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tv   QA with Mark Bowden  CSPAN  July 31, 2017 5:59am-7:01am EDT

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in massachusetts, two students won received an honorable mention prize of $250 for their documentary on the opioid epidemic. thank you to all the students who took part in our 2017 student documentary competition. to watch any of the videos, go to asking students to choose a provision of the u.s. constitution and creative video illustrating why the provision is important. next, q&a with author mark bowden. ♪
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announcer: this week on "q&a," author and national correspondent for the atlantic mark bowden. he discusses his book, "hue 1968: a turning point of the american war in vietnam." brian: mark bowden, hue, what was it? mark: a city in the war, the american vietnam war. in the sena probably the biggest, bloodiest, battle -- and the scene of the biggest, bloodiest battle fought. brian: how did you approach this differently? mark: this is the first time a journalist like me would have access to get to meet participants so i was able to tell the story through both the american soldiers and marines who font, and also the
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vietnamese viet cong, the north vietnamese army. in enough time has gone by, there is a lot of documentation in the archives in hanoi as well as here in bethesda, maryland, at the national archives. there are also records of the johnson administration at the lbj library in austin. all of william westmoreland's papers are there. the national security staff papers. so, 50 years as kind of a good time, i think, to go back. the record is established. the participants are still alive. then: in the early part of book, you say the battle would be the bloodiest of the war and a turning point not just in that conflict led in american history. why? mark: well, up to the tet offensive, which this is part of, general westmoreland had
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argued that this war was winnable and it was not going to be terribly difficult. in fact, william westmoreland came to washington in november of 1967, give a speech at the national press club, where he outlined the phases of the war, and said, we are entering, i believe it was phase three, where we will begin to withdraw american forces there he soon. so the impression given was the war was well in hand and the united states was winning. the tet offensive i think administered a terrible shock. it was not just hue. it was 100 other cities in south vietnam that were hit. place where they took over the whole city.
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it was reminiscent of the kind of battles fought in world war ii or korea, and i think the from that reports fighting, really changed a lot of american's attitude towards the war. i think the antiwar movement really picked up steam after the tet offensive and it was apparent that the administration had been lying to the american people. brian: how many north vietnamese soldiers did you talk to personally? i interviewed 40 and they are listed in the back of the book. i have not counted them all up. i talked to more than that. on, areho i focused listed in the back of the book. brian: which one would you pick up all the 40 that your member the most, and why? mark: i think the first character you meet in the book
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was fascinating to me because she was my age, actually maybe two years older than me. but she was just a village girl had been- whose family fighting for independence for generations. her grandfather, her father had fought, her older sister had joined the viet cong and had been killed. she, herself, had been arrested after her sister was killed and , interrogated or waterboarded by the south vietnamese intelligence service. , so she was a tremendously, i think, committed, idealistic young woman, who found yourself right in the middle of this battle, initially spying for the viet cong in the city, and then eventually fighting. brian: for people who did not live through this, viet cong versus the north vietnamese army -- what is the difference? mark: the country was divided in
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1954 when the french left. north vietnam had its own army. in south vietnam a guerrilla allied in the army and fought. that was the viet cong. libya, was a gorilla force -- the viet cong was a guerrilla force, heavily aided and connected with the north vietnamese army and of course the north vietnamese army was the regular military. brian: let's go back for a moment. where did you meet her? mark: i met her in hue where she works now as an optometrist. she rode up on a motor scooter, , which is the primary means of transportation in the non-for people in the city. -- of transportation for people in vietnam for people in the city. she was extreme a candid with
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her conversations with me. she had been wounded in the battle and after the battle was over she continued to serve with the viet cong, and they trained her as an optometrists, and she went to work there after the war. she has a daughter who is 20 or 21 years old, and there he do interested in coming to study in -- and very interested in coming to study in the united states. so there was a lot about her that was surprising to me. this was not the image i had in my mind of the viet cong. brian: what had she done? set it up for us in january of 1968. mark: she was part of the 11 village girls who would set up on the sidewalks in hue, and selling these hats and other small items on the sidewalk. she was from a village just outside of the city. in the month before the tet offensive machine in these other girls were commissioned to spy on the american outpost in
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southern hue and other urban count pounds -- and other urban compounds. so, she would move around during the day with her wares and she would keep a eye on how many people were coming and going from places and looking of weapons they had. what their schedules work. when the guard changes happen. things like that. and in the evening, she would go back and report what she had learned to her later. what was the definition? -- : brian: what was the atmosphere at that time both in this country and in vietnam? why was hue so significant? mark: the atmosphere was that the war had been going on for the vietnamese almost without interruption since the early 1950's.
