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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.

Monday
Apr162012

Q&A with journalist Andy Glass

Andrew J. Glass arrived in Washington as a reporter in 1962, and has covered pretty much every major news event since then; he spent more than two decades as D.C. bureau chief for Cox Newspapers.

Q: As a reporter covering Washington for many years, do you think the Vietnam War had a lasting impact on presidential politics, and if so, how?

A: The failed war spawned distrust in the political process by the public and much of the media, including every race for the White House, which persists to this day.

Q: When you covered the Persian Gulf War in 1991, did you think the military and the Bush I administration had absorbed lessons from Vietnam?

A: The circumstances of that conflict were far removed from those that infused Vietnam, which was widely noted at time. A brief ground war and a low loss of life contributed to a feeling that it was a “good ” war.  

Q: Do you think the Vietnam War was a "lost" war? Why or why not?

A: Fundamentally, a generation of U.S. leaders that had lived through the run up to World War II as adults saw Vietnam as an integral element in a bipolar power struggle with evil adversaries. It was many things, but it was not that. It was unwinnable as well because as Gen. Giap once told me on a visit to Hanoi, “we wanted to prevail more than you did.”

Q: In your opinion, what is the best course for President Obama to take in Afghanistan?

A: Withdraw all military and economic support ASAP.

Q: What is the most exciting story you've covered during your career, and why?

A: Running around in Soviet choppers not very high above Afghanistan in 1982 with an elite Spitznaz unit – their version of the U.S. Special Forces – while a colleague entered the country through Peshawar with the muhajadeen. We subsequently wrote a series of articles for the Cox Newspapers on the two faces of war. Our reporting effort received scant attention from most Cox editors and, perhaps as a consequence, little feedback from readers.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: We should know, that more often than not, we don’t know and, probably, cannot find out.

 

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

 

 

Andy Glass
Tuesday
Apr102012

Q&A with author, historian, journalist, and Vietnam veteran Marc Leepson

Marc Leepson's books cover topics ranging from the Civil War to the American flag to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. He is arts editor of the VVA Veteran Magazine, and served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam during the war. His website is www.marcleepson.com.

Q: You have written about the Civil War, and you served in the Vietnam War and have written about that war as well. How would you compare the two divisive conflicts in terms of their lasting impact on the United States?

A: The Civil War was the crucible of American history. At least 660,000 Americans were killed, fighting one another on American soil. The South was devastated physically. Slavery ended, but only after the nation was nearly torn apart. The impact of that still is being felt, primarily in the South. The issue of states’ rights still is in the forefront of the national political picture in 2012. As are race relations.

The Vietnam War also continues to have a strong impact. Today’s all-volunteer force, for one thing, is a direct result of the inequities of the draft during the Vietnam War. That war also continues to resonate among the huge Baby Boom generation (also known as the Vietnam War generation), which was extremely divided then over the war. Although tensions have cooled considerably, the divisiveness engendered over that war is not far below the surface.

And, as your book Haunting Legacy points out, the Vietnam War continues today to have an impact on national politics, especially at the presidential level.

Q: In your biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, you write about his experiences serving with George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Given the very different time periods two centuries apart, what is your impression of the military leadership of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, compared with the U.S. military leadership in the Vietnam conflict?

A: The biggest difference that stands out is the leadership at the top. George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental Army was primarily responsible for the victory over enormous odds. Although by no means perfect, Washington turned out to be a brilliant, courageous leader who led his men on the ground and was often very good at tactics and strategy. William Westmoreland, the American commander in Vietnam for much of the war, was a dismal failure in all of those areas.

Of course, there were other good military leaders during the American Revolution; Washington didn’t win it alone. But his leadership proved crucial.

As for the Vietnam War, there were excellent generals and other great military leaders. Gens. Creighton Abrams, Fred Weyand, Victor Krulak, and Lew Walt and Col. (later Gen.) Hal Moore come to mind. But their courage and leadership abilities couldn’t overcome the weaknesses at the very top.

