tv American Artifacts American Artifacts - Remembering Vietnam CSPAN August 9, 2018 7:31pm-8:04pm EDT
cspan.org. watch 1968, america in turmoil, into next week. friday, we look at the rise of conservative politics in 1968. saturday night at 8 pm eastern, women's rights in 1968. and our series, america in turmoil continues next week, while congress continues its break. >> cspan, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, cspan was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. today, we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public- policy events in washington dc and around the country. cspan is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> remembering vietnam is a
national archives exhibit, featuring documents and artifacts organized into 12 episodes of the war, that was raging in southeast asia 50 years ago. up next, un-american artifacts, and interview with archivist of the united states, followed by a tour of the exhibit with a curator, alex camp. this is just under half an hour. >> david furl, what was the reason for the vietnam exhibit? >> it is a commemoration of the universe very -- anniversary of the war. it commemorates high points and low points in our history with major exhibits. this one was particularly important to me, since i am a vietnam veteran. i wanted to make sure that a war that is still controversial, we had an opportunity to tell the story from records. >> had the vietnam exhibit
before had an exposi on vietnam and its past? >> i think it is safe to say that in the past the subject was avoided, and that most museums and institutions across the country, there is a level of comfort in telling the story , opening that up and telling the story. >> do you think that expands with the archives of the subject being avoided is reflective of how vietnam over the past 50 years has been received in the united states? >> it is a subject that no one talked about. it never happened. it is not often covered in k -12 history classes. it is a region that never talked about. >> your exhibit breaks it down into 12 chapters or episodes. tell is the reasoning behind that, and what you hope people
will learn as they go through these different stages. >> it is a big story that goes back to the truman administration, and even before that. so, we are putting it in perspective to give people an opportunity to reflect on each of the times that we cover in the war. there is a lot of information to deal with, and there is a lot of personal reflection on the issue -- issues within the exhibit. i am convinced that people cannot do this in a quick 20 minute visit, which is the average attention span of folks during exhibits these days. it's an exhibit that people are going to have to come back to. >> what do you hope as people wrap up the exhibit and walk- through, what you hope they
take away from it? >> a better sense of what happened, and that they feel challenged to answer questions themselves about what was the reason, what did we get out of this, what impact did it have on future approaches to conflicts, those kinds of questions. >> you are a vietnam veteran, what was that experience like? what did you learn from this exhibit that you did not know before? >> i was assigned to a marine division and then aboard the hustler ship. however information during that time, during my year in vietnam was very limited. we have little information about what was going on in the conflict. this exhibit, for me, filled in some of the gaps in my own knowledge of what was going on during the time i was there.
>> what would you say is the most unexpected thing you learned in helping put this together? >> it was a confirmation of my assumption that the mission archives had records that could tell the story in a way that no other institution could tell the story. >> the exhibit was curated by alex kamps, tell us about your curator. >> alex is a wonderfully creative, innovative, historically perceptive individual who i got to work with closely when i first arrived on a black bluster -- blockbuster exhibit. she is a person who works closely with archivist who mine
records, and then to put them together, creatively any way that tells a story. >> we talked to our visitors before we plant the exhibits, and we asked them what they want to know about the vietnam war. almost every person, they said why where the united states involved. we still have really basic questions. i hope that by going to these 12 critical episodes, they will have a better understanding of what happened and why. >> this is a war that probably a lot of americans don't realize covers many presidencies. how many exactly? >> that is true. our early involvement in vietnam started with president truman. our exhibit covers five different presidents. >> the first item we are going to see is a memo from franklin delano roosevelt. let's take a look at it.
