BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Frances FitzGerald, when you look into the book--or, actually, the two-volume set "Reporting Vietnam" and "Find Your Peace: The Long Fear," written back in 1966, does it still work?
Ms. FRANCES FITZGERALD (Contributor, "Reporting Vietnam"): It seems a long time ago, I tell you, but I--I must leave that for others to judge whether it works or not. I note it's--I spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, and that was one of the first things that I wrote when I got there.
LAMB: What--what does it say?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, it's about a trip through the delta. In fact, it's rather like one of Peter's pieces in--later on and--we used to go on these travels to try and figure out what was going--going on. And so this is a piece about people I've met along the way, you know, from ARVN generals to American advisers to Waihow dignitaries, the local religious sect that--in the delta. And just a piece of reportage. It's very simple. I--I didn't know very much about Vietnam at that time. I'd just got there. And so it was an attempt to sort of look at something.
LAMB: Peter Kann, you happen to have, in the second volume--Part Two--the first piece, and it's also from the Mekong Delta, but it's a couple years later in 1969. When you go back and read it, what comes to mind?
Mr. PETER KANN (Contributor, "Reporting Vietnam"): Well, I think probably the same point that Frankie was making. I mean, I think one thing we might have shared as reporters covering Vietnam w--was, at least, the effort to get out in the countryside and try to see the--the war in a kind of microcosm; to actually talk, as best one could, to farmers and to ARVN sergeants and to American advisers and--and to try to describe what we saw. In this particular case, I think the point I was making, if there was a larger part, was that, actually, about a year after the--the Tet Offensive, which was seen as such a disaster--and, in some senses, was--for the American cause--the Mekong Delta was surprisingly peaceful. And I think the point I made is, you know, o--one could spend a week going through the delta on buses and sanpans and so on without being shot at. And I thought that perhaps said something about the way the war was going at that particular time in that particular place.
LAMB: How long were you in Vietnam?
Mr. KANN: I lived there some straight time for a couple of years, so, '67 through '69. And then between '70 and '75, I probably spent a third to a half of each of those years back in Vietnam, but based in Hong Kong.
LAMB: Frances Fitzgerald, how long were you there?
Ms. FITZGERALD: For about a year in 1966, and then I went home and I wrote my book and I went back again in 1971 for about six months. And I was out there again in '73 for about three months; in '74, I went to Hanoi; and I've been back y--n--three or four years ago.
LAMB: Pictured on the screen is a view from the book an--what do you both think of this two-volume set? There are 1,500 pages, 64 pages of photographs, some 80 writers, some 113 pieces.
Ms. FITZGERALD: I think they've done a magnificent job. I really do. I think it's very difficult. It's one of the most difficult things, I think, that the Library of Am--America's undertaken, cau--because of the sheer volume of reportage. And, of course, there's things left out that one hates to leave out. I--I would have hated to do the job of editing this. But I think that they've managed to give both a sort of chronological picture of the war and also to it--really, judge things, more or less, by literary merit and value. They--trying to do both at once is, necessarily, making compromises, but I think they've done a great job.
LAMB: Peter Kann, your picture's in here also. Do you remember where this picture was taken? We'll get it on the screen in just a second. There it is.
Mr. KANN: Yeah, that's--that's kind of embarrassing. Everyone else is in military fatigues and I'm on a beach carrying a watermelon. I think it was on some island off the southern coast of Vietnam--maybe Fuquak Island, something like that.
LAMB: What do you think of this two-volume set? If you read it, do you get a good sense of what that war was all about?
Mr. KANN: Yeah, I think the v--the volumes, in total, give a pretty good sense--not a clear sense, because I think even all these years later, it's very hard to be totally clear about what Vietnam was all about, much less how it turned out and why. But I think it--a little like, you know, blind people touching parts of an elephant. No reporter saw the whole story or understood the whole story, but this collection has so many stories by so many, by and large, terrific journalists that I think someone who actually goes through it does collectively get a sense of what Vietnam was all about.
LAMB: I'm looking at a piece that's dated October 1966. It's actually written by the man who, 10 years ago, was our first guest on BOOKNOTES. This is the 500th BOOKNOTES, and we went back to Vietnam on purpose, 'cause it's been kind of a thread in the program.
He wrote in 1966--Neil Sheehan--`There were many disappointments those first two years. But when I left Vietnam in 1964, I was still, to use the current parlance, a Hawk. I returned to Saigon in 1965 for another year. Now I have left again, and much has changed. There were 17,000 American servicemen in Vietnam at the time of my first departure. There are now 317,000. And I, while not a Dove, am no longer a Hawk.'
Put Neil Sheehan in context, if you would, and what about what he's saying right here?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, again, Neil is one of those reporters who went back and back over the years, and that's an important point--I--Peter was making as well, is just that--that, you know, the war was not one thing at one time. It had no dramatic unity so the way--ways some do that--that, if you--if you went in any given year, you would--you would see something quite different and your impression would probably be formed by that. But Neil, who had long experience, was one of the few people who was able to make a statement like that. I mean, I think that others of us would have--would have been shy about doing so, at least. But he had--had seen so much that, I think, he--he f--had the authority to say, `OK, this is--this is the way I feel about it.'
