BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Colin Powell, you've gone back and thought through the process of writing this book. And what worked and what didn't work?
COLIN POWELL: Well, it was perhaps one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life. And frankly, it all sort of worked; the book came together. There were some days I wished I had never started it, there were some days I tried to figure out how to get out of it, but most days were pleasant. And on balance, it was a good experience, something good for me to do, really to get what was in me out of me and onto paper. What worked was the collaboration with a great writer by the name of Joseph Persico. I could not have done this book without him.
LAMB: You say early on that he walked into your office one day before you even left the Pentagon and, bingo, you had a relationship.
POWELL: Well, we signed the contract for the book in the summer of 1993, about two months before I retired, and for the rest of that summer period, July and August, I was looking for a collaborator. And I interviewed a number of people, I looked at a lot of resumes. I read a lot of books and nothing really clicked for one reason or another. And so I started to get nervous because it was now toward the end of September; I'm getting ready to retire and in a few weeks, I've got to start this book and I don't have a collaborator. And a day or two before I retired, I got the call from my agent, said, "Well, there's this fellow named Persico and he wants to come down and see you. And he's interesting. He's written a number of books as a biographer. He's never done an autobiography as a collaborator, but he looks interesting."
So I glanced through a couple of his books rather quickly, and the day before I retire, my secretary announces that "Mr. Persico is here," and into my office walked this tall, gangly, white haired gentleman who looked like a as I say in the book in the acknowledgements -- a rumpled professor with a crushed, strange leather briefcase. He is neither impressive looking, nor impressed by me, but he is an impressive man. He just doesn't feel it necessary to show his impressive nature very at ease fellow. And he looked around my office and he took it all in, as a writer should, and then he looked at me and didn't seem to be terribly impressed by me either. We sat down and chatted for a few moments, and I knew that I had my collaborator. He could handle me.
LAMB: He said in an interview that we did with him that he had a hard time getting you to give.
POWELL: Yeah. He made it clear at the very beginning that if we were going to have a good book, I really had to go to the depth of my heart and soul and bring it all out. We could shape it later if I said some things or we wrote some things that I couldn't live with at the end of the day, but we had to get the whole story out. And it took a while for me to get comfortable doing that. As a Washington person, as a general, as a military officer, you learn to control, you learn to, you know, only show what you have to to get the mission done. Never never never let all of your emotions flood out. You have to be in control, and that wouldn't work in a collaboration like this and in writing a book like this, and Joe taught me that I had to let it all come out. And some days it took some prodding, particularly in the Vietnam period, where I was holding back a lot more than I realized, and Joe helped me bring it out.
LAMB: Why were you holding back more than you realized?
POWELL: I'm not entirely sure, except my two tours in Vietnam were difficult tours. I lost a lot of friends in Vietnam. It was an experience that was not the most pleasant experience for the United States armed forces. And we came out of that war with a great deal of a large number of problems that we had to deal with. We dealt with those problems, but all of us are carrying around some Vietnam memories, and I had suppressed a lot of that and Joe helped me bring it all out.
LAMB: When you went in 1962, first time, how many American soldiers were there?
POWELL: I arrived in Vietnam on Christmas morning 1962 and I think there may have been about 12,000 advisers, give or take a couple of thousand. It was really the second wave of advisers going in. We were replacing the first batch, and were all bright eyed and bushy tailed captains and majors and lieutenant colonels. And we were there to save the world from communism, and if this is where it popped up, by gosh, here's where we're going to do it, and we were going to help the freedom loving people of South Vietnam from being overwhelmed by this red tide. It was more in that context than we were getting ourselves involved in a war that was fundamentally a nationalist war than it was part of the great contest with the evil empire. But we were ready to go, and we were all 24, 25 years old, and this was the great adventure of our young military careers. We went over there with a lot of enthusiasm.
LAMB: What did you think of John Kennedy then?
POWELL: John Kennedy was a hero to us all. He was a young president, he had given us this sort of special mission of counterinsurgency, of dealing with this kind of new form of warfare. So it was all very, very exciting. And you may recall about that time we also had the Cuban missile crisis, in which he stood down the Russians and this is coming after the Bay of Pigs, so we'd sort of gotten that one behind us and it was a very exciting, heady time for a young infantry captain who had been in the Army all of four years.