>> prior to, and during world war ii, france was ruling vietnam, they had colonized it and divided it into three different areas. during world war ii, the japanese came in and pushed the french out eventually. so, fdr is talking in this memo to secretary of state, cordell whole about what he believes should happen to vietnam after world war ii. he opposes a french return to vietnam. it is quite -- quite clear in this memo, because he says france has no good for 100 years, and the people of indochina should have better than that. fdr passes away before the end of world war ii. and when truman comes in, he does not feel right as strongly about a french return to vietnam. this photograph was given to harry truman by general charles
de gaulle during a visit to washington dc. de gaulle that he would not oppose a return of friends to vietnam. >> this photograph is a 1945, does the u.s. have any interest in vietnam at this time? >> not in particular. they are interested more in supporting france after world war ii as a bulwark against communism in europe, because there is great concern about communism's writing there. the feeling was is that we would to support france, and friends really felt that it needed to return to indochina, as he calls it, and roll there again. >> is as early in the truman administration. let's go next to the eisenhower administration, you can show us things there. this exhibit is broken down into 12 different chapters. we are seeing some of the highlights obviously. how long did it take you to assemble all of the archive documents, and collect
everything you needed to put it together? >> it took over two years. i had a lot of help. i invited almost 2 dozen prominent historians to suggest documents that they thought were revealing about the u.s. involvement in southeast asia. >> up next, we have a document about a letter from president eisenhower. tell us about this. >> this is a very important point in the story. it is 1954, the country of vietnam has been divided by the geneva accords into north and south. there is a communist government that is rolling in the north, and president eisenhower believes that the loss of a vietnam to communism would be disastrous. so, he wants to help this south vietnamese government establish itself. the leader, or an emerging leader at that time, he was not president yet, but later would become president, was a man
named young. he was a catholic. there is a percentage of people in vietnam who were catholic. he had really strong nationalist credential. >> the letter from eisenhower, what sort of sense does that give us about where the united states is in supporting vietnam? is there any indication at that point that we are committing any sort of monetary support, any sort of military support? >> the document we have in the case is a press release regarding the letter that president eisenhower sent them. this was after vietnam have been petitioned after the geneva accords. eisenhower felt very strongly that losing vietnam to communism would be a disaster. he is in this letter, pledging support.
he is committing significant monetary support at this time. this is a decision that sets the united states on a course of involvement in vietnam for 20 years. >> this is 1954, i want to move forward a little bit into president kennedy's administration, and some notes from a meeting about vietnam. let's take a look at that. we moved to the kennedy administration, here the exhibit, episode three, kennedy doubles down, what does that mean? >> kennedy is really interested on vietnam. he understood, perhaps better than any other american president, how difficult it would be to try to defeat the communists there. he had visited vietnam as a young man, and also as a senator and studied the area. but, he kind of paradoxically doubled down by dedicating a lot of your support to vietnam both financial and literary.
he sent thousands of advisers to assist the south vietnamese army. >> one of the items in this exhibit is a set of meeting notes from a national security meeting on november 15, 1961. >> it was interesting at this national security council meeting, kennedy said he can make a rather strong case against intervening in an area, 10,000 miles away, against 16,000 guerrillas, with a native army of 200,000, where millions have spent for years with no success. he is arguing against his survivors -- advisors, who are already pushing him to bring in troops. here you see he has written guerrilla war, he has written to front war, and by that i mean -- i assume he means north vietnam and south vietnam, where the insurgency is starting to pick up speed. >> kennedy was getting advice from a number of military
officials, from robert mcnamara, was he getting conflicting advice during this period? >> i am not sure he was getting conflicting advice, but his own knowledge of vietnam and the difficulties the french had their are what i think is where he is pushing back against the advice he is getting. >> president kennedy with the advisors in 1963, just over a month before he would be assassinated, at this point in his administration as he is getting ready for election the next year, what is his thinking on vietnam, and what is the status of our effort in vietnam? >> i think that ultimately he felt that the united states needed a win. he said that he thought of vietnam is the place where the united states could take a
stand. >> of course president kennedy is assassinated of november 1963, and lyndon johnson takes over. we will move next to the johnson administration. johnson sets the stage. part of that stage was set before he was reelected in 1964 with the gulf of tonkin incident. you want to show us a document regarding the uss maddox, tell us about this. >> this cable is about the second attack, gulf of tonkin attack. it is the august 4 attack that this cable refers to. it is the second cable that the captain of the uss maddox, which was the ship, the american ship, that was believed to have been under torpedo attack by the north vietnamese. in the first cable he said that they were under no -- continuous torpedo attack.
in the second cable, he is expressing a little bit of doubt about that. he says that freak weather effects on radar and over eagar so norman may have accounted for many report. robert mcnamara did not report this captains doubts to the president. so, the president and others believed that there had been a second attack, and it was after the second attack that the gulf of tonkin resolution was passed, which gave president johnson almost unlimited war power. >> your exhibit has the actual document, the gulf of tonkin resolution as introduced in the senate august 5, 1964, was this unanimously accepted by congress , was that unanimously passed? >> it was accepted almost unanimously. there were two who voted against it, senator wayne morris, and senator grooming.
