation. when your struggle is against one human being who decides they want to kill themselves and can go out and take 100 or 200 people with them, or more in the case of 9/11, etc., it is a very asymmetrical struggle because we, the government, have to get
it right 24/7/365. and they only have to get it right a few hours or minutes of the day. that is what i think we are seeing today. i think the greatest challenge we face -- which is why i say we cannot be the prisoners of vietnam. it is different and we have to see it differently. i think the challenge today is that we are not the world, particularly the western world, the developed world, is not doing enough to protect ourselves by investing in the long-term initiatives that will keep people from becoming terrorists because they actually have a future and there is decent governance in their country and they can get a job ultimately and share in what we translate is the american dream and our values. [applause] mr. burns: in your extraordinary effort at normalization, you had the opportunity to meet with a lot of the leaders of north vietnam, some of the people who
you were fighting against in that war. how did your interactions then, in the late 1980's and 1990's, with the vietnamese, change or enhance your understanding of the conflict? secretary kerry: i don't want to disappoint you, but i have to tell you truthfully it did not really change my understanding of the conflict. which i had already spent a lot of energy when i was there and when i immediately went back, trying to understand. and i talked publicly about it. what it did was inform me about our former adversary in a way that you were talking about.
it instructed me about just how unbelievably disciplined and patient and open and ready to be so fair-minded and thoughtful, but nevertheless, obviously hurt by -- it taught me to see how they saw the war. it was not the vietnam war. it was the american war for them. and for them, it was the american war that came before the french war and followed the first chinese war. we had not thought about the longer view of things. obviously, we completely missed the internal dynamics, the struggle of north and south, the civil component to that. but it really refreshed, in a sense, my -- and it was very difficult, i might add, because
it refreshed my sense of these folks and gave me confidence to come back and see the normalization. but it certainly was not something that penetrated easily the body politic in the united states. the suspicions that still existed. in the early 1990's, newsweek magazine carried a cover story of prisoners still being held in vietnam. john mccain and i agreed that we would try to move this process forward, beginning with the p.o. w. m.i.a. it was a next ordinary journey. we spent 10 years trying to do that, to get enough confidence that we could put out a report that ultimately, all 12 members of the p.o.w. m.i.a. committee signed. it was quite remarkable. mr. burns: this is an early
diplomatic experience for you. how did you two think that that was possible and that these diplomatic efforts inform these -- your current work as secretary of state? secretary kerry: the current work is informed by the lessons of patients and tenacity -- patience and tenacity. i will tell you there were some unbelievably hairy moments. there was one time when we were going to go into a prison outside of saigon -- then sa igon. not then saigon, but for a lot of people, saigon. we were taking media people because the whole purpose of the trip was to prove that it was spontaneous and we could get in and people would see that there was nothing there or the
evidence was not there. we got there and some local official had not gotten word and the place was closed. for a moment, i said, ok. five years work is not going to blow up in smoke. to the credit of the vietnamese, we had the leadership fully invested in this. i was able to get on the phone and call the foreign minister, who was able to call somebody. 30 minutes later, we broke the walls down and got in. it turned out better because the fact that the local guy refused entrance and had not gotten the word and in a moment, we broke it open and got in there, people
have total confidence in the spontaneity of it. we could not have staged it better if we tried. so it worked. another time, a story i have not told in public, and i should probably reserve it for a memoir, but i won't, i had to go into the chairman of the communist party and the president of the nation and persuade them to allow me and another senator to go down underneath the tomb of ho chi minh because there was intelligence information that there were tunnels under there and the possibility of people being held. you could imagine the chairman of the party and i am telling him i have got to go down and check out whether there is anyone underneath ho. it was pretty amazing. and we did it. i will not tell you the rest of the store. -- story until the memoirs. mr. burns: we anxiously await those memoirs.
