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tv   QA Journalist Elizabeth Becker on Female Correspondents Who Covered the...  CSPAN  May 30, 2022 4:41pm-5:42pm EDT

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>> your new book is titled you don't belong here. >> i am telling the story of three amazing women who went to vietnam because women in that era were not considered capable. they were mostly in women sections of newspapers and these three women arrived in vietnam without jobs, without host: your new book is titled "you don't belong here." what is the story? n opportunityo talk about each one of their lives. what are their names?
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>> of french photojournalist and photographer, francis fitzgerald, an american reporter , longform, magazine. and kate webb. >> your subtitle is how three women rewrote the story of the war. they were provided a counter narrative and more conventional coverage. how did they do that? >> they did that by -- it is interesting you said counter because it was enlarging. they were out covering this year. they enlarged what they reported on and what they photographed. as outsiders, i think they did not buy realize as they were going along how much they were changing. they made a more humane picture. they looked at the country
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deeper. she did not take photographs that were patriotic. francis fitzgerald who is known as frankie, she really went into the country. she took such a determined look at the vietnamese. she came from a very privileged background so i think she was more taken aback -- truly taken aback by the destruction of the country. she had never seen anything like that. kate is a wire service reporter which is -- it does not mean as
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much nowadays. what is the story on the war that you want leaders to know? >> i want them to know that why it the united states was not going to get in it, why did not
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the generals, diplomats know that? i want them to know that united states, using new words inherited the french war the vietnamese fought against and, like the french, they lost. i want them to see the cost of that huge mistake, hanging in there with the destruction, the cost to the vietnamese but also american society. it was the most divisive war we had since the civil war when we actually were fighting each other. it sort of foreshadows the forever wars. this is a serious issue. now i understand the work. i understand these women could perceive these problems.
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>> we are going to talk about the individual stories. we are 20 years after world war ii. what are the rules for covering the vietnam war? >> they were not real rules. the pentagon was not following world war ii rules which prohibited women from covering on the battlefield, required all journalists, males to be dressed in uniform, to be part of a unit and to have their copy censored. there were essentially no rules. journalists could go in and we
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are talking about the american journalists going in. if you can get a man to allow you to cover them, you can get in the helicopter or armored personnel carrier or a truck. as one journalist said, it was like having a year of a real card and once you were in there, it felt necessary to do the story, you went back to saigon and filed and maybe you went out to dinner. this was the first and on last censored american war. it was for women, a gift. it was because of this lack of codification, this openness that women could get through what had been the biggest barrier.
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she was not allowed. >> did the journalists have to be credentialed? >> the credentials came from the united states military. press passes. that was just saying that you were legitimate. that someone would buy your work. and that you were with an accredited company. the frenchwoman -- they could get their credentials right away.
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kate webb was so out of it she did not know she needed one. it took her client allowed to get the letter but that was essentially the euro card. quest given the openness for journalists to cover this, do you have any estimate of how many journalists were on scene? >> when kate arrived, there were 1000. some were just spouses. there is a bona fide listener in the thousands. american was the majority but when i was in cambodia, i worked
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with very few americans. >> overall, how many of them would have been women? >> that is a tough question and i spend a lot of time not getting a good answer because according to the pentagon list, over the 10 years, they were close to 500 women reporters. you could dig into the list and there were office managers, they were in and out and a lot of them just needed the card to get to the px. some uber legitimate reporters somehow were not on the list. i did my guesstimate of maybe a couple of dozen residential full-time women were out covering the war. >> how did you choose these three for your buck? >> it turned out to be easier than i expected.