Q: Another of your books is about the American flag. How did the flag's image change, or remain the same, during the Vietnam period?

A: The Vietnam War was unique in American history with respect to the American flag. Unlike all of the other wars fought by the United States in which flying the American flag symbolized commitment to the war effort, the flag’s role during the Vietnam War was vastly different. By the end of the 1960s what has been called “a cultural war” using the flag as its primary symbol had broken out in the nation, a cultural war caused by the bitter antagonism in this country over the war.

Vietnam War hawks displayed the flag as the primary emblem of their support for the war, as well as their anti-communism and their disdain for those who spoke out against the war. That was expressed in flag-accented phrases such as “Love it or leave it” and “My country right or wrong.” Doves flew the flag as well, but the message they conveyed was not support for the war.

To the contrary, doves displayed the flag upside down as a sign of distress; they created posters with the stars arrayed in the peace sign and other forms of protest; they wore American flag shirts and bandannas; they flew the 13-star “Betsy Ross” flag. The most radical elements of the antiwar movement defiantly displayed the Viet Cong flag. And some antiwar protesters burned the Stars and Stripes to protest the American war in Vietnam.

Q: How were you treated as a veteran returning from Vietnam, and how does that compare with the treatments of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?

A: No one spat at me or called me a baby killer when I came home from Vietnam in December of 1968. But they didn’t have to; the feeling was in the air that Vietnam veterans were not welcome in their own country.

It wasn’t just from the antiwar crowd, which blamed us for taking part in the war. It also came from many of those who supported the war, who blamed us for not winning. It’s a shameful thing to think that so many Americans turned their backs on Vietnam veterans, but it happened and today many Vietnam veterans are still bitter about it. That’s the reason why Vietnam veterans often still greet each other by saying, “Welcome home.”

I guess the only good thing that came out of this has been the fact that Americans woke up to the situation in the early 1980s following the release of the hostages in Iran and the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and they began to stop blaming the warrior for the war. That set in motion the almost universal support by Americans, regardless of how they feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the veterans returning home from those conflicts.

Q: Do you have a favorite time period to research, and if so, why?

A: If I had to choose, I’d say the last third of the 19th century in this country because there is a wealth of primary source material available and because the country grew so rapidly in so many ways after the Civil War.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I am working on a proposal for my next book, but the topic is a state secret because book proposals are so iffy these days. It’s more U.S. history, in the nature of a biography of a 19th century figure whose name you know.

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

 

 

Marc Leepson

Tuesday
Apr032012

Q&A with war correspondent Joseph Galloway

Joseph Galloway is a well-known war correspondent, author and lecturer. He covered the Vietnam War, as well as many other military conflicts, and is the co-author of several books, including the Vietnam War classic We Were Soldiers Once...And Young.

Q: How would you compare the coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the coverage of the Vietnam War?

A: There's a vast difference in how the wars of today in Iraq and Afghanistan are covered when compared to how the Vietnam War was covered. The technology of transmitting the words, images and films of reporters and photographers has advanced exponentially. Where once we spent hours screaming down military telephone lines to dictate 400 words from some provincial capital to our bureaus in Saigon; where once it could take a day or two for your undeveloped film to be "pigeoned" to Saigon, processed, printed and& captioned and then sent out by radiophoto transmitter by Saigon PTT; where once it could take a day or two for unprocessed TV film to be carried to Saigon; another day for it to be carried to Tokyo or Hong Kong where it could be processed and roughly edited before being transmitted via cable to New York and the evening news shows---now there are satellite telephones that fit in a reporter's pocket and the equipment to feed a live TV broadcast that fits in a small suitcase. Information and images flow instantly.

    Beyond the technical aspect there is the more important difference in control exerted by the military on those who would cover soldiers and Marines in battle. Vietnam was the most openly and freely covered war in American history. In World Wars I and II there was official censorship of all press material. Correspondents were de facto members of the military and subject to military orders and military justice. In Korea there was less in the way of official censorship but control of communications, travel and access gave the military much of what it wanted.