LAMB: When did you see the first person killed in front of your eyes?
POWELL: It was a few weeks after I arrived in Vietnam, and I went up to the northern part of the country into the Ashow Valley, and on our first patrol out, oh, I think a couple of days a day or two in, they finally realized where we were moving. The Viet Cong realized the routes we were taking and were able to get in front of us. And suddenly, there was just a burst of fire, and then we returned fire and a lot of noise going back and forth, and for the first time in my life I heard bullets coming our way with that distinctive crack. And then it was all over in a few seconds and I went forward to hear, to see what had happened and I heard screaming and shouting and the noise and confusion. And there in the creekbed lay this young Vietnamese soldier who was dead and a couple of others who'd been wounded, and that was my first experience.
LAMB: You say in the book that I'm not sure where you say this, but it may have been after this instance the next day you wake up and there's an exhilaration: You're alive.
POWELL: Yeah, it was quite an emotional moment to be you know, be in combat for the first time and know that, you know, this is no longer a game. This is deadly serious. We knew it was deadly serious, but until you see somebody actually killed, it has a certain adventuristic aspect to it. But now this is what it's going to be like every day, because the enemy knows where we are and they can get in front of us every morning, and we're going to face this every morning for as long as I'm out here in the jungle with these guys. And so it was a bit of a shock and a bit of a downer and we carried the wounded and the body with us for a while until we can get evacuation by a Vietnamese helicopter, and then we camped for the night on a hillside and it all sort of sunk in. But then the next morning when I woke up, there was this sense that "Hey, I'm alive. It's a new day." Sense of exhilaration and also a sense of guilt that I think everybody in combat goes through. You have a certain sense of delight that somebody else is dead and you're not, and now you've got to try to get to the next day without getting killed and hopefully keeping your fellow soldiers from getting killed as well by doing your job as well as you could. And sure enough, the next day we were ambushed again.
LAMB: In another book on this program by William Prochnau about Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam and Peter Arnett, early in the book he says, at some point, this is the first time that John Kennedy lied to us about Vietnam, and it's right about the same time '62, '63, when all those reporters were over there. When did you think that John Kennedy ever lied to us on this?
POWELL: No, not at that time, and remember, he was killed before I got home from Vietnam.
LAMB: But you were on your way back, though.
POWELL: Yeah, I was on my way back. At the end of that year and I never there was no going home halfway through your tour at that point. I was there for a whole year. Hadn't seen my family or really heard much coming from home. But McNamara had said, "We're able to bring some of the advisers home early because we're doing so well." And I was one of those advisers that came home a few weeks early because we were doing so well. And I said to myself, "My God. How could they have the impression that we are doing well? What is it they are seeing that I did not see as a captain here tromping these jungle trails for the last better part of a year and also spending part of my time in division headquarters after I was injured? They're seeing something quite different than what I'm seeing. They're conning somebody."
And that's why I title that particular chapter It'll Take a Half Million Men to Succeed, because I remember telling somebody that about the time McNamara said, "Let's bring some of the advisers home early because we're doing so well." This adviser knew that we were not doing well. We could hardly ever find the enemy. We did not control the ground we claimed to control and that it would take a half million men to succeed, I thought, and it turned out that, six or seven years later, we had half a million men there and we still didn't succeed.
LAMB: Your wife was where doing that first trip over there?
POWELL: She was in Birmingham, Alabama, living with her parents.
LAMB: Did you have any kids?
POWELL: She had one child while I was away. My son, Michael, was born while I was away.
LAMB: There's a story about you wanting to know the minute that Michael was born.
POWELL: Yeah. This ...
LAMB: Didn't work out ...
POWELL: This was the early part of our involvement in Vietnam. See, we didn't have our fancy infrastructure that the American Army tends to take with it, and so I was essentially out in the jungle with no way to communicate with anybody, and I had written Alma and said, "When the baby comes, on the outside of the letter you're going to send me about this, put "Baby Letter" so that the radio operators at our base camp would spot that letter and they would have my permission to open the letter and crank up the hand crank radios we were using in those days and give me the news." And so she did that, but in typical Army fashion, the radio operator didn't catch it, and so I didn't know my son had been born until, oh, a couple of weeks later when I got a letter, finally, from my mother, which was dropped out of an airplane flying over us in the jungle and I opened up the letter and it's this chatty letter from my mother telling me about this aunt and that aunt and how the rhododendrons are doing in the backyard, and at the very end of the letter she said, "And, oh, by the way, we are absolutely delighted about the baby."
