tv 1968 - America in Turmoil Vietnam War CSPAN August 6, 2018 11:44am-1:16pm EDT
and diplomatic -- in that year. jim webb and author, david maraniss. we begin on the state of the war in 1967. this is "american history tv." these marines just return from the a tough battle in the north. they are now in the defensive perimeter. the weapons are cleaned and cared for. a matter of importance in the life of a professional fighting man. this is not a clean or easy life but they learn to accept the physical harpshiped of battle as their fathers did before them. ♪ marines recount battles. here in vietnam, except for
snow, they prove it. from a soft -- of the rice patty and they run through swift canals and streams and push forward into the jungles that frame the mountains and giant trees cut off the sun. it is not just a matter of long walks in the tropical heat. each and every step must be a caution one. the veet congre the viet cong prepared the land with mines and traps. shells are waiting for the threat. and you will never know which step will be covered with bamboo
spikes. must constantly sweep the roads in search of killer mines. the troops must provide a screen of security behind which americans can assist the revolutionary rebuilding of their nation. it is necessary to constantly patrol the country side and deny reentry to the veet yiet cong. one of the most difficult jobs in this war without a front is to distinguish friend from foe. each person must be searched and identified. whether vc is turned up and captured by combat, they are treated with fairness under the geneva convention rules. marines are found and such treatment of a cruel enemy frequently results in
information that reveals the where about this of an enemy. marines react quickly and a striking force moves out swiftly. as they move in on the enemy position, it results in some casualties and the attack is -- to the enemy stronghold. and again, that film from 1967 and the duration of jack webb as we begin the conversation looking back 50 years ago. 1968, a year in turmoil.
jim webb the author of "i heard my country calling" senator, thank you for being with us. and the author of how many books now? >> one of them "they marched in the sun light" who was winning the vietnam war in 1968? >> no one was winning. everyone was losing. >> why? >> for a lot of different reasons. the united states government without telling the public decided they didn't know how to win the war and didn't necessarily want to win the war. it was -- the public -- more than 50% of the people sport upd the war but it was unknown what was going to happen next. i would say that everyone was loosing at that point. >> you were at the naval academy in the 1960s. what was that like as you and
eurocolleagu eu your colleagues were preparing to serve? >> i graduated in 1968 after the tet offensive and people seemed to understand pretty clearly that there were objectives over there. i think the best place to start on the question you asked david, what is it that we were attempting to achieve and how can you measure that now? there's a latin saying, we saw now how the war ended but what was it looking like in 1968, first of all, there were valid reasons to go into vietnam. if you look at the east asian region as a whole coming out of world war ii, it was torn apart by war. japan receded back into the boundaries and. colonial powers left and a lot of turmoil in terms of
governmental and economic systems. we had the korean war and legit met international communist movement. we can smile a little about that now, but it was ho chi minh had the common turn in moscow for years. it was between him and stalin back in 1954. the question was, how do you fight the war and how do y you assimilate in terms of what our objectives were? when i was a marine, on any given day we were fighting three wars. we were fighting a conventional war against the vietnamese, we were fighting an insurgency war, and we were fighting a terrorist war, which this country really didn't understand at that time. that's the reason that john kennedy decided to put american troops into vietnam in 1961.
the communist assassination squads were killing 1100 citizens a day. how do you take that and say who was winning or lose ing in the middle of that sort of turmoil? it was hard to say. >> but let's look at the objective. if you look at ken burns' award-winning documentary, it shifted from president truman with vietnam. was it shifting by 1968? >> by late 1967, the policy had shifted, yes. and defense secretary mcnamara had basically -- this hadn't come out yet, the pentagon papers hadn't come out yet, but they basically had decided they were not going to win the war and the best they could do was a stalemate, and that's what they were dealing with at that time. the war has to be dealt with in three ways. one is the military, which jim was part of, one is the policy, which is completely different,
and the third is society and what was happening in the united states at that time. >> and that's outlined in your book, "they march sbud sed into sunlig sunlight" and i want to put three components on the table. you had madison, wisconsin, you had dow chemical and the napalm bombings and you had vietnam. tie the three together. >> it wasn't just napalm, it was also agent orange that dow made. the protest at the university of wisconsin in october of 1967 was the first student protest that turned into a violent confrontation on a campus. and it was against dow chemical company recruiting on the campus at a time when some students were vehemently opposed to the war. there is an interesting connection that you can only make in retrospect, which is that as much as these students were protesting the war for a combination of idealism and
self-interest, that they didn't want to fight in the war, they were also opposing two chemicals which had a profound negative effect on the soldiers and all the people of vietnam. napalm was destroying villages and it was also working as a weapon in that war, but agent orange is the one that had the most long-term debilitating effect on the people of vietnam and on the soldiers, many of whom i've dealt with over the years who fought in 1967 and are dying of bladder cancer in their '60s and often because of the effects of agent orange. >> jim webb, did you see that? >> did i see agent orange? yeah, i was in arizona in the marine corps. i was in areas where it was used. but at the same time, let's again take a look at the framework under which this war was being fought. i think it was the most complicated war that the united states has ever had to fight. it's not necessarily a negative
thing to say at this point that maybe a stalemate given the strategic circumstances and the power of the anti-war movement here was an acceptable goal at a certain point, just like north korea versus south korea, just like east germany versus west germany. that's the way that a lot of people, including myself, looked at what we were attempting to do. can you preserve a portion of a country and develop an incipient democracy and then over time have something different come out of it? south korea versus north korea is a great example. and the other thing that i think should be remembered is that there were -- on the extreme left, there were people who had revolutionary goals in this country that didn't connect with vietnam at first. the great example of that is the students for a democratic society, the sds, which was at the vanguard of a lot of these more violent protests.
they were formed in 1962 with the port huron statement at the university of michigan. they thought race would be the issue with which they could galvanize america into revolutionary change, quote, unquote. the war came along. the war affected everyone, potentially every family, potentially, and it folded into these other issues that they were debating. you know, the north vietnamese -- i spent a lot of time in vietnam during the war and since the war. i've written 10 books. several of them are also about vietnam. this was a memoir partly about vietnam. and i've met with the leaders in the north and the people who fought. and one of the key characters in stanley carnow's book about vietnam, the leader that was on the palace grounds in 1985, he later said that the rear front
of the communist effort was here to galvanize the anti-war movement and to demoralize the war. that followed him to, as david said, a lack of clarity on the political and strategic objectives. the other thing, i think, again, needs to be said because it isn't talked about enough is the policy of the communist government since 1958. it's classic policy of trotsky communism to have assassination as a key element of a strategy. they would go after people who were a part in any way of the leadership of south vietnam. government officials by the day in 1960 when president kennedy decided we needed to do something. we didn't know how to do that. we had incidents that were regretful and disgusting.