LAMB: His writing in the New York Times Magazine--do you think that was a good thing for a reporter to do?
Mr. KANN: Oh, I think magazine journalism is still journalism and, in fact, some of the best pieces in that book were magazine pieces. Jim Sterba's piece about the grunts, which I think came closer than anything else to capturing the--the life and attitudes of the GI, but...
LAMB: Let me re-ask--what I was really trying to...
Mr. KANN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...point I was gonna ask you about is whether it was a good idea for a reporter to take a point of view at that time.
Mr. KANN: Ah. OK. The--a--my--my perspective on that would actually be that most reporters in Vietnam were not Hawks or Doves in the sense that the American public lined up--a little like I don't think most reporters are right wing or left wing in our current political context.
I--I think most reporters who covered Vietnam for any length of time became critics--some more, some less, but all, to some extent, became critics--of the way the war was being waged. We weren't in a position to be critics of what the Communists were doing, because we couldn't follow their troops around and we couldn't see the destruction they were causing and we couldn't see the--the--the suffering that they caused. But we certainly could see that which our own troops and our allies caused. So in one way or another, we all became critics, but I don't think we were, by and large, ideologues on the war. I don't think we started, or even ended, in most cases, with the proposition that one side was evil and one side was good.
And I'm not sure most of us even really concluded that America shouldn't have tried to wage that war--I didn't, at least. I think what we did conclude is, we wound up waging it badly.
Ms. FITZGERALD: I--I agree with Peter, more or less. I think that part of it was generational, too. I mean, the--the first reporters who went there in the--you know, 1959, so on, tended to come from World War II and to have certain assumptions about what happens--or, what reporters ought to do when America goes to war. And those assumptions were really broken by Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam, Mal Browne and so on. They f--they found that they had to become critics because they were lied to a lot of the time by--by--by Americans there on the ground. And they became very unpopular with the embassy and with the--with the military command and so forth. And there was this sort of a--antagonism between reporters and the sort of higher officials, you know, all throughout the war because, I mean, they were essentially trying to say, `We're--we--we're doing fine. We're winning,' but th--`There's nothing going wrong at all.' And, therefore, you--you know, you f--you found that you had to examine those--every single statement that was made, practically, to see whether it was really the case or not. It made reporting very difficult, I tell you. You kept having to go to the delta to find out whether th--what they were saying about it was so or not.
And so this--I think this--this antagonism created a--a--perhaps more of a s--more of a sense that--you know, that reporters were on one side or another, whereas I don't think they really were. They were just trying to--trying to do their job. And the antagonism, I may say, did not extend to--to GIs or--or to anybody who was, you know, on the sort of lower levels. It was real--really high-level policy.
LAMB: Joe Kraft, a columnist who's not a--no longer alive, h--has a piece in this from July of 1972--it was in The New Yorker--and he actually went to Hanoi, and he has in here the actual words from Ho Chi Minh's--Ho Chi Minh had died in 1969--Ho Chi Minh's will that he passed on to people who were still alive. As a matter of fact, General Giap is still alive, who was probably the most successful general in the world, I guess, according to some people.
A--a passage reads like this. `The war of resistance'--this is Ho Chi Minh. `The war of resistance against US aggression may drag on. Our people may have to face new sacrifices of life and property. Whatever happens, we must keep firm our resolve to fight the US aggressors till total victory.' He says, `No matter what difficulties and hardships lie ahead, our people are sure of total victory. The US imperialists will certainly have to quit. Our fatherland will certainly be reuni--u--unified. Our fellow countrymen in the South and the North will certainly be reunified under the same roof. We, a small nation, will have earned the s--the single honor of defeating, through heroic struggle, two big imperialisms--the French and the American--and of making a worthy contribution to the World National Liberation Movement.'
Was he accurate then, and is he accurate today?
Mr. KANN: Well, he turned out to be accurate in his prediction. And I think probably n--no American who covered Vietnam understood what motivated the North Vietnamese as well as Frankie, who wrote a kind of definitive book on that, "Fire in the Light." But I--I don't personally think there was an inevitability about that prediction. I think the war could have turned out differently, but it would have taken a lot more sacrifice. And it is certainly arguable that it wasn't worth the additional sacrifice to continue the war for another decade, let's say, or to inflict the kind of punishment on North Vietnam that might have actually caused them to have to stop the--particularly, the--the main force troop movements of the '70s.
LAMB: Were you ever a--go ahead.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Could I take a--a--another tact on that? P--Peter is extremely kind to call "Fire in the Light" definitive, but it hardly is so. It's--it's not--it's--it was, you know, just a grope in the beginning. I mean, what is so surprising about this war, as compared to others past--I mean, any other war that the US has fought--was how little we understood the other side or knew anything about them; how little effort we made to see whether, in fact, it was possible to a--achieve at least some of our objectives without fighting a war.
