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 What people are saying about Haunting Legacy

"What a terrific book!"

Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes

"This is great narrative history and biography combined to create informative case studies."

Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute

"Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb’s account of this phenomenon is studiously researched, vividly narrated, and, above all, highly readable. It will stand as a major contribution to the subject."

Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History and winner of the Pulitzer Prize


To read more reviews of Haunting Legacy, click here.


Q&A with USA Today's Chuck Raasch

Q&A with Chuck Raasch, national reporter for USA Today, who has covered six presidential campaigns.

Q:  How do you think the Vietnam War's legacy has affected subsequent presidential campaigns, and which campaign that you've covered do you think was the most affected by that legacy?

A: It’s been heavily ingrained in every campaign since, and in degrees we always do not see or appreciate. The war, along with Watergate, changed the relationship between the press and the government, starting with the 5 o’clock follies, and continuing into the aggressive journalism of the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, and other stories, that sharpened the adversarial role of the press that simply did not exist in earlier wars. That in turn helped usher in a long period of mistrust in American institutions in general.

We are still in that era, as evidenced by record-low approval of Congress and much lower confidence levels expressed in almost all institutions, including the press itself. The Clinton campaign of ’92 was the most affected of those I covered. First, there were direct allegations that Bill Clinton had to address that he had avoided the draft. His election was seen as a highly symbolic passing of the torch from the World War II generation of George H.W. Bush, to the Vietnam generation of Clinton and Al Gore. The first George W. Bush campaign of 2000 was close to that in all of the questions swirling out about Bush’s Vietnam-era service. As you will recall, that story directly led to Dan Rather’s falling out with CBS.

Q: No candidate who served in Vietnam has ended up in the White House, a stark contrast with World War II veterans, many of whom later became president. What pattern do you think could emerge in future if veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were on a major party's national ticket?

A: I believe that Americans fundamentally view veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan far differently than veterans of Vietnam were viewed in the ‘70s, precisely because of the experiences of those Vietnam veterans. There is far more willingness, even among those who opposed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to separate the war from the warriors. I also believe there is a fundamental difference in Iraq and Afghanistan vets’ willingness to talk about their experiences, both good and bad. As I wrote in a recent USA Today cover story, they are being encouraged to do so by doctors and psychologists who are mindful of what happened when Vietnam vets came home, often to silence, disinterest and, sometimes, derision.

Q: In your opinion, could John Kerry have handled the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's ads against him in 2004 in a way that could have proved less damaging to his campaign?

A: I am not sure. Some say he took too long to respond. Part of what made the attacks effective was Kerry’s well-known history of anti-war activity once he came back, and these attacks – fair or unfair – were more broadly framed as a result.

Q: Bill Clinton, who did not serve in the military and opposed the Vietnam War, was able to defeat two World War II heroes in George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. Barack Obama, who also didn't serve in the military, defeated a Vietnam War POW, John McCain. What does that say about the importance of military service for a presidential candidate?

A: More than anything, it says how the resumes of public servants have changed since the end of the draft. Because it is an all-volunteer service, we simply do not have a broad societal connection with the military any longer, and that is reflected in those elected president, just as it is down ballot.  Since 1980 – and you can check the numbers for sure – the percentage of veterans in Congress has dropped by a large number.  I would caution against oversubscribing the veteran angle here. The cases cited above, I think, are not reflective of a larger military service vs. non-military service question.

They were more the result of good political timing and opportunistic political gambles than anything. I’d argue Clinton won because the economy was so bad people overlooked the wrinkles around his Vietnam draft status; other potential candidates who also might have beaten Bush, and who were vets, took a pass in 1992; ‘96 was simply an incumbent’s year. And John McCain’s military service, while certainly a factor in his favor, in my view, was not enough to overcome the economic and other winds blowing against his incumbent party, and a campaign that never seemed to find its focus and center.

Q: This 2012 presidential election is the first since 1944 where neither major party candidate served in the military. Is this the wave of the future, given that the all-volunteer military represents such a small percentage of Americans?

