tv Philadelphia and the Vietnam War in 1968 CSPAN July 2, 2018 1:05pm-2:24pm EDT
i and future u.s. leaders including a talk on dwight eisenhower's stateside training of the world war i troops and the tank industry. and wednesday, a discussion of the declaration of oindependence and how it is interpreted an applied in u.s. history. and thursday, former white house photographers talk about the reagan, bush, clinton and obama administrations. friday, the programs in the life and the legacy of robert f. kennedy with a ceremony from arl arling ton national ceremony acknowledging the 50th anniversary of his assassination. watch american history tv in primetime on c-span3. up next here on american history tv on c-span3, a discussion lki 50 years to 1968 and how philadelphia and its citizens were impacted by the vietnam war. this discussion was part of the conference hosted by the historical society of pennsylvania and the lepage
center for history and the public interest at villanova university. >> so, we are now continuing our conversation about 1968 and shifting to the discussion of war and what i wanted to do is to briefly introduce our spe speakers and then kick things off and leave plenty of time for conversation so that we have an hour and a quartter to try to delve into the war and what that might tell us about 1968. lett me introduce myself. i'm paul stegy, a historian at the department of history at villanova university and the faculty for the lepage association of public interest. and let me go from this way to that end. and for my colleague from the history department is mark who
is has written to a number of books recently coauthored a book called "implaquable foes" which was awarded the bancroft prize earlier in the year. next to him is professor catherine sibley at the st. joseph university where she is a professor of history and the american studies program, written a number of books on a wide range of topics from the communist party to the first ladieses and so that is an interestinging combination and communist first ladies is an interesting angle. and is also on the historical advisory committee of the united states department of state. last but not least next to me is nick mullnar, assistant
professor of history at the community college of philadelphia and authored a book about the philippine race relations from 1981, and also, has done this fascinating project about the student oral histories that are collecting philly stories, and the idea of the philly stories is maybe where i want to kick it off today to think about the kinds of the war stories that are told back to philadelphia. and you may be able to see behind me here, because this is a copy of a document that you can see with more detail out there on the table in the lobby which is part of the collection of the historical society here in pennsylvania, and a letter written by first lieutenant joseph b. hallk, and it is a letter that he wrote from vietnam back to his parents in philadelphia. and it is a fascinating letter
and a lot of stuff going on in it. he begins by explaining how i got so fed up today that he and a bunch of his buddies had to go out to the steak din ear at t-- at at the bachelor officers quarters. and i want people to think about how he ended the letter, and talking about two staff sergeants and how they were afraid and he was afraid and what did that mean. and then he concluded for his parents, i'll explain the whole thing when i get home. and so i was wondering a little bit about the stories he had to tell in vietnam and whether or not he would be able to tell the stories or to what extent there was something about his war experiences that couldn't be communicated back to philadelphia or back home. so maybe to kick off the k conversation to think about war stories and to think about what
stories should we be telling about the war, and what stories have been left out of the war, and how did people try to tell those stories. so maybe in the spirit of stories and philly stories, i will start off with nick and ask you to begin the conversation, and then we will let other people weigh in and see how things evolve. >> no, thank you for having me, and this is a great segue into thinking if anyone has a spouse or a family member or anything like that, sometimes we frame things in certain ways, and we don't say things, but maybe we would say things at a later date. i think that this let ser a clear example of that type of the work where maybe you are trying to protect people, so you are not wanting them to worry about you. you want them to think that everything is okay, but he is obviously alluding to something that is bothering him. and that is one of the great things, because you brought up
the philly stories archive, that is one of the things that we don't know if this came out when he came home. maybe it had come out years later when you are doing that type of the interview and that sort of thing. and you know, this often happens in my experience that a reference is going to be made and later on down the line, it is going to the come out, so that is my brief opening end to this, and reading between the lines of the open document. >> it is interesting, because you can't see this here, but what he says to the family, and i'm not sure when indeed they did read this, but he says, i'm scared. i'm scared when goi on the mission, but i can't use a man who is after raid of the area, and i guess that i should have gone into the military intelligence and that would have been better, and an infantry sergeant sees too much and thinks too much. so he is saying that the people he is with are afraid and he has to be strong for them, and it is
not fun for him. and would the military have allowed that message to go home? i don't know, but if they did, it is an interesting message, because oftentimes we don't hear the stories of how scary it was to be in the middle of that. i am sure that many of you have heard of this piece that is often anthologized called "we were soldiers once and young." have you seen it? it is about the men caught up in 1965 and full of dreams and came to vietnam and thought they were following their father's footsteps from world war ii and they were bombarded and with this shock and attack and many people died. so it was scary, and very scary. so this is not often expressed to people at home that we are seeing here, so this is a privilege to really look at this letter. >> yes, i'd agree with that. i think that in that respect, you know h thnoknow, this lette lot different from the letters written from soldiers from world
war ii, and there are a collection of these letters at at the military institute and the like. what you will find is this attempt to sort of glide over the grimmer aspects of what is taking place. and you read the surveys that those same soldiers completed years later, and they say, well, we did not want to worry our families, and this is, you know, this is just enough to get them worried without letting them know really what was taking place. in terms of the broader question, what would people back home have been able to understand about the war, i went through as i was reading the philadelphia enquirer which is the morning paper and so people who were getting the morning paper to see what they would have been able to learn about the war and the tet offensive
and in the period, and my sense is that they would have had a military picture can, and not the sbi kby intricacies of vie and as this letter was written, there was a second offensive in may, and actually during this period at the end of july, there was a dropoff in american arable casualties, and the fighting ha casualties, and the fighting had dropped off to a little bit, and in that one week, there was 157 combat deaths in that one week which was the lowest in nine month, and people would have been able to the kcomprehend wht