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and for many americans, which we had heavily invested forces three years earlier, was at a stalemate. the general believed that the viet cong were incapable of any .ind of major offensive that the most that they could do was attack american outposts in the perimeter. in the far rural areas. the south vietnamese government was tremendously unpopular in south vietnam, but was sort of on life support with american aid. with half a million american troops and south the anon, it had almost become -- in south antnam, it almost become american colony. north vietnam was battered. the united states had been heavily arming around ho chi minh trail in the capital. they had hit -- they had been
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hurt by it. it had slowed their ability to mount offenses. so the war was kind of at a stalemate. hue was kind of an oasis in the war as it is the traditional capital of the united the non-. -- in the united vietnam. it is a huge fortress that forms the city. the emperors palace. the old site of the emperors ' reign. and so, the city itself was a cultural and intellectual, and religious center for vietnam. and it had been bypassed by the war. there had not been any real fighting in the city other than when the saigon regime cracked down on buddhist protests a few years earlier, the city had been fairly quiet. brian: how close to the border is hue?
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is in the center. if you look at the city, it is kind of like someone had a belt its waist and tightened it. hue sits right and that very narrow center. at the time when it was divided, it was near the northern part. i am not certain how many miles, but my guess would be on the order of maybe 100 or 150 miles away from the demilitarized zone. brian: how many soldiers were there in january of 1958? -- : in hue, there a few in hue, very few. there was a base in the southern part which was home to american military advisers, marines and army officers who were assigned to work with the south
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vietnamese army units. so, actually on the day this battle broke out, there were a lot more americans in that compound than usual because it was the beginning of the big holiday in vietnam. so, a lot of the armed troops had gone home for the holidays, and the advisers, the american advisers, gathered to sort of share a few days with their countrymen and their friends in this little compound in southern hue. brian: you dedicate this book to jean robert? who is he? mark: gene roberts, at the time, was the bureau chief for "the new york times" in the economic. -- in vietnam. he plays a role in the story. an important one. later in life he became the editor of the philadelphia philadelphia inquirer. i knew him as the terrific editor. who later went on to become managing editor of "the new york
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times." but in his youth he was a , terrific reporter covering the civil rights movement in the south, and later as a reporter in vietnam. brian: here he is in 1993 at the national press club, talking about the hue battle. >> i had heard vague reports of trouble in hue. the capital during the french colonial year. byade my where there helicopter, and found that the marines were surrounded and held only two blocks of the city. the viet cong in the north vietnamese forces held onto the rest. each day, the marines were reinforced by fresh units. they retook to or three blocks of the city, only to lose most of it again during the night to enemy troops who infiltrated the m into houses during the darkness. it took about 10 days for the marines to get 10 blocks or so
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from their headquarters' compound video clip] -- [end video clip] brian: what did he have to do with you writing this book? mark: i had known them for years -- i had known gene for years, but i did not know his reporting of the anon. reporting of vietnam. i ran into them and new york. through a colleague of ours. gene asked what i was working on? i told him i was working on a book about the battle if you. -- the battle of hue. i did not know that. i went down to north carolina where he lived for a couple days. and he told me his stories of traveling to the city at the beginning of the battle, and now recovered and how he reported it. it was coincidental concerned if it is that he turned out to be a central player. brian: is gene still alive? mark: yes.