What baby? And that's when I discovered that I had become a father and immediately cranked up the radio, called the base camp and they said, "Oh, yeah, here's the letter." And so I learned from my mother several weeks after the fact that my son Michael had been born.
LAMB: Let's see. In 1963 you were how old?
POWELL: 1963 I was 26 years old 25, 26 years old.
LAMB: You go back to Vietnam in '68.
LAMB: What was in your head and what was your rank when you went back?
POWELL: I went back as a major. The war had grown in size. We were close to our peak strength at that time. American divisions were fighting all over the country. The war was not going well. The political situation back home had become difficult. There were domestic problems associated with this. We had seen the death of Martin Luther King, we'd seen the death of Bobby Kennedy. The nation was in something of an uproar. And I was going back to a war that did not look like it was going well. And this time I went back as a major with an American unit, not as an adviser again, and I became the operations officer of the largest division in Vietnam at that time, the Americal division.
LAMB: Did you feel any differently when you went back a second time?
POWELL: The enthusiasm wasn't the same. I mean, that sense of adventure, that sense of, "By gosh, we're going to save the world from this horrible thing called communism" wasn't there. We were essentially in a war and we weren't sure how we were going to get out of this war and we weren't sure that we were prepared to make the investment that would be required to either win or get out with honor. So I was a professional. I was prepared to do my job, and I did my job to the best of my ability, as did all of us who went over not only the professionals but the draftees, the conscripts, who were, you know, pulled out of American society and sent over. They performed with great valor and we should be very proud of what all of those of us who went accomplished. But it wasn't clear we knew what we were doing any longer at that point, in my judgment.
LAMB: By the way, when you travel around the country on your book tour ... and how long did it last?
POWELL: Five weeks.
LAMB: How many stops?
POWELL: Twenty five.
LAMB: How did you travel from stop to stop?
POWELL: We had a private airplane that took us around or else we never would have been able to do it.
LAMB: And what was your did you put a limit on what you would do in any given day?
POWELL: We tried to keep it to no more than two signings a day, and these are not little trivial events. These were events that went on for two, three, sometimes four hours, where I would sign 2,000 to 4,000 books at a sitting. So two of those a day max, and then a number of radio interviews, television interviews, print interviews with the newspapers in each of the communities, and we tried not to have any dinners or lunches or receptions. We really had to fly out to the next city or get some rest so that my back and arm were up to the challenges of the next day, because the size of the crowds that were coming out, we really had to keep it moving. So I was dedicating 2.9 seconds, roughly, per book, per person, and they would get a signature, they would get eye contact, and I almost always was able to say something to each person who went through the line, and we averaged roughly 700 to 900 people an hour depending on the setup, how fast people could pass books to me and what mood I was in that morning or afternoon.
LAMB: Did you have a certain kind of pen you used?
POWELL: I used the big, fat Sharpie.
POWELL: Principally because it gives you a nice bold signature and it's nice and round and soft with no edges and didn't cause me any calluses and I could hold it without having to grip too tightly, and it allowed me to have a smooth motion. Other people use a Bic or ballpoint pen, but I found the Sharpie to be useful, and I would go through about 10 or 15 Sharpies in a sitting.
LAMB: Were you aware that everybody that came up watched every movement that you made?
POWELL: I ...
LAMB: And listened to everything you had to say?
POWELL: Yeah. I had to make sure that it didn't become so mechanical that there wasn't a human contact between me and everybody who came up, so I was very sensitive to trying to make that eye contact, saying hello and thanking them, really, by my eye contact or saying hello, for having stood in line to get a book and to wait to have it signed. It was a very pleasant, moving experience to have so many people come out to see you and to get an autograph and to say hello.
LAMB: Is there a moment or two that you remember in all those people? I read in this journal you signed 60,001 signatures?