was taking place, and at the time, the columnist who had been a marine wrote that it seems like the big war is going to be winding down, the big battali battalion-sized offenses, and then he stopped himself and said of course something can happen next week that will completely blow this prediction apart, and it did. there was a third offensive in august that the vietnam communists launched again. >> so let me follow up on that, and in a way, also, nick's comment about sort of the chronological gap that things that you can figure out only after time passes. so there sis a way in which the letter takes us right into the midst of 1968, and it is a snapshot, and three pages long, and so it is not this huge detailed compilation. it is an effort to give a fr
fragment of a story, and there is a way in which of course all stories are fragmentation, but maybe to go a little bit farther along those lines in terms of thinking about the stories that were available at the time, and also the stories about the war in 1968 that we know now, and so, which of those stories should we be concerned about as historians following and that people should not know or that we should know or that we should try to tell. i dont n't know if somebody wan to -- >> i would like to address the other piece of the letter that jumped out to me, and i think that you can site here, and this excerpt here, because it is about the commanding officers as i understand it, and right, bob? his name was davison. and that is the first name i should give, but it is probably on the picture. >> fredrick. >> thank you, frank. so he was african-american, right? , by referring to him in way, we want to give you the context
that the sense that the our man mr. hallk felt that the achievement was tokenism or political, but really this man, he would not be alive without this leader davison and he has been with him for a long time, and he deserves this promotion, and so what struck me about that is that it tells you about the time in 1960s and how it was for an african-american to get a promotion and how to see and hear someone in vietnam and i don't know about mr. houck's education, but maybe he did not have a degree or advanced degree, but yet he is attuned to the political realities at home, and yet, it is in vietnam that he understands it clearly. and so it another aspect of the war that the people who are over there has to understand what it
looks like domestically, and what the so sort of the optics are going on there and how it is seen in his projection of how things are in the united states and how he reads them from his place that he is in this area, and of course, from philadelphia in a city that was racially di vied then and now, and who was the mayor then? rizzo? >> james tate. >> okay. so it is an interesting, and maybe a comment there, too, about how it is going to be seen in philadelphia, i don't know, but anyway, i would like to hear what other people think. >> and so, so, that is going to offer a different way of thinking to tex tent to which there was perspective even at the time to the extent that this level of interpretation, there is always a relationship between him and vietnam and obviously with him and his parents and what they would have seen or read in the paper, and the newspaper clipping that went along, too. and so how can these stories mediate that gap or what does it take, or is that something, a
gap that should be mediated, and maybe historians are not necessarily the great storytellers sometime, and so are there ways in which we should tell the stories differently do you think? >> i'd like to comment on this. i think that one of the things that comes out in this letter, i think that is fear. and from the historian's perspective, it is interest, because once you find out the statistics from the u.s. army, you can understand how terrified this person actually s and this is a moderated tone here sh, bu will give you the example. my colleague just spoke about the three offensives, and that sort of thing, but most of the time nothing was happeninging for these people when they are going on the patrols. and when contact happened with the enemy, which is one percent of the time, and when you take that perspective, where you are going out and you don't know what is going to happen, and
then something happens, the way that i would tell this story is that using the historical facts to support the argument that this person is scared and the degree of fear is that i think the conthe text clues are there and the historian can bring all tof the facts together to tell that story, and, yeah. >> so to pick up and to link it to mark's earlier comment about, well, that on some level these letters are not that different from the letters of world war ii, and so how different were the experiences? the united states finds itself in the midst of ongoing wars at this moment, and so in terms of talking about what war looks like or what how we explain and think about or talk about war, was there something different then about this war or 1968, had something changed either in vietnam or as compared to others in previous -- >> well, i think that there were
similarities with other conflicts in the general trend that warfare had take n that it was increasingly difficult to reach a decision at a cost that was acceptable, and certainly to the united states. this is something that had been occurring for some tijs and i think that in vietnam, it had continued in that pattern, a bind the summer of 1968, i was surprised by reading the enquirer how persuasive the concern was, and had known it reading the histories of the period, but the concern of the health of the economy in the united states was. there was concern that the budget was out of control, and there was rising inflation, the
president would impose a surtax on profit, and so i came across this bit of information that there was a conference of business writers, and 70% thought that federal controls on the wages and the prices were a distinct possibility. half of them agreed with the head of the federal reserve, and the head of the federal reserve who said that the u.s. was facing the worst financial crisis since 1931. okay. i mean that is going to give you a sense of how dire things -- and i think that those of you who may be familiar with the impact of the tet offensive on american politics, the real impact of the tet offensive was to convince people in the american establishment that the united states had to find a way out of the war, and that the war was wrecking american financial
institutions, and the so-called wise men who were the representatives from the sort of the big corporate law firm, and the investment banks who met in washington told lyndon johnson that he couldn't reinforce, and that it was time to scale back the investment that america's economic well-being was being jeopardized by the war, and it was time to look for a way out. and that -- i was surprised, because there are some similari similarities to that attitude and what the people managing the american economy or trying to manage it in the summer of 1945 faced. again, during the korean war. the united states, one of the reasons that lyndon johnson tried to avoid mobilizing the economy is that he was aware of how serious things had gotten at the end of world war ii and he was a young congressman at this
point, and so i think that there is a similarity in that the way that the wars seem to grind on with no, you know, definite outcome or the desirable outcome in view is similarity, and we tend to think of vietnam in that respect, but i don't believe it was. >> and there were half a million troops around and the highest number ever in that war, and in the time, and it was 1963 and it was the request of another 200,000 troops, and of course, that did not happen, and those troops were not sent, and you can imagine how expensive that was, and meanwhile back in philadelphia the war is being seen in the increasingly critical way of course, and i don't know if people are fully aware that the city was a hot bed of activism, and the