And I think that only now are we beginning to get some understanding of the kinds of debate that went on in Hanoi. The ki--the problems that they were having with their--with the Soviet Union and with China, which prevented them from actually moving towards any negotiation with us. We're seeing the kinds of struggles that went on within the politburo--between Ho Chi Minh and Laiz Wan, for example--be different policies. When Ho Chi Minh died, you know, that the--or even before his death, th--the policies become much harder.
So, to me, that's the--that's the--the big unknown of the war. And, really, this--this volume and--I think doesn--can't--doesn't get to that. There are a few pieces from Hanoi, but it still was so much of an unknown, and it--it's a very strange thing to f--to fight a war with--with the--a total unknown on the other side.
LAMB: Look over on the screen, if you would. I'm gonna show you some of the photographs from this book and just--either one of you, just comment on any of it. That's Malcolm Browne, 1963. What role did he play?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Mal Brown's just a great reporter. What?
Mr. KANN: Yeah, before--before my time...
Ms. FITZGERALD: Yeah.
Mr. KANN: ...and one of the icons.
LAMB: George Esper? He's an...
Mr. KANN: Geor...
LAMB: With API, wasn't he?
Ms. FITZGERALD: AP.
LAMB: AP? Yeah.
Mr. KANN: George was AP, and George sat for years and years and years in the--in the AP office and wrote the daily war story for AP. He went to the--to the briefings, he listened to the often--usually inflated figures from the military briefers. He tried to put it into some kind of context, with reports coming in from AP people in the field. And he day after day wrote that daily war story that was probably the mainstay of most newspapers throughout the war.
LAMB: On the right here in this photograph is Peter Arnett, and on the left is Horst Faas.
Mr. KANN: Horst Faas, the--the photographer, right.
LAMB: Well, did you know them over there?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Ah, yeah, sure. They were there forever, too. I think Horst Faas probably logged more years than anybody, but I may be wrong about that.
Mr. KANN: And took as many risks as anyone, which...
Ms. FITZGERALD: As anyone.
Mr. KANN: ...tended to be the case with the photographers who had to put their heads up when there was fighting going on as opposed to the rest of us, who could duck.
LAMB: Gloria Emerson here is seen with an Am--a soldier of the Americ--Americal division. She has a n--a number of pieces in here.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Gloria was a great pal, and she was there in the '69, '70, '71 period. She covered the Lampsom 719, I remember, which was the--the Vietnamese incursion into Laos, and she did some of the great reporting of the war. I--it turns out that there's a piece--I th--don't think it's in there, but it's--it--I think of all pieces that annoyed the br--the military brass, hers was it. She f--discovered that some general--I forget who it was--was faking his own medals, citations and so on, and she had to--she got the people who wrote the citations for the general, the GIs, and it--to a military man, that's the worst thing that could--can happen.
LAMB: I think you both have something in common with this man--James P. Sterba, there on the right?
Ms. FITZGERALD: He's my husband.
LAMB: Wh--where did you meet him?
Mr. KANN: And my colleague.
LAMB: He--he still with The Wall Street Journal?
Mr. KANN: Yes. Uh-huh.
Ms. FITZGERALD: He was writing for The New York Times at that time in--in Vietnam.
LAMB: How long have you two been married?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Since 1990, so we--we only met subsequently back here in New York.
LAMB: And what kind of a reporter is he?
Mr. KANN: J--Jim was--was really one of the great combat reporters, but in the best sense of that--I don't mean just the bang-bang. I mean, Jim spent an awful lot of his time out in the field with the GIs and the rifle companies, not in the battalion headquarters, not in the regimental headquarters and the division, you know, compounds. So, as I mentioned earlier, I mean, Jim's piece on the--I think it's called The Grunts in that book--was one of the kind of seminal pieces of reporting of the war, I think.
LAMB: This man died just a short time ago--when he died, he was at the Library of Congress--Peter Braystrept, who wrote for The Washington Post and also had a couple volumes on the media and Vietnam. What was his take in the end?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, I th--Peter's quite conservative in general, and so...
LAMB: Was he politically conservative?
Ms. FITZGERALD: I think so, yes. I mean, you could say that. And he's also a really good reporter, too. And I didn't know him really there very well at all. What do you think, Peter?
Mr. KANN: Well, I knew Peter well and admired him. Peter's, probably, main contribution, beyond good reportage, was a book called "Tet." I think it's two volumes. And it really does try to dissect the Tet Offensive and get beyond, I think, the--the somewhat stereotypical idea that this was a total disaster for the South Vietnamese and the Americans and looks at it from a more historical prospective and says that the--the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese suffered enormous casualties; that, in a military sense, it really was much more of a defeat for the Communists even though, politically, it wound up being a great success for them.
And I think there was some evidence to support that. I mean, Vietnam in the several years after the Tet Offensive really had the America and the South Vietnamese army on the offensive and the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong quite desperately trying to rebuild their forces. Then, of course, we started leaving Vietnam and we left our allies somewhat alone with our tactics but without our support and, eventually, they lost. But it--it--it--Peter made quite a contribution with that book, I think.
LAMB: Let me ask both of you about your own lives. Where did you grow up?