we have the tally sheet that you can see as well. >> the u.s. senate still uses a very similar tally sheet. it is the actual tally sheet from the vote on the resolution. in the center, a picture of president johnson signing a resolution in the east room on august 10 1964, in assembling the exhibit, any reason why the president made such a prominent display of signing that resolution? >> i don't really know the answer to that question. i imagine that when you are putting the country on a war footing, he would certainly want the entire country to support the efforts. i did want to point out that it is interesting that even though it appeared to be a near unanimous
passage of this bill, only to voted against it in the senate, and it was unanimous in the house. there were senators -- senators and congress people who harbored serious doubts about the wisdom of going to war with vietnam. ultimately, he would send the united states to vietnam in march 1965, so this did open the door for that as well. this is another major turning point in the war. >> the gulf of tonkin resolution, the president signs that and it sets up his ability to send more troops to vietnam in the coming year and years. let's take a look at the next episode, america goes to war. this is what you described as the fork in the road memo from the george monday.
>> george bundy was one of president johnson's, probably his most important advisor, national security advisor. johnson had inherited both george bundy and robert mosque america from the kennedy administration, and decided to keep them on. he was perhaps a little bit in awe of their intelligence and education and had a very strong opinions of course, which they communicated to president johnson. just to give you a little background about what is going on at this time, it's january, 1965, johnson has just been elected in his own right by a landslide. he had a huge victory. the situation in vietnam is deteriorating. of course, in 1963, just before president kennedy's assassination, the president of
vietnam was assassinated. there was an accession of rulers in vietnam, and south vietnam, and it was pretty much chaos. the insurgency, the communist insurgency was building up. they are starting to win more. basically, bundy and mcnamara are saying we are at a fork in it the road. the memo talks about two options. one of the options is to pursue a negotiated settlement, which they both knew johnson was not going to go for. the other was basically to fully commit the united states to war and to send troops. >> part of the memo in their, that george bundy writes, says that you should know that dean rusk does not agree with us. he does not quarrel over our assertion that things are going very badly. the situation, he writes, is unraveling in vietnam. so, the president is faced with
this fork in the road moment. what happens shortly after, what does he do about troop levels? >> then, he operates -- authorizes operation rolling thunder, which is a series of air strikes against north vietnam. when he did that, he also sends guard troops to guard the base, and that is to open the door to american guard troops coming in. >> we are talking early, 1965? >> that is right. that is when the first american ground troops came in. just a few years later, we had over 400,000 troops in vietnam. >> can i ask you about these documents in general, this is a white house memo, how long typically with these documents had been in the archives? >> we generally give documents about 30 years after the federal agencies that generated them are finished with them.
these are presidential documents, so they would have been in the johnson library quite a bit longer than that. >> and a case like this where they would have been in the johnson library, or other presidential libraries, are those documents alone to the archives in this exhibit, or are some of those documents permit? >> the presidential libraries are also -- actually part of the national archives. they live at the johnson library. so, the johnson library has loaned them to us for the purpose of this exhibit. >> i want you to show us some personal documents, and we will go to 1967. what is the mood of the country regarding the war getting to be like? >> the country is starting to protest. more and more people are joining the protest movement. they have been seeing scenes of the war at home on the television set. this is the first war where
they are getting a directory of the combat, destruction, and people are very upset by it. >> in this exhibit, we see a couple of things, tell us first about this letter. >> there is a series of letters and the johnson library from mr. and mrs. katz, whose son, corporal rusty forrest? was killed in vietnam. they are of course really difficult to read as a mother of a son myself, i find that it's these letters from others that cause me to break down and feel but they must've been feeling at the time. so, in this letter, mrs. katz is writing to president johnson. she has just buried her son, and she is angry. she wants to know what did he die for, and why are you prosecuting this war. then, we also have a response letter from president johnson
to mr. and mrs. katz, and i find this also very poignant, because i feel like you can see his struggle to find the right words in these cross out and rewording of the letter itself. >> the issues of letters to soldiers is still a very current issue. in 2017, was it difficult to select the best letter or letters to represent this sort of issue? >> i think there was something actually in this photograph of russell forrest katz, who has this pitiful open innocent smile that just kind of pulled at my heartstrings, and made this one a vivid story for me. >> he was 20 years old when he died? >> that is correct. let me read a little bit of the letter to you.
