tv Vietnam War - Lessons Learned Ignored CSPAN December 23, 2017 10:30pm-12:01am EST
natural -- remembering the amount is a national archive exhibit. next, two former members of former vietnamo war veterans appear onstage for a panel discussion titled "phenom" lessons learned and lessons ignored. >> now i ask all vietnam veterans or any united states veterans that served anytime between november 1, 1955 and may era, to, the vietnam stand and be recognized. [applause]
veterans, as you exit the theater, national archives staff and volunteers will treat each of you with a lapel pin. united states of america vietnam war commemoration, the lapel pin is the nation's lasting memento of thanks. tonight's program is one in a series of conveyance we are presenting in conjunction with our new exhibit, "remembering vietnam," which just opened upstairs. exhibition of the and him or featuring analysis ,nd -- of the vietnam war featuring analysis and newly discovered iconic original film footage and artifacts that illuminate 12 critical episodes in the war that divided the
people's of the united states and vietnam. onembering vietnam draws national archives records for all parts of our agency. presidential library, still photography, sound recordings, electronic records. the title of the exhibit, "remembering vietnam" was inspired by a quote, "all wars are fought twice, the first on a battlefield, the second time in memory." artifacts we display help us sort through the lessons of the war, but those lessons are also formed by memory. i look forward to stimulating discussion. it's my pleasure to welcome peter white line to the stage. as the, he served officer of the former members of
congress. with theirt citizens representative government. he plans and directs all policies and initiatives for the association, represents them in the community, and serves as its spokesperson to the public, in media, and the public. two degrees from pennsylvania state university, attended law school in berlin, and completed his studies at the catholic university of america. [applause] peter: thank you for the introduction, and thank you all for joining us tonight for this discussion.
i realized on the only thing standing between you and the outstanding panel we assembled. i do want to get in a quick word on the association and the work we do. we bring together, under the fmc umbrella, a bipartisan group of former senators and representatives who work together on a wide variety of projects. our mission includes strengthening the work of the a --nt congress by deepening the understanding of our democratic system by focusing on civic education and encouraging public service. you can find much more information on our website, usafmc.org. ofight's panel is an example fmc's work on issues that affect our nation and democracy. the vietnam era profoundly impacted our nation's psyche.
the tremendous exhibit that opened a week ago here at the national archives as well as the 10 part can burns documentary thataired last month, made abundantly clear. tonight, we want to explore some of the impacts. we want to take a look at lessons we have learned, lessons we should have learned. we also want to compare the challenges we faced in the nation -- as a nation in the 1960's and 1970's, and compare 50 years later. we have an excellent panel. unfortunately, secretary chuck schedule changed erst-minute but curt bau changed his schedule to be with us tonight. please welcome our panel and please hold your applause until all of them have joined me on
stage. moderating this important conversation will be leonard steinhorn, professor of communications in history at politicalniversity, a analyst for cbs news radio, as well as a political commentator for several news outlets. americanoks examining politics and culture, with a specific focus on the 1960's and race relations. jones is a former member of congress from oklahoma and the former ambassador to mexico during the clinton administration. -- ow serves as chairman of on usingr focuses sports to help wounded veterans in their rehab. i've known him for years. robinson is an
award-winning architect that has served for many years on the director of the memorial fund, which develops and maintains the incredibly moving and powerful vietnam veterans memorial wall on the national mall. last, but certainly not least, bob carr, a former member of congress from michigan who came to congress in the watergate class, and who was named to the committee when the involvement in southeast asia started to wind down. he now teaches politics and government at george washington university. with that, let's welcome a great panel with a round of applause. [applause] leonard: thank you all for being
here tonight. i appreciate the involvement in the community of ideas, the opportunity to speak about something important in all of our lives and also our history. a special thanks to the national archives for hosting such an important conversation and doing what we need more of in our society, which is conversations about the past and how they translate to the present, how we yearsense of our lives ago and how they connect to today. our topic is the vietnam war. anyone who lived in the 1960's knows that this is a topic that reverberates. it's a flashpoint in every one of our lives. it's a war that divided our country, eroded trust in institutions and individuals. it's a war that arguably setinated culture wars and
apart some of the populism we see today. it is a war that arguably undercut lyndon johnson's great society and helped us split apart new deal liberalism, which had been the postwar consensus of that era. it's a war that sort of magnifying the role of the media. for some, the media became a hero in for others, the media became a villain. in a lot of ways, it shook up america's image in the world. perhaps more important than the issues it raises for the people who lived through that area -- through that era are the issues it raises for the next generation. we are trying to figure out how the vietnam war shaped who we are today. in a lot of ways, hoping that this conversation can answer questions for the next generation. i teach a course on the 1960's. there's a former student from that course in the audience
today. he is sort of a testimony to the questions that this generation wants to ask about the war and how it influenced us. they want to know how so many young men in particular, their parents and grandparents were sent off to war, that our leaders could barely justify. they want to know about that. they want to know how the personal loans, the cultural world -- personal wounds, cultural wounds, political wounds reverberate in our society today. i'm going to kick it off and sort of ask each of you to say, in some ways, how this war changed you personally. to magnify it in terms of a sense of how it sort of reshaped and changed our country. ambassador jim jones had a very special place in the war. he served in basic training. to be aat, he didn't go
non-he went to another place some might call a war zone, which is the johnson white house. an armye served as intelligence officer, then on the staff of the johnson, and ultimately in the position of appointment secretary, which we staff.w as chief of jim: so many things came out from vietnam from my perspective. staff. one of the things, i was the son of a world war i veteran. we had a great sense of volunteering. that was the thing to do in those days. we had a sense of trust in the government. i think the thing that disturbs me more than anything else is how information from the front lines could get so distorted by the time it got to the president
of the united states that it was not even recognizable. i still haven't figured out how that happened, but it did. the other thing, for me personally, it made me much more questioning and much less willing to just take anybody's word for it. when i left the white house, went back to my home state of alahoma, and ran for congress few years later, it turns out that, in those days, you could be bipartisan, you could have friends on both sides of the aisle and work together. one of the things that i found since coming to congress, that democrats and republicans alike heard from their constituency when they were getting elected. -- when they were getting elected how government had become estranged to them and they didn't feel any kinship with the government. among the things we did was to
pass the war powers act, which clip the wings of a president and make him come to congress, the people's body, to get approval for the introduction of military personnel on foreign land. that worked for a while. think we do need to putscover that and perhaps some sort of program like that in. leonard: thank you. 1969, you were in the non-. starsceived two bronze for heroism and a purple heart. obviously, that the and had a deeply personal impact on your life. please say how, sort of a larger sense of how it changed who you are.