Ms. FITZGERALD: In New York City.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, one of the reasons I went to Vietnam in the first place is that I had a father who spent the--World War II in China and then worked for the CIA, and...
LAMB: His name was?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Desmond Fitzgerald. And he spent some time in Vietnam, as well as other places. And, I mean, when I first went out there, it was sort of quite casual, in a way. It was just to--I thought I would do a couple pieces and come back, though, I mean, it practically--you know, I wanted to see Asia, and I was writing for--freelance for magazines and so forth. But I w--I sort of wanted to see where he'd been. I wanted to see that part of his life.
LAMB: Your mom.
Ms. FITZGERALD: My mother--they were divorced at this--at this time. They were divorced just after World War II, actually, and she became one of the ambassadors to the Unite--to--to the United Nations.
LAMB: Marietta Tree?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Marietta Tree.
LAMB: Why did you get into writing? And are you still writing?
Ms. FITZGERALD: I'm still writing.
LAMB: What kind of writing do you do today?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, I've been working for a very long time on a book that I'm just about to finish on Reagan and Star Wars and the end of the Cold War.
LAMB: Peter Kann, how did you get into this business?
Mr. KANN: I th--think ever since I was a little kid, I fell in love with newspapers. I published one on our--in our neighborhood when I was nine years old and made my mother type it on an old typewriter for me and sold it for 3 cents a copy. And--and ever since, I loved newspapers, so...
LAMB: What was the neighborhood?
Mr. KANN: Princeton, New Jersey. And wh--what took me to Vietnam, I guess like a lot of people, was, that's where the action was. I mean, if--if you were a journalist in the mid-'60s and you had the opportunity to get there, it clearly was the great story and, I think to some extent, probably still would rank as the--the great journalistic story of our generation.
LAMB: Did you ever think, when you were in Vietnam or writing for a living, that you'd end up running Dow Jones and running The Wall Street Journal?
Mr. KANN: No.
LAMB: Was that a goal of yours?
Mr. KANN: Not at all.
LAMB: When did it start to become clear to you that you were gonna switch over to management and have that kind of a future?
Mr. KANN: I think these transitions kind of happen in stages, and I'm not sure there's a particular point. It--when the war ended in Vietnam, unlike a lot of the journalists who went home, I stayed on in Asia, and we actually started an Asian edition of The Wall Street Journal, the--the Asian Wall Street Journal, which was a bit of a gamble, because it assumed Asia was going to turn out well; that dominoes were not, in fact, gonna fall. And they didn't, of course. So at that point, I became a kind of editor and publisher of a small newspaper, and somehow, that, later on, led to coming back here and doing it on a large scale.
LAMB: One of the things this book shows in the back is a chronology of the war--goes all the way back to the '40s. In the end, it indicates through--from 1960 all the way up through 1973 how many Americans were in Vietnam every year and how many died every year. And the chart is just a curve, and it--it starts the--th--the first year that it shows deaths is 1964, 260. There were 23,300 Americans there. And the last year it shows deaths is 1973, the last troops are out by 29 March of 1973. And the year that the most troops were there is 1968, where there are 536,000, and the number of deaths that year were 14,500. In your opinion, how did we get in there, and then how did we get out?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Essentially, this--the same way. That is to say, we got in there without ever--the US government sort of--of making a coherent decision of what they were going to do, what their policy was gonna be. It was essentially always a holding action. And getting out, it was a holding action as well. It was--it was about not losing as opposed to winning. I mean, nobody knew what winning--what might mean because, for a s--simple fact, that is--that--that the Saigon government was never a successful political entity. If it had been, the war would have been totally different. As it was, it was simply sort of an administration and an army as opposed to a real government.
So what staggered me was reading the Pentagon Papers, where I discovered that in 1961, McNamara thought that it w--would re--require a--a quarter of a million troops to keep not losing, and that was such a good guess. I mean, in fact, there were t--double that number. But it--I had no idea at the time, when I was reporting there in '66, that the estimates were really so pessimistic internally. I think that there were a lot of people who really understood this quite well. It turned out my father did. I didn't know that. He didn't tell me. He doesn't--he never said anything about his business to me. But the CIA estimates were always quite--very pessimistic. So--got in inc--incrementally, I think, really, for--for--largely for political reasons. I mean, not--in the sense that, if you know it--it's not gonna work out well, you got--you've got a real decision to make. And they got out just, you know, hoping that the Saigon government could keep on going until what--there was a so-called decent interval. And that's what they achieved.
LAMB: The first piece in here--1959 from Time magazine--first US advisers killed in South Vietnam. I--i--it reads--it doesn't say who actually wrote it, 'cause in those days, they weren't telling you who was writing those Time pieces.
`In the first murderous hail of bullets, Ovnand--it's O-V-N-A-N-D--and Major B-U-I-S fell and died within minutes. Captain Howard Boston of Bla--Blairsburgh, Iowa, was seriously wounded and two Vietnamese guards were killed.'
That was '59, last out in--in '73. How'd we get in there, and how'd we get out?