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he is sort of half north carolinians and have new yorker. brian: so, go back, you talk about north vietnamese and nor the viet cong. who from north vietnam did you sit down with? where did you sit down with them? and who was the most memorable? mark: i think the most memorable was a writer and a professor. he was a prominent buddhist. at the time, he was not prominent, but he is now. he was a buddhist student at the time, who had been part of the buddhist uprising against the government in saigon. and had been chased from the city during the crackdown. he joined up with it north vietnamese forces as a writer and as a propagandist basically. very very idealistic. he believed strongly in the
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fight for independence. , whicht exiled from hue had been his home. so, when the city was taken, he was among the first troops who marched into the citadel. the big fortress in hue. and he became responsible, he was essentially working with the political arm of the north vietnamese army. and his job was to recruit support thehue to insurrection, and to set up a revolutionary government. and also to root out those people who work for the south vietnamese government in any capacity and arrest them for , what was then called reeducation, but which turned out to be primarily execution. brian: who else from the north? a student in hue
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university. actually, he had not quite started hue university, but he was involved with smuggling weapons into the city before the attack. and so, he lived undercover in the city. in may for a really interesting story. he had published a student-run hadpaper for a while, and turned militant by the sudden andence of american tanks troops in the city. so he ended up being one of the principal leaders of the north vietnamese forces as they marched into the city. huan, he was a commissar, set up to administer local government and have responsibility for deciding who would be arrested and punished.
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on november 17, 1967, president johnson made a speech putting it in context. 67 women, obviously right before january of here's what president 1968. johnson had to say about the war in november of 1967. [begin video clip] president johnson: we are making progress. we are pleased with the results that we are getting. lossesinflicting greater then we are taking. it is not all perfect by any means. there are a good many days that we get a c minus instead of an a plus. but overall we are making progress. i'm satisfied with that progress. our allies are pleased with that progress. and every country that i know in that area that is familiar with what is happening thinks it is absolutely essential that uncle sam keep her word and stay there
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until we can find an honorable piece -- peace. [end video clip] brian: knowing what you know now, what is your reaction? mark: johnson was in full sales mode because he could feel the were getting away from him. it was around that time that robert mcnamara, his secretary of defense, who had been one of the architects of the war, serving as secretary of defense for president kennedy, had turned against the war himself. and he had begun sending president johnson detailed, secret memo saying, we cannot win this war. it is not going well, regardless of what the military commanders are saying. this war is mired. and we ought to start thinking about how to get out. and what to see in that clip, which i described in the book, was actually a press conference, and it was held at the time that president johnson had brought general westmoreland back to the
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washington as part of a two-weeklong public relations campaign to shore up support for the war because i think president johnson felt that the support was eroding, and he stepped out from behind the podium. you see him many down from the podium. it johnson was famous for -- johnson was famous for cornering people. he was a big guy. he would use his hands. the closer he got to you, the more adamant he was to convince you of whatever he was trying to sell. so, what i see as a president -- so, what i see is a president in full sales mode, lecturing the press on why it was important for the united states to stay in vietnam and how well things were actually going. brian: a few days later, general westmoreland, we have video, he was talking about the atmosphere again. this is november 1967. the 22nd actually. and again, the tet offensive and hue was out of this.
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let's watch general westmoreland. [begin video clip] >> the war has become enormously expensive. he has almost fully mobilized his country and made a national effort. in addition to turning his best troops and leadership to the south. as well as applying them, which is been a major undertaking. he has nothing to show for his investment. -- won at won a signal single, significant victory in the south during the last 1.5 years. [end video clip] brian: obviously, talking about ho chi minh. where was he at that time? hanoi.o chi minh was in fourthas going back and
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between the two for medical care. at that point, he was no longer a very significant leader in the communist party in hanoi. he was old and ill, and ultimately sidelined for more hardline elements in the government. ho chi minh had been campaigning vietnamese independence his whole life, towards the end of his life, retained a long perspective. he believed the first task of the revolution was to win over the people of the south and he resisted the idea that the north could win the south militarily. and so, he was regarded by party leaders as someone who was kind of too soft on the war. it is interesting though that while general westmoreland was making that speech, the north vietnamese and the vietcong were well into their preparations for the tet offensive and in hue alone, they had amassed 10,000