next panel is going to be looking closely at protest, but it is important to think of protests s s particularly aroun this the issue of war that we are talking about. and as a personal note, my brother was a conscientious objective to a and he was up in boston area, but he said to come to philadelphia, because the center of conscientious objectors are there, and so they can help you. so there were a number of anti-war activists, and also, the hippies as well making fun of the establishment types. and i don't know if you were around in west philly, but if you have seen the pictures it looked like a great time, and a lot of fun. and the war was a catalyst for the activism, and exactly as you are saying that it was the government at the top of the thing is saying that it is too expensive and the average person is saying that it is too expensive and then nixon gets elected. and so things get prolonged longer than they would have otherwise. >> and it is interesting that you are speaking to some of the
panels from thrn this morning in terms of the thinking of the continuum between the counter culture and activism in the ways in which there is not a hard and vast line of the aspects between in society. nick, you wanted to say something or -- >> sure. we also have to realize that the way this war is probably being framed by the people of philadelphia, and obviously, an tie war activism, and it is also a working class people, and the working class people are the ones who are fighting the war, and so from the perspective of the people of philadelphia, there is a large segment of the population that i would say is worried about either a, their son in the war, or b, that their son might go to the war. and c, i think that quite frankly, it is one of the things that came out of doing the oral
history interviews they did not expect. there is one story that i had the students do the interviews themselves, and they go out, and the idea is that they will get some concrete skills, and a lot of the folks have never talked to anyone outside is of their family circle, and so just for this example, the student interview and one of the relatives and they said that, yeah, the whole family got up and went to leave to go to canada. i had never heard this type of thing before, and they did not want the son to be drafted so they got up and were able to leave philadelphia, and that is how scared they were. so talking about the war protest and the west philadelphia hippies, we have to understand that there is a large segment of the population who is fear ful f the war and how is it going the impact them, and we have to also understand that war as defined in this era, we have a all of these philadelphia at this time would have had a lot of people who would have served in world war ii and they are thinking of the war in a certain way to take
a capital city and where they went and they are wondering why they can't win this war by taking the capital city, and that is a huge difference. >> mark, do you want to can -- >> yes. i think that the american public and i think that people in philadelphia generally had sort of decided that they the wanted the united states to get out of the war, and they had not quite decided how to do it yet, but i was surprised to find that, you know, this large ad again in the inquir inquirier, and thank god we are still a democracy and write to your delegates to fight the war in vietnam, and it was an ad taken out by the executives against vietnam war. so it is not activists, but executives. and one other point that i wanted to make about the similarity of vietnam and sort
of on the large scale to other conflicts that h historian ronald spector says that he has written a terrific book called "after tet, the bloodiest year of the war" in which he looks at the year after the tet offensive that occurred in january that caught everybody by surprise. he points out that the vietnam war had been like world war i, a war of attrition, and also a war in which people kept taking and yielding and retaking the same territory over and over again, and moving the line a little bit. and the americans would take a hill, and take a valley or whatever, and then move on, and then five or six months later, they had to take it back from the enemy again. in that sense, there seemed to be, and again, we think of ve vietnam as something distinctive and in fact, there were these patterns that the war sort of
mimicked. >> and so this brings up a very good point in the way that the idea of the war meaning a different thing to different people, and in a way, they are talking about wars. so i wonder if from our perspective of 2018 looking back at 1968, is there to a a way in which the panel, itself, talking about the war in 19 fful 68, presums certain war that we are talking about, and the fact that we are presuming and talking about the american war in vietnam, and is that the only war to talk about and the only way in which we should talk about war in 1968, and maybe to throw it out there a little by. and is there a way in which we should broaden the thinking of war in 1968 to include the other places or the other actors or the other storylines in terms of -- and that it is not the american war and vietnam or in vietnam or even a different perspective among different parts of philadelphia in terms of thinking about what war was or the war in eck czechoslovakia
or something like that. and so -- >> so a couple of words about that, and i have taught a course about ten years ago now on 1968, and it was the 40th anniversary, and the anniversaries as we have been talking about through the morning and the afternoon and they are moments to stop and remark and reflect as you have said, and so i think that what was interesting and i used the book about paris in 1968 called "may '68" and also a film of that title, too, and it is fascinating to study the group, because even in paris there were division divisions between the activists and the radicals and the elites, and so just as here, when we think of the wars we can think of the civil wars between the political groups, and some of them very much reflected in paris, and so many events that happened in 1968 around the world that were very militaristic in the outcome or the beginnings, and think about the protests in mexico city and how the people were mas sacred
and this is around the time of the olympics, and then in czechoslovakia as we mentioned that, the soviet troops came in to crush this rebellion, and i mean, literally and militarily, a and in poland a lesser known example of the student uprising there crushed and the way it was crushed is by the anti-semitic rhetoric and i did not think that there were that many pols left in 1968, but they managed. so this is a volatile time and n in our own country, we have assassinations and riots, so you can sort of look at the war in the broader way, and one of the things that i know that we will touch on later is how the fbi and the other agencies, though they were not officially military agencies, that i used some of the -- and i have a picture here that they have trained men to yuse the guns, bt they used the efforts and the thinking, it seemed quite clear from the documents here and i looked at the documents stolen from the media fbi office and you may know the story from
1971, and those documents suggest that the fbi, itself, felt that it was at war, too, against many of the sectors in american society. so i am not sure if that is what you are looking for, because i know that there are so many ways to look at the war year beyond the four men dealing with those issues we are looking at right here. >> mark, would you like to add to that? >> well, to add to the list in asia, the north korean government sent a commando squad in tos a s assassinate the pres in what is called the blue house in south korea. it didn't succeed, but then right after that, the "u.s.s. pueblo" was seized and there was concern about the possibility of the war with north korea, and though interestingly, the polls showed that the americans wanted the united states to negotiate itself out of that situation.