    In Vietnam there was no censorship and no control to speak of. Anyone with a letter from an editor back home could pitch up in Saigon and get accreditation from the U.S. and Vietnamese military commands. All the U.S. officials asked was that one sign a simple one-page pledge to obey a few basic operational security rules: 1. I will not report on the movement of allied troops while that movement is still underway. 2. I will not report the actual number of friendly casualties in an engagement while it is still underway. Instead I will categorize friendly losses as light, medium or heavy. etc.

    With a U.S. press card you could travel anywhere in Vietnam on U.S. military transportation. You could visit virtually any American unit and stay as long as you wished or your editor permitted. There was no pre-censorship. At any given time during the eight years of direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam (1965-1973) there were an average of 400 to 500 accredited correspondents. Seventy of them were killed in action while trying to get the story and photos and film of the war. Many others were wounded.

    Since Vietnam the military has again reverted to a Korean War model of controlling access and communications. The U.S. military invaded the island of Grenada and captured it eventually, without a single correspondent being present. The media were simply locked out. Protests and complaints led to the formation of a media ready reaction pool in Washington, D.C. Members had to be prepared to leave on very short notice for an undisclosed location. When the invasion of Panama came along the pool was alerted and flown to Panama, and then its members were locked up in a hangar on an air base and kept there until the action was over. More complaints and negotiations.

    When the Gulf War was brewing in 1990 the military began cooking up a plan to form 10 pools of 10 journalists each to cover the coming war with Iraq. Each pool would be under control of an officer, usually a colonel, who would decide where they could go, what they could cover and would have the power to censor their pool reports or to refuse to forward those reports at all. Some 1,200 correspondents from all over the world descended on Saudi Arabia, most going to the International Hotel in Dhahran; the rest to the Marriott Hotel in Riyadh to cover allied and U.S. headquarters there.

    With an allied force of over 600,000 troops the number of pools was clearly inadequate. On the eve of the invasion in 1991 the number was increased to 15 pools of 10 correspondents each. The system was still too few too late. At the end of a brilliant 100-hour campaign the military discovered that it had no photos or film of the tank battles in Kuwait. The "heroes" of the Gulf War, in the absence of real news coverage of the combat and the troops on the front, became the briefing officers in Riyadh and in the Pentagon. Army division commanders bemoaned their own decisions to lock up their press pool in the rear, or their failure to provide a helicopter to ferry them around a large, mostly empty and impassable desert battleground.

    All this led to some improvements in military-media relations when it came to planning for a U.S. invasion of Haiti in the mid-1990s. Although U.S. forces did not have to fight their way in, plans had been laid to take along embedded journalists if it came to that. The idea of embedding journalists with American combat units came to fruition in Bosnia. An embed was expected to spend a long time with his assigned combat unit--weeks rather than days. The longer the better. This made for much improved access for the media, and much more informed reporting for and about the military.

    When serious preparations began in the fall of 2002 for an invasion of Iraq one of the Pentagon's biggest worries was that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's propaganda machine would churn out lies about American atrocities, misplaced airstrikes and the like...and it would be hard to counter those lies. A decision was made in the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to set up a massive program to embed U.S. and foreign journalists with every combat unit involved on land, air and sea operations. In the end more than 725 embeds accompanied the force that invaded Iraq in early 2003.

    After the fall of Baghdad and Saddam's government, the numbers of embedded media shrank quickly. As the months and years drew on those numbers covering the Iraq War would shrink even more as American viewers and readers turned away from unpleasant news, and as newspapers began severe cost-cutting moves to stay afloat as their business model began failing. Keeping a war correspondent in Iraq cost approximately $32,000 per month and it was easy for an editor or a publisher to say: Let the AP cover it for us. The numbers that covered the Vietnam War from beginning to end simply were not there to cover the Iraq War. Even fewer to cover Afghanistan.

Q: Do you think that the American public’s perception of Vietnam veterans has changed over the decades, and if so, how?