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troops to take over the city without alerting the south vietnamese government, or the american military. so, westmoreland was an interesting character because i think he really believed the things that he said, but he was grilli out of touch -- but he was clearly out of touch with what was actually happening. brian: back to the woman, she was 18-years-old? mark: yes. brian: where was she on the day that hue became a battle? mark: her job -- she was living in hue because they river squad, which was the group of girls that had been recruited to spy , have been placed with families in the city. so, she was living in a neighborhood in a city. she had spent that day spying, doing the things she ordinarily did. and then because there was supposedly a truce on the part
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-- supposedly a truce for the tet holiday, which the north vietnamese violated because of the holiday. there was kind of a party atmosphere. so, she got dressed up in high heels, when out to a movie with some friends, and on her way back she was told, you need to get back to your village hotel , and lead these hundreds and hundreds of north vietnamese soldiers swarming into southern hue. they did not know their way around the city. so at that point, she had become a guide for the forces that were infiltrating into the city. brian: so, you had been in hue in january of 1968, what would you have seen on the day the north vietnamese and vietcong came in? mark: it happened in the nighttime. you would've been awakened by
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the sound of gunfire, although because it was a holiday there were usually a lot of fireworks , so some -- so you may be initially would have thought that it was just a lot of celebrating out there. if you were in the military, you would be similar with the sound of gunfire, and you would ever nice something big was going on. if you looked at your window, you would've seen masses of enemy soldiers, north vietnamese and vietcong, marching through the streets of the city and basically taking over every neighborhood in the city. brian: what is "tet"? mark: tet is the lunar new year. it is celebrated as the major holiday on the vietnamese calendar. so, the whole place just out for about a week. families get together as much as americans do at christmas time. it is a tradition to cut little andry blossom branches down bring them into houses, similar to the christmas tree. you know, they prepare big feasts that sometimes go on for
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two or three days. brian: how many american marines were killed? battle, 200 50 were killed. most of them were marines, but there was a sizable number of army calvary troopers who were killed just outside the city. brian: here is a new story back in 1968 that you can see some of the destruction in hue. [begin video clip] >> at the end of january, two regular units infiltrated the city and capture the citadel. how much support they received from the population is impossible to estimate. the price of that support has been the almost destruction of the city, and the deaths of nearly 4000 civilians. the palace survived, but many houses did not. without a roof to keep out the rain, hundreds of homeless continue to cross the river in search of refuge on the south bank.
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it is the last journey for some. for others, like this woman, wounded and perhaps the only survivor of her family, life itself must seem to have come to an end [end video clip] brian: who expected that to end -- brian: who expect of the population to support this northern intrusion of hue? mark: the party leaders in hanoi, for the most part, and those who believed their propaganda, but this was the point of departure for the party leader than ho chi minh. ho chi minh had a better sense the south vietnamese people than the people who were really running the party at that time. but the word for what they did on the tet offensive was called a general uprising. the theory was that once the troops of the vietcong moved into the cities, the people in
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the cities would rise up and , support them in casting out the americans. the propagandists argued this war.oing to end the quickly and americans would be forced out, and the saigon regime collapse. i should add though that the more hardheaded north vietnamese military officers, who had a lot more experience fighting in the field, did not share that optimistic estimate. and they told their political superiors, we can take the city , but but the people will not rise up in support of us. and the americans will come back and take the city back, but we don't think we can hold it for more than a few days. brian: how many cities in south tet?am were attacked on mark: i do not know the exact number but just about every city and sizable town and village in south vietnam, including saigon was attacked. brian: how many of them were anywhere as close to as bloody
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as hue? mark: none. hue was by far the biggest success of the tet offensive and i should add, the primary thrust of the offensive. they had amassed 10,000 troops to take the city. saigon, which was probably the second biggest clash, they had fairly -- probably hundreds of troops, but nothing on the order of what they had outside of hue. and the reason for that was the cultural significance of hue, and the fact that it was vulnerable. they thought it would be easier to throw the americans out of saigon than to take the city of hue. brian: in your book, you use a lot of quotes. whitel -- who was he and was he significant -- who was he, and why is he significant