Mr. KANN: Oh, I think we got in fundamentally and, of course, incrementally, believing that we were resisting a somewhat more monolithic communism than actually existed.
As--most of what Frankie just said I would agree with. I do think, though, that the--th--none of us probably ever gave quite enough credit to, if not the government of South Vietnam, the army of South Vietnam. I mean, America lost 50,000 lives there. The South Vietnamese army lost five or six times that many lives and fought for 25 years. Some of it with an awful lot of American support, some of it without much American support. And at the end, the South Vietnamese army actually behaved very well in--in some of the--the next to final battles, the penultimate battles. The final ones were retreat and route. But i--you know, we have a tendency to kind of look at our own sacrifices and casualties and to look at the enormous suffering that the North Vietnamese were willing to withstand to win that war. What tends to get forgotten are the South Vietnamese allies who actually trusted us and, in many cases, fought very well in a lot of little mud-walled outposts all over the delta and--and elsewhere in the country. And those, of course, are the--in some cases, the Vietnamese who have made it to this country after the re-education camps and the--the--as boat people or otherwise and who are now raising their kids here and sending them to MIT. So I--I think they deserve a little more attention than they get from almost any of the reporting in this--in these books.
LAMB: If you look at the two backgrounds of the two of you here, and--and tell me if I'm wrong, you're on the board of the--or--biography board of Nation magazine? Is that right?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And you run The Wall Street Journal. I think most people would say those two publications aren't on the same side on a lot of issues. You sound today, when you talk about Vietnam, not angry with each other, not angry about this issue, not on different sides. You all know that it wasn't that way back in those days. What happened here?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, I'm sure we have so--disagreements, but--but the--there is--you know, an--anyone who lived through that war has such--so much more in common with each other than they do with people who didn't. And I include GIs there that--you know? It's sort of an in--this experience was so important to both of our lives, and we actually got arrested once together.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Tell him, Peter.
Mr. KANN: Well, we--I--we--for reasons I can't remember anymore, we were very anxious to get into some American military base near Nhiatron somewhere, right?
Ms. FITZGERALD: No, it was the big one.
Mr. KANN: It was a big base, yeah.
Ms. FITZGERALD: It was the--it was the port...
Mr. KANN: It was the port base, yeah.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Yeah.
Mr. KANN: And--well, I guess we wandered into some restricted area of the base and we got arrested by the MPs and tossed into a not all that uncomfortable kind of holding pen. And the only frustration was, we--we wanted to get on with our reporting day, and we wound up spending the day and most of the evening locked in this room. But eventually, we got out.
But anyway, we--so we are--we are friends--but I--you know, I don't think, again, that either of us as reporters approached the war primarily ideologically. I--if we might disagree on anything, it might be with the benefit of all this hindsight now the--the--two decades later. Wh--what to make of the war--I--I would take, these days, somewhat the position that Vietnam was a battle we lost in a larger war that we won, which is to say the Cold War, or the war for the future of Asia, and that if you look at Asia today, leave aside a--a current economic or financial crisis, but fundamentally, Asia turned out very well. I mean, it--the--the dominoes--so-called dominoes held. Asia is essentially comprised now of free--if not totally free, freer societies and largely free markets. And I think one can argue that the 10 years America spent in Vietnam actually wound up buying time for Asia to achieve a level of stability and prosperity that lasts today. And then, in a larger sense, you know, Vietnam was one of many battles we fought in a--in a very long Cold War. So it--you know, maybe there we have a somewhat different perspective, but I don't think we would have had a very different perspective on what was going on on the ground in Vietnam.
LAMB: There's some other photos in here I want to--and reporters I want to ask you about. Here's a rather young Michael Kinsley, who was at Harvard, I think, during that time--the piece in here is from the Harvard Crimson. And, Peter Kann, you used to be attached to the Harvard Crimson. A lot of Harvard--a lot of Harvard graduates among these reporters. Did you notice that when you were there?
Mr. KANN: I don't think it was...
Ms. FITZGERALD: He only talked to the Princeton graduates.
Mr. KANN: I don't think there was one o--it didn't really occur to me at the time, I think. There were a lot of young reporters. I think that would probably have more been the--the common thread. I--I didn't know Kinsley there, and I--I don't actually know him now, so I can't help on that one.
LAMB: Here's a group: Robert Shaplen, Keyes Beach, George McArthur, Bud Merrick. Keyes Beach being right here--he's no longer alive. But in this piece--he was with the Chicago Daily News--I want to just quote what he said in a piece that was written May 1st, 1975. "Then the door closed"--this was the last day when they--as they were leaving. He--he tells about leaving the roof of the embassy i--in '75 in April. "Then the door closed--closed on the most humiliating chapter in American history." Do you agree?