A: I never predict anything, and indeed, candidates who served in Iraq and Afghanistan may actually have an advantage in the nominating process going forward. But see my answer to number 4 for this. The math is certainly against veteran candidates in the future, because so few of them are out there, relatively speaking.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I think the vet vs. non-vet issue is highly relevant in journalism, too, in everything from how we cover wars to the upcoming and unavoidable debate over the size of the military. The Pentagon, wars, anti-war movements at one time were covered by a lot more veterans. Today, that is not the case, for reasons cited above. How that has changed the coverage of these issues is worth contemplating.

Interview with Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy.


Chuck Raasch

Q&A with Ron Nessen, former White House spokesman and journalist

Ron Nessen's long and illustrious career includes covering the Vietnam War for NBC News and serving as President Ford's White House spokesman. He is now Journalist in Residence at the Brookings Institution.

Q: During the fall of Saigon in April 1975, you were serving as White House press secretary. Could you describe President Ford’s mood as the helicopter evacuation was underway?

A: There were a couple of different factors. He was particularly concerned about the Vietnamese who had helped the Americans during the war, and what would happen to them. The plan was that American aircraft carriers would take out the 1,300 Americans left in Vietnam—the helicopters would come, land in the embassy compound, and take the Americans to the aircraft carriers. The U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, was given the authority to determine how many Vietnamese would be evacuated. He concluded that 5,500 Vietnamese, including children, would have to be removed. The lift was supposed to take two hours, but it took 16 hours.

We were standing together, me, chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld, presidential assistant Dick Cheney, photographer David Kennerly, in Rumsfeld’s office. [Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger was there too. The evacuation was going on and on. Ford decided he would go up to the residence. All of us were so emotional about what was happening, we couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. We all stood there in silence. I said, “Sleep well,” and then, as he was leaving, I said quietly, “If you can.” Thirty-four helicopters were evacuating the Americans, plus the 5,500 Vietnamese. At the very end, by now it was the next day, the helicopters were going back and forth; they began to suffer mechanical problems. Ford said, One more flight, to take Martin and his staff out, and that would be it.

Kissinger sent a telex to the ambassador. The ambassador was emotional; he said, I only take my orders directly from the president. So the president sent the order. They sent me and Kissinger to the Old Executive Office Building to do a final briefing. I said that all the Americans were evacuated from Vietnam. After the briefing, Brent Scowcroft , the national security adviser, said that 17 Marines were still in the embassy compound. Kissinger and I and Rumsfeld and Scowcroft were in a huddle, trying to decide what to do. I said something I’ve regretted ever since—I said, Let’s let it go; it will be true soon. Rumsfeld, of all people, given his reputation, said that this war has been marked by so many lies, let’s not let it end on one last lie. I went back and said I’d made a mistake, and that the last Americans—the Marines--would be out in a couple of hours.

Q: President Ford felt strongly about helping Vietnamese refugees come to the United States, but this was controversial at the time. Can you describe what happened?

A: The House of Representatives defeated a bill that would have provided $327 million in humanitarian aid to the Vietnamese refugees. I took the AP bulletin about the vote to the Oval Office and showed it to Ford. He said, “Goddamn it, those sons of bitches.” In all the time I’d known Ford, I had never heard him curse. He launched a very vigorous lobbying effort; he visited a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Eventually, Congress did provide funding.

Q: A couple of weeks after the fall of Saigon, the United States faced a crisis involving the seizing of the merchant ship SS Mayaguez off the coast of Cambodia; the Ford administration reacted with a robust show of force. Was the president’s decision-making affected by the recent events in Vietnam?

A: It was 100 percent. Kissinger and I had our problems, but he has this long view of history. The actions you take, you can’t really understand except after 30 or 50 years of history. He realized the United States’ leaving Vietnam, and leaving Vietnam to be taken over by the communists, could have an enormous effect on the rest of Asia, and could send a message that if China or Vietnam tries to take you over, the United States is not going to help you.