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the hard part was figuring out how i would read the book but then who were the three who not only broke the barrier? who really stood out for changing how we see war? francis fitzgerald wrote the book fire in the leg. no book has won more awards. this was the book that told it not only from the american but the vietnamese side. no one else came close. her work during the war was amazing. >> she was the only woman combat photographer and just before she started, a woman who began in world war ii was there. she was killed on the field
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within months after arriving. she did not -- the federal agencies did not want to have another woman. so she headed to herself. she used it to her advantage. her photographs were stunning. so much so that she became the first woman to win this photography award and the first woman to win a gold medal award. anybody winning those would be amazing. for a woman in combat, it was stunning. kate, she was remarkable for being that combat reporter we never had before. women were not allowed to be with the military during world war ii. sometimes they would get in and out and cover this and that and
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the other. kate spent years with the military. the u.s. military and south vietnamese and later, the cambodian. she did so well that she was named the deputy and then the actual bureau chief. i could not find a similar instance where a woman was put in that kind of role reporting and managing a full-time bureau. it was a deadly war zone. >> however the woman -- the women accepted by these two sets of people? >> the military is almost easier. back in saigon, the higher rubbers tended to be a little bit more paternalistic, not as welcoming but once you get in
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the field, the soldiers all loved the women. that was not so much the problem. the problem was general william westmoreland, he had no idea that -- she was from hawaii and ready for a hawaiian newspaper. she said i was covering this unit. he said how long have you been here? his wife played tennis with her mother back in honolulu. i can't believe there are women out on the battlefield. it had not reached the higher levels.
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it took them to concoct a strategy to calm down the pentagon and not reimpose that world war two. they succeeded. the band was never reimpose ever. those young women under him got rid of that but they never told their story. it took 30 years before they told the story because they were afraid that if it came out what they were doing, it would be reimpose by somebody in washington. it was all on the down low. that is so much of what these women achieved. they have to keep it quiet because somebody back in the united states may say something. the men were a different story and they were the ones -- their male colleagues said you don't
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belong here. this is male terrain. this was the very early days when it was a joke to the men. you need women's reparation because you can't keep up with us. women were not accepted. they were patronized. they were gossiped about. if they started to show they were competitors, it could be a problem. one of the stories i tell in the book, through the freedom of information act, i achieved the personnel file because some said she was too pushy, she had coarse language, she made people mad and she got mad. behind her back, as she was doing so well, the head of the press which is where --
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he went behind katrina's back to take away her current rentals -- credentials. you only take with the credentials if you actually break the law. but they made up this category of not being proper for the press corps. when i read that file, i could not believe it. the length they went to to try to get rid of her. she fought back. i know susan, she is cool.
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when you get into that position, of course, the misogyny comes out. this, there is no question. >> a little bit more, your chapter is a petite lady. if we could have her standing here today, what would we see? >> she looks like a pixie. she is barely 5 feet tall. she was blonde, there she is. acrobatic in her whole manner. but with a lovely french overlay.
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she refused to let it be a disadvantage. she had a rule that wherever she went on the battlefield, she would not allow any marine or soldier to help her. she took the backpack, she lived in those horrible places. as the only journalist who was trained to jump, she jumped with the 173rd airborne. into a combat zone with an incredible parachute on. heavens knows she had -- she should not have been doing that but she jumped in to take pictures.
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look at how small she is. she was that size when she was in the middle of the battlefield. she would be on the ground. most of the soldiers would not see her and they would say that is impossible that anybody was that close to me. but she would crawl. historians of photography marveled at the different angles that she took when she got these pictures. how did the fact that she was french affect the work that she was able to do? she spoke a language of the elite in vietnam but on the other hand, she represented the former colonizers. >> french was much more common.
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it was middle-class and professional. it helped that she grew up thinking and knowing and talking so she was familiar with it. she learned her english from the marines. i think in a way, she helped france because as a very successful photojournalist, she is the one that helped make paris the center of photojournalism. in a way, she was a help to paris. >> to set a record for the number of military operations covered by a journalist in 1966. explain how she took that offer herself and what kind of work she produced. elizabeth: she made it a point
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to spend a lot of time in the field. she did it partially because she cannot afford as good of an apartment back in saigon. but she was with the combatants when they were in the middle of the firefight. she was with them when they were disappointed they did not get any mail. she was with them when they found the dogs. she was with them every moment and she was telling the whole story. not just happens -- what happens in battle. she was crawling in the middle of a ridiculously dangerous operation. she captures a marine medic as
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he is trying to revive a marine who dies. she gets in in anguish, anger and tears. -- him in anguish, anger and tears. those photos were everywhere. we were delighted to find in our archives that you give us an interview where she talks about that work. we will show a little bit of that so that people can see and hear her in her own words. >> after i do this photograph, the number of mothers in america were actually taking advantage
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of that with their son. i had to back -- come back to this company. it was one of the many stories i did there but the story was particularly strong. >> she says it made her famous. what happened to her career? >> she has commissions all over the place and at one point she was so poor that she had to stay in a brothel.