generally they were the result of emotional overload and people just blowing it. they were aberrations from what our policy is, legally or morally. that's not true on the other side. and when you look at that way, which was talked about, and used as an example in a number of these recent documentaries, communist cadre killed 2,000 south vietnamese, assassinated them in a way when he had temporary control. we don't hear people talking about that. >> let me remind the audience there is a number of ways for them to engage in our conversation. we've divided our phone lines. if you're a vietnam veteran, we would love to hear from you. for all others, 202-700-2001. there is a poll on who is winning in 1968.
we would love to have you participate and share your thoughts on that as well. david maraniss. >> i'd like to disagree with some of that. i think you can take the u.s. as one thing, but that doesn't represent the anti-war movement which was vastly more diverse than that and motivated toward other things rather than just trying to have a revolution in the united states. >> by the way, i would agree with you. >> i think that was a little bit of a stretch to take it to that place. there were very valid reasons to oppose this war that had nothing to do with that. secondly, on the vietnamese side, i agree completely that the anti-war movement was naive about thinking this was just a civil war and that it was involved in the south and the north vietnamese and the soviet union, and to some extent china who were helping control it, which they were. nevertheless, that doesn't make the war itself valid just because of that and it doesn't
make the american response valid as we'll see in 1968. >> referring to the lunar new year, what was the objective by the military? >> there was actually a debate within the north vietnamese military over whether to do it or not. the most famous north vietnamese general, jeff, opposed it. but there was a stronger side that prevailed. the lunar new year, january 31st, 1968, and what they decided was they would have a massive attack everywhere they could to try to discombobulate the americans and the south enemies and have a publicity effect on everything. it was a debate whether it would be worth it or not. they knew there would be a lot of casualties, which, in fact, happened. in a sense the vietcong and the north lost in terms of the military aspects of it but won in terms of publicity. >> this is the south vietnamese
army explaining what happened. it runs about a minute and a half. >> at the end of january 1968. saigon was alive with prospective spirit as everyone prepared for the tech lunar new year. it is both a sacred and enjoyable time of the year. this was to be the first spring of the vietnam. the north vietnamese seemed to promise the people a safe holiday free from the ever-present anxiety of war. people gathered to pay respects to their ancestors. on the eve of the new year, thousands of saigon families prayed to their ancestors. however, the traditional firecrackers of the tet celebration became the fireworks of war. the vietcong taking advantage of the noisy celebration launched an attack on saigon.
areas of the city became a blazing inferno. columns of smoke rose skyward and block after block in the capital city burned with the fires of vietcong treachery. >> that took place in january 1968. two months later, president lyndon johnson would announce that he would not seek another term, but the speech was primarily on vietnam and the tet offensive. here's what lbj said march 1st, 1968. >> their attack during the tet holidays failed to achieve its principal objective. it did not collapse the elected government of south vietnam or shatter its army, as the communists had hoped.
it did not produce a general uprising among the people of the cities as they had predicted. the communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. and they took very heavy casualties. but they did compel the south vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities. they caused widespread disruption and suffering. their attacks and the battles that followed made refugees of half a million human beings. the communists may renew their attack any day. they are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in south vietnam, the year that brings, if not final victory or
defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle. >> again, march 31st, 1968, and jim webb, you were wrapping up your tenure at the u.s. naval academy. you heard the speech? >> yeah, i'm sure i did. i know what he said. >> so what was happening in this time frame? >> here's what i think we need to do. i know this is a show about 1968, but it's very difficult to talk about the vietnam war and freeze frame it into one year or even a few months out of one year. >> certainly. >> and by the way, my wife was born in vietnam during the tet offensive in 1968 and her family remembers it well. they became refugees after the fall of saigon. one thing you will see in the communist strategy on the vietnam war is every presidential year, they were able to mobilize some sort of an
offensive that would get the attention over here, and that's one thing that happened in tet '68. by the way, this is kind of interesting because we just showed a clip of a south vietnamese explanation, and in so many of these other documentaries we're seeing, you get straight propaganda footage out of hanoi about what their soldiers were doing, and we get direct interviews with the american marines and soldiers who are reminiscing in a personal way and they sat next to each other, and people can be led to one conclusion or another. winning momentarily, the 27th anniversary of saigon's fall, hanoi announced they lost 1.4 million soldiers dead. we lost 250,000, the south vietnamese lost 240,000. but clearly on the battlefield, our people did their job. in terms of articulating our
message, it was very difficult, one, because it was an evolving message. it was pretty unclear as to what goals were going to continue as the situation changed over th e there. but, you know, i can remember reading about tet '68 in the "washington post." peter braves was a marine who had been wounded in north korea, spent three years over there. you could read the front page of the "washington post" and have straight-up, factual reporting for a battle, and then you get to the political pages and these political people, and i've been a political person over there, it's time to do something else. very difficult for the country to process what a win, what a loss was, until much later. even though, as david was saying, the tet offensive was a
military failure, that's not what was being reported at the time. >> in one final point, we're going to go. >> let me put this in perspective. you had the tet offensive in 1968. >> more soldiers killed in one week during the tet offensive than any other time of the war. >> then you have president johnson's speech -- >> then you have the election where he gets four votes over lyndon johnson. then you have ted kennedy entering the race. he's about to lose the wisconsin primary the next day when he decides not to run march 31st. >> and on february 7, 1968, walter cronkite says this. for it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody
experience of vietnam is to end in a stalemate. how significant was that back then? >> there were only three networks then. walter cronkite was considered the voice of america, so that content was vitally important. lbj used to say that a fn army s two divisions. >> former u.s. senator, former navy secretary, and let's get to your phone calls. james here in washington, d.c., a veteran of the vietnam war. go on, please. >> caller: thank you. half of my class in south carolina, 21 boys, 12 were vietnam veterans. there was over 8,000 americans,
nurses, soldiers, marines would volunteer for vietnam almost every year of the war, and you could not get none of the presidents to get ready to move on the backlog of people waiting two and three years, entry people like myself cannot get in, and the va hospital can't make our claims. >> thank you, and you dealt with that in the senate. >> i dealt with it first of all as a vietnam veteran serving as the counsel on the congress. i've been working on veterans' issues either public or pro bono, and i'd like to say to the gentleman who called, i appreciate very much your stepping forward and serving and there's been a great misunderstanding in this country
about how people who served in vietnam are. we did a harris survey when i was on the political council, 1980. a $30,000 attitude busted. they enjoyed their time in the military, and two out of three said even knowing the result of the war, they would go back again. in terms of the va, when i got to the senate in '07, the va backlog was 600,000 claims. when i left, it was 900,000 claims. and part of that was the increasing difficulty of the system with attorneys involved in a way they hadn't been before in the litigation. but a lot of it was just plain leadership inside the va. i worked very hard on that. and one of the other lessons from vietnam is that the g.i.