[The administration] needed to send a message that the United States was out of Vietnam, but not out of Asia. Here comes the Mayaguez, which was an opportunity to do that. The theory was to stop the communists who had seized the ship before they got the ship to port; it would be harder to get the crew back once the ship was in port. The first step was to send a message: Release the ship and crew, or pay serious consequences. But we had no way of communicating that; there was no American diplomatic representation. The Chinese refused to do it. We had frantic conferences in the White House.

The only way to get our message out was through the news media. It was one in the afternoon and the reporters were all out to lunch, so we sent people into all the nearby restaurants to tell them to get back to the White House quickly. The idea was that the communists would see the reports and let the crew go. The reporters started asking questions at the briefing once I had made my statement, but we had no time to spare, so I said, “Go file!” The message got through, and they did release the crew. Ford did believe they were testing America, and he felt he had to send a strong message.

Q: As someone who covered the Vietnam War, what would you say are the key differences between press coverage of that war, and coverage of the war in Afghanistan today?

A: There are two main differences. First, during the Vietnam War, the AP, NBC, other news organizations had bureaus in Saigon with big staffs; the war was intensely covered. Afghanistan is not covered to that extent, partly because the media is having financial difficulties. Also, the Vietnam War was before satellites and cell phones. I worked for a network—we had to ship the film for it to be processed and edited. Sometimes it was harder to deal with these logistics than to get the story in the first place.

We would go to Tan Son Nhut air base and give the stewardesses on commercial flights money and ask her to take the film to Tokyo or wherever the flight was going, and someone would meet it at the other end. It was probably 24 hours from the time we shot the story to the time it would get on the air. The radio was just as old-fashioned. We would go to the Post and Telegraph, PTT—it was in an old apartment building up on the 5th floor. They would connect you by shortwave radio to Paris. An old Vietnamese lady ran the office; I can still hear her in my head, “Allo, Paris? Ici Saigon!” The weather conditions would affect the shortwave radio.

But there were also some advantages. I could ship my film off, and then I’d have 24 hours to interview sources, do follow-ups, do my narration track. It gave me a little more time to be more thoughtful with my script. Today, there’s a 24 hour news cycle, a deadline every minute, you’re in constant contact; you have no time to do this. It discourages deeper thinking and more research.

Q: Do you feel that subsequent presidents have taken the lessons of Vietnam into account when making decisions about whether to send troops to war?

A: I do. When you think about the antiwar protests and the opposition to the Vietnam War, American presidents are much more cautious since then about getting entangled in foreign wars—given the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and its effect on politics at home. The younger generation has no first-hand [memory] of that time, but the war’s impact makes presidents more cautious.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Leading up to the fall of Saigon, President Ford was going to Palm Springs for his annual Easter vacation with his family. The radio operator on Air Force One handed me a note that Da Nang had fallen to the Viet Cong, and they were now sweeping south to Saigon. We landed, and the press was interested in getting his reaction. Ford ran across the tarmac at the airport in Bakersfield, California—he literally ran away from them. Ford later flew from Palm Springs to San Francisco to visit an American plane that was evacuating children who were supposed to be Vietnamese orphans, babies and children, to America. We later found that many were not orphans, but were children of Vietnamese military officers and government officials who had paid bribes to get their children on the flight. Ford got on the plane; I was behind him. It was a 20-hour flight, there was no time to change the babies’ diapers and the plane was really smelly!

[That period of time] was such an emotional time for Ford and for me. I had spent much of the last 10 years in Vietnam. My friend Tom DeFrank, who was with Newsweek, said there’s nothing Ford can do to save Vietnam, is there? I said no. I was overcome with emotion, and I put my head down and cried. Ford had scheduled a speech at Tulane University. On the plane down there, somebody handed him a note that the withdrawal of the last American troops from Vietnam was ending. In his speech, Ford used the expression that the U.S. role in the war was over. We all realized what an important speech this was.