Ms. FITZGERALD: I don't know. His--humiliation is not th--the way I saw it. I mean, I just saw it as a--as a criminal waste, and I--I was angry a good deal of the time an--because it seemed to me that, y--you know, I mean, we were destroying ourselves and des--and destroying the Vietnamese. And the fact that, you know, the--the casualties in Indo--dochina as a whole were--were just so enormous. And it seemed to me that none of this was necessary. I think we could have come up with what--what Peter suggested the outcome was without going to war at all. I just think what--were we failed was politically and diplomatically early on. And we were driven by, I think, really internal domestic demands of--sort of the--for--for--you know, `Don't lose China. Don't lose Vietnam,' sort of thing. And we just never even considered the possibilities of a neutral South Vietnam.
Mr. KANN: Well, I--I think it is--you know, it's very hard to debate what might have been. I--I think Fr--Frankie is right, that there were opportunities very early on to avoid going to war in Vietnam at all. I think, however, we did wind up getting into that war for la--largely good motives. We wound up fighting the war in a very destructive and ultimately self-destructive way.
And the point I was making before is simply that if one now looks back with hindsight, I do think that those who--at least, Americans who sacrificed there, can feel that something good came of it, that Asia did turn out well. And that, I think, is not incidental. Might it have turned out well anyway? Possibly so, but it has turned out very well. So I would say that America's sacrifice in Vietnam ought to get some degree of the credit for that.
Mr. KANN: And there are Asians like Lee Kuan Yew, who would--who would very much agree with that.
LAMB: Former premier of Singapore.
Mr. KANN: Singapore.
LAMB: This man has a piece in here, John S. McCain III. He wrote a piece for US News & World Report talking about what it was like to be a POW. And he's a potential presidential candidate in the next couple years. This is kind of a political question, Frances Fitzgerald: What--if someone ran on the strength of being a POW or a war hero in Vietnam in the year 2000, what impact do you think it would have on a campaign?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, you know, John McCain was also partly responsible for the fact that we now have a embassy in Hanoi. I mean, he's been one of the people who really quite heroically, because he has a terrible ex--experience in--and many years in--in--in POW camps. But he has been working for a reconciliation. And he was--was one of the people who--who stood up, a--and certainly the--the pr--primary one in the Republican side, who stood up and insisted that--that we resume diplomatic relations.
LAMB: Was The Wall Street Journal for us resuming diplomatic relations?
Mr. KANN: With Vietnam? Yeah, The Wall--The Wall Street Journal believes in diplomatic relations, and it actually believes in traderelations.
LAMB: Also in this book, pictures like this of Sydney Schanberg. A movie was made, "The Killing Fields," about his live in Cambodia. Any comment on him--New York Times reporter, still here in the New York area?
Ms. FITZGERALD: It was a--a really remarkable piece of reporting on--on the invasion on Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge. I--I think I wrote about it at the time, and--in the--some kind of media journal, saying that, you know, the two great pieces of literature were before and after the war. It--one--one was--is Graham Green's great novel, "The Quiet American." And I thought that Sydney's was the other piece.
Mr. KANN: As we come--it--I--I think it's accurate to say that the press corps suffered more casualties in Cambodia than it did in Vietnam, in large part because Cambodia was even less structured because the war was even more chaotic than it was in Vietnam. And, of course, what Sydney is most widely known for was staying on after the Khmer Rouge took over, at least for a matter of some weeks, till--till he was expelled.
LAMB: One of the longest stor--no, the longest piece in here is from--is it Michael Herr (pronounced HUR)?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Herr (pronounced HAIR).
Mr. KANN: Herr (pronounced HAIR).
LAMB: Herr (pronounced HAIR)--pronounced Michael Herr. Here he is at Tan San Nhut air base in South Vietnam. He wrote a book called "Dispatches," and why would you guess that this group that put this book together--I know neither one of you did--would include 200 pages of this, basically devoted to his book?
Ms. FITZGERALD: It is a great piece of literature, too. And it's--it's a--quite a--it's an entirely new way of writing about anything, really. It's you--he--it's a--it's a real original. And I think they--they put it in not only because he gets so deeply into the experience of--of--of GIs but because it is--it is a wild piece of prose. I mean, it is really remarkable.
Mr. KANN: I--I agree. I think if he--if you surveyed the reporters whose work is in these volumes and asked them what is the best book written on Vietnam, an awful lot of them would say "Dispatches." A few might say Warjust--o--one of Warjust's early books. You know, obviously on a more scholarly level, Bob Shaplen's books. But--but Mike--Mike Herr's book hit an awful lot of the notes that other people were trying to come up with in their reportage. It's a terrific book.
LAMB: What--what's the legacy of Vietnam in this country?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, it certainly--you can see it still in--in the--the way we approach military intervention in--in oth--other countries, for good or for ill. There's a great reluctance to--to send American troops into harm's way, a great reluctance even to send in peace-keeping forces, often. It's really--it--it determined the way the--the war with Iraq was fought, namely by high-tech weapons and so forth. I think it left a--a permanent sort of scar, and I--I--again, maybe for good in many, many cases, because it certainly warned us not to go lightly into--into other people's civil wars and make that kind of a--a disaster again.
LAMB: When you look at pictures of Ginsberg, Burrows and Jenay here in this book from the--this is from the 19--this is 1968 Democratic Convention, Peter Kann, and you think back about the demonstrations that were held there and other places during the war, what would you say the impact of that was years later?