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during your research question mark mark: he has he come probably the most famous news reporter from the vietnam war. he wrote a book called "dispatches." he had convinced "esquire magazine" to send him to vietnam to write sort of periodic and very unconventional as is about the war. and so he spent a number of , years putting himself in the most dangerous places in vietnam and writing, firsthand, about the fighting. he was also a tremendously skilled writer. he just wrote memorably. and so, one of the essays that he wrote for "esquire," which is in the book "dispatches," is called "hell sucks." it was about the battle of hue. and it was fascinating to me because first of all, he is such a gifted writer. -- heso, he was riding was writing about the people and situations that i was studying
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and writing about. i could read michael, who was not particularly good at nailing down facts the way the old newspaper reporters do. and naming names and getting dates his stuff. read i know he had a relationship with esquire. it wasn't as a member of staff or anything. >> he is not alive? >> no, he died just a short ime ago. he is talking about war and writing about war in a document from 2001 called
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first kill." >> a jewish boy. i met john wayne jr. i'm not a lood and guts guy. i just had a strong attraction to war. satisfying? >> i would say it is satisfying. very few people do these things for what they believe is a good reason. people would come up and say why are you here? they would say i'm here to kill gooks. they liked it. they were into it. >> what do you think? >> i think he is talking honestly and candidly about
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his experience. rave reporter who puts himself in the middle of the action. i am the guy that comes along 50 years later and pieces it altogether from interviews and documentation. michael was -- he was the right kind of reporter for the war. he put himself right there in the muck with the grunts, and lived with them and taub talked to them and saw the war through their eyes, which i think that is probably the most significant achievement you can make as a war correspondent. host: you put a disclaimer in your book about the word -- why? >> because it is a derogatory word. i use it in the context, in my book, the way that g.i.'s spoke. this is the term they had,
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among other derogatory terms. i did not want the reader to think this was an acceptable word for a whole class of uman beings. nevertheless, it is an important part of the history of this battle and that period. host: how did you change your ind on this whole issue of hue vietnam, by going through this process, which you say took about five years? >> as a key i was opposed to the war. i did not know enough about it to have a strong opinion. it was a youth culture bonding thing. you grow up and it was hard not to be against war when i was a teenager. i felt that this project gave me the opportunity to really find out for myself what i believed about this war. i found out many things. probably one of the most surprising things to me was,
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apart from whether it was a misguided effort from the beginning, and the politics of he situation, was how poorly led militarily these marines and troopers were. the battle of hue shocks me because the saigon military command was so out of touch with reality of what was happening in the streets. they literally got a lot of young americans killed. because what general westmoreland denied that the city 45d been taken. it was a fact and he continued to deny it for nearly the whole time the battle was fought. s a consequence, would never concede the sheer number of enemy forces in the city. small units of marines and troopers were being ordered to attack positions that were held by overwhelmingly superior enemy forces in entrenched positions. this idea i have -- this is
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not just coming from me, it is coming from the men who were leading these marines and troopers into these hopeless battles, who were ordered to do so. many of former retired as generals in the marines and army. they are still furious about the way they and their men were used in hue. host: who is jack lawrence? >> he is a correspondence for cbs news who did a lot of front-line reporting in vietnam. host: he interviewed a an named lieutenant colonel ernest cheetham. at the time was he a captain? >> he was a lieutenant colonel. host: did he become a general? >> yes. he is the most famous of the marine generals in modern times. largely because of the reputation he made as a officer in vietnam. host: where did you talk to him? >> i spoke to him on the phone, shortly before he died. i made plans to go down and
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interview him in virginia. he passed away before the date arrived. fortunately, the general had given extensive oral histories to the marine corps museum in quantico. i was able to hear him talk about his experiences in hue and vietnam without getting a chance to interview him myself. host: in 1968 here is jack lawrence talking to lieutenant colonel. >> what kind of fighting is it going to be? >> house to house and room to room. >> inch by inch? >> that is what it is. >> did you expect to experience this kind of street fighting in vietnam? >> no, this is my first crack at streetfighting. his is the first time marine core has street fought since seoul. >> what will happen to the civilians?
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>> we are hoping we do not run nto any civilians. if there are, i'm pretty sure the civilians are what we would consider the back guys. we have certain areas that we have walked off. we know there are friendly civilians. we are not going to take those under fire. >> the others? >> the others, if there is somebody in there right now, they are charlie, as far as we are concerned. host: how long did it take the marines to get the city of hue back after that initial battle? >> 24 days. actually, probably longer than 24 days. they took the north vietnamese, viet cong flag down from the citadel after 24 days of fighting. there were still areas of the city that were contested, but for the most part, the battle was over after that. host: what was the colonel's attitude in oral history and when you talk to him on the phone about this situation in hue?