the president of south kree wra was actually complaining that the americans were too soft. they wanted him to take a more hardline position, and he saw it as his opportunity to resume the war which is afterall not ended in korea, but it had a pause, an armisti armistice, and so in a sense, that war was still going on, and this is where we are in the midst of 1968, the cultural revolution in china was occurring and i read a story where red guards seized a railroad yard in china which was supposed to be sending the military supplies to north vietnam with two factions of the red guard where they were seizing the weapons to be used against each other in china and thus not helping the socialist brothers in vietnam, and then of course, the war in nigeria in
beofera was in 1966 which became an international cause with the starvation of beoferans, and i thought at that point, that there was a similarity, and an attempt of secession from nigeria, and if you want the i think of the vietnam war differently, and people they the united states is involved in the nation building, but actually the united states was involved in secession, right? trying to take and krcreate a separate south vietnam out of what had once been a single kingdom, right. >> i think that in terms of war, and he my colleagues have talked about other battle fronts, but we also have to understand that 1968, you know, we have a finite
time line for the vietnam war, and whether you want to talk about the direct american involvement or whether you want to talk about the american involvement of the french indo-china previously, and whether you want you to put it in the perspective of the entire cold war, and whatever you want, yeah, we can talk about the war as the soldiers fighting solders and the nation building and that sort of thing, but what we have to understand is that in vietnam, it is an international war, and it is not just the united states versus north vietnam or the vietcong. and with one thing that is fascinating is that in 1938 there is a conglomerate called the free world forces and so throughout the vietnam war there are the tens of thousands of koreans fighting and filipinos and australians fighting in the war in addition to the chinese assistance and soviet assistance to north vietnam is one thing. but we also have to consider that temporarily, we talk about
1968, but we have to understand that the costs of the war goes way past 1968. and if you didn't know this the united states still pays for this war, and the american involvement in vietnam, and they just assume that everyone has agent orange and everybody who served in the military in 1968 has health care because of the assumption that they have been exposed to agent orange is one thing. if you didn't know that, billions of dollars we continue the pay for that. and so this war does not end in 1968. you also have to understand that the legacy of th-- legacy of thr the individuals and since we talked about this letter, we don't know how many times this guy lives 1968 in his head, because that is a real thing. >> and actually u it is interesting that you bring up agent orange, because it turns out that lieutenant hawk dhowlk
d dies in 1968, and they see it as partially put down as exposure to agent orange, and at least the story they are telling about that particular experience of war. and so i think that this way in which we imagine that different versions of war that even rise to our attention, and the different geographies, and certainly the warsaw invasion of czechoslovakia is looking like war and 500,000 troops going into czechoslovakia, but on the other hand, 12 killed and 25 wounded in that invasion. so it is a war that looks a little bit different than say the war in vietnam. but, i think that the question about the ways in which the war informs the stakes of the different kinds of the battles, this gets back to your point, kayty, about how this also plays out in terms of the political struggles here in the united states. just to bring it to link it
together in today's new york times in the op-ed page, there is an article about racial disparities in laws dealing with and sentencing connect ed to marijuana use and drugs. in the course of the article, which was fairly wide ranging, they actually quoted john ehrlichman, the adviser to richard nixon and talking about the nixon campaign in 1968, and what he said in the subsequent interview was that nixon campaign in 1968, and the nixon white house after that had two enemies, the anti-war left and black people. we knew that we could not make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt the communities. so this idea of waging a war on
abt anti-war activists and waginging a war gaiagainst the people whoe somehow suspicious elements of society becomes a broader language of war that was not just oversea, but very much in the midst of this, and just to the break-in that you referenced in the media in 1971, and the stealing of the fbi documents, and i was struck in looking at those that you sent along that the fbi according to the documents were 40% of the case files that were seized were dealing with surveillance of political organizations, primarily left wing and anti-war groups andparison only 25% of the files concentrateed on bank robberies, and so anti-war activists were a bigger problem than bank robbies and if
the we can talk about that expanding idea of war and waging war in 1968 is a different way of bringing the war back home perhaps. >> shall i begin? this is that you know about the women's international league of peace and freedom, and yes, yes, a great organization still around and in 1965, and a couple of years before 1968, they were being watched because it was the 50th anniversary, and went back to the 1920s and martin luther king was coming to speak, and oh, my, they were interested in that. and to the point of the blacks and the left, black students had their own section and keep an eye on the all students had their own section and so this is a list of the files that the people took, and what they took out when they raided the office on the night of the famous boxing match. frazier and who was the other one? >> ali. >> we talked about him, and the right day of the guard of the office and the media would be distracted an sure enough, they were able to go in to get the
fileses. and it is fascinating how this shows a new kind of war, and they are worry about the peace activists, because they are working against the war and the women's international peace and freedom had been working for peace for a long, long time, and to their credit as i looked at these last week at the swarthmore peace collection and i looked at the american women for peace file, and i found an encouraging note from the fbi which i guess they had not found, but probably different sources, and so that the note said that really, they could not find anything particularly subversive, and that the people were trying to, you know, conspire to kind of overthrow the government, et cetera, that kind of thing, and the women's international league, because they were peace activists, and so it was beginning to don on the fbi not to go after the women's international peace and freedom, but they were certainly interested about a professor in swarthmore college who had a
garage in the back where he was running off radical newspapers and brought some radical speak force the campus, and this is a tragedy, and i guess another use of the word linked in with the secreta secretaries and the phone operators and the police in swarthmore were connect ned to e fbi and the report here, and i won't mention the name, and to save the poor people that they have hopefully gotten over this, but it is how it was, and the fbi's war on those who were anti-war got to the level where they are chasing the professors and using, you know, the secretaries to do their bidding. so we see it again and again in the document, and it is very striking, and even the boy scouts by the way was recruited to help. this is kind of interesting. they thought that the boy scouts perhaps could look for persons loitering in secluded places. all right. i cannot imagine today if people want to send their little boys to go lk for peopook for people secluded places, oh, sure.