kurt: first of all, my perspective is going to be a little less elevated. i was a noncommissioned officer, one of the grunts on the ground in the night industry -- the ninth infantry division. actually, even now, still very much ground level because one of the things that -- when i got , my lifeost my leg changed personally and physically forever. i became a person with a disability. i didn't know what that would mean. i was a young recruit. i had a tube coming out of me, pins in me. me, butly, it affected one of the things it did do was to get me focused on what really helped turn my life around and save my life.
it was a spurts -- a sports program that the military offered to get us back into life again. we now focus on health care, physical activity, the war fighter's sports program, in serving the warriors with the sports rehabilitation program. we do see now, one of the lessons learned, is there is much more of a focus on the complete care for the wounded and health and wellness activities that are going on. education is the key to getting the jobs. doing for ourare wounded and those transitioning out of the military. it changed the course of my life. we have a sense of our relationship with government, we have a sense of our relationship with veterans. harry robinson, you went
straight to vietnam army ranger school in 1967. you were to leader -- you were a platoon leader. you were scheduled in a very dangerous place in vietnam close to the cambodian border. harry: the notion of patriotism the government ran very strong in my family. when the second world war came around, all the males in my family joined the military. my uncle was the highest ranked negro when he retired from the service in 1954. his grandson had two sons that both finished in -- that both graduated from west point. in vietnam, i tried to get an assignment that he didn't want me to have. he thought it was too dangerous.
i wrote him letters, called him. the first division would be a safe place to be. that wasn't quite true. life runs thaty i did ranger school, vietnam, then grad school. school, it to grad was a very difficult graduate student because i wasn't afraid of anything. what are they going to do, send me to vietnam if i don't do this paper? it is the notion of personal confidence that came out of that experience at a very high price. it's a gamble that i took. i took that gamble because i decided, when i was in my 40's and 50's and 60's, i wanted to be among those men in the country that are running the country. that plan worked out exactly as
i had hoped. we've had some opportunities to do some things that we would not have done had it not been for the war. ,he difference between vietnam soldiers, military, and what's going on now is it to the end of us.war to unite country fromthe itself. military is honored as they are in a war. leonard: obviously, it is the question of how vietnam divided us and how people have tried to knit us back together. bob carr, former member of congress who ran for congress because of vietnam. you were an undergraduate, i
think in law school, at the university of wisconsin, which was really one of the hotbed moments of the moment. what has driven your political career and activism is your experience from those years. bob: my story isn't that remarkable. i was a scrawny kid from janesville, wisconsin, growing up thinking i would be a nuclear physicist. i went to the university and signed up for all the science courses, but they made me take a -- well, they didn't make me. it was required to take a political science course. i took my very first political science course. i can recall that it was a turning point because, with my nuclear physics interest and the book that they required us to read, it was kissinger's second , his nuclear weapons and
foreign policy book. myead that and i thought, oh gosh, the war is just percolating along. it was not reaching a fever pitch at this point. like most americans, i had a sense of patriotism. i said the pledge of allegiance, saluted the flag, and believed what my leaders were telling me. we were fighting communism. the kissinger book sort of slowed me down and caused me to think about some things in ways that i had taught about them before. -- that i had not thought about them before. my moderate republican upbringing -- my father didn't like joe mccarthy. it started to get me to rethink some of the things i was taught at home.