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>> he had a very professional marines attitude. he was given the job of taking the city back. i think he was good at his job. one of the things that struck me was the disparity between his approach and west morals pproach. -- westmoreland's approach. when he was assigned to go into the city to win it back, he started by asking himself what he actually knew about what was facing him. the truth was, he knew next to nothing. the only thing he knew for sure was where he would be fighting. the night before he moved into the city, he tracked down marine corps manuals describing how to conduct operations in an urban environment. he went to school on weapons and tactics he would need to accomplish his goal.
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and used them to great or disastrous effect. whichever adjective you prefer to use in accomplishing this mission. for the young marines, who, prior to his arrival were thrown against a far superior force, the arrival of cheatham was like gabriel descending in his chariot to lead him to victory and save a lot of lives. at the same time, in that clip you heard his attitude towards civilians in the city. this is a city of 140,000 people. the people who lived in the city were trapped by this fighting. when he says if they are in this area, as far as we are concerned they are charlie. he is condemning a lot of civilians to a fiery death. host: who is captain ron christmas? >> the captain was one of cheatham's commanders.
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he was one of the company commanders who was sent into the city with his own company prior to cheatham's arrival. e is one of the then young company commanders who ran straight into the buzz saw of this enemy force. host: here he is, a history channel documentary. being interviewed. it is about one minute. did he become a general? >> he did. he retired as a general. host: still alive? >> yes. host: captain ron christmas. >> i want you to get together and i want that building. >> meanwhile, captain christmas and his troops did not help but notice the viet cong flag that was flying in the courtyard since the takeover of hue. something that had galled the marines. >> i called back to cheatham and said, we have the building. i will run up the american flag. >> someone monitoring them that warned captain christmas that it was it was illegal to
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run up an american flag. >> i turn my radio off. that was cheatham's problem. let him take care of that. >> gunnery sergeant frank thomas had an american flag tucked under his jacket that he took from the compound. >> the fire team ran through and pulled down the viet cong/north vietnamese flag and ran up the stars and stripes. host: thanks to the history channel for that. how many marines did you talk to and ask about whether or not we should have been at vietnam in the first place and what is their attitude today? >> i asked all of them. i did a long interview about their experiences during this battle. i proceeded that by asking questions about who they were and where they came from and how they ended up in the marine corps. at the end of the interview i asked, how do you feel about
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your service and the war? there are many different opinions about that experience as there were people who i talked to. jeopardyly speaking, i would say if i had to summarize, i would say nearly all of them -- not all of them, but nearly all of them were very proud of having served their country and having fought bravely in this battle. at the same token, most are angry about the way the war ended. they have a sense of having been betrayed by their country, either because they percent to fight a war that we should not have been fighting, nd could not have been won, or because they feel that the political leadership and public turned on them and the -- betrayed the cause. host: this was in january of 1968. robert mcnamara step down as secretary of defense. he had a book that came out in 1995. robert minute of
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mcnamara, the former secretary of defense during the whole vietnam war. >> my report to the president, which i said -- i said in december 1965, there is only a one-three chance, at best 1-2 chance we could win. he said, you don't the can win militarily? i said, yes. should i have said that publicly? what do you think? what does your audience think? this is a terrible dilemma. particularly so, i want to tell you, i was in a very small minority. i am not saying i am right. other people thought then and today that we were winning then. some people think we were winning then, that is baloney. it is not baloney to say. other people thought i was wrong. in any event, suppose we all
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thought we were not winning, it was only a 1-3 chance or 1-2 chance, is that what you say publicly to the enemy? host: robert mcnamara, lyndon johnson, general westmoreland all came back from their trips to vietnam and said we were winning. what is your reaction? >> looking at mcnamara now, i feel that he should have said publicly what he thought. so much was at stake. he was one of the architects of the war. he was not just some functionary in the bureaucracy who decided the war was unwinnable. this is one of the people who got us into the war in vietnam and was one of the most notable authorities on the subject. for him to be telling the president that he did not think we could win the war, at the same time telling the public, yes, we are winning and can keep going, lives are at stake. i think he should have gone public with his reservations. instead, frankly, i think he