A: The American public's perception of Vietnam veterans has indeed changed drastically over the nearly four decades since the last Americans lifted out of Saigon aboard helicopters in April 1975. If you don't believe this take a look at the last U.S. Census, which asked a question about military service. Just over three million Americans served in the Indochina Theater during 10 years of the Vietnam War. Yet some 10 million Americans claimed to have served in Vietnam when asked that census question. At the time of the war, middle-class males ducked behind college deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam. Others went to Canada to avoid the draft. Demonstrators filled the streets. But now being a Vietnam veteran seems to be a desirable thing in our society.

    In the first years after the war ended our country remained deeply divided in how it thought about this war and its veterans. We were unable to separate the war so many opposed and hated from the young men our country and its political leaders of both parties sent to fight that war. Veterans generally went to ground in the crossfire, keeping quiet about their service.

    There were several catalysts for a change in thinking about Vietnam veterans, not least the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., in 1982. Veterans donated the funds to build the Wall. Veterans led the campaign to gain congressional approval for its construction. Vietnam veterans are leading a current campaign to collect the funds needed to build an Education Center underneath the National Mall adjacent to the Memorial.

    Another of the catalysts involved the welcome home parades and ceremonies across the nation for troops returning home at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The parades were huge and glorious and even those who opposed that, or all, wars could celebrate the end of a war and the troops coming home. As those troops marched down America's biggest boulevards they reached out and pulled Vietnam veterans off the sidewalks and into their ranks--in effect sharing their warm homecoming with those who never got one after their war ended.

    I like to think that the book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, co-authored by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and myself, had a little something to do with changing how Americans thought about the young men it sent to fight in the war of our youth. The war we had seen, the young soldiers and officers we had known, were honorable men who did the best they could in a very bad situation. When America's leaders could offer no reasonable explanation for why they were sent to fight, these young men simply fought for each other, laid down their lives for each other. While we wrote about two battles early in a long war, our words were meant for all who served in that war. Our goal was to say a heartfelt Thank You to them, and in so doing to help restore their pride in that service.

Q: In your opinion, should Vietnam be described as a "lost" war? Why or why not?

A: Our political leaders, from Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson to Richard Nixon, all declared that our purpose in taking an ever-growing hand in Vietnam's civil war was to support and defend and ensure the survival of the government of South Vietnam. Obviously we failed to reach and sustain our objective. That government fell at the end of April 1975. There are those who say we didn't lose the war because our last troops departed Vietnam in 1973. In my view there's no question that Vietnam was, for us, a "lost war." It is a painful admission, but a truthful admission. We lost. They won. But we still have the possibility of winning the peace in Vietnam. Those who were our enemies there, and their successors in government, now welcome American diplomats, American businessmen, American tourists.

Q: How has Vietnam factored into subsequent presidents' decision-making when it comes to sending troops to war?

A: For a brief period after the end of the war in Vietnam there was talk of how that outcome had hamstrung American diplomacy overseas, and put a damper on the idea of American military intervention anywhere around the globe. But not for long. Too much was happening in the world. The Berlin Wall was falling; communism in Russia was dying; the Cold War was ending. America the subdued was again America the triumphant. And so followed interventions in Beirut, Grenada, Panama. The Persian Gulf War. The Haiti intervention. By the time a new president, George W. Bush, had gotten settled into his new quarters we had 9/11 and our intervention in Afghanistan. Followed soon enough by the invasion of Iraq. It seemed that no one in the Bush administration had read any history at all, much less any history of the Vietnam War. Those wars would drag on to the end of the administration and beyond; one would sputter to an inconclusive end; the other sputters toward a similar end in 2014. We got out of Iraq with some of our dignity intact but there is increasing fear that we may leave Afghanistan in a hail of gunfire from both our "friends" and our enemies.

Q: Do you think the topic of the Vietnam War is of interest to many Americans born since the end of the war?

A: I travel this country speaking to audiences of active duty military, veterans, and students. It is my impression that many young Americans born since the end of our war have a great interest in that war, as evidenced by the popularity of college courses on the history of the war. School children make up many of the millions who visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation's capital each year. It is for them and future generations that the Education Center at the Memorial is being built.