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now she could afford good cameras. she bought cameras and equipment. remember she is a freelancer. everything she has to supply herself. it is going very well. this is where she gets injured. quest the greatest hero of this book is the head of photography for the associated press and saigon forever. he made sure that she was cared for, that ap took care of her and it was just stunning and then there is the operation and she goes away and becomes the only journalist that crosses over during the operation at any
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time during the war and is captured by the north vietnamese, takes their photograph, recovers the rest of the attack. she is extraordinary. >> we have to underscore how dangerous this work was. >> unbelievable. she had shrapnel in her the rest of her life. this was not as of yet something that we understood. ptsd. both she and kate had serious trauma. i read about how she talks about the trauma.
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>> there were reasons why these women rebelled. cates was the darker one. she witnessed her friend's suicide. as she get her the rifle she used to -- not only that, she gave her the rifle that. the charges are dropped, the family somehow helps. the treatment was to have a non- -- have an episcopalian none come to help her. she gets to college and she is
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doing ok and then both of her parents die in a car bash -- car crash. >> you said that she had no real assignment when she got there. >> she found the one woman editor and all of saigon. her name was and mariano. -- ann marie anna -- ann mariano. the omaha paper said can you do something for nebraska? she was teaching them how smart she was and how good she was.
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she was fluent in french. all three women spoke french. they eventually used her to cover cambodia for she was hired. >> you describe it as a hungry, shoestring life. why wasn't she paid better? >> no one was paid. we all entered the stage. you learn to live on coffee and soup and street food. if someone asks you to dinner, of course you want to dinner. i don't think we expected comfort at all. she lived there bones. -- bare bones.
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>> i just want to let people see her. >> i think upi was very enlightened at the time. my biggest problem was being non-american. on the other hand, on the other hand i spoke french. i think i had an advantage that way. the toughest thing for me as bureau chief -- i am sure a lot of people here in the audience know what it is like to make a decision to send somebody into a battle knowing they will not come back. knowing you might have to write a letter to the family, knowing that you have to live with the decisions that you made and i had to do that. as bureau chief, i stepped into
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a dead man's boots. >> what more should we now -- we know? elizabeth: kate, after she did so well in vietnam, she made first deputy and bureau chief. then she said it was very dangerous. many journalists were killed in the first four months of cambodia during that space of time. as many as the previous six years. it was horrible. finally, kate look ran out and then she was captured. kate byline -- kate's byline
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was known by then. when she was captured, it was a big deal. during her time in captivity, there was an erroneous report that she had been killed and the corpse had been found. there were memorial services back home. then she is released there was the legend of kate webb. if you could have seen her with her princess diana haircut, her sparkle, knowing that she was alive, -- >> how strange to read your own obituary. >> yes. >> she responded to her she saw
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by drinking a lot. how did alcohol affect her life? >> she was a functional alcoholic. i spent a lot of time with her sister rachel and her brother jeremy and we talked about it and she refused to seek any help and after reading all the material, i know this is classic because underneath there was a lot of shame and guilt so she continues to do remarkable work until she retires but she dies quiet young. 601i believe. she had cancer and she -- she dies quite young, 61 i
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believe. she gets cancer and continues to smoke. >> you referenced that her background -- she came from wealth. wealth, it was extraordinary. >> her early life, she was cemented by service. her chauffeur drove her to private school when she was living in new england. they had horse stables in long island. she is a great gatsby kind of character. it is also part of a very mayflower type family. we work hard but we also have this amazing life. her parents were elites. her parents divorced early and her mother remarried into great wealth and her dad was number three at cia.
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she was gilded. >> how does a young woman from a background like this find herself as a war correspondent in vietnam? >> first of all she was extremely smart. very precocious. i could not believe what a 10-year-old was writing when i read her diaries. she wanted to be a writer. she applied to newsweek magazine after graduating with honors and they said women are not qualified to be writers or reporters. they can only be researchers. through her connections, she got to do some -- she could have lived a glamorous life.