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took a job at the world bank. he preserved his status and reputation among the power elite that he had served. he furthered his career at the cost of another -- as it turned out, six or seven years of conflict. i think president johnson believed his generals. i think william westmoreland deserves to be remembered, much of the way we remembered george and the civil war being famous for putting together a beautiful army that did not want to actually fight it. it is an example of the different kind of command stupidity, which is such a strong belief in his own theory of what was happening in the field. it was impervious to fax. even when young officers who were charged with fighting this war would come back and tell him, no sir, this is not what is happening, he would
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not accept it. he did not believe it and he is not the first general who accepts only the information that supports only what he wants to hear. he is a very glaring example of it. host: did you talk to any enlisted men that were in the hue battle? i know in the book, you talk about a lot of in listed men that were over there had no idea where vietnam was. did you talk to them? >> yes. i would say most of those who i interviewed, who are veterans, who were at the time teenagers who had volunteered for the marine corps or drafted. in some cases they were corpsmen who enlisted in the navy because they felt that was a good way to avoid going to vietnam and wound up being rained as medics or they are
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called corpsmen in the navy. they are assigned with grunts on the front line. most of them were not terribly well educated or well informed about what was going on in vietnam. it was more an act of faith in their country. this was an important cause. the government had to fight communism wherever it found it around the world. this was their obligation as an american citizen to go and fight. once they were immersed in the fighting, all they were learning was how to stay alive. i don't think their concerns went far beyond that. host: how many of those enlisted men that you talked to were severely wounded and still living with those wounds today? >> most of the veterans i interviewed were carried off the battlefield. many of them are still battling the scars from those ounds.
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some of them i think have emotional scars from the experience. the officers were different. officers like ron christmas and mike downs, jim cooligan who was a marine captain. these were college-educated men who were serving out of idealistic commitment. either that, or a sense of professionalism. some of them intended to be career officers. for them, the war was a place to test their skills and prove themselves. they were every bit of idealistic -- this is one of the things i learned in reporting the story. members of my generation who marched in the streets against the war. my generation turned on like a dime. up until 1967, or 1968, most people were loyal to the war effort who believed the
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government and that it was very important. after -- right around the ted offense, that shifted dramatically. a lot of young men who volunteered to fight in vietnam, out of idealism and patriotism, to come home to a country that regarded the war as immoral and a failed cause, you know, it was a bitter pill o swallow. i think these men were betrayed not just by our leaders, but by their fellow countrymen. host: joseph campbell, who is a professor at at a university, he had a book about moments in history. i will show you this because i suspect he will differ with him based on what i read in your book. >> supposedly lyndon johnson was watching the cronkite show. at the end, when cronkite atoned his
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assessment, johnson supposedly leaned over and said something to the effect of, if i lost cronkite, i lost middle america. it does not take much research to find out he was not at the white house that night. he was not in front of the television set. lyndon johnson was in austin, texas. he was attending the 51st birthday party of governor john conley. johnson come in the after my death in the aftermath of the cronkite show says we should recommit to end the war of vietnam successfully. let's bring home a victory. he said on more than one occasion in the aftermath of the cronkite show. if this was such an epiphany for the president, he did not make it clear that this had changed his mind in the public comments after that. host: your take on it? >> i think it is true what he said, the president probably never said, if i lost walter cronkite i lost america. i don't know if he was
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watching tv when cronkite made that broadcast. i'm sure johnson saw and heard it at some point. it does not seem to mean to be ontradictory to say that johnson's help was significant of cronkite criticizing the war effort. because he was an astute politician, recognized that that was a very serious blow to his efforts to rally americans behind the cause. it is true that he continued to make that effort, at least for a few more weeks. as we know now, he chose not to run for reelection, no more than three or four weeks after the battle ended. e spent the rest of his term in office, attempting to force the north vietnamese to negotiate and arrive at a peaceful settlement before he left office. he stopped thinking about trying to win this war and devoted his efforts to trying