bill for the people who served in vietnam was miniscule compared to the world war ii g.i. bill which enabled the futures of 8 million of our 16 million world war ii soldiers. and i wrote and passed when i was in the senate for 16 months, the post-9/11 g.i. bill which is the best g.i. bill in the history of the country. i'm very proud of that. >> david maraniss. >> i just want to say that everything that happened in vietnam, wars don't end when the battle ends. they go on with the people who fought in them. >> good morning. >> caller: good morning, gentlemen. how are you doing today? the question about winning a war to me, the people who won the war are the people who supplied bombs and bullets in vietnam.
regarding the incident that i read, and i double checked that prior to the tonken, they ran the north vietnamese against the south vietnamese, so the incident at tonken was supposed to be pushed back to the lines. i saw these claims and these claims just fought with incidents of undiagnosed illness, chronic fatigue. not bombs or bullet, but this is the do i understand of stuff that this war and the vietnam war has brought to us, and we don't seem to get the message that we've got to keep our young men and women safe and not put them in this kind of harm's way. thanks for the call and have a nice day.
>> this goes back to your comment about agent orange. >> yes, very much so. there is a lot of different aspects to that. every war has a material aspect of it and people benefiting from the war. you can make an argument that the war is fought because of that. i disagree with that. i think it's a by-product because of it. the war is reflected because of policy and whether it's right or wrong, the economics of it. >> we are beginning a nine-part series here on c-span and c-span3 american history tv. we're pleased to welcome you to our program as we look at the 1968 vietnam war. >> the gentleman who made the comment about who wins, first of all, with respect to issues like agent orange, i worked with those in 1970. i counseled trying to find the nexus between the use of --
actually it's -- dioxin is a component inside agent orange. people think everywhere trees went down dioxin was. there are ways to point it out for veterans who were affected. the man who created singapore was one of the most brilliant minds in east asia. he repeatedly used to say that the united states' effort in vietnam actually created a win for the region because it slowed down these sorts of revolutionary movements and it allowed these other countries to invigorate new governmental systems and economic systems. i think when we put in the formula the attempt that we made to preserve an incipient democracy there that there were very strong, positive, long-term
results out of that. >> there are also more than a million vietnamese deaths and 58,000 american deaths. >> was the u.s. winning the vietnam war in 1968? that's our question on twitter at c-span history. right now, again, unscientific but we appreciate your participation. 38% said yes, 62% said no. here at the table, david mar maraniss of the "washington post" and david webb. good morning. >> caller: hello. washington and the world that's listening to this station. i have direct knowledge about why the vietnam war went on. it goes all the way back to the turn of the century when the french went there and the economists went there to take charge of -- indochina, it was
called, and they utilized it as a stepping stone for their economy of rubber plantations and opium. >> david maraniss, is that correct? >> i would say when you go to vietnam -- jim has been there almost every year, i go there for my book. you will see that in the perc t perspective of the vietnamese today, america is the country they hate the least out of the french, the chinese and the americans. because the french colonized them and that's a far different thing than fighting a war. yes, i think the french aspect there was totally economic and those rubber plantations were a vital part of that. >> a key part of this, general william westmoreland. how does vietnam view his role? >> let me say something here.
i think it's an important part of how we process this war. i hope more people in this country will talk to the vietnamese-american community, and you will learn about a lot of stakes that were at play during this war that we never talk about. yes, the french colonized vietnam. by the way, when you talk to the vietnamese, and i speak vietnamese and i can get away from the translators -- the japanese were the worst occupiers of vietnam. they starved about a million vietnamese by taking rice out and sending it to japan. they have a long colonial history, but the question in this post-world war ii period, is how does vietnam move forward away from a colonial system? there were a number of anti-french political groups and leaders that were also anti-communist, and a great percentage of them got killed
before we got there, when ho chi minh was taking over and solidifying the communist system. a lot of the vietnamese who were on our side. 240,000 of them died on our side. a million of them were sent to re-education camps after the war. some of my friend, two and a half years at re-education camps after the war. came here and built a system that, if it had been a place over there, you would see vigorous culture. i'll be very patient working withment to recreate the bond of overseas vietnamese and the communist government. but there was a lot of stake for
nem many rather than that they were on our side? >> i think both is true. i think both is true. i think that there were common interests strategically for us and governmentally and politically for them. they've been great americans. >> i go back to my earlier point about general westmoreland. how does history view his involvement in this? >> i don't want to sum that up. it's just out of the area of where i spent my time. i will say this for the united states marines who were in vietnam, we sent 400,000 marines to vietnam. 133,000 of them were killed and wounded, more total casualties than any other war. and i will tell you, every war has its down sides, but in terms of serving their country and doing their job, they were the finest people i've ever been around. >> from my perspective, westmoreland was a disaster.