things progressed and i was going to vote for. goldwater, the first time i could vote for president. the election year, he started talking about, well, maybe we got to use nuclear weapons in vietnam. i thought that was crazy and i couldn't vote for him. started percolating at the university of wisconsin. they had a protest over dow chemical, which was the very first violent protest. there were many protests about the vietnam war, but this one went violent. the whole campus was in a state of shock. ton graduation, you had think about the draft. it was very present in our daily lives, what is going to happen next, what is the draft board
going to say, what do we do? it just so happened there were graduate affirmance then so i went to law school and continued to get a draft deferment. i wrote my law school thesis, if thewill, it was on selective services. i had this connection with the draft, those who were drafted. after leaving wisconsin, i went to michigan. again, influenced by, among others, participatory democracy, and engine for civil rights and the war movement and those kinds of things. i get to michigan and i'm appointed by a federal judge, defending people who are claiming conscientious objection. if you are a conscientious
objector, the only way you could appeal a traffic board decision set -- a draft board decision saying they don't believe you was doing it as a defendant in a criminal case. i ended up defending a lot of these people and all but one were successful. in congress, i was privileged to put the period at the end of the sentence. on march 12, 1975 was my resolution to cut off funding for the war in vietnam. leonard: that really just turbocharged your life in so many ways. thanks for sharing. i'm wondering if you think we, as a country, have learned lessons from the vietnam war. what does the philosopher george whoa ana say, that those
forget their history are doomed to repeat it? what lessons might those be coming out of that war. does anyone want to take a crack at that? >> i'll take a crack at it from a ground-level. i'm going to accuse pete of a bait and switch. you were supposed to get john hagel. i think -- chuck hagel. one thing is the public reaction to these current wars and those who served in vietnam. in vietnam, because there was such a division in our country about the war and a real violent hatred for the war, that translated over to some of those guys who served. it really didn't affect our psyche in terms of how -- it really did affect our psyche in
terms of how we felt about ourselves. now, whether you are for or against the war, they support the troops and their commitment to serve for this country and sacrifice for this country. it came to me rather graphically when i was over here at the 9:30 club, a nightclub here in bc, and -- here in dc, and a foundation founded by the gratefuland dead -- they were lg dead -- but they had this organization that had a foundation and i was get funding for the war fighter's program. i think that is really one of the things. the other couple of things that we are seeing, i went through the rehab program, which was a
good program back then to help us get on our feet again. i ended up going to law school through that program. as, the g.i. bill is as good the programs back then that was just for the wounded. that is good. and there's no limits on it. i can tell you, i've been in the deputies -- the deputy secretary's office, arguing for those veterans that fell through the crack's and 10 or 15's later, we were trying to get them back into some -- 10 or 15 years later, we were trying to get them back into some rehab. that's an improvement, in my opinion. to focus on ptsd. we didn't even define ptsd coming out of the war. i got discharged on the last day of 1969. i had my first session of ptsd
counseling in 1982 when my marriage was falling apart. now,is different because we try to encourage the warriors to get in and see some help. the matter what happens, you do have some post-traumatic stress. we don't want to become -- want it to become post-traumatic stress disorder. those are some of the positive changes we're seeing compared to vietnam. leonard: do you think vietnam veterans -- the narrative early on was very divided. there were lots of issues related to vietnam veterans. do you think our country has welcomed vietnam veterans more? kirk: yes. >> it was really sad to see people coming back from vietnam or military service and being ashamed of their service because the communities where shaming
them basically. i think that's one of the good things that has happened in the past couple of years, that the human beings who fought this war are being recognized for the patriotism that they exhibited. i think that has an effect on the response of political leadership as well as the citizens at large on soldiers who are fighting today's wars. that, even though the country was fairly divided on the iraq war, for example, they were not divided on the people who were fighting the war, and they did give them kind of respect that they deserved for doing that. again, context is really important. during vietnam, the rotc programs at colleges had full
brigades. every freshman and soft was required -- and sophomore was required. that fell apart. when i finished university, six of my classmates were killed in vietnam. we had at least 62nd lieutenants who graduated. -- 60 second lieutenants who graduated. now, almost none of us know somebody who is in the military. almost everybody knew someone who was in vietnam, most new people who were other wounded or killed in vietnam. that's not the case now. you see it every day but it's not the personal. theou think about --umentary on vietnam everyone who went to vietnam will agree with me on this -- it was sanitized. there were no smells that went
with that documentary. you are watching essentially a war cartoon that someone has put together and put their spin on it. it wasn't the grady, grimy, very difficult more that those who went to vietnam experienced -- difficult war that people who went to vietnam experienced. the only kid i knew that was in the military was one of my graduates who went into rotc. hundreds of my friends and relatives and associates who were in the military, many of whom had gone to vietnam. that intimate relationship with their experiences, the american population can now digested a lot easier than they could digest it in the 1960's.
leonard: let me ask a flip question. pped question. do you think we've come to terms with the antiwar movement overtime? the antiwar movement in his self what -- in its self was a major movement and people still harbor resentment, thinking it was unpatriotic. bob: we tend to think of things as monolithic. the antiwar movement was not monolithic. there were deep divisions between those who disrespected , andans, people who served they were blaming the veterans rather than leaders. there was a lot of tension between groups about tactics, respect, those kind of things. similarly, there's a lot of vietnam vets, many of whom came
back and join the movement, then they had their own tensions with their colleagues. we know that veterans organizations, from world war i and world war ii, the american legion, vfw, all these other groups, initially had some hard times accepting the vets. the vets had to create their own organization. things fractured a lot. it wasn't just that's versus -- peaceniks.ersus things were turbulent. i joined the armed services committee. i didn't serve in the military but i learned a lot through my service on the armed services committee. my respect for the military grew and grew, still grows to this day. i think we can count on some of the best lessons learned being
learned in the military, in military doctrine, military manuals. their ability to incorporate the lessons learned and pass it on whereas some of us can learn but we can't pass it on. one of the things that really -- and i would like some comments from my colleagues -- i have a little theory that we've learned the limits of military power during the vietnam war. society, ashat as a a culture, that you can't kill an idea with a bullet. diplomats are on the front line. calldiplomacy fails, you in the military. i think that there was a generation of military leaders during the vietnam war who learned that and who were a's -- who were a restraining force on military interventionism.