POWELL: Sixty thousand and one. We did the last one in an independent bookstore in Norfolk late on a Friday night at the end of week five, and I'll never forget when we did 60,000 they said, "One more. One more." Sixty thousand and one I made 60,001 as a symbol in the book and then gave it to Random House, which they spirited away somewhere, my publisher. I'd better find out what they did with it. I mean, for all I know they're auctioning it off or something.
There were many moments. A lot of old friends showed up, people I'd served with over the years. A lot of my boyhood friends came out in the Bronx. One of the prominent figures in the book from my youth was a fellow by the name of Ronny Brooks, who was kind of my role model when I was a young kid in college, and Ronny died a few years ago, but at the book signing in New York, suddenly there appeared in front of me this wonderful black lady who I hadn't seen in a number of years, frankly, since his funeral, and it was his mother, who had said nothing, had tried not to get in there early but just stood in line and waited to see if I would recognize her. Of course I did and we all teared up and did some hugging and kissing. Some of the young soldiers who were in a helicopter crash with me in Vietnam two of them showed up. One showed up with his whole family. It was very, very touching. And lots of old friends showed up.
LAMB: We've got something here called an audiotape, and this is four hours. Show that on the screen ... I've listened to it, but was this hard to do?
POWELL: It was hard to do. It's about a third of the book. That's about all you can get on an audiotape. It's certainly not the whole book, which surprised me. I thought I was going to have to do the whole book and was relieved when I discovered that it was only about a third of the book. But it was extracted down by professional people, so that you really are getting the essence of the book when you listen to the audiotape. And it took about four days to do and it's done under the most exacting professional circumstances. They had to know what I had eaten that morning to make sure it wasn't syrupy so that when I started speaking I didn't have any sugar pieces in my mouth that would pop. I had to make sure that I didn't have anything for breakfast that would cause my stomach to rumble because they could hear it. And any time I made a mistake, the slightest mistake of pronunciation or stumbling, stop and we had to do it all over again. So it was essentially being like an actor going to the Academy Awards. So those four hours took about four days.
LAMB: Where'd you do it?
POWELL: Did it at a studio in Washington.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how well this has sold?
POWELL: No, I don't. I haven't listened to it. I've been afraid to listen to it.
LAMB: Let's listen. We've got a couple of excerpts.
POWELL: Oh, dear.
LAMB: Just listen to one. And this is back to our Vietnam discussion.
LAMB: This is the second tour, 1968, and we'll just listen to a minute or so and then get your reaction to what it sounds like.
POWELL: (Excerpt from audiotape) Saturday afternoon, November 16th, we had been flying west at Quang Ngai in General Geddes' UH 1H, a top of the line helicopter, the day before the 11th Infantry Brigade had captured a large cache of enemy weapons and documents. General Geddes wanted to see the battalion's prize and so we climbed aboard a helicopter and headed for the site. We spotted a smoke grenade signalling the site of the hole chopped out of the heavy growth and headed for it. The pilot then began his descent. Since I was sitting outboard, I could see how little clearance we had, about two feet at each end of the blade. I began to shout, "Pull out!" but it was too late. At a height of about three stories the blade struck a tree trunk. One moment we were flying and the next we were dead weight. I listened to the engine's futile whine for what seemed an eternity before we smashed into the ground. Standard procedure calls for getting away from the aircraft as soon as possible before it catches fire. I released my seatbelt and jumped out the door. Ahead of me was the helo's gunner, Private 1st Class Bob Pyle. We did not get far from the wreckage before we realized that the others were still onboard, none of them moving. Pyle ran back to jimmy open the pilot's door. I climbed back into the hold and found General Geddes barely conscious. I got him out and dragged him away from the smoldering helicopter. By now several soldiers on the ground had joined us as we went back for the rest of the victims. In the end, everyone was rescued, the most seriously injured being the pilot, who suffered a broken back. (End of excerpt)
POWELL: Was a heck of a day. I'll never forget it. We were very, very fortunate, but I can still remember the moment vividly of looking out the door as we started down into the jungle and I could see that the pilot was not going to be able to make the clearance that was there, and then I remember very vividly watching the blade hit the tree whop! and that was it. I mean, we were going down. And we dropped about three stories, I guess two or three stories.