at the key point of my book in 1967, westmoreland was the one pushing the hardest to say that this war could be won as battles of attrition. just go out, search and destroy, find the battle. >> ai want to get your opinion f walter cronkite again. this is what he said. for it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of vietnam is to end in a stalemate. you're about to graduate from the academy and serve america. how significant was this on the home front? >> actually, a factual correction. walter cronkite made a different broadcast that i don't think was
widely published but a different tape saying something when he was finishing his time in vietnam, saying something more positive than that. in terms of a stalemate, here's what i was believing and i still believe when i went into vietnam. first of all, i had just taken four years of education from the naval academy to learn to serve my country. the war was not going to go away and they needed leadership. that's what i did. i used to peltell people on the political side of this, five years from now, six years from now i'll come back and tell you what i really think. but one of the things that i saw -- we keep mocking vietnamiization, these guys weren't any good. i was a rifle platoon commander and then a company commander. we worked with some of these veteran units and they were good. the view that i had were the
people my age and younger that were coming were being trained and had learned different ways of doing military leadership, were strong. how long have we waited. someday korea will recall and nobody believed germany would unite as quickly as they did. >> germany has united. it's not the place it was in the 1990s. you would agree with that. >> there is no way you can wind down the clock. i've started working with the vietnamese community here for many years, and the one thing i do is i take the same thing when
i first started back to vietnam because the maun turm. make peace, moving up the future. and i say, will you shake the hand of air, are there physical remnants of the war as you travel back to the country. >> when i was first going back, '92 we marched the entire length of the country. >> for how long? i'm curious. >> about a month. went to ha fong, highway 1, the national road all the way to cambodia. the agreement was let's treat veterans on both.
the amputees in the south side of the army and we'll you recall at that time that point there was a lot of --. the communists are very smart. they would leave a remnant of a base sorks. i think i was the first soldier that went to vietnam and brought stuff back. >> was that surreal? >> it was healthy, actually. to talk to the people that had been under fire from both sides, to go out and see the places that -- i spent a good deal of my life.
and then the hanoi side, the communist side, built many, many cemetaries for their soldiers and victory monuments and those sorts of things. >> david maraniss, you were there in 2005 and 2006. our columnist debbie connelly traveled with you. what did you see? >> we saw many remnants. we went to the site, the battlefiel battlefield. 44 miles we met with the vietcong who had fought that battle. we went with the north vietnamese division commander and with clark who was one of the commanders who fought in
that battle. when we met with the farmer who had been there for quite some who, the year before, had lost an arm. we also went to hanoi, and i don't think it's total propaganda. when you see these descendants, 13, 14 years old, with mutated limbs largely from the effects of some of the munitions. >> in that context, i've done it a dozen times. many i'll juts walk out who will
and i'll tell you one thing. there is enormous respect for the american marines who fought out there, and from the other side. i bumped into a veteran of a big battle we were in in may of 1969, who didn't know where i was coming from or what -- why i was there. we just stumbled into a conversation. and those are healthy as long as everybody is allowed to participate. >> i would agree with that. the most profound experience i had during that visit was watching clark welch, the they were a member of the vietcong official, two men who didn't make the.
>> 1968, a year in turmoil. and of course the driving issue was the slee 'nam. follow us on twitter for c-span history. go ahead, please. >> caller: thank you very much, gentlemen, for taking my call. i'll try to be brief and suck singt but i want to make a very few points. i'm ver sure my father efshd in bui 1961. i went to the rivers and served for one year. i could have refused orders but i didn't.
we dlielivered all the napalm u and down the rivers and the the gun boats were our escorts. we need to be very, very careful who we make our leaders. nixon went to china. when? who supplied the vietnamese with arm meant besides russia. china. these are my point. moral character, ethical character, very, very, very much matters and the truth, and i mean the truth. we need to get back on track with these people we elect and the decisions they make that puts so many people. >> clark, thank you. there are a couple things at play, his service and what he saw. >> first of all, i want to say how much i appreciate your call.
i don't know if you're seeing or hearing the camera in frun ont me, because there were a couple important points made there. one of the things i learned during the vietnam period, not just during my service, was to respect anyone in this country who was operating within our legal system when it comes to whether you serve, whether you don't serve. there were a lot of people who felt very strongly on the other side about the war. as david mentioned, no question about that. and the other one is we need to respect a tradition of serving the country for those who do step forward. the vietnam war hasn't been characterized as ward, and i was just there into the 1970s wonder, who served? for how long?
. >> two/thir-thirds of the marin that went into the war were voluntary. i wanted to be a marine. my son during the rock period. he and i were opposed by wauchs the peeker. my son dropped out of penn state and enlisted in some of the worst fighting in iraq. and my father was serving. not as much as the mccain family, who i respect very much, but when the taime came, he served. and that needs to be on the
table. >> to the caller's point, we did an interview with james jones who was president lyndon johnson's chief of staff. he had said that richard nixon undercut any efforts late in 1968 by president johnson to bring an end to the war. >> there is an excellent new biography of richard nixon by my friend john farrell who found some notes at the nixon library of haldeman writing about the way they were trying to undercut the efforts of the peace talks about that, i think that was largely going on. can i make a point about the truth? you can argue about policy, but one thing it's hard to argue about during the vietnam war is
that the united states could win. they wanted to make the argument they could win the war solely through battle attrition. if they killed enough that they would win the war. so in this very dattle formal that are here, people lied about it. >> this may be too simplistic, but why did president johnson simply not pull the plug? why didn't he say we're going to leave vietnam and let the vietnamese deal with this issue. >> that has a long history to it and i would say it has to do with politics and the united states and the democratic party and the way they dominated the whole notion of patriotism and the cold war through that whole
period. >> well, just sort of to round this out, in terms of body counts, there are two things that can be said about body counts. first of all, it was a war of attrition and ho chi minh used to say for every one of you we kill, you will kill ten of us and in the end you will get tired. >> that's right. >> but the body count by hanoi's admission came out pretty exact. when they admit 1.4 million soldiers dead, whether one battle or another was exaggerated, they were losing an awful lot of people. >> we'll go to frank joining us from florida. a lot of vietnam vets on this sunday. we appreciate it. go ahead, frank. >> caller: hello.
i have a question for jim webb. i was with the fifth marines at the same time he was. and i know exactly where the village was where he got wounded at. and i wanted him to know if he remembers the frustration that we used to feel by going to the same places day in and day out and taking the same wounded, and they knew exactly when we were coming and going. and it was just the same thing day in, day out. you got hit next to henderson hill. and we used to go there all the time. and it was in and out, in and out. and it was just we felt so much frustration because we weren't getting anywhere. >> frank, can you stay on the line? we'll get a response and if you want to follow up. senator webb. >> thank you. good to hear from somebody who was in the fifth marines. actually, yeah, the first time i was wounded it was off of henderson hill. second time was in the arizona valley. and one of the things that was frustrating, as a rifle platoon commander, was lack of continuity of our intelligence.