sadly, they began to retire and age out. a new generation came in. i've always wondered -- i , theht that the legacy military legacy of vietnam kept us from going overboard when we rescued kuwait. that a few years later, military resistance to civilian authority began to crumble. leonard: thoughts? >> a new set of careerism kind of took over. >> i think you learn the lessons by mistakes you have made and then, when you get into a higher position, you don't make those
mistakes again. mistake, asake the you say, of thinking military can just go in and change minds with our might and bring everybody to our way of thinking. that just doesn't happen. we see that all over the world today. i think we have to relearn those lessons. >> can i make a point? as an architect, you learn to think around the box. that was really to my advantage in the military. many of my commanders didn't like that i did that. to an was always advantage of those who i was leading and to the mission. i'm going to give you an example. i use this all the time, and when i tell the story, i get the
cold chills. i was a platoon leader in the first division. then they needed somebody to go to a special forces camp on the cambodian border. they needed a task force engineer to maintain the roads from the cambodian border back down to claymore corner and to do everything in between. build ammo dumps. hut in the a little encampment. i would go over every day and get the intelligence reports. read it.ead at -- my street instincts from growing up in washington dc told me this just wasn't right. one of the things my father did when i was a kid, he would take me to the o street market.
was i discovered from that that was the voice of the community. it is where people met, where they exchanged ideas, where they exchanged goods and currency. the same thing occurred in vietnam. there was a buddhist monastery, a small school, and this market in the town square. i would go there every morning. i would get my jeep, drive there. there and they weren't speaking, i would know that the north vietnamese were in that market. i knew they were in the area. i would go back to the cia and go, this is wrong. let me tell you why this is wrong.
they would say, how did you think of that? >> because i'm an architect. i'm an urban designer. i understand places. we took a delegation of corporate executives who were in vietnam back to vietnam for the 25th anniversary. meeting with who was now the vice president. i said, i'm harry robinson, it's good to be back in your country. she says, lieutenant robinson, we didn't know what to do with you. we didn't know whether to kill you are capturing her. -- capture you. every day, you would come to the market, talk to the vendors, and leave. i told her. she thought that was what i was doing. why hadn't the cia thought of
that? at howen't they looked people lived there and make that work for them? >> i mentioned in the beginning that it always puzzled me how the information, when it finally got to the president, was so different from how we heard it happened on the ground. it used to drive the president crazy. one time -- i started my day in the president's bedroom about 6:00 in the morning. the night before, we had given him all this reading. i basically filtered all the night reading, situation reports, intelligence reports, as well as domestic stuff. we would discuss it in the morning and give out assignments. he had three televisions. in those days, you only had three networks.
he had three televisions in his bedroom, watching them all at the same time, reading the new york times, washington post, etc. ne said, who is this god dam apple, new york times reporter? either we've got a bunch of us orpoops working for he's wrong. the reports were night and day difference. that gives me some insight. i think some of the other insights were, as you went up the ranks, you didn't want to be the one who said we were failing , so you would change it a little bit until it finally got to the president. it was a disservice to the president. leonard: i have to ask you and lbj question. how much doubt did he harbor about the escalation of the war? we harbored a lot.
we had meetings on that with secretary mcnamara, rust, the cia director, etc. he used to press them very hard. i remember one-time, we had a late night meeting, walking over --m the mansion, and he said i think it was general abrams, mes going to have to rape before i give him any more troops. leonard: that sounds like lyndon johnson. [laughter] rephraseght want to your earlier statement about starting your day in his bedroom. [laughter] that's the way he worked. he worked from bed for about two or three hours in the morning,
then got dressed and started his official schedule. in 1954, i guess, when he was in the senate, i didn't know him at that time, but he was one who was very skeptical about the division of vietnam. he was skeptical all the way through as president. the reason he didn't run begin -- didn't run was not because he couldn't win, but he thought the only way he could get peace in vietnam while he was in office was to not run for office. he had complete freedom to do whatever is necessary. that turned out to be true. we almost had peace in vietnam if it hadn't been for the republican candidates getting the message to, what's her name, i've lost her name?