this idea maybe not of perpetual war, but the lessons learned from vietnam, or perhaps missed in various conflicts that we had since. the iran deal stands, as mr. barnes says so eloquently, "in stark contrast to that." it seems you and the president have been able to arrest a momentum or default practice of war. i am impressed by that. can you talk about that? that was an extraordinary achievement and many americans disagree, but i think the notion that, in an age when the response to everything is let's go in there and put the boots on the ground, this was the opposite of that. you placed faith in a tenuous, at best, outcome. it seems to have been, so far, knock on wood, good for
everyone. secretary kerry: president obama and i have talked about this frequently, a number of times. i learned through the war and have said many times that meant -- one of the principal obligations of anyone in the highest positions of responsibility, and certainly the presidency, is that if you are going to ask young men and women to put their lives on the line and if not die, perhaps suffer grievous injury and live with that for the rest of their lives, you better make damn sure you have tried everything possible that is legitimate to first exercise diplomacy and make war the last resort. [applause]
those of us who were privileged to come back from vietnam, my guys and my crew, we still kick it around. him we get together and we have been a saying. every day is extra. and it is true. every day is extra. it gives you the opportunity, particularly since i am now in a position of responsibility, to live my beliefs and to live my lessons. and i think that the president shares that belief. he was deeply impacted by the funerals and the letters he had to write, which you have to go through in terms of afghanistan and iraq and so forth and other efforts. so you would think this is common sense, but it is not the automatic instinct of everybody, obviously.
mr. burns: this president was a little boy during vietnam. secretary kerry: he is a smart man and he learned a lot. he understood the lesson of vietnam and more. i think the president struck me by how thoughtful he is and the questions that he asks and the way that he probes respective of the options that are put in front of him. my sense is that we also are living in a different world with a different set of choices. let me be more precise. there are places where we have no choice. i am not a pacifist. even after the experience of war , and i have read a lot about war, world war i, world war ii, particularly.
i know you have joe galloway here. one of the battles i most admire and one of the greatest admirals of american guts and prowess. there are many examples of that. i think every vietnam vet bristles a little bit about the greatest generation references, because people feel like they fought just as passionately and valiantly and gave as much of themselves. but the outcome, obviously, was different. the structure was different. that is part of the tension that we live with. it did not invite the great victory parade. there was not some thing where you dropped a bomb and you end a war. the war in europe had already
ended and hitler was dead. it was not that. that is not very satisfying for anybody, particularly the people who fight in it. that is one of the reasons there is a lingering anger by some people who have not necessarily worked through, as you have talked about and perhaps quoted for the film. that has an impact. but we are living in a period where we have to on people, unfortunately, to go into harms way, particularly against the daesh, who threaten us and are not willing to negotiate. where do you begin? there is no negotiation. particularly when they threaten and tell you that unless you are going to be them and convert, you are an infidel and doomed to be displaced. mr. burns: you spoke in your remarks about one of the big lessons having to do with not blaming the warrior. i think that is a lesson we have learned, all of us.
secretary kerry: well, we haven't. mr. burns: i want to ask you whether the fact that we now have an all volunteer army that suffers its losses apart and alone from everyone separates us and permits us both the luxury of that respect, but also the distance that that permits as well. i think, to some extent, we hide behind a kind of false patriotism about that. many americans do. secretary kerry: well, i am not going to judge whether it is false patriotism or not, but i think there is a separation. and it is a dangerous separation. there is the kind of permissiveness which has been talked about. and that is dangerous. i have always -- now i am ranging a little bit into the
issues that i do not touch on very much in my current role. i try not to. but in the spirit of this evening, i will just say that i have deep reservations about just an all volunteer military. i think there should be shared responsibility among all americans. [applause] and i think that is one of the best ways that you do not have wars. if you are spreading that responsibility -- one of the great disbeliefs we had in vietnam was the way the draft was applied. it is one of the things that still lingers in the tension of the relationships. i think every american ought to find a way to serve somehow. it does not have to be in the military.
there are plenty of other things to do. but i like the idea that everybody ought to give back something. [applause] mr. burns: the war in vietnam had an immense impact on a whole generation of americans. and, of course, a whole generation of vietnamese and cambodians. when you look back at what has happened in afghanistan and iraq over the past 5, 10, 15 years, what are your thoughts about the potential long-term impact for those people, for those societies? to what extent did those thoughts influence your views concerned with diplomacy and the choices you are making everyday in the middle east, which seems still the center of all of our concern?