i was sitting with a very good friend of mine years ago, reason i mentioned second time, who got his eyeshot out in the arizona valley. and we were sitting in his backyard. i said where were you wounded? and he pulled out a map and he said right there. i said can you kidding me? i was wounded like 800 meters away from where you were only two months later. and that's just the inevitability of when you have these operations that are continually over the same areas trying to make contact with the enemy. and to, you know, find, fix, and destroy, as the fifth marines used to say, that was our job, and we did it well. and it was extremely frustrating, i agree with you. and the fifth marines took a lot of casualties out there. >> frank, did you want to follow up? >> caller: no, thanks for taking my call. i appreciate it. i really enjoy jim's books and hopefully can make a bigger
impact on vietnam vets. >> semper fi. >> you mentioned senator john mccain back in october sitting down with brian lamb in his office. he, frk, was a prisoner of war in vietnam for five and a half years. here is part of that interview. >> one of the great things about being a fighter pilot, you are sure everyone else is going to get shot down but not you. >> and when that happened, how many vietnamese were around you in the water in that lake? >> well, when i first went in, it's a long story, but i was barely able to get back to the surface. but then a bunch of them jumped in, and there is a picture i'm sure you'll show of them pulling me out of the lake. you can see my arm is broken, and up high. and then of course once they pulled me out, they weren't very happy to see me.
>> why not? >> because i just finished bombing the place. and so we got pretty rough. broke my shoulder. and hurt my knee again. but, look, i don't blame them. i don't blame them. we are in a war. i didn't like it. but at the same time, when you are in a war and you are captured by the enemy, you can't expect, you know, to have tea. and so they pulled me out. long story short, pulled me out of the lake, beat me up a little, or a lot, and then went to the now famous hanoi hilton prison which was just a short drive away. five minute drive away. and then it's a very long story about how they found out who my father was and decided to give
me treatment and two wonderful americans moved me into finally who thought they moved me in to die, and they took care of me and nursed me back to health. then after they saw me in better health, they put me into solitary confinement. >> that full interview by the way is available on website c-span.org and 45 years ago senator mccain releasing video, you can see him coming out of captivity. you can see him walking to freedom. senator webb? >> john mccain is a great friend. i've known him since 1978. i tease him because if you drive out to hanoi, you'll see a plaque that memorializes when john mccain went into the lake and i like to tease him that
he's the only one that has a plaque on the lake. >> except for morrison the guy who tried to kill mcnamara also has a plaque there. >> that doesn't surprise me. >> yes. >> but john's getting shot down, i guess there are reasons that they might put a plaque there. but he gave great service and he has a lot of grace in him about what the implications of war are. >> explain that story. >> well, i don't know too much about it, but i saw the plaque of that, of an american who tried to kill mcnamara and considered a hero in parts of vietnam. >> let's get back to our phone calls. fred is joining us from austin, texas. where and when did you serve, fred? >> caller: i served 1970, 71, airborne combat around the areas of valley, and carried the m 61 machine guns in the rice paddies. and one thing i'd like to point
out is to the combat infantrymen who suffered through that, one thing that really irked me, and that was that the politicians were making the rules of engagement toward the end of our tour, we could barely defend ourselves. then we come back from a mission, we would see the civilians that were working there in the mess hauls that were hired, they were vietnamese, and of course we carried vietnamese scouts. these were the captured prisoners that were converted into scouts to come along with us. and of course they weren't the most trustworthy. so we had our backs to the wall. and we had no way to protect ourselves as the rules of engagement changed for political reasons.
and it's the same thing, if you weren't there, then you put down on paper these rules. and put the combat infantrymen in dire situations were risking their lives. so that was the one thing that irked me. and i was proud to be served, but airborne all the way, all the way, 82nd airborne. >> thank you. senator webb, did you sense that? >> first of all, i want to say thank you. i was in the first marine division, and the mountains separated us from the other side of the mountain. we used to see the flares every night over there. i appreciate what you did. it's a very bad area in terms of combat in vietnam. let me put a shout out there. there weren't that many people from the professional sports world who went to vietnam.
one was roger staubach, heisman trophy winner who volunteered to spend a year. another was rocky bleer from notre dame. >> wisconsin. >> great blocking back for the pittsburgh steelers. and he accepted the draft or he might have volunteered. but he was wounded, series of fights, he was wounded at the same time, 1965, when all the stuff was going on with us, and i've always had tremendous respect for him. the rules of engagement were strict. they became strict. many times it was very frustrating. but on the other hand, we are a nation of rules. and i want to emphasize this again. because one of the great failings on our side. and actually bernard fall pointed this out in 1961, before we went in, in his book, the two vietnams, is we used artillery and supporting arms tactically.
we would set a perimeter up and have on calls on night because enemy would ingress and attack you. but it was kind of random in the village when they would see the stuff come out of the sky and civilians were often hurt. the communists used assassination as the tools of the policy, the worst thing i saw in the basin where i faough. people would say, the south vietnamese district chiefs are all corrupt. they stayed in a villa in danang. so our company commander said said let's have a meeting with our villagers. 30 people in a small room. they came in with three hit men, threw three grenades, killed 19 out of the 33 people for having connected with the south vietnamese government.
they need to own up. i say this to my friends in the government in vietnam. you need to own up that a lot of the stuff went on as a matter of policy. >> i just want to remind our audience that we are focusing on america, 1968, america in turmoil. it's the first of a three-part series on american history tv, all of it available on our website at c-span.org. navy secretary, naval academy graduate, marine corps veteran, but part of the broader navy. and david maraniss who is author of countless books. he is the editor at the "washington post," including "they marched in sunlight." you wanted to follow up. >> it was march 16, 1968 when meliah happened. it wasn't revealed for another year, but when you talk about
rules of engagement, that's the worst that can happen when you don't follow rules of engagement. hundreds of old people, kids, just civilians were literally slaughtered by american troops. if it wasn't for another heroic american helicopter pilot who landed between them and stopped it, it could have gone on for longer. of course war is awful in all respects, but there has to be certain ethical and moral rules of engagement standard or that can happen. >> first of all, the objective of meliah was what? >> the objective was to destroy the village, basically. >> and how many people died? >> several hundred. at least 500. >> i go back to the earlier point of the caller and what happened on the home front. there was more congressional oversight in 1968. we had the fullbright hearings in washington. how significant were they? >> every step of that was very
significant. although you have to understand that in 1968, the war lasted for another seven years. but in terms of the turning point, in terms of congressional approval over the next two or three years, it changed the world considerably. >> can i just -- to finish this thought. i don't know the exact number of people who were killed at meli. whatever it was, it was atrocious. and we recognize that. this is the most important point i hope i can make today. we recognize that in our legal system, in our system of morality, we declare this as an aberration. we still condemn it. it took three weeks before meli. communist cadre lined up about 2,000 vietnamese and killed them because they were connected to the south vietnamese government. it was a part of their policy. we can't seem to get that into the history. i can accept -- you can see --
>> it was possible for ourselves, basically. >> when we're allowing one side to sort of cleanse their history and giving film footage that basically was propaganda footage mixed into our documentaries, when we don't point this out it just seems like we were the evil source and that's all that was going on there. i accept that there is a different system in vietnam that i would have liked to have seen. i worked very hard with it. i brought american companies into vietnam in the 1990s after the trade embargo was lifted, but we need to have an honest discussion about our history. >> next from bedford, new hampshire. go ahead, please. >> caller: thank you very much for taking my call. first, senator webb, thank you for your service both in the service and afterwards in congress and government.