LAMB: What did you think of the audiotape?
POWELL: Sounds pretty good. I'm pleased. It's the first time I've heard it since they did it.
LAMB: Vietnam what was different in your life after it was all over, and what's different in this country because of the experience?
POWELL: The United States Army and those of us who were career leaders of the United States Army, we came out of Vietnam with a lot of mixed emotions. The country had essentially said, "OK, we want to, you know, separate ourselves from this experience. We're not going to do this to our young people again. We're getting rid of the draft."
We also picked up some of the bad things that were happening in our society at that time, racial divisions, racial problems, drug problems and the United States Army and the other services were not in good shape in the early '70s as we came out of Vietnam. And those of us who were majors and captains and lieutenant colonels and colonels at that time set about the task, with the generals who were leading us Bill West,"Westy" Westmoreland, many others set about the task of rebuilding the armed forces of the United States, in my case, the Army of the United States. And we had to restore a sense of pride in who we were and what we did for the nation, a sense of discipline, a sense of structure. We had to go through what I call the coffeehouse period, where for a while we sort of said, "Let's just sit around with the troops and talk about stuff and let's be buddies."
And we had to do some softening of the Army in order to strengthen it again. And then we started to reinstill standards and discipline and "This is what you do to be a good soldier in the United States Army." And we brought that Army back to the point where, by the time Desert Storm came along or Just Cause before Desert Storm, our Panamanian invasion, the American people had a force in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps that they could be very proud of again. And one of the greatest achievements in my life, what I'm very, very happy about and proud of is the fact that I was one of those officers who stayed in after Vietnam and was part of the rebuilding effort me and Norm Schwarzkopf and so many others whose names I can't possibly list here today.
LAMB: Did the drug culture come out of the war?
POWELL: The drug culture, I think, came out of society. I mean, it was something that was happening in our civilian society and the Army is a reflection of the society from which it is drawn, and so we got that from our society. I don't know that ... it was probably made a little bit worse by Vietnam, but it really came out of civilian society here in America, and we went to work on drugs in the military. We tried counseling, we tried soft approaches, and then finally we said, "It's wrong. You're not going to do it. We will help you if you have a problem. If you do not wish to be helped, we'll punish you and we'll throw you out." And we are deadly serious about this, so mandatory urinalysis testing, and if you're in a position of authority, like a noncommissioned officer or an officer, you're dead if you indulge in any way in drugs or if you tolerate it. And we essentially put in place a near zero tolerance attitude within the military and it's worked.
LAMB: Did you read Robert McNamara's book?
LAMB: What did you think of the book and what do you think of him?
POWELL: I have very, very mixed emotions about the book. I don't condemn Mr. McNamara, nor do I congratulate him. I think he has added to the body of knowledge that we have of Vietnam, but I can't help but think that if he felt that strongly about it at that time and he had such knowledge of it of the failed situation we were in back in '68 or '69, I think he had an obligation to speak up at that time. And he chose not to. He chose to wait a number of years until coming out with his book.
LAMB: Again, go back to the '62 '63 era in Vietnam and the story of the journalists. How are press relations different today and the journalists that were there if you read the Prochnau book were there trying to stop the war because they thought the government was lying. Is there a legacy and do you think they were doing the right thing?
POWELL: I have never, in all my years of public life, I have never blamed the press for our failure in Vietnam or screamed at the press because they did not handle themselves properly during Vietnam. They reported what they saw. They saw us doing things that were not proper. They saw us creating statistics that were not reflective of what was really going on in the field. They also went out of their way, sometimes, to paint us in a bad light. It was a bad scene.
When I rose in rank and became senior and my other colleagues who I've served with in recent years, we realized that we had to work with the press, but at the same time we also had to protect our own secrets and we had to make sure that we were doing what was right for the American people. So there should always be something of an adversary relationship I think that's good between the press and the military, realizing we both have the same purpose, and that's to inform the American people on the actions of their military leaders and what's happening to their sons and daughters in combat. So I don't think there's as much a Vietnam syndrome as people claim, at least it didn't affect me, particularly. A free and