and there were wars of watch your weight, and lot of owars go on at the fbi, but i would love to hear from my colleagues on the aspects of this, and it is very clear what you are suggesting, and the document of just in today's pap er that it was a war that went on against, right, against the americans who were anti-war. and just last point that i wanted to make is that the reason that the fbi effort happen ad and this group called the it is zeps committee to investigate the fbi was because they had normally and formally been mostly concerned about destroying the draft records and a number of people who broke into the the draft files, and this happened for a matter of time and the fbi never found them, because they believed it was a group in camden that was broken in, and they were not known about for decades burk in the last few years the time had gone by and the story came out, but what is interesting is that they notice aed that the people in west philly and other places and including a professor at haverford college, and you may have heard of professor davrdon,
but this is a war of the free speech, and the people were not only being watched, but actively undermined by a provocateurs dressed up as fbi agents, and it was clear who they were, and they were cleancut, and let's bomb, and what are you doing? so they were not discrete to be the hippies. and so this is what they were going to do, and they said fight back and so they raided the files and it did lead interes g interestingly in the end the discovery of the program that was something that nobody in the government knew about and this is coming out at the time of the watergate investigations and so the active congress about these kinds of things got quite motivated to get to the bottom of what is the fbi doing, and the cia toing, and nixon doing, and the different time of the investigation of the top leaders, so it is interesting currents that were unleashed by this investigation in 1971. >> mark? >> yeah, i was going to say that
the government takes a sort of the comprehensive approach with this repression and attempts to undermine the dissent, and the other thing that the national politicians start to do is a rhetorical assault on the war protesters, and to krcreate the this myth that the war protesters were anti-g.i. and this is the image of the people spitting on the gis when they return home and the like, and it is done sort of by repositioning opponents of the war who used to gather at draft boards and the like to protest people being sent to vietnam, and so in speeches, you can see that it is particular particularly with richard nixon that those people are sort of rhetorically relocated to airports where they are railing ga
against the returning gis and none of which actuallyp happens, but it is in people's minds they have a fixed image of the protesters being rabidly anti-gi and a book called "spitting image" which is the idea of the people spitting on these returning vietnam veterans. that takes root in american society and it is 1990 when the united states is on the verge of going to war again, and at the time i guess that people didn't know, but more than 70% of the americans said that vietnam was a mistake. of that 70% when they were asked do you wish that you had protested the war then, and fewer than 25% said yes. so even though they admit that it was a complete mistake, and they would not want to be associated with protesters, because of the image of people protest thing had been so negative in people's minds.
>> you look like you were jotting down notes. >> yes, and you made a few marijuana references, and it is 4/20 today, a san diego that -- >> well, not, but that is probably why "the new york times" decided to publish an article of marijuana today which would imply a level of cultural sophistication on my part. >> it was a joke. little levity is good every now and then. i was jotting down a couple of notes, because as this is a couple of -- i am a historian, and we are talking about this environment where it is really a war on facts that is occurring, and what you are describing a war on the certain type of the story, and certain type of political cposition. obviously, the most illustrative example of this is really the pentagon paper whns they come out, and they are sucked into
this anti-war argument and it is sucked into the free speech issue, and there's this -- i find it amazing thatten a historical document which is what the pentagon papers are, it is a history, and it is turned into the politics and sucked into politics, and it is because you referenced t"the new york times" and the washington post, it is sucked into that, too. so. >> which brings us back very much for the the contemporary top tick -- topics, and the contemporary issues and we have the finger on the pulse of today which is a good wayf soegwaying into the oopening the floor of the questions out there and this is a topic that i suspect that a lot of people will have interest or thought thes or questions about, and so, this way we can have ample time to raise those questions, and try to address those and give the panelists a chance to respond. and so we will start right over here.
right here in front. yes. >> thanks. >>rosen. you know, the tet offensive in '68, i read, like, sort of conflicting messages about it. one hand, it was -- appears to be, if you will, a turning point in american sentiment towards the war and then on the other hand, i hear -- and this is maybe a little bit of retrospect -- that it was actually a huge defeat or a very harmful, you know, campaign for the north vietnamese and viet cong. how do you sort of rationalize those two sort of conflicting messages? >> yeah, well, the outcome of the offensive is not what the north vietnamese or the south vietnamese communists and
national liberation front hoped for, and you can -- it's interesting. you can read that again and you can see people trying to sort of -- the analysts, the editorial writers, trying to grapple with what was the impact of tet, even as it was happening and they understand and they're repeating information they get from the american military. no south vietnamese, that is army of the republic of vietnam, our allies, no units went over to the other side. there was no massive uprising and all the things that the communists expected to have happen did not happen beyond that sur surprise. of seeing people in saigon and capturing these provincial capitals but they had to yield them all eventually. however, the americans, when they assessed the impact of the offensive on their effort in the countryside, they found that they were back where they had
been two years ago. they had lost a lot of control but also their attempts to sort of build up support in the countryside had been completely undermined because they could not provide for the security of those people, and that's where you see a sense of, well, this is also a military defeat for the united states in that they've lost time that they no longer have anymore. in terms of the impact on the american public, the american public had turned against the war by the autumn of 1967, and that's why lbj brought william westmoreland back on this public relations campaign. this is where he utters those words about the war being almost over, that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that sort of thing. and it was to address this -- the american public opinion that
had basically lost confidence in lbj and really was just wanted the war to be over and the united states to get out. and what you see after tet is that opinion goes back to that, that the public relations campaign lifted the poll numbers for a little while, and then tet brought them back to where they were back in, say, october, november. so, it didn't alter american opinion as much as it just returned it to where it had been the year before, and that is people were just saying, there's no end in sight and we want to get out. does that answer your question? >> can i add more to answer it even more? >> yes, you have my permission. >> so, right. walter cronkite, we've got to mention him because he was one of the people, this sort of stalwart cbs anchor, everybody loved him and trusted him and he had had faith. i don't know if his views had begun to quaver in '67 but certainly they did after the
surprise attack and americans were shocked or he was certainly shocked that they attacked the u.s. embassy in the middle of the night, how could they do that and for all the reasons you say, it wasn't as effective as perhaps the north would have liked but it was that shock, it was where it was and it was how cronkite, who had such a role, we don't want to exaggerate his role but certainly in the days of today where you have so many choices,people at that time didn't have so many choices. i personally had very little choices because i wasn't allowed to watch it but from what i understand, he was front and center for most americans and he travel to vietnam to check it out. he was not happy with what he saw and westmoreland is saying the end is coming into view and people are saying, really? so this was a key point and i hope that -- you have to hold these two views, they were competing but one eventually kind of won out. >> just very briefly, lyndon johnson references the tet offensive when he resigns, essentially. he references the aftermath in