Joseph Galloway reporting from Vietnam in 1966.

 

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

Wednesday
Mar282012

Q&A with Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

It's been 30 years since the groundbreaking for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so Haunting Legacy asked Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, some questions about the memorial, the war's legacy, and the treatment of returning veterans:

Q: What has or hasn’t changed for veterans in the past 30 years since the groundbreaking?

A: Military veterans of the Vietnam War - and more recent conflagrations - are certainly better accepted by the public.   During Vietnam there were many who were angry at the American participants.  Some viewed us as suckers or fools for going to War.  Others viewed the veterans as tainted with personal immorality which somehow flowed from doing what the nation's leaders and institutions asked during a time of national crisis and debate over a war many considered as immoral and/or unjustifiable.  The Mantra of the promotional effort for The Wall was to "separate the war from the warrior".   This was a catchy phrase and we were able to garner significant grassroots and political support which allowed completion of the effort in record time.   Throughout American history a small number of people have done the fighting and served in the military.   Their service deserves to be elevated by society. 

Q: How has the Wall affected perceptions of the Vietnam War?

A: The Wall has not had any impact on how people feel about the War- none that I have observed.  Most people do not feel, in retrospect, that the results from the enormous cost of lives, money and national prestige was worth a decade plus of war in Vietnam.  There was a theoretical, ideological threat flowing from communism which many viewed as exaggerated.  The war still has its defenders.  And the North Vietnamese Communists were no choir boys.  But this was the most divisive event in the USA during the 20 th century.

The point of The Wall was to get some compassion and recognition for the American military veterans of the conflict.   People can debate the wisdom of the Vietnam War all they want.  But this was never our agenda.  We do encourage study and debate of that war with our Teach Vietnam effort aimed at high schools and middle schools.  The Wall and statues are dedicated to the Men and Women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America Who Served in the Vietnam War.   

Q: What do you think of the public’s attitude toward returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with how Vietnam veterans were viewed upon your return?

A: People are generally very kind to the returning veterans.  Many Vietnam vets are the ones organizing public events at airports and elsewhere.    The public realizes that these people returning from War are from their states and cities serving at great cost to themselves and taking huge personal risks. People are generally not persuaded that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been worth the blood and national treasure. At least the veterans are not being blamed.  That is the whole point.

Q:  How large a shadow do you think the Vietnam War has cast on subsequent American policymakers and the decisions they’ve made?

A: Haunting Legacy says it all.  The Vietnam War remains the Gorilla in the Room that cannot be ignored.  An impoverished nation that was not very technologically advanced - what was then called North Vietnam -  somehow out lasted the United States and marched victorious  into Saigon in 1975.   Yet our national security experts have gotten us into Afghanistan.  The results or a Trillion plus dollars and a decade spent there seem pretty questionable. In Iraq we beat their entire military then spent years and thousands killed and wounded trying to establish a government for them, as we are doing with little success in Afghanistan. The Vietnam War has cast a shadow, but has not had significant impact on the decision making process which brought about these two most recent wars.  Estimates range to Three Trillion Dollars.  The deaths and injuries among US troops are substantial.  Did these wars make America safer or enhance our prestige?  

We are now wisely using better techniques and to take fewer losses.  The operation to topple Libya's Khaddafy was brilliant.  The Libyans did the infantry fighting.   We and

NATO gave them some air power.  We got Bin Laden with some SEALS and the CIA.  We can target terrorists and assist local people who are fighting them.  And we have to fight them, but let's be wise about how we do it.   

As a nation we need to look very carefully before another massive use of our Army and Marines to fight in infantry engagements on the ground.   Lets hope for better decisions before risking America's soldiers and our national treasure in the future.

Q: What’s next on the agenda for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund?

A: Funny you should ask!    http://vvmf.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/the-legacy-of-the-vietnam-veterans-memorial/

 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: www.buildthecenter.org 

 

******************************************************

 --Deborah Kalb, co-author of Haunting Legacy

 

Jan Scruggs
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