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to withdraw american forces honorably. host: you said in your book that the american military was restricted on how they could treat the citadel in that area and the bombing. were any americans killed because somebody said you cannot touch the citadel? you cannot vomit because of its history? >> yes, the restrictions placed on the use of artillery, more so than air power because air power would have been difficult to employ in the city because of the weather. the visibility was nonexistent from the air. there were restrictions on the artillery that probably did expose american troops, and south vietnamese troops to more enemy fire and more difficulty. that said, the use of heavy artillery and air support, which did come in full force by the end of this battle
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destroyed most of the city. i think killed, well, we heard one estimate of 4,000 civilians, i suspect it was a great deal more. host: you have been to hue. what does it look like today? >> the southern part of the city, which is the modern part has been completely rebuilt. you would never know a big battle was fought there. it is a very bustling, thriving economy. the northern part of the city which is in the citadel itself is also thriving, but you still see in the walls of the citadel, in the ruins of the imperial palace, strong, visual evidence of the intensity of the battle fought in 1968. host: somebody in the audience, in chicago, when we carried your chat about this book asked you how somebody in your position can financially do this. your answer was, black hawk
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own. this book has already been bought for a series. tell us about that. where and how many episodes? what will they focus on and how much will you be involved? >> the rights have been purchased by michael mann, who is a very well-known hollywood producer and director, and mike deluca, who is well enough known hollywood producer. they have sold this project to fx as a 10 part miniseries. they have not written it yet. i am an executive producer and they tell me i will actually have to work, which you don't always have to do when you're an executive producer. check back with me. i will tell you exactly what i do. i think i will be involved with helping them identify entral characters in helping
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to compress the sweep of the story into the format. although, 10 hours is a very generous amount of time on screen. we should be able to do a good job. host: who would you suspect would be the principal characters in the series? >> i am just guessing here. i think they will make an effort for there to be a prominent vietnamese character. here is a north vietnamese soldier whose name i don't remember off the top of my head, he tracked down the trail for months. he was a math teacher in hanoi who had been pressed into service. who made this journey. he was in the thick of the
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fighting throughout. i suspect he will be a character. i think jim cooligan, who was a marine advisor to a special unit called the black panthers. jim cooligan was one of the real heroes from the american side and was involved from the beginning until the end. i am certain he will be a character in the story. ernie cheetham, i can name others. host: i want to end this. i want to thank you for coming, but i want to and get by reminding the audience that january 31, 1968, the hue battle. here is lyndon johnson, march 1, that same year, two years -- months later, 1968. this will be our closer. thank you for being here.
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>> you're welcome. >> the american son and the field far away, with americans future under challenge right here at home. with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day. do not believe i should devote an hour of my day or my time to any personal partisan causes, or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office. the presidency of your country. accordingly, i shall not suit, and i will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president. ♪
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>> for free transcripts or to give yours comments about this program, visit us at q & also available at c-span odcasts. >> if you enjoyed this q & a, here are some others you might enjoy. documentary filmmaker rory kennedy depicts the final days of the vietnam in her film "last days in vietnam". here is also karl marlantez in the autobiography "what it is like to go to war." and andrew bacevich tracing
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the u.s. military going back to the vietnam war. you can see these interviews online at here on c-span this morning washington journal is next live with your phone calls and a look at today's headlines. live at 12:30, the washington institute has a discussion on combating lone wolf terrorism and then looking at ways to encourage robust urban development in u.s. cities and towns. that's live starting at 5:30 p.m. eastern. coming up on today's washington journal, we look ahead to the 2018 midterm elections and the type of strategy democrats might use to protect the majority democrao retake the majority in congress. by lenaed erickson hatalsky, then bill
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archer talks about the health care debate. later naomi jagoda of the hill newspaper joins us to talk about tax policy proposals offered by house and senate republicans. ♪ host: this is "washington journal" for july 31. new white house chief of staff john kelly gets sworn in by president trump around 9:30 this morning. the president meets with the entire, including the attorney general jeff sessions. saturday, the massachusetts governor signed a bill allowing for the use of recreational marijuana. in michigan, a ballot initiative if approved and passed would allow americans to have marijuana.


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