On another point, in thinking about the similarities and/or differences between the Vietnam war and the Afghanistan war, I believe that in both cases American policy makers -- both military and civilian -- did not take into account the history, politics, local issues, cultures, etc., of the two countries. In the case of Vietnam, I believe LBJ and other policy makers did not take into account the history of the imperial period or the French colonial period, did not take into account regional differences (i.e. the Central Highlands vs. the Mekong Delta), did not take into account religious differences (i.e. the Buddhists vs. the Catholics), did not take into account tribal differences (i.e. the Hoa Hao vs. the Cao Dai).

In the same way, I don't think American policy makers currently and in the recent past have taken into account the history, colonial period, regional rivalries, religious and tribal differences, etc. of the Middle East, including Afghanistan. I sometimes mention this to friends in the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, etc.  They say they provide this background to the policy makers, but it's usually not taken into account in making strategic and tactical decisions.

Interview with Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy.


Ron Nessen

Q&A with TV journalist Ted Koppel

Ted Koppel, the legendary television journalist, former “Nightline” anchor, and author, covered the Vietnam War for ABC News.

Q: As someone who covered the war in Vietnam, how do you think the reporting of that war differed from the reporting of more recent conflicts?

A: Because of the draft, many more American families had "skin in the game."  The level of interest, (at times bordering on obsession) with the weekly casualty lists prompted the U.S. television networks to maintain huge bureaus in Saigon.  It was not unusual for there to be two or three stories a night on the evening news programs relating to developments in Viet Nam.  Remember, casualties at times rose to four and five hundred dead a week.  The United States lost almost as many troops in a month in Viet Nam as it did during the entire involvement in Iraq.  Viet Nam was, from the mid-sixties on, an issue of paramount political importance; ending, as it did, the Johnson administration.  There has never been a point in any subsequent conflict, at which public interest, and therefore news coverage, has matched what occurred during the war in Viet Nam.

Q: Which post-Vietnam War president that you covered do you think was most affected by the war in Vietnam in making his own decisions about sending troops into battle?

A: President Clinton, who required that U.S. bombers over the former Yugoslavia fly at sufficient altitude that they not be vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire or missiles, was obsessed with keeping any U.S. airman or ground forces out of the hands of the Serbs.  Therefore, the planes flew high and neither ground forces nor the much-vaunted Apache helicopters were ever deployed.

Q: What impact do you think the draft played in presidential decision-making during the Vietnam War, and how might President Obama's decisions be different if there were a draft today instead of a volunteer force?

A: One cannot over-estimate the importance of the draft, then and now.  Ever since the draft ended, under President Nixon, there has been an inexorable drift toward depersonalizing war.  The draft was followed by an all-volunteer military; men and women who were professionals and could therefore be said to have "signed up to fight."  The all-volunteer army has been buttressed and, in some cases, displaced by hundreds of thousands of private contractors.  Their deaths and injuries are not announced and barely noticed.  

President Obama, more than any of his predecessors, has deployed small units of special operations forces, supported by civilian contractors, CIA officers and, of course, pilotless drones.  The trend has been towards invisible wars, fought by anonymous warriors.

Q: When you started anchoring the program "America Held Hostage" on ABC during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979--a program that eventually became "Nightline"-- did you think the hostage crisis would last as long as it did?

A: Nobody thought it would last 444 days; but, interestingly, when ABC set up facilities for our nightly "America Held Hostage" reports, new phones were installed, with our own extension.  That number:  444.

Q: What lessons do you think the United States learned from the hostage crisis?

A: President Carter made a couple of crucial mistakes early in the hostage-taking.  I don't recall the precise wording, but he said something along the lines of "the hostages are the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night."  He thereby signaled just how much leverage they had to the hostage-takers.  He also said (again, not a precise quote) "we won't do anything to endanger the hostages, but once they are released the slate will not be wiped clean."  He could not have provided greater comfort and motivation to those holding our hostages than by expressing those thoughts.

Have subsequent presidents learned from his mistakes?  Certainly Ronald Reagan did not.  The Iran-Contra disaster flowed out of yet another mishandling of a hostage crisis that was controlled by the Iranians.  The very nature of our media-centric society makes it difficult to deal with any hostage crisis.  Our leaders need to act as though the fate of the hostages is irrelevant to the interests of the United States.  The media make that, essentially, impossible.