i'm talking about here in washington. the chinese. anyways, she was very close to saigon. messageintercepted a from vice president candidate agnew to her, then she relayed the message to saigon to the president of south vietnam saying, hold out. this is when we were getting started on the peace negotiations in paris. nixonid, hold out and will give you a better deal. i think we would have had peace in vietnam but the settlement took us six more years to get and we never got it in that respect. leonard: following up on that, politically, are we still fighting the battles of the
non-? -- of vietnam? jim: i don't think we are. >> i want to agree with some of r's congressman bar statements about, when you've seen the horrors of war, i don't care how patriotic or how committed you are, it really makes you think twice, three times, four times about getting into war. you understand on a very human level the costs of the war, the tragedy and the horrors of war. think some of the members of the caucus who have been in the military are the most hesitant to make that commitment. when you talk about that transition, it happened with some of the healthy skepticism. a lot of guys who got hit over
there are healthy skeptics. fade when theo second round of the rock started rolling -- of iraq started rolling forward. i think that had to do with leadership of people who had not been in the middle of war and had also not seen some of the pitfalls of some of the policies. there was incredible pressure at the ground level for us to report inflated casualties because it was all about body count. it was done. it was false, but the pressure was creating so much. if you didn't want to go into an area that you figured somebody was in there ready to kill you, you would make an estimate. also, one real-life situation, when our captain, who we thought was kind of incompetent, in the middle of the night he got lost.
he had to put his spotter light up. of course, that immediately alerted the viet cong and the next thing we knew, somebody with a 50 cal machine gun was blowing us apart. they promoted him to get him out of the field. that actually happened. you just shake your head and say, you've got to be kidding. it does create a very healthy skepticism, not an antiwar skepticism, but a healthy skepticism. these are human beings that make mistakes. 1960's, there were a lot more veterans in the congress then there are today. more willingwere to be trustworthy of the presidential leadership, of the military leadership. today, they really aren't that
many who served in any kind of combat or military service in the congress. harry: if president johnson had gone from one each up from private to four-star, thinkers, and asked them, can we win this war? everyone of them would have said no. morning guy who, in the , gets up and drives a bulldozer building airfields, to his commander, to the division commander, who are thinkers, they would have said no. most of us at that time over there, with that in mind, let's do the best we can and get home. leonard: you mentioned richard nixon. richard nixon spoke about the silent majority, and that was a
vietnam war speech. he talked about the forgotten american's. later,a sudden, 48 years donald trump talking about the silent majority and the forgotten americans. rhetoricalmere device or was he still carrying some of the issues from the late 1960's until today? bob: i think there's an element of that. i also think we need to go to human behavior. bandwidth is limited. people are overwhelmed with information. the complexity and velocity of information today is much greater even than it was during the vietnam war era. i think people are really vulnerable, even more so today than they were then. and, then, we had journalism that was curating our news in a
way that made us at least have faith, if not in our leaders, at least in the information stream we were getting. today, what's going on? >> arguably, some of the --entment toward journalists if he was talking to the new york times, he was certainly angry with the report in 1965 on vietnam. there are many who blame journalists for losing the vietnam war. once again, that cultural touch point. i want to turn it over to the audience. to give an opportunity to ask questions. we have microphones on each side. my request here is an important one, which is, please ask a question.
please don't make a statement. and, please allow for the opportunity to have a conversation go on. graduateichigan state arr, you are the first member of congress who i voted for. fromwe talk about vietnam, my generation, i never saw vietnam as a win. the veterans from vietnam or part of what we saw as a losing war. it's hard toiraq, call those wins. in the beginning, they all had clear victories that sounded like wins. do you think veterans today would be treated differently if afghanistan and iraq have gone worse?
>> i don't think they would be treated differently. the wars aren't going to great, actually. it pulls out about 40% of the country right now, -- it polls at about 40% of the country right now, afghanistan. we have seen them be very supportive as we serve the severely wounded, about 12,000 severely wounded. these are guys that have lost limbs, had severe traumatic brain injury, have been severely injured, and we had tremendous support from the public for them and their recovery. i think that they have separated out the soldier from the politics. that support, that is one of the changes i find most gratifying, the difference between vietnam and now, is that
the general public really supports our soldiers and supports their service and sacrifice. i think that is appropriate and good because it will help them to recover, knowing that they are appreciated. we see them trying to move forward despite their challenges. i think that's because of the public support. i think your question was, what have gone's reaction differently if it went sour. >> i might offer an idea that we used to think in sports terms. i think there is another roll for the military day -- the use it to buy, we time. it's not about winning and losing. we have people on the front line to help us buy time hopefully for diplomacy to work but maybe some other factors to work. use it tomaybe a change in ele, change in regime.
diplomaticually a use of the military force. i think it wasn't that appreciated in the vietnam era. that was all war fighting, war winning, and the shame of not doing so. i think that people who served today can do so with another purpose. >> there's also one of the difference, which is that there was a draft then. do you think that had an impact? >> yes. >> i don't know how many times i've heard this statement from the wounded guys and gals, when i signed up, i knew this could happen and they accepted that responsibility. when you draft soldiers, there's a resentment because you did not make that choice. there is a difference.
i knew what i was doing, i accepted that danger and that risk, and now i'm going to have to live with it. the firstserved with infantry division in 1969-1970. i would like the panelists to address the moral dilemmas that we face going into the war. the costs in our consciences following our experience in vietnam. i was against the war. i was in graduate school at princeton, studying public affairs. i read several books on the war. i thought it was strategically stupid and it was deeply, wrong. but, when i was at princeton, the university offered us lawyers and doctors to help wro. us avoid the draft.