i was at west point from '68 to '72, and a classmate of mine, andy crippenivoch, wrote a book about vietnam in retrospect. he had a couple thesis. one was in large part the general staff wanted to run the war on the same model that the europeans was running world war ii. and that there were some pilot projects where what he called the inkblot approach of securing an area, providing 24-hour protection through the indigenous forces as well as our military, and then gradually expanding those so people could see the benefits of peace and also of a change of government. but those projects, even though
they had successes, they were abandoned because of higher level priorities. also, senator webb, i do believe that if you had run as a republican, i would be addressing you as president webb. and lastly, i felt during vietnam that people protested too much. in retrospect, i have different feelings about that, and i now feel that because people don't have skin in the game, don't have family at risk, that people don't protest enough, and that if we still had the draft and if people still -- if military service was more widespread, we would have different policies today in terms of iraq, afghanistan and elsewhere. thank you very much. >> thank you from new hampshire. >> those are excellent points. the one thing that i went through when my son was in iraq.
it's one thing to go and fight in a war, it's another thing to have your kid or your spouse over there. it's a totally different feeling, and i used to say that if of the congress had, you know, family members or close -- people they are close to at risk, they would wake up every morning, when you wake up every morning and wonder if your son is alive. you have a totally different feeling about how use of force is made in the country. there is absolutely nothing that this gentleman just said that i would disagree with other than that i am not sure i would have won as a republican. >> i have a couple of points there. >> certainly. >> i think the draft fueled the fire of the anti-war movement because it lends the self-interest aspect to the idealism. every young man of my age was debating what they would do if they were drafted if they opposed the war. so were their girlfriends and
their parents, so it created that atmosphere that led to it. the second point is, i agree completely that you can't protest enough. dissent is a vital lifeblood of american democracy. >> you wrote about that in "first in his class" about bill clinton. the draft movement in this country. i will put on the table, this is a photograph, an associated press photo from eddie adams called in "the washington post" "a turning point in the war." it is an iconic photograph from 1968, february of that year. a south vietnamese brigadier general shooting a vietcong enlisted soldier. david maraniss. >> that was during the tet offensive that that happened. capturing the moment of death like that has a power beyond the reality of what was happening in terms of those two people. and i think that, just like the nightly broadcasts in vietnam
which were showing much more than you ever saw in iraq in terms of what was -- of the brutality of war, affects people in a more visceral way. >> senator webb, would you agree with "the washington post," a grisly photo of a saigon execution 50 years ago shocked the world and helped end the war. agree or disagree? >> i would say first of all the facts of that -- i knew eddie adams. he passed away. he was a friend of mine. he did the photography in a number of journalistic stories i did for "parade" magazine. he also was a marine in korea. the facts of the story is the individual who was shot had just killed family members of people and exactly what we are talking about in terms of just killing people. i am not sure that was a general. i know he was a police chief. maybe he was a general. but eddie adams said to me, and i have written about this, that when he -- he received an award for that photograph i think by the dutch.
a dutch press organization. and when they read this sort of comment about his picture, he cried because that was -- that was not the intention of making a photograph like that. he was a professional photographer. >> and the cut line describes him as the south vietnamese brigadier general and chief of national police. >> right. >> he would have had both titles. >> brigadier general and national police. >> back to your phone calls. from athens, ohio, chester. go ahead, please. >> caller: hello, there. yes. in reference to that photo, that police chief, what he had done, he had killed several people in the village. so basically he was a terrorist is what he was. he deserved to be shot. my point is -- >> chester, stay on the line for a moment. you knew eddie adams. obviously -- did he have any sense that this was about to happen? do you know the story behind this picture? >> eddie adams was a great photographer. i think he saw an event and just started snapping and the photograph came out.
the gentleman makes an excellent point because that's exactly one of the points i have been trying to make during this -- >> chester, thanks. i didn't mean to cut you off. go ahead, please. >> caller: okay. my point is you're talking about the protest. i think we should be allowed to protest but you have to be careful with these protests because a lot of protesting going on back then, that foreign policy that controlled what we did over there -- by protesting all this, we couldn't expand the war or anything. it handcuffed our troops. we couldn't go to cambodia or laos and chase the people. they stayed right over there and used it as a buffer, and it handcuffed us. you need to be careful when you talk about protesting. i don't think i'll ever forget those people, what they did. thank you. >> i don't think the protests handcuffed the policy. i think the policy handcuffed the policy. >> let's go to bonnie from bellevue, washington. go ahead, please. >> caller: hello? >> go ahead, bonnie. you're next. >> caller: okay. i am a wife of a vietnam
veteran. of course the war affected us at home as equally as those in -- in a different way than those serving over abroad. the question, the point i wanted to make was that in 1968, not only were the protests going on, we haven't gotten to april, may, june of that year when we had -- my husband and i were 1964 graduates of high school. 1968 graduates of college. i can -- i don't believe that most people were volunteers. i think my husband was a volunteer only because he was going to be drafted in three months, so he walked in and volunteered because he wanted to choose the time to go. he felt he had no choice. most of our class -- we had many who passed away, who were
killed, ptsd, extreme cases of that from the class of '64. and the class of '68. '68, when my husband was in training, we had martin luther king killed, bobby kennedy killed. we had riots. it was a very tumultuous, unsettling, unhappy time. >> bonnie, thank you. i want to jump in and also remind you that we are focusing next week on those political events. thank you for adding that to the conversation. jim webb, did you want to respond? >> yes. first of all, i want to thank you and your husband and your friends for what they did during that period and for him having
stepped forward and served. it was -- it was difficult for a lot of people making those decisions. there is no doubt about that. i remember -- i know you are going to talk about it in your next segment, but just in the months leading up before i graduated from the naval academy in 1968, martin luther king was killed i believe on april 7th. >> 4th. >> was it the 4th? robert kennedy was killed the night before we graduated on june the 5th. he was killed at 2:00 in the morning. it was a tremendous amount of turmoil in the country. you made a point which i think ought to be put on the table, and that is, as a family member of people who served. i grew up in the military. there was one point when i was young, i -- my dad was gone for three and a half years. he was able to come back for visits, but he was stationed overseas. my mom was 24 years old with four kids. and living in a town where there was no support.