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of all the three, i think she was the most stunned. she had lived -- she did not even know what the class was like. here she was with people who were not wealthy, they were from an old culture world. the country was being blown to smithereens. it was the most important story in the world. that is how she got there. she realized the story had hooks in her like nothing had ever affected her before. >> in march of 1966, she was part of the -- she was involved with the buddhist insurrection. >> this was the first time she could see the american were through vietnamese eyes.
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she saw that the buddhists were in a sense, the alternative political voice rather than the government. something they had not understood. that is what she wanted to know. she wanted to know why the buddhists were put down by the government and what else was going on and the road of vietnam she did not know about. >> what was she able to do with longform journalism? >> i was surprised. that is a good question.
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she had to have an interpreter. she would live the life of the vietnamese, discover how they felt when their villages were being torn apart. she would go and stay at length in a hospital. she went to the slums. she wrote this in longform so she could put all of this in and this is why the united states will lose this war. >> let's listen to her.
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she is the only one of the three still with us. this is talking about the relationship between u.s. officials and journalists covering the war. >> there is antagonism between the reporters and the higher social order. they were trying to say we are doing fine, we are winning. there is nothing going on at all . you found that you had to examine those -- every single statement that was made. it made reporting very difficult. you cap have -- you kept having to go to the gilded to find out what they were saying.
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i think there were just trying to do their job. >> she brought to the reporting those familial connections. her father having been a health official. she understood the relationship between politicians and the military. did that affect her work? >> yes. she realized she was not going to spend too much time reading the tea leaves of the politicians. she had the confidence -- when you grow up among the elite and you are going to her parents cocktail parties where she knows who is debating what, her mother had been a very open lover of the former candidate for president, stevenson. she could see what was
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questionable and she would go out and find the answers. she then very competently wrote it up. >> how much impact did her work have on the politics back home? did it set the debate? >> she became a favorite of people who were opposed to the war and she went out of her way to make sure that she herself was not an antiwar person. she was a person trying to show how the americans were losing and why. when her book one all of the awards -- won all of the awards, some of her more jealous colleagues said she only got all of those awards because she is a favorite of the antiwar people.
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she tried so hard to say -- eventually she said we should not have done it. >> there are a lot of famous names. quick's daniel ellsberg, no. he was stationed there. one of her old childhood friends thought that the diplomat was in the embassy. henry kissinger was probably just flirting with her. she had a name. frances fitzgerald, people knew where she came from. there was that kind of attraction as well.
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the first day, she comes back to the united states reluctantly knowing she had to leave the war because it had gotten to be too much. she goes to the black and white ball. the first person she sees is defense secretary robert mcnamara. her life is gatsby ask -- gatsby-esque. there is so much archival work that has been done since they are that it is dated. she said that she would not write the same book but it is a classic and you would read it and say in 1972, this was an extra ordinary book. when i asked to that same question to the expert at harvard now who is a pulitzer
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prize-winning historian on vietnam, he said it is a classic on that short shelf. >> we have about 15 minutes left. this is a story of four female reporters. how did you get to cambodia? >> i was in graduate school, asian studies. i was consciously following any other women's footsteps. i was a student in asian studies. i was a member of something called the concerned asian scholars. all of us realized we should not be in that work. i came with that mindset. the reason i went was because i
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had a dustup with my masters thesis. he decided i should have an affair with him. when he rejected my thesis because of that, he said that was not the reason. i said i am not sticking around here and i am not going to try to figure out how to get around this man so i took my fellowship money and bought a one-way ticket. when i was a student in india i met another student. she was on her way to do graduate work in hong kong. along the way, she got to saigon and decided she would try to be a freelance reporter and she put off graduate studies.
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she started writing to me back in seattle. saying that you have to come here, but aside graduate studies for now. come be a reporter with me. i had ignored it until i had that dustup with my thesis advisor and then i said ok, i will try it. >> you mickey -- met kate webb then. >> not only did i meet her but she met me at the airport and it was like seeing a legend. she had already been released from her captivity and working in hong kong. she got me through all the formalities and took me to dim sum lunch.