when that offer was made, i left feeling absolutely dirty. you could go 3, 4 blocks away into the african-american neighborhoods of princeton, and there wasn't a storefront lawyer helping these kids get out. while i was against the war and had actually worked on the eugene mccarthy campaign in wisconsin, i had to face the choice. do i earn my draft card, do i go to canada, which had lifelong costs to my career, or do i just go along with it? i did get a draft notification and i went along with it. vietnam, the misrepresentation of body counts, i saw it personally, i
was disgusted with my experience in vietnam. when i returned to the u.s., i threw away my bronze star, my commendation medals, my air medal. i was embarrassed. i was ashamed that i had served. i would have felt even more ashamed if i had refused to go. still conscience that i'm grappling with. i'm just wondering if the panelists can address that. >> you know, one of the ways that many of the troops tackled war, the nature of the objection of the war, was to do as much good as they possibly could every chance that they got. medics sent to villages to help kids.
lion -- we mountain adopted it. we took care of the kids. we -- that was multiplied across vietnam. we respected that and we had a we enjoyed it.nd it took a little bit of the sting out of being in that country. i've always had a little haunting feeling. i didn't go but, because i didn't go, i never felt that was a personal victory for me. i was wondered if, because i didn't go, maybe somebody else did, and maybe they didn't come home. >> lett me follow up -- me follow up. veteranser of our two
followed up or seen any of these atrocities committed by american troops or seen the consequences of napalm being dropped on civilians? >> napalm, yes. it's horrible. when you walk through an area that's been hit, there's streamers of plastic and grotesque damage. we did see that, watched it happen. is kill or be killed. myself, and ilike will include myself in this, the -- it may haveas been a rationalization, but the saying is, you literally owned
the ground you are standing on, that's it. there were no front lines. we were there to protect our men and ourselves and basically help our bodies get out alive. rationalization that, i'm saving my buddies and myself, have the moral question get pushed out. as far as any atrocities, aside from the types of weapons that we used, i didn't see any. fire fromou get heavy a village, you have no choice. you have to fire back or your guys are going to get killed. you do. you call and either helicopters to fire rockets or you call an artillery. there are people in that village who are not shooting at you but there are a lot that are.
those of the types of moral dilemmas you have to shove back. thinkn't have time to because that's the only reaction you can have. the collateral damage issue is real. it is horrible. in that moment, you are just trying to save your buddy's life or your own. >> thank you for your presentation and discussion. day,ing about veterans they have to sacrifice a lot. the war, the veterans, it is really part of a big social problem. you really cannot ask the dod to cut the budget, close the military bases, it is a vicious cycle. i'm also concerned, the
veterans, maybe they have to be treated for mental illness. i think a lot of victims are victimized. [indiscernible] costs for health or facilities. they are victimized, they are alive but they use rehab and hospital as a prison, then they charge them. we waste a lot. my question, can we really pay abuse and fixhe
the system? and taxpayerurces moment -- taxpayer money. old,e thinking, young and one to another. it is useless. >> i'll just step in. is the system broken? >> no. perfectly?erating no. trying need is a program to address the issues that you are talking about. issues we are dealing with our traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress.
>> they should be treated. i'm saying, there not having that kind of a problem, they are mislabeled. the income they are saving -- >> again, both the government and the private sector realize .he divisions on vietnam they are offering programs that deal with counseling, sports and wellness programs, that get the warriors back into health and fitness again. education, the best education deal we've ever seen. real focus by a lot of companies across the country on hiring veterans. they are going on now, and
are much more impressive now and much more efficient now than they were during the vietnam war. helpwere there to transition the warriors back into civilian life and back into a healthy lifestyle. it is certainly a lot better than it was during vietnam. >> thanks for your comments. journalistsf those and they wrote a book, interviewing many of this generation. my question is a real deep question about the morality. we all know that the student deferments were amazing, and the numbers of people who did go -- i want to ask if you are all familiar with project 100,000, which was mcnamara's program, build as a great society
program, that got him 350,000 men that had flunked originally the physical and mental tests. they were known as mcnamara's more on -- mcnamara's moron c orps. they were sent when they knew the war was unwinnable. when you say draft, how discontinue -- how disingenuous it can be, because there were so many deferments. trump along with many others. can you really look at what happened today? i see articles that say they are not volunteers, they are recruited. a lot of people are free from that. my question is, would a real draft, unlike the abominable one censor more, maybe
people to the thought of going after the war if their own children were involved. anybody want to talk about that? also, the vietnamese who are still fourth-generation agent lawrence because our country -- agent orange because our country has not taken the agent orange out of it. i know some people in vietnam who are working just as you are with victims of landmines, victims of agent orange. i wonder if you all feel you have a moral obligation to look at that and really speak out about the bad parts of the war? i haven't heard it so far. mcnamara's 100,000, there's a piece in the new york times.
i've been corresponding with him recently. the story that he tells of -- the stories that he tells about people that he knew in vietnam that weren't capable of taking care of themselves and became cannon fodder in the war. it is sad and poignant and worth talking about. andhat was written in 1985 it was written over and over by the journalist. nobody of any military might has ever addressed it. it wasn't in ken burns. it's like it was a lost cause. i'm glad somebody wrote about it in the new york times but it's got to be addressed if people are going to look at what kind of wars we are going to go into and who's going to do the fighting. inthere are a lot of stories vietnam that are very troubling. what is our obligation to keep telling those troubling stories learn make sure that we
from those lessons and try to rectify some of the past injustices that we may have been involved in irrespective of how we tried to retell the story of veterans for their bravery and courage in a war they didn't necessarily choose to be involved in. what is our obligation to tell the difficult side of this war? >> it's very much an obligation. to go back to your point about the draft, i think if we had a genuine draft where there were no, except for rare exception, deferments, i think we would be in less wars. >> i think we have the responsibility, absolutely, to tell the truth about the horrors of war. again, not from an antiwar point of view, just because the truth has to be told.