now we have great support structures for our military people, but the price that families pay, the sacrifices that they make we don't often put into the formula. so thank you very much. >> you both studied this conflict, this war, probably more than anyone else. going back to 1968, was there a path to victory for the u.s.? >> i think we'll disagree about this. i think not. i think that no matter what we had done in the end it wasn't going to be enough. i think fighting on someone else's turf like that is an impossible task. and that there was -- it depends on how you define victory. if you define it as a stalemate like korea, then perhaps that could have lasted, but i don't think the american public had the patience for it. >> i think that, with the growth of the south vietnamese military
leaders that -- it depends upon what your objective would have been by 1968 as opposed to 1963, let's say, when there were a total different set of circumstances. i do believe that if we had lived up to our obligations, that there would -- we would have been able to have had, call it a stalemate, but, you know, we don't think in -- the chinese think in terms of hundreds of years. we think in terms of months and election cycles. but i think we discredit the -- what the younger south vietnamese leaders had brought to the table and we shouldn't forget the way this war ended in 1975 when we really pulled the plug on them and left them hanging. i got a lot of friends who were out there who ended up in re-education camps when they were down to like two artillery rounds per two per day. i used to fire 600 per day as a company commander. >> having talked to my brother who served two tours of duty in
vietnam, has it left a scar on that generation? >> oh, absolutely. it's left a scar on this country. for all of these decades. yes. >> what about in vietnam? >> less so. vietnam is the youngest country in the world. and the -- so the vast majority of the people there consider the american war of aggression, as they call it, a speed bump in their history. >> that's because, when the communists took over, they -- there is only one thing that's really taught, and you have the vietnamese-americans over here, two million american vietnamese -- >> that's different, yes. >> vietnamese-american. americans of vietnamese descent, that is a scar that has to be healed. i have worked very hard on it over the years. if you are a south vietnamese army veteran in vietnam, you are not a veteran. you have no veteran status.
that's one thing i started working on in the '90s. >> explain that. >> you have no veteran status. ironically, it's a little bit like the confederate army after the civil war. that's how states rights got so big. my family is from that part of the country. you are not recognized as a veteran. they were getting no medical care, those sorts of things. and the cemeteries for the arvn, south vietnamese, were allowed to fall apart. there is a big cemetery outside of saigon where they put the word "traitor" over the cemetery where these thousands of south vietnamese soldiers who had been killed. and that needs to be healed. we did this in this country after the civil war. it took a long time, but we did it. there is a confederate memorial in the arlington national cemetery that was put in there in 1912.
when i have friends from hanoi government visit me, i like to take them there. this is how we make peace. we bring people together. >> that's still breaking up again, the confederate issue. >> we can do a whole show on that. >> that's another topic for american history tv. we are talking with james webb and david maraniss as we look back at 1968, a year in turmoil and the vietnam war. john from los angeles, vietnam war veteran. thank you for waiting. go ahead. >> caller: yes. good morning, gentlemen. i find the conversation a little scary. i would like to focus my remarks to the senator, who i do believe falls in the category of those who experience things but forget the lessons they're supposed to learn from them. vietnam was a terrible war. we should have never been there. i don't know about the senator's recollection, but most of the people in the field were people that were drafted into the
service, and most of those people came back with wounds that haven't been healed and probably can never be healed. my personal experience was i went over to vietnam volunteering. okay? after my experience of volunteering, i realized that i was doing the wrong thing, and most of the people around me was realizing the same thing. i came back, and i wasn't expecting a "thank you for your service," and i hope you, senator, don't say that to me. i came over here realizing i had made a mistake, and i was wondering what i could do about it. so i started on a quest of basically trying to figure out what the truth is. what's really going on. i was a seeker, i guess. i found out now that most people in this country never sought nothing. they forgot something. the wound you were talking about has definitely healed, and sometimes people's wounds that heal, they forget the pain. but the pain that we've had from
those wounds have been torn open by the way we are conducting ourselves in this world today. to me, sir, what we are supporting, the hawkish attitudes that this program infers, is most dissettling and i hope americans are not buying into it. >> well, let me just give you some thoughts on that. first of all, in america everyone is entitled to their own opinion. and have their own reactions to things that they went through. i spent most of my life looking at this issue, the issue of service, and what this war was all about. i have spent time in vietnam looking at it. i worked on the veterans committee. i represented an individual who was wrongly convicted of homicide inside vietnam for six years, pro bono. there is room for lots of other different opinions. i am sorry to say this to you but i'll say it again.
if you look at the polling data of people who served in vietnam. 91% are glad they served their country. 9% are not. 74% said they enjoyed their time in the military to some extent and 2 out of 3 said they would do it again. so there are people who don't agree with that. and however you look at the views that i have been talking about today with respect to vietnam, i think you should take some time and look at the views that i have had on other different foreign policy situations in this country. i was the first, i think, major figure to say that the iraq -- invasion of iraq was going to be a strategic blunder, five months before the war, editorial for "the washington post". although my family has a tradition of service and my son fought in iraq. so, we are a big country. we are 300 million people.