that speech. when the president of the united states is talking about it and 20 minutes later he's saying i'm not going to run again, i think that shows the importance on american politics. >> right here and then we go to the back there. >> i'm just going to give a follow-up to the agent orange issue. i work -- i do some work in the local state prison and a number of the life -- >> can you hold the microphone up. >> a number of the people have been sentenced to life imprisonment are asking under state or federal law to have a sna sentencing rehearing bringing into account the issues that if they were vietnam veterans, even if their underlying crime was, say, murdering a spouse several years later so there is a public policy issue like agent orange that relates to the costs that we are paying as taxpayers of anybody who's serving a life sentence. >> i didn't know that. >> we have one more here and
we'll go back to the back here. >> the survey that 70% of americans said they were against the war, although they wouldn't demonstrate, was that taken in 1968? >> no, 1990. >> that was taken in 1990. >> in other words, you look at the gallup poll and they sort of do a retrospective on vietnam and they say, how many of you think the war was the mistake and it's 70% or more. and then follow up with, how many of you wish you would protested the war at the time and only a third of that number. >> so that was the question that created is what do you think support for the war was like by the time of the '68 election in america and how did the candidates position themselves, lyndon johnson not in the race, about the war and was nixon right to invoke a silent majority that was -- i mean, i don't exactly know what he said about the silent majority but maybe you could tell us but presumably for america for
sticking it out. >> americans did want -- i mean, he said he had a secret plan to end the war. this was nixon's plan and humphrey was trying to work behind the scenes to work out negotiations which you know kind of came apart because of nixon's underhanded role there. but there was a sentiment in the country that it's time to end the war. even the republican women on the table were saying, we pray that nixon will end the war. so there was a, i think, i don't know if you would agree with that, but certainly by the end of '68, people were hoping it was going to end soon. >> the historian walter actually makes the argument that given that the two leading candidates at that point, i mean, humphrey and nixon were both promising to end the war in some way, that the more dominant issue, and this is what worried nixon, because george wallace was running, was the situation at home and what became known as
law and order and concern over the cities -- violence in the cities but also crime. it was in '68, lyndon johnson was trying to push a crime -- a new crime bill through congress to address that concern because there was some feeling that they had ceded that issue to the republicans or to george wallace, and so i think there was agreement on vietnam to the extent that people wanted the united states to get out. nixon, i think, pretty astutely said he would get the united states out without saying how he would do it. but it would be with honor. it would be peace with honor. and -- which i think is a phrase he used later, but that was -- and then he addressed the domestic issues in a way that i
think appealed to voters. >> and if i could add to that, briefly. it's very interesting you mention the crime bill, that was also alluded to in these fbi documents and you were going to ask this if we had time but how 1968 continues, and i dare say, you know, following up from what you're saying this anti-crime and the heightening of the militarization of the police is a legacy from '68 that we are living with today, that conservative turn that's going on. >> question in the back. >> jack. my memories of 1968 include the incident that took a while to come out called milai where a company of american soldiers simply slaughtered 500 civilians, mostly women and children, and that became a kind of sign of the war weariness,
the war crimes, the war evilness, and i could feel it at that time that as it was beginning to eat away at people's easy support of the war, and around the same time, gene mccarthy appears on the scene with his campaign which was, i guess, it took full flower in the new hampshire primary, even though he didn't win it, he challenged johnson in such a way as to shake johnson's confidence that a reelection campaign was worth it. and so what i was -- well, the third factor i wanted to mention was martin luther king's poor people's campaign which was a sign that not only his opposition to the war, which had built up over the year, his famous speech, that riverside church, a year before, but now king was saying, oh, we just have to get the evils within american injustice and inequality. so the poor people's campaign was just getting started when he
was killed, so i was just curious if any of those issues came within your purview of analyzing what was happening to not only philadelphia but throughout the country in terms of loss of confidence in the quality of life in the united states that was being affected by the war. >> well, the only thing i would say about milai, which comes out later, but -- and i don't know the sort of legal technicalities, but as i recall, richard nixon actually pardoned or commuted the sentence of lieutenant callie, right? which i think is a pretty good indication that he thought that would be a popular move. so, here's somebody who was responsible and been convicted of a crime -- of a war crime, but nixon still thought it advantageous in some way to -- i
don't know whether it was he lessened his sentence or commuted it or whatever, which suggested not -- again, sort of he had this understanding of where the so-called silent majority was on a lot of these issues, and their perception had somehow that he was as much a victim of the war as, you know, the actual victims. it's a pretty disturbing thought, but you know -- >> and on some of the other issues you raised such as approximathe poor people's campaign and the issues of race relations, i think that, it's sometimes hard for me to dissociate all that because i think certainly the war was demoralize ago ling to f people but at home, there were so many other crises going on that were separate. martin luther king reported how the war's spending was affecting what was happening at home and we had the fair housing act put through in '68, sort of the last
big liberal bills for african-americans, et cetera, but i think there was so much tension and unhappiness and really discomfort in the cities and other places that may not necessarily have had to do with vietnam, although vietnam's kind of casting a shadow because many of the young men are over there, so it's, i think, in some ways, there was a demoralizing spirit going on in the united states and maybe vietnam was fueling that, but i think there was also other issues here that were even, you know, home grown that were part of it as well, sadly. >> i just want to add a couple things. in terms of, you know, i want to bring this back to philadelphia, the average person, this war impacts them in one way or the other, and i would argue that it's -- the economy is very far from their picture. it impacts them in terms of their life choices because, for example, we all know that folks who can go to college, which was, you know, much more affordable then, well, you get a deferment, but anyone who doesn't have that money, a lot of people have told me this,
it's blood money. a lot of people have told me this. that i joined the military because i was afraid of being drafted or i was drafted, so in terms of just the period of the time, this is something that, you know, in terms of, let's come back to the working folks who are the ones who fight in wars,remember that. the massacre that you're referencing, that only comes out later. these types of stories are coming out from word of mouth, and i would argue that people in these communities, you know, understand this is why it's driving people to make these types of decisions. so -- and race relations has a lot to do with it. we know that anyone who's jammed up in the criminal justice system, if you go to vietnam, you're out. so, there's all these things are interconnected. >> any other questions?