when i see these wounded war fighters in hospitals, they are in bad shape. have got traumatic brain injury, the impact of a 30 pound bomb is definitely devastating. you may see one or two limbs missing but you don't see the orthopedic damage throughout their body or the dramatic brain injury that occurs, and they will be dealing with that the rest of their lives. the public needs to know that. again, a healthy skepticism about war so that we don't just jump into it. that doesn't mean there will be situations where we feel as a nation we need to go to war, but it really does give you pause when you see some of the casualties firsthand and realize what the real-life impact of these people and their families does. leonard: when we talked about
napalm, you said it was horrible but you did what you could to survive. does our country have an obligation to do some kind of moral reckoning with the fact that we did drop napalm and agent orange on another country, irrespective of how our own soldiers needed to feel that they needed to survive? jim: the problem is that our country has a very short attention span. -- we are going to fix this problem. we have forgotten about las vegas, about texas. we have a very short attention span for the horror of things. some things have happened, but
not a response that has solved the problem. >> good evening. hopefully i can be heard. the principles of war haven't changed since they were formulated a couple hundred years ago. --basic question is this principle of war number one is, to win, you must invade the territory of the enemy and conquer that territory. i had three tours of duty in vietnam. 1966, 1967. about a huge force was assembled on the 17th parallel, waiting for the gong to ring to invade north vietnam. after about a month, the gong rang, go back home. then, all of the seven, the war
became, if there was a war, body count. you don't win wars by body count. the best example of principle of war number one is exemplified by world war ii. happened?t what you had to invade not see germany and conquer that country. my basic question is this. was a decision made on high that we don't want to win this war, we violate the basic principle of war, to invade the territory of the enemy, then go into some kind of a holding action and start telling the press and the country body count is the way we are going to do it. becausethis open to you this is such a basic principle,
and the title of tonight is "lessons learned, lessons ignored." i think what was ignored was this very, very basic principle. >> there are many who do hold political leaders responsible for failing to prosecute this war in a way that left our soldiers holding more of that responsibility. thathere is that argument it was the political leaders who failed to prosecute this war properly, that we could have won this war and that they just didn't do it right. >> the so-called domino theory had a lot of credence. well-received. there clearly was all kinds of that the chinese
and the russians were wanting to move communism through stages. one of the main efforts was to prevent that from happening. ,e didn't want to lose the war do you want to make this a much wider war and bring the chinese and russians into the war, which is not a situation we had in world war ii. we basically had two enemies and we knew who they were and they were fighting. in this case, you had enemies but they weren't fighting yet. our feeling was, you fight the war and there's no end to it.
similar to korea, we were trying .o hold the line not trying to hold anybody back. you are not trying to widen that war to a major confrontation. so it was a war of containment, not as much as a war of victory? as a war of victory? jim: containment was victory throughout the cold war. same -- you within the pentagon papers. ins was all about -- it was the pentagon papers. this was all about containing china. >> i was at the recruiting station today, looking to join up. there's some mention where you used to know everyone who was in the military and now it's harder and harder to come across someone. is the greaternk
political reaches of that trend? also, i was writing an article the other day, military families are bearing more of the brunt. it is more that their children are signing up. , what do those trends you think are the political and social implications of that? >> i do think that we are creating a bit of a self culture of the 1%. this is why discussions like this are important. like you say, we have very short attention spans. we don't understand and appreciate the horrors of war
and we don't understand the costs of war from a human point of view and because we haven't been exposed to it, we don't have friends and relatives who have served and can tell the story. we already in danger of falling into that situation where it's going to be easier and easier to make this decision to go to war. i think that's dangerous for this country or any country. not that we don't find situations where that is necessary, it is a lot easier to do it because it is such a small thatnt of the population is experiencing what it is like. >> so in order to end the draft and create an all volunteer army, it may result in less people knowing the consequences of the war and not making
informed decisions, which could eventually lead us to conflicts again.y mirror vietnam >> i'm a veteran of the persian gulf war. in the 1960's, we had the gulf of tonkin resolution. this century, we had the claim of weapons of mass destruction. hadhe 1960's and 1970's, we bombings of innocent civilians in cambodia and laos. in this century, there was a report in the washington post that the president himself has started droning innocent civilians in, i believe, afghanistan. why isn't one of the lessons to be learned from vietnam, an important lesson, to be that the president must rest assured that he or she will not only be
and, ifd but also tried found guilty, incarcerated for lying our country into an unjustified war or for civilians?g why isn't that one of the most important lessons we learned? >> you weren't there at the tonkin gulf, but there must have been conversations in the white house about the fact that tonkin gulf was not necessarily an attack on our ships. we were there, we still believed it. i think, at least during that four year span when i was there, the feeling was that you were trying to make the right decisions and you were not considering this tangential damage, collateral damage, because it was all in a war.