secretary kerry: it affects it profoundly. it is a big deal in those countries. i will come back to that in a minute because i just thought of something that i wanted to share with people because it is important to take away from here. you mentioned a moment ago that you thought we had learned a lesson and i said, for the most part. i want to share with people why i said for the most part. we do look at people at home and we do say thank you. we have lots of wage -- ways in which we have built into our daily lives recognition for service. hire veteran programs, outreach programs, service people can get a first-class seat on the plane if it is open. different things, we say thank you. that is super and wonderful and totally well-deserved. but there are more meaningful things to veterans coming home from work. -- war. we still have two long a
backlog. -- too long a backlog. we have had a reduction of about 180-plus days in the wait time for people to be of a to get into the v.a. and get an apartment -- an appointment. that is still 180 days taken away from 282 days. that is still too long, 90 days, whatever it is. somewhere in that vicinity. it is not wrong -- it is just wrong. it is not right. in some days -- cases, that is the difference between life and death. [applause] for mental health, particularly, we need greater intervention and
activity. there are other things that matter. families need more help. there are a lot of families that lose extraordinarily. [applause] and women, particularly, have a different set of health problems and sometimes abuse problems that they have to respond to. that has also been complicated. there are things that we need to do even more effectively. i might add, one of the dangers of what we have today in this volunteer structure is i have met people who are on their fifth and sixth deployments to afghanistan and iraq or somewhere. boy, is that tough. it is really hard for people to hold a family together, raise kids, and do the things we expect. we have got to confront this as a country. that is part of what i say about sharing in war and being able to do what we need to do. i will probably get in trouble for this, but years ago, i proposed, and others have talked about it, that those who want to go to the veterans administration, though to the veterans administration. they deserve the hospital and the choice. those who cannot get in or it is too late, ought to go somewhere
else and we ought to be able to take care of them. [applause] mr. burns: i would withdraw my false patriotism comment and say more that, as i think you have done so articulately, that we have paid a kind of common and easy respect to the veteran, but the harder work of having the resources necessary to reduce that way time and all of the other things you just described, is work that still has to be done. secretary kerry: let me go to your other thing. it is an important question. in any country, you go to the czech republic and they are still worried about a war that happened in 1600-something. obviously, you go anywhere in the middle east and you can learn, which i know all the
details well, about what happened to hussein and the fight for legitimacy. it is extraordinary. i gave a speech last night in houston about the importance of religion in the context of understanding it and reaching out and working with various religious groups as you try to do good foreign policy. because you cannot do it in today's world. four out of five people on the planet are affiliated with one religion or another. many of them are able to take it to some very risky, dangerous places. if you think back historically on the 30 years of war and other things, we should not claim any
primacy in our ability to avoid that kind of memory. northern ireland, other places. my point is, we have got to think very carefully about the impression that we are leaving and what we are doing in various places. this can become a long-term -- i mean, look at the crusades and their impact on people's attitude about some of the things we chose to do or not do in the middle east. it still comes up. we still have to be particularly sensitive about the aftermath and to what the long-term vision is for how we are going to manage to transition people where we want them to go in afghanistan, in iraq, and elsewhere. trust me, it is complicated beyond what i had even imagined at the beginning. we have about six wars going on in syria. most of you probably would not have thought that. you have kurds versus turkey. you have saudi arabia versus
iran. you have sunni versus shia. you have a whole bunch of people versus daesh, isil. and then you have a whole bunch of people versus assad. that is before you get to tribal and other things. and then you have an enormous muslim brotherhood challenge with respect to egypt and its attitude about qatar and turkey versus other arab countries in the region who are slightly different. you put all of those in a cauldron and bubble lit up bubble it up, it is not easy to find a way to go forward. that is the lens i am talking about. we cannot look at other countries and see them only through an american lens. we have to try to put ourselves wherever we are, into the other
person's shoes and see their country as they see their country. and we will do a lot better. [applause] mr. burns: i just had the opportunity to spend some time discussing with a mentor, tom brokaw, a thorny problem i had in an unrelated subject. he said to me that what we learned is more important than what we set out to do. i think emma mr. secretary, there is not a person here in this room who does not appreciate that you would spend one of your extra days with us. thank you very much. secretary kerry: my pleasure, honestly. my pleasure. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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