we have a lot of different viewpoints and, as david said, i think dissent and debate is a very healthy thing. so i appreciate what you said. >> i want to go back to the my lai massacre. from 1970. director joseph strick interviewing some of those veterans involved in that operation that led to so many deaths. here's an excerpt. >> we spoke to five of the american soldiers mo were at my lai on march 16, 1968. james berthold of niagara falls, new york, gary garofolo of stockton, california. gary crossly of del rio, texas. fernando simpson of jackson, mississippi and michael burn hart of tarpon springs, florida. >> you know this is going to be a free for all. shoot anything you want. anything that moves. as long as it's not one of your own. >> shoot everything. man, woman, children. the whole bit.
anything from a, b, c, every living thing. that was sort of like the order. >> this is something a soldier has to do, take orders, carry them out. >> run around yelling kill, kill, kill just to get it in our heads, to get that feeling that you can do it. >> that morning about 7:00, we boarded the choppers and went into the village. when we got off the chopper we started shooting. >> they were infants, in fact. it makes you think that even, even if they were considered beasts, that you would think that maybe a water buffalo calf or piglet would fare better than a child. >> we figured the babies had they grew up would be vc anyway so why get the opportunity to grow up. >> how did the guys look when they were doing this? >> they looked like they were having a good time. >> did you see anybody not? >> no. just about everybody was busy. >> what did you consider a war crime? >> what do i consider a war
crime? i consider it being over there, just the idea of being there. >> again, david maraniss, as you brought this up earlier, infants, women, children, teenagers, civilians. >> you know, the lieutenant william kelly, who was the commander responsible for this massacre, was brought to justice through that. but people tend to forget that there were -- that the hugh thompson, american soldier who intervened, received hate mail from all over the country. and kelly got a lot of support. it was a very divisive argument even after this happened. but the last point of the young man who is saying the war crime was being there is an interesting one. >> james webb, shoot anything that moves. i mean, you talk about saluting and following orders. but at what point do you say, we can't do this? >> that should not have happened, clearly. as i say, we are, as a society, i think we understand that legally and morally.
as opposed to some things that happened on the other side. in those kinds of situations, also, something should be said, and that is the leaders should be held accountable. i represented this individual, an african-american, 18 years old, 11 days in vietnam, and the squad leader said shoot, and he shot. and the person who gave the order had civilian counsel from the states and got off. and my guy had military counsel, and he got convicted of murder. i represented him for six years. he killed himself halfway through it. three years later i cleared his name. the whole question then was, he is 18 years old. he is category 3-b enlistee. the man says shoot. he had never been told, you're not supposed to obey an order. that's a -- that's one thing i would say -- about the only thing i would say about that. that's uncalled for. >> in my opinion that goes all the way up to the top. goes up to the president of the united states.
>> terry, you get the last reaction. john joining us from chicago, you get the last word. go ahead, john. >> caller: great conversation, guys. wish we had three more hours. grew up with the fellow that got the medal of honor. i want to say the names out loud. so america hears them. i ran through boot camp with a fellow named emilio de la garza. got the medal of honor. ended up with the fifth marines. in '70 got the medal of honor. my wife's first cousin was on a hilltop with a fellow named kenny cays from southern illinois. got the medal of honor. i got survivor's blessing. i was smart enough to talk three of my grammar school buddies into joining the marine corps. we were there in '70, we come back, all our fingers, all our toes. we got survivors' blessing. when you guys talk about gratitude, it's been wonderful to see kind of both ends of the
seesaw with both of you guys talking. dave, i go to pts meetings with the fella that served in t unit you write about in your book. what a wonderful conversation. talk about grace and gratitude. jim, we need you back in politics. semper fi. >> semper fi. >> thank you. >> the last word. final comment. >> pinky durham, one of the soldiers in this battle, got the medal of honor too. but i like to think of all of the 61 men who were killed in this battle. and the reminder that wars don't end when the battles end. >> senator jim webb. >> i think this is a great conversation. this is what america is all about. >> the legacy and the lessons today, what are they? >> of the vietnam war? when i think of the vietnam war, first of all, i can't help but think about the omission in our
conversation is the south vietnamese who were with us and how they were treated after the war. and the greatest mission, i think, for really healing the process is for the -- to reach across and have the vietnamese be together. that will eventually happen, i think. >> on the other side, martin luther king, on april 4, 1967, one year before he was assassinated at riverside church in new york said, if america's soul becomes totally poisoned part of the autopsy will be vietnam. >> david maraniss, associate editor and author of a dozen books including "they marched into sunlight." marine veteran, former navy secretary and former u.s. senator, james webb, author of ten books, including his memoir -- "i heard my country calling." gentlemen, thank you both for being with us. a look at the 1968 tet offensive and its effect on the vietnam war and u.s. policy will
continue in a moment with u.s. army command officer richard faulkner. we'll show his lecture on the late 1960s and the 1970s. that's followed by a film about the tet offensive made by south vietnamese armed forces at the time of the military drive. we are showing you some of american history tv normally seen weekends here on c-span3. we're able to show it to you this week while congress is on its august break. this week on american history tv on c-span3, watch the first of our nine-part series, 1968, america in turmoil, where each night we look back 50 years to that tumultuous year. starting tonight, we'll discuss the vietnam war. on tuesday, a look at the presidential campaign of that year. wednesday, civil rights and race relations. on thursday, a discussion on liberal politics. friday, conservative politics. on saturday, women's rights.
watch 1968, america in turmoil. this week at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3. and all nine programs are available on spotify as a podcast or watch any time at c-span.org on our 1968 page. senate confirmation hearings for brett kavanaugh to be a supreme court justice are expected in september. senators are likely to question judge kavanaugh about roe v. wade. on tuesday, 8:00 p.m. eastern, landmark cases presents an in depth look at roe v. wade. we'll also hear from "los angeles times" supreme court reporter david savage discussing judge kavanaugh's nomination and the abortion issue. next on "lectures in history," u.s. army command and general staff college professor richard faulkner on the impact of the tet offensive and the u.s. withdrawal in the early
1970s. he describes how military objectives, domestic politics and public opinion changed because of the tet campaign. he also talks about richard nixon's victory in the 1968 presidential election, and how this resulted in a gradual removal of u.s. troops and a shift in responsibility to the south vietnamese government for fighting in the war. this class is about an hour and 45 minutes. okay, heroes. hey. last class -- again, this is the second part of our vietnam class. last class we talk about the escalation, how the united states got into the ground war and how both sides started to escalate the conflict. today we are going to focus in on the tet offensive, the results, the political results, military results after the tet, and then when you get the new nixon administration, how we tried to extradite ourselves from vietnam.