you are trying to both protect our troops and get the military objective we were trying to reach. so, i don't think anybody ever thought of that, war crimes trials and things like that. that has only come up actually , thatrly recent years someone would suggest our president should be tried for war crimes. >> i want to just point out, too, that our system is designed to prevent things from happening easily. so-called check and balance, separation of powers theg, and the -- in internet nuclear velocity age, are really inadequate. i congratulate corker, apparently, for starting a little bit of a hearing on capitol hill about trying to see
ort could happen to rein in give some congressional oversight or some kind of oversight to the first use of nuclear weapons. we have some structural problems in how our constitution apportions power and influence. it hasn't hold up -- it hasn't held up well in the velocity and information age we are in right now. >> there are serious consequences when you take nations to war based on inadequate information. that does reverberate, and it leads people to have less trust and less faith in their institutions and political leaders. even if you don't go to the point of having trials and impeachment, it debilitating to our society but it's also part of the responsibility of our leaders to make sure that they tell us this information. jim: we had that in the
mexican-american war comedy spanish-american war -- mexican-american war, the spanish-american war. leonard: i think we only have time for this final question. >> vietnam ended up being an unwinnable war and today, many of our threats including cyber warfare, terrorist organizations, and the civil war in syria seem very unwinnable. what lessons can we learn from vietnam as our leaders are making decisions today about how to interact with global threats we are facing? >> a lot of it has to do with -- and this is where i have some faith in the military, frankly. on capitol hill, we don't engage in a lot of critical thinking. [laughter] covering,bout ass hand kicking, and credit
claiming. i have to say that. congress is not a policy institution. it is a political institution. i'm heartened by what i learned and i've seen in the military. i think military does engage in a reasonable amount of critical thinking. i think they are looking at the threats in a more holistic way. they certainly are on the front line of having something disastrous happened, so their incentives are not getting reelected next week, their incentives are really in the proper place. regard.ome hope in that it is hope, it is faith, because i don't have top security clearance, i don't know what's going on, but i'm heartened by what i've seen.
i think one of the other lessons, as you are making political decisions, you have to factor in the total cost of war. that is not sending young men or women to war, but what happens when they come home and the cost of taking care of them when they come home. we don't factor that in. it's a huge cost. that's one of the lessons i hopefully can learn. kirk: another lesson is that we need to not overreact in a state of hysteria, if you will, over every act that happens. this is where you get the herd effect of stampeding out the door to try to solve something, when you need to look at the proportionality of what actually happened and not overreact to it, and keep more of a steady
approach to these crises and problems around the world, because i think that's where we get into this escalation of what we do in reaction to it. leonard: i have a final wrapup question for you all. let's say you are teaching my course on the 1960's and, to my students in class, they want to know the one lesson they should learn from the vietnam war as they begin to take the reins from democracy and sort of begin to be that generation that will be running this country. what is that one lesson from vietnam that you would tell young people today? jim: be skeptical and curious kirk:. kirk:-- and curious. a healthy skepticism combined with patriotism, but a
healthy skepticism. >> really requiring information and full disclosure so that we have our eyes open and we take action. and thehose two things value of the human capital of this country. -- iff our bright minds you read the book "the long gray 1986 --out the class of 1966 from west point, how one by one they died in vietnam. one a week, then three a week. these aren't soldiers, airmen, marines, they are people that have an opportunity to make a contribution to this country.
honesty and humility. i don't think you can have greatness without humility. and, being able, strong enough to put a period at an end of a sentence, not just another comma. there are times when i will ask my students, how many people died in vietnam? the answer i typically get is about 58,000. i say, no, how many people died in vietnam? there were a couple of million vietnamese who died in vietnam. i hope that they take away just from that single question that the human experience has to be much larger than any reticular policy decision that goes on in one nation, or that we have to understand the consequences of those policies and decisions. in the long run, they do boomerang back home.
in any case, we're out of time. please thank our panelists. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> monday, christmas day, on the c-span network. 10:00 eastern, queen elizabeth delivers her annual christmas message. at 8:00 p.m. eastern, cornell west and allender switch -- and allender selects -- and alan dershowitz debate israel. >> how will we forget the very ugly realities in gaza and the west bank?
>> today, there is one country in the world that is the focus of 90% of u.n. resolutions, and that is israel. eastern, a world war veteran recalls his bombing missions over vietnam in his book, "the last fighter pilot." >> the squadron took off. 27 fighter planes went down. 25 guys were killed. it's hard for me to tell you the truth of how i felt. we were there to protect our freedom, we were there to fight. we did that. it was after the war that i suffered. >> on american history tv on c-span3 at 8:00 p.m. eastern, hamilton playwright and actor
lin-manuel miranda accepts the 2017 freedom award. >> when you are a theater kid, you make friends from different grades and social groups, you learn to work hard to create something >> you learn to trust your passion and lately the way. >> watch monday, christmas day, on the c-span network. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, >> next, on lectures and history, american university lecturer aaron bell teaches a class about privacy laws and surveillance of civil rights leaders. he discussed the mid-20th century creation of a andterintelligence program, their tracking animal trading of domestic political organizations. his classes about 45 minutes.