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i foolishly thought if these two can do it, there must be lots of women but there were not. susan: what was your experience like? how dangerous was the work for you? elizabeth: i think this is one of the reasons i had so much admiration for these women. i had no idea what i was doing. the first word that you are covering, you are not covering it, you are shaking. i saw atrocities, young kids dying, soldiers shooting. it is like walking out of your door and turning the corner and there is war. it is not like the battlefields in the movies. the word got closer and closer. cambodia was a country that had
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been neutral through most of the war. when the expansion created this battlefield, the cambodians were unprepared. by the time i got there, the communists were taking advantage of this. i covered and witnessed the carpet bombing of cambodia. nothing could prepare me for that. the fire falls from the sky and their lives are ruined by this
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misfire. the river is blocked, there are no supplies, people flooding into the city. the beautiful city of p on 10 -- #-- this beautiful city starts to look like a refugee camp. >> one member of your team was killed during an assassination attempt as she went back to cover this regime. i will invite people to read it in the book. it is an example of the danger all four of you expose yourself to. why do you think it drew everyone back to see how this
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were emanated in america? >> you are covering a country, not a war in a way. the war is an incredible surrender. once you do that, it does not leave you. when kate was in hong kong -- catrine was often indie middle east. it is not a story per se. as any reporter will tell you, it is your life. their dedication -- read their
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copy and you would not be surprised. i did not cover the americans. congress was furious with the invasion of the 1970's. congress said you cannot have the military there for very long. that was even harder. that the bombs were your bombs.
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that was difficult. very difficult. >> what compelled you to finally tell this story? >> there are a couple of attempts at books but i felt i had to tell this story and it is us wrong narratives that -- it is a strong narrative that people will want to read. your legacy has been forgotten. i would ask around. if they had heard of frankie, they knew that she wrote a book but they did not know she cover the work. i thought this is the piece that is missing, these are the women
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-- they are the ones who broke through the thickest glass ceilings. the advantage of having been following them, i knew there story and i knew what to look. i was afraid that if it was not told by one of us, it would not might be what i want. i admire them like crazy. >> what was the experience for you of digging back into the archives and reliving this time of your life as well? >> it was much better than i expected. i learned so much. i was so surprised by the complexity, the thoughtfulness,
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the ups and downs. i did not mind writing about them when they were crazy. i did not mind saying that capturing -- catrine kept shooting herself in the foot. that made the story more powerful than i could have ever imagined. i guess it helped me -- i feel much more comfortable with my story. >> from women journalists to our correspondence, they say that things have not changed all that much. does that surprise you? >> it does not surprise me. i wonder if all of them who say that have read the book because things have changed a lot. does it take more than a few
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generations to change attitudes? yes. does it take more than a few generations to change institute? yes -- change institutes? yes. but we may be in one of those backlash periods. >> there was a whole generation of post-vietnam journalists, analysts and the left of vietnam that inform policy going forward. what do you think the parallels are of vietnam and what went on in iraq? what are the lessons that have been applied? elizabeth: look at how the iraq war was floated on. it was a post 9/11 reaction. the understanding of iraq was sin.
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once there, the mistakes were extraordinary. i said haven't they learned anything from vietnam? and then afghanistan, i am not an expert but again it is military might missing opportunity -- military opportunities. not knowing how to respond. it is -- overall it seems that we still lead with military and not diplomacy and not with understanding. look at the difference in the budgets. we continually build up the military budget and we starve the state department.
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i think we have lost the balance here. >> is that a compelling reason to look back and understand stories from vietnam better? >> if you say so. >> the question is why should people read this after 45 years? >> yes, thank you. it reads and it says now i understand why we have our forever readers. if this was the first war that we lost, it is hard for the pentagon to say that -- there are libraries of books about why we did not really lose. we did not recognize vietnam until 1990 -- after 1992. we did not want to have to deal with it. we are a bigger country than that. >> the book is called you don't
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belong here. how three women re-wrote the story of vietnam. >> thank you for having me in person. >> >> all q&a programs are available as a podcast at c-span.org. >> places to get it no matter where you are from or where you stand on the issues, c-span is america's network. unfiltered, unbiased, word for word -- anyway that matters,
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or wherever you get your podcasts. quick c-span's the weekly podcast brings you over 40 years of audio recordings from our video library, comparing the events of the past to today. on this episode: [booing] >> that is how bill clinton was greeted when he arrived at the vietnam veterans memorial in washington dc on may 31 of 1993. hail to the chief, applause and boos and jeers and people yelling draft dodger. clerks find

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