dear mr. johnson, not long ago i wrote you objecting to our sons short military training.. prior to being fun to vietnam. also the fact that he was fighting with many south vietnamese were not. i placed this later view are my husband's report of what he had seen during his visit to vietnam last fall. well, mr. johnson, yesterday we buried our son. he was hurt so badly, we were not able to see him. but, we do have a photograph that my husband took while he was with him, and i am sending you a copy. now, i'll read a little bit from johnson's response. >> dear mr. and mrs. katz, i am deeply sorry that i have not replied to your letters before now. i have read and reread them. the photograph of your son has moved me to understand some part of the grief you feel, perhaps more deeply than you
know. the hardest responsibility any president bears is that of commander in chief when americans are fighting. there is no american killed or wounded in battle for whom i do not feel a sense of personal responsibility. if it were possible to end the war by an honorable settlement in vietnam today, and to bring home every man who faces danger there, now, i would do it, and it would be the most satisfying act of my presidency. >> of course, president johnson did not run for reelection. richard nixon is elected in 1968 on a campaign promise, that is the episode here, nixon's campaign promise, which is what? >> many people believe that nixon had a plan to end the war , and he campaigned on bringing the war to an honorable end. >> tell us about this memo from 1968 before the election from hr haldeman. who was hr
haldeman, and what did this memo indicate? >> hr haldeman was nixon's probably closest aide. the memo says a couple of things of interest one of them is keep an out working on south vietnam. and what he is referring to their is that johnson had been engaged with vietnam, hoping to enter into peace talks. at the same time, anna shanalt was a campaign aide, who was speaking to the south vietnamese president about these talks and people believe that she was encouraging him to wait until after the election. these notes were brought to public attention by historian jack farrell as part of a
biography that he published in 2017 so, we are seeing that documents are still being declassified and discovered by historian, and 50 years later, we are still learning new things about the war. >> how are historians able to gain access to these things that are newly declassified? >> our national archive records, including our national public records are open to the public. you can come to our research room and request the documents. you can go through the files and make your own discoveries. >> we obviously just touched on a few brief documents and parts of the exhibit. what are some of the highlights we have not shown that you think people will want to look at? >> there are over 80 original records of the x -- excavation. there is everything from a miniature model that the cia built when they were planning a
rescue operation, to north vietnamese and south vietnamese propaganda posters. in addition to the records, we have produced films where we have interviewed people who have experienced these 12 episodes, and they talk about their first-hand experience, and it is a wonderful way to view the war from different perspectives. >> it has been portrayed as an exciting adventure. it was none of those things for a moment. i wish people understood better. i wish people had a better understanding of what it does to people who participate in it. >> i think i would like them to remember what it was like during the war. the destruction, the killing, the violence, and think about what it is now, at peace.
here on c-span3 while congress is on its august break. showing you some the programs normally seen only on the weekends. coming up on american history tv, c-span series 1968, america in turmoil. a look at liberal politics 50 years ago. the democratic party was very different than it is today. that's followed by a discussion of media political coverage 50 years ago. and how the three tv networks and print newspapers covered the chicago democratic convention. later, trailblazing women lawyers from the 20th century. based on oral histories with 100 senior female lawyers across the united states. these programs are from our c-span series 1968, american turmoil. you can listen to the programs as podcasts on spotify or watch any firstname.lastname@example.org on our 1968 page. watch 1968, american turmoil,
into next week here on c-span3. friday we look at the rise of conservative politics in 1968. saturday night at eight eastern, women's rights in 1968. and are serious american turmoil, continues next week while congress continues its break with the vietnam war at home. on monday. this sunday, on oral history. we continue our series on women in congress. with former republican congressman sue myrick. >> the other thing we learned early on is that women were pretty much all alike. because one time we were together and some of the old women who had been here before, nancy johnson and the others, we were talking and i said something like well i got to go because i have to take my work on. the other one said, you do that too? and someone said you do that too? and we realize that we took our work home and went home at night and worked.
the guys went out and had a good time. not all of them but i mean that's really what happened. they played golf but sometimes they would go to a matinee. we were working all the time. we realized as women that that was the difference. we will hear from eva clayton, helen bentley, barbie cannoli, nancy johnson, and lynn woolsey. watch oral history, sunday at 10 am eastern. on american history tv on c- span3. next on american history tv. from our series 1968, america in turmoil, a look at liberal politics 50 years ago. lbj's great society and and liberal activist redefine the role of the federal government and challenge traditional values. the assassinations of martin luther king jr. and robert f kennedy