>> hi. chris bird. i was just wondering, as far as maybe this letter goes or other letters, do you get a sense that there's any sort of effort on an individual soldier's part to represent distinctions between vc troops and nva troops or, you know, evaluations of forces or south korean forces, to people back home. are they trying to, i guess, give the nuances of who they're fighting to the people back home. kind of a follow-up. do you see any sense of them trying to place their experience in vietnam within maybe a larger sort of cold war meta narrative about how we see soviet advisers everywhere or is that just completely absent? >> i would alike to address that. i think -- i want to talk about the last -- actually the second point you brought up first. like putting it -- framing it in the larger cold war.
in my experience, looking at it with these primary source documents, i've never seen that personally. that doesn't mean people haven't thought about it. in my oral history, people have talked about this and what they usually say is when i went to schoo school, like, for example, some of the folks i interviewed were in the rutgers rotc, they said we learned about the cold war from our teachers. and what the same person told me, he's like, then i realized that it was essentially all a lie. you know, it's much more nuanced than what i was taught, where every communist is a bad guy, everyone is funded and supplied by the soviet union and china. so that's to address your second point. and i'm forgetting the first point at the moment so i'll -- >> the differences between vc and nva. >> i have not seen that. what i've seen in terms of primary source documents, the things that really come out is
people just want to go home. that's what comes out to me. the distinctions, i haven't seen them as prominently in terms of, oh, the free world forces are here, and, oh, this is, you know, it's more a sense of survival. and i think that survival comes out of this letter too, the sense that you're trying to look out for your fellow folks, trying to look out for yourself, trying to look out for your family. that's the common thread i see in a lot of these documents is survival. >> and that you embrace the steak dinner that -- that's your brief little respite. a steak dinner on real plates with real silver ware and this becomes a way of even temporarily surviving. >> the -- there is a lot of evidence that shows that american soldiers disparaged their allies, the army of the republic of vietnam. they felt that they were corrupt, that they often broke and ran and that very often they
held those views quite unfairly, the tet offensive being an example of that. but interestingly, they also had this grudging respect and admiration for the north vietnamese regulars and the nlf because of the determination and just sheer doggedness of these and how well trained they were, and so they would make this comparison between the enemy and their supposed ally, and the enemy came out on top in their views. >> that's interesting. >> as having those kind of warrior traits that they admired. >> there's a question here. >> we commented on another
political strain and i know you have certain ways but the guns were part of the argument during the period of the '60s because you also had the kerner commission came out, very conservative, basically conservative middle of the road, maybe, placing the blame on white racism and saying that it would cost -- in order to address this problem in terms of employment, housing, education, et cetera, billions of dollars needed to be put in to that, and did you see or read anything about the struggle in terms of those political trends? thank you. >> well, i don't get the sense that that was -- i mean, wasn't there recently sort of a reunion of even some of the people who were involved in that commission. still a few alive, and those things were not done, right? it really wasn't done.
>> it was a fight, wasn't it, in the country? >> right. >> one other thing, from reading the enquirer during this period, there was this sort of disturbing sense of deja vu. there were people who were complaining. they said, well, all the -- in congress in particular, they wanted the lbj to cut the budget and critics were saying -- liberal critics were saying, they just want to cut the social programs. they're not cutting the military budget as well. they're just using this as an excuse to cut social programs when what we need to do is the opposite. and of course robert kennedy, he made a speech in early -- i want to say may to the uaw and he said, we can't police the world. we've got people starving. he said, i don't mean hungry, i mean starving in mississippi, that's how he put it.