Mr. KANN: Well, it was clearly part of a deep division in the--in the American psyche and social fabric. I mean, I--I remember coming back here on a brief visit somewhere around that time, going to speak on a college campus, actually, a very quiet little campus--I think Bryn Mawr. And it--I sort of tried to talk about some of the things we've been talking about here today--I mean, about how the war wasn't being fought right, about how we were causing too many civilian casualties, about how search-and-destroy missions didn't work and so on. But what I didn't do was say America is an evil force or an imperialist, conquering power in Vietnam. At--at the end of my little speech, a young woman stood up and said, `You know, that was very interesting, but none of us believe a single word you said.' And then someone else kind of came up and said, `Why aren't you supporting those groovy little people in the jungle?' That was the VC. Well, they weren't. You know, they weren't groovy little people in the jungle, but that is how some people in this country saw them at the
LAMB: When you look back again, back to the--What was that--the dates?--1959, 1960, all the way through 1973, and it--it's written so often in the book, I want to ask you, who do you think lied to the American people back then, either by name or by group?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Oh, I think almost everybody. I mean, I--you know, Johnson on down. Nors--we'll start with Kennedy because, a--as I said before, they s--our political leadership would simply not face up to--to the d--the--the serious decision that they were making at the time and sort of pretended it wasn't happening, you know. And that led to a lot of other lying, all the way down through the bureaucracy and the military.
Mr. KANN: Yes, I mean, the politicians lied, particularly in terms of how well the war was going. The military lied to itself within its own chain of command, which was a sad thing. Military people out in the field knew how it was going, but those reports never quite reached the top. But having said all that, I mean, the--clearly, the--the North Vietnamese lied, too, and in a way, with even bigger lies if you look back and say, `What did they say Vietnam was going to be like after the so-called liberation, and what did it turn out to be like?' They lied, too.
LAMB: One of the shortest pieces in these 1,500 pages, and it only is--and I'll show the audience in just a second--first is this photograph of Lyndon Johnson and Walter Cronkite. And the piece I'm talking about is often written about. It's right here. It doesn't even fill two pages, and it's `The Aftermath of Tet, February, 1968: We Are Mired in Stalemate...' often cited as having been a turning point. Lyndon Johnson--I know the quote's not in here--it may be in here somewhere; I didn't find it--said, you know, that, `If we've lost Walter Cronkite, then we've lost the country.' Do you think that that piece had an impact that--Mr. Cronkite's piece that he gave on the who, what, why, when--who, what, when, why CBS report February the 27th, 1968?
Ms. FITZGERALD: Well, it certainly did. I mean, first of all, I mean, Walter Cronkite was all of our fathers, right? We couldn't look to anyone else to--to be this sort of--this sort of--of perfect, balanced person that we needed. And he wa--he was it. So when he said something like that, everyone took it extremely seriously. I have to say that--that both The New York Times and The Washington Post correspondents out there, Warjust and Johnny Apple, had--had written that piece, essentially already, before the Tet offensive, both in--in the autumn of '67, saying, `It's a stalemate,' essentially. And that's what--that's what Cronkite was really saying.
And I think that w--within the administration, of course, they'd come to--to the same conclusion for their--for their own reasons. It wasn't--it wasn't Cronkite that changed their minds.
LAMB: He wrote, Peter Kann, on that day and he gave--he gave this analysis to the public via CBS, `To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past.' He goes on at the end to say, `But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could. This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.' What impact do you think he had?
Mr. KANN: You know, I was there, not here at that time, so hard--hard to know. But I--I presume Walter Cronkite's words carried a lot of weight at the time, you know. I--I think, though, probably that a kind of collective weight of the journalism coming out of Vietnam, including the television journalism, kind of--it added up to having more effect than even one commentator or anchorman would have--would have had at any particular point in time.
LAMB: Did any of you know Jack P. Smith out there--I believe the son of Howard K. Smith, was the--I think he was in the military--did you know him out there?
Mr. KANN: No.
Ms. FITZGERALD: No.
LAMB: There are other reporters in here--Lee Lescaus. Was he with The Wall Street Journal--he's now deceased?
Mr. KANN: Yes. Yeah, Lee was--was The Washington Post correspondent out there in '67, '68--a great, courageous reporter--and later on came to work at The Wall Street Journal and very tragically died less than two years ago of cancer. But one of the--one of my best friends through most of my life, and I think also one of Frankie's.
LAMB: How much actual death did you see when you were there?
Ms. FITZGERALD: I don't know how to measure how much. I mean...
LAMB: I mean, were you right there in the middle of battles?
Ms. FITZGERALD: No. I--I didn't cover sort of large, you know, troop movements and I didn't--I didn't cover GIs. I was--my--my interest was always with the Vietnamese--with the Vietnamese government, with the civilian population and so forth. And so I would travel outside of American circles most of the time. Or--and--or--insofar as there were Americans--they would be with--with advisers to provinces and--and s--and so forth. So, really, violence was a question of timing. You never knew, you know. You w--you'd drive along a road and have no idea whether it was mined or not, no idea whether you'd run into a battle or not. But I--I certainly wasn't seeking them out.