Interview with Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy.


Q&A with Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution

Stephen Hess, a well-respected expert on Washington's political culture, has written many books on the presidency, the media, and related topics. He is a senior fellow emeritus in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, and worked in both the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

Q: You have spent many years studying the interplay between the press and the government. What impact did the Vietnam War have on that relationship?

A: During the period of my studies, The Washington Reporters (1981) and The Government/Press Connection (1984), there was no doubt of the profound impact the Vietnam War had on this relationship. The question I would want to ask now is what change is generational. Do reporters born after Vietnam still professionally carry forward the government/press lessons of Vietnam? Haunting Legacy successfully makes the case of Vietnam’s DNA in the presidency. But would the same be true in journalism? Daily journalists do not have the same historical memory as presidents or secretaries of state.  Journalism is an occupation that is born anew each morning. And maybe that’s old-fashioned: given the technological changes, born anew each nanosecond. Indeed, it would be a fascinating study if the Kalbs asked the same questions about journalism that they asked of the presidency.

Q: As a scholar of the presidency, do you feel that the Vietnam War weakened the institution of the presidency? Why or why not?

A: The remarkable resiliency of the presidency is one of the more notable characteristics of the United States. From the shame of Richard Nixon’s resignation to Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America ” was barely a decade. Or a nation mortified by defeat in Vietnam soon felt itself bold enough to invade Kuwait. I don’t think I would have had as much fun studying the presidency had it been otherwise.

Stephen Hess has also graciously offered some additional reflections on his time spent working in the White House during the Nixon administration, when the Vietnam War was underway:

During Nixon’s 1968 campaign, my field was domestic, but once in March I was recruited to debate Henry Kissinger before a large audience of youth in Boston. “Debate” isn’t quite the right word because I kept deferring to Henry, who was speaking for Nelson Rockefeller. I was surprised at how nervous Henry was. I doubt he’d ever addressed 16-year-olds before. I kept my remarks focused on abolishing the draft, Nixon’s only proposal that I figured youth would support. I probably won the debate! I didn’t see Henry again until the GOP convention in Miami. Nixon had a lock on a first-ballot nomination, but Henry assured me that Rockefeller would win on the third ballot.

In 1969, Kissinger and I, both on the White House staff, had offices across the hall from each other in the basement of the West Wing. We also happened to use the men’s room at the same time each morning. Standing side by side one morning, Henry said, “You were right, Steve, he [Nixon] is the right man for this moment in history.” Thus ended our debate. We also had a morning ritual where I said, “Good morning, Henry, when are you going to end the war so that we can have some money for domestic concerns?” (I was deputy assistant to the president for urban affairs.) And Henry replied, “Good morning, Steve, when can you start a riot, distracting the press, so that I have time to end the war?”  This is usual staff banter.  But Vietnam’s draining the treasury was very real and very serious at a time of urban crisis. It’s useful to think of Vietnam in more than an international context.

In terms of Kissinger’s request for a domestic “riot,” the war was doing that without any help from me. We did have a number of unannounced meetings with youth leaders. Perhaps they helped us better understand each other. Nothing more. I do remember looking out my West Wing window one morning and seeing an unpainted fence around Lafayette Park. I immediately called upstairs to John Ehrlichman. “John. There’s an unpainted fence around Lafayette Park.” “So what?” “John, can you imagine what the president will see on the fence when he looks out his window tomorrow?” (I used stronger words on what the message would say.) “What do you suggest?” “If you get the paint, I’ll get the schoolchildren of Washington to paint a mural.” It was done and the mural of American history was briefly a tourist attraction. And so I fought the war against unruly youth.

In November 1969, the president appointed me National Chairman of the White House Conference on Youth, and I made a lot of speeches on college campuses. Speeches would not ease youth’s feelings about Vietnam, but at least they suggested that someone from government would come and listen. I remember one painful appearance at the College of Wooster in Ohio, where an especially abusive student kept shouting at me. When I was in the Green Room waiting to leave, she came to apologize for her language. This was unexpected and appreciated. Where was she from? Arlington, Virginia. Her father worked for the CIA. Oh my.