and we need to use those resources here, not abroad. and for peaceful, not military purposes. so, there was that, i think, that tension and this fear that the argument about the economy was actually being used to sort of smother social programs. >> and then just the law and order piece, right? obviously that's another expenditure that's not going to go to these people who really need it. >> but also have the fact, and this was brought up by my colleagues. martin luther king essential says this. he says that, to paraphrase, basically the great society has been destroyed in vietnam. i mean, that's essentially that argument and that's the argument he's making. and that's why they see him as a radical. >> so we had one other question up here in the front that if we could get that and maybe we have that be our last question and then we can maybe give people a chance if they have any final thoughts. >> so, at the -- my name's zach. at the risk of bringing up
readings from another class, which is everyone's least favorite to do. there's a great book about the ghosts of war in vietnam, and there's an extended section on the ways that american war dead have been incorporated into vietnamese traditional religion as sort of like spiritual social actors. and i was wondering, while we're talking about the afterlives of the u.s. war in vietnam through things like agent orange, public policy legislation, et cetera, and even just having this panel, is there any sense that you all have of the incorporation of vietnamese dead into american public consciousness? >> you mean the costs of the war there that the u.s. good pay reparations for, say something like that? >> american -- one of the things that i think people complimented the most recent documentary series on the vietnam war for
was that it actually included vietnamese, right? i mean, for so long, american memories of the war and explanations for why the united states lost, for example, were attributed solely to american causes as if the vietnamese were sort of kind of had a walk-on role in their own war. and so, no, we haven't gotten to that point yet. >> my answer is absolutely not. i mean, we talk about agent orange and the gentleman in the back talked about the impact on american troops. you know, there's literally millions of acres of land that is untenable in vietnam. that's never talked about. people suffer from agent orange there. and we're in the 21st century. that's never talked about, is so the answer to your question, i would answer, absolutely not. >> it's like a war crime that was never really addressed, right? >> so, maybe we have just a few minutes left before we're
supposed to go into break, but part of this -- we've talked a little bit about whether or not 1968 was a turning point in the vietnam war. maybe zooming out a little bit farther and to think about does the way in which the experience of war in 1968, has that changed anything beyond that, or in terms of how we, as historians, or as people in philadelphia talk about or imagine war or as kind of the return of some of this language and some of these conversations, are we still stuck in the same struggles and dilemmas that people were wrestling with and protesters were agonizing over and governments were trying to sort out in 198? 1968? maybe just go down the row here. >> it's obviously a complicated question. this is, you know, the fact that we're talking about it today,
it's very -- it's still political. right? we still talk about it in the same kind of guise as i imagine people would talk about it in 1968 but i want to talk about the legacy because expanding beyond 1968, which is what you're alluding to, and philadelphia in particular, we have to understand that, you know, there's a place in philadelphia called little saigon now, right? this is -- there are no vietnamese in philadelphia until after the vietnam war. the literal structure of philadelphia changed because of this war. so, if we're talking about how 1968 changed america, well, you just have to go to south philadelphia near the italian market and go to the vietnamese section there. it's quite -- such a fascinating story, and that's one of the great things about the oral history work that was brought up. a lot of the folks interview people in their communities and they're all -- they have all been touched by this war.
a lot of people -- and we think about vietnam as a monolith. we don't understand that people were refugees in their own country and then they were refugees again. so, just to be brief, yeah, you just have to look out the window to see the impact of 1968 on philadelphia. >> i think one of the legacies, along with the sort of militarization piece that i mentioned before, war zone crime, et cetera, but i think also this sense of a lack of confidence in the american role in the world. i mean, certainly, the u.s. was rightly shaken up about what it was doing and vietnam was really the beginning as we've said of a lot of that concern and demoralization and what are we doing anyway, and of course earlier, fulbright had talked about the arrogance of power. but today, we're dealing with a whole other kind of, i think, issue around that. what is the american role in the world? does the american -- does the
united states, more specific, does the united states have a role in the world as it did for much of the cold war, at least in the sort of nods to the u.s. stands for certain values, democracy, whatever it is, and tries to encourage that. or, you know, in our present situation, we definitely have a president who is questioning that, right? that the u.s. role in the world may not be as expansive in those ways of sort of introducing principles, whether we do it right or not is a whole other issue, i understand, but that we sort of hold that up. i think vietnam began to make us question that we really had a right to do that. after the war, the u.s. continued to support nato and all the other organizations as it had so i wonder if we're at another juncture where we're thinking about what is the u.s. role in the world anyway and what should it be so a legacy from '68 that way. >> i'm going to -- i don't know if this will answer your question, paul, but i'm going to use this opportunity to just read one of my favorite quotes that came in a press conference
from president george w. bush when the united states was on the verge of invading iraq, and i can remember this, because the reporter who asked it had a british accent, and i remember just sort of sitting up in my chair because i hadn't really thought of the issue in this way. he said, mr. president -- this is on the verge of war with iraq -- millions of americans can recall a time when leaders from both parties set this country an mission of regime change in vietnam. 50,000 americans died. the regime is still there in hanoi and it hasn't harmed or threatened a single american in the 30 years since the end of the war. that's the line that got me. what can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and daughters of americans who served in vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path? in iraq.
that's really powerful stuff. i mean -- and the -- unfortunately, the president's -- he sort of sped right through that question. instead, he saw this in terms of what was then known as the powell doctrine, right, the reason the united states lost in vietnam was it didn't have a clear goal, a clear military goal. it didn't -- it wouldn't use all the tools in the toolbox, all of these expressions that were used at the time, and so the president said, oh, that's a great question, which, by the way, whenever somebody says that, they really don't think it's all that great. our mission is clear in iraq. should we have to go in, our mission is very clear. it's disarmament, and in order to disarm, it would mean regime change. i'm confident we'll be able to achieve that object nifive in a that minimizes loss of life. it's very clear what we intend to do and our mission won't
change. this was another criticism of the united states in vietnam. our mission is precisely what i just stated. we've got a plan that will achieve that mission should we need to send forces in. but of course he didn't answer the question, which is we all thought this was so important to be in vietnam, and it turns out they won, and it didn't threaten american security. are you so sure that we need to be in iraq? and by that time, of course, they had already made up their mind. >> so, in a way, we began with a document and we end with a document, and perhaps that points to precisely the ways in which historians can engage that past to pose questions of us in the present. so please join me in thanking these panelists.
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