LAMB: How about you?
Mr. KANN: Yeah, I--I'd say rou--roughly the same, I mean, in large part because The Wall Street Journal gave me the luxury not to have to go and write the--the daily kind of war stories. I didn't spend a lot of time with the big American troop units and so on. So if I went out with American troops, it wasn't to cover a--a battle, per se; it was to get some sense of what they were thinking and doing on a kind of normal day; similarly with South Vietnamese units. So, yes, I mean, I did see people shot, but not because I wanted to be where someone was being shot but because one happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and something happened--a mortar landed or something.
LAMB: The story of My Lai is in the book, of course. But also, there's a 60-page part of one of the volumes devoted to man named Daniel Lang, and you can see a photograph of him here. It says 1945 here. The piece was in The New Yorker. It looks like this, `An Atrocity and its Aftermath: November 1966-October 1969, Casualties of War.' Did either one of you remember this piece? Ms. FITZGERALD: Yes, but I haven't read it for a long time.
LAMB: Well, ye--you know, I--we can't do it justice in the little time we have here, but it's a story about how a group of American soldiers took a young Vietnamese girl and raped her and shot her and killed her. It's--it's long and it--and it's detailed, and how one of the members of the group talked after it was all over. I--and I bring it up to ask the two of you how often y--you remember being involved in these tragedies and why you think they did.
Mr. KANN: I don't think those things were all that common. Clearly, My Lai happened. I presume on a lesser scale, there were some others--this kind of incident you described. But, I--I mean, the main suffering that America caused was much more mindless, random kind of suffering. It was free fire zones; it was search-and-destroy missions; it was someone sitting at a map declaring a certain part of a certain province VC territory, which then permitted any amount of firepower being directed at that portion of a province. And in that portion of the province, not all the people would have been Vietcong or North Vietnamese combatants. There would have been civilians. That gets at how difficult it is to fight a fundamentally, guerrilla-type war.
But the--the suffering we caused there tended to be much more from thousands of feet up with the bombs and with the artillery pieces than it was a small group of soldiers going off and committing some--some specific act of violence against a particular civilian, let's say. It happened, but I--I don't think that was in any way typical of the American GI in Vietnam.
Ms. FITZGERALD: Peter's absolutely right. I--it's--I--unfortunately, the--I think the sort of press appetite for these--for these kinds of stories was so great that they actually neglected this other and far more destructive behavior. I mean, I remember Kevin Buckley, who's--has a piece in there, discovered that the 9th Division, when it was--when--in the--went down to the delta for a period in--in '69, caused horrendous civi--civilian casualties. I mean, no--no American division had been in the delta before 'cause it's so thickly populated. And they just went about, you know, bombing and artillery, so--so forth. And Ke--Kevin could hardly get this piece published because it wasn't My Lai II, you know. It--and yet, it was far more destructive.
Mr. KANN: Of the other--and the other thing one does have to keep remembering is that when it came to specific acts of violence, that was a tactic that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese did use. I mean, they did assassinate village leaders. And, you know, that kind of thing went on on both sides. We, to some extent, then copied them with things like the Phoenix Program and the PRU Units. So there was another level of quite targeted, very nasty violence on both sides.
LAMB: Either one of you know this man, Bernard Fall? He died in February 21st, 1967, and one of the first to write about the--of course, he wrote about Dien Bien Phu and the French. Did you know him?
Ms. FITZGERALD: I met him.
LAMB: Any impact did he have--I mean, one of the things you--Robert McNamara told us in his book is that we did--he didn't have experts. Didn't--Lyndon Johnson didn't--said they didn't have enough experts on the Asian part of the world. Either one of you agree with that?
Ms. FITZGERALD: They didn't have enough, but--but they had some. And certainly, Bernard Fall's books would have--would have told them something. I mean, my belief is that--that their estimates were pretty good--I mean, actually much bet--certainly much better than we thought they were. It--so--and if th--if they wanted more expertise, they could have gotten it. They just didn't want to hear that. They didn't want to hear, `No, this can't be won.'
LAMB: Didn't get--and I only have a little bit of time--your reaction to the--the legacy of Vietnam earlier.
Mr. KANN: Oh, I think it--it clearly has left a scar on America, particularly a sc--in the area of trust of our institutions. And for a period of time, it had a quite devastating effect on moral in the US military. I think the morale in the US military has turned around and is very strong these days, again. And I think the scars--the other scars of Vietnam, by and large, are healing. And I think, to some extent, Ronald Reagan deserves some of the credit for that. And...
LAMB: These are the two volumes. And we said earlier, there're 1,500 pages between the two of them. They sell for $35 each, put out by the Library of America, called "Reporting Vietnam." There are some 113 pieces in here, some 80 different writers, 64 pages of photographs. And our guest to talk about them are people that have--our two guests here have articles in them, Peter Kann and Frances Fitzgerald. And we thank you very much. We're out of time.
Mr. KANN: Thank you.
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