Interview with Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy.


Stephen Hess

Q&A with Janis Nark, Lt. Col. USAR (Ret.)

Janis Nark, Lt. Col. USAR (Ret.), was 21 years old when she went to Vietnam as an Army nurse, and two decades later served in Desert Storm. She now sits on the board of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Q:  How would you describe your experience serving in Vietnam, and how did it compare with your experience in Desert Storm?

A: I was 21 and 22 years old when I served as a nurse in Vietnam. I had to learn a lot in a very short period of time. We young nurses struggled daily with the trauma or the tedium, and every day we sandbagged our hearts and our minds in order to do our jobs. We pushed the emotions down and said "I'll deal with this later." For many that " later" would have to wait for 20 or 40 years, or forever. I was 41 and 42 for Desert Storm. I spiraled into a deep depression. I had lots of good reasons for being depressed, but they had nothing to do with Desert Storm, they had everything to do with Vietnam and all the memories, emotions and pain I had "stuffed." I simply didn't know that at the time. I just thought I was going crazy. This was the beginning of my dealing with PTSD. It's been a long journey and is still a work in progress.

Q:  How have things changed for women in combat zones from the Vietnam era to today, and do you see additional changes on the way?

A: That's hard for me to say since I have no first-hand experience of what things are like for the women with their boots on the ground now. I can tell you some of what I've seen in my volunteer work with the Disabled Vets at their Winter Sports Clinic here in Snowmass, CO. I see the women in wheelchairs. One is a pretty blonde I've been watching for six years. When I first saw her she was tiny, shriveled up and non-communicative. I heard the story from one of her caregivers. She was in Iraq, a Marine out on patrol with her squad. She was beaten and raped by each one of them and left for dead. She managed to somehow get herself found. They are all behind bars for a while. She will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Each year she sits a little taller in her chair, she has the use of one hand, her hair is clean and combed and we talk. I tell her how proud I am of her progress, and last year I saw her smile for the first time. There are women with "therapy dogs," many with artificial limbs, of course wheelchairs; there are more every year. Men getting used to women in combat will take a long, long time. Their treatment by the VA in many instances is shameful, grossly inadequate, antiquated and dismissive.

Q:  What reactions did you get upon returning to the United States from Vietnam, and did you find differences in how people reacted to you compared with how they reacted to men returning from the  war?

A: Only my family knew I had been in Vietnam. They didn't know how to deal with me. They were loving and kind, but I had changed. In the span of one plane ride I had gone from war to peace, in the span of one year from childhood to irrevocable adulthood. As difficult as it was for the young men to talk about the war after their return, it was impossible for the women to do so. Even as "Women's Lib" was making its voice heard and the feminist movement was sweeping America, the overriding perception at the time was, "Nice girls didn't join the Army, nice girls certainly didn't go to war." I knew that wasn't true, and frankly that just pissed me off. So I didn't talk about it. It was my deepest darkest secret for 20 years till Desert Storm when it all came crashing down on me.

Q:  You are on the board of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial  Fund—how do you think the Wall has affected perceptions of the war?

A: I don't believe the mission of The Wall was to affect the perception of the war in Vietnam. It was built to honor those who served and those who died. It's a place of healing. It's a safe place to go to grieve, to meet those who served, those who waited, those who lost. It's a place of honoring and remembrance and communicating with those lost souls…the father, the brother, the daughter, the buddy, the son, the patient we couldn't save.

I think that's why The Center is so critical an adjunct to our Wall. We have so much more to say, to share, to honor. This will be the place it happens.

Q: What do you think the Vietnam War’s impact has been on the thinking of subsequent U.S. leaders when they consider sending  troops into battle?

A: I don't think they think at all.

Q:  Anything else you think we should know?

A: The book "What It Is Like To Go To War" by Karl Marlantes should be required reading by every member of the Armed Forces and Congress, and especially our commander in chief. It should also be required reading by every person before they are allowed to raise their hand  and serve in our armed forces.

Interview with Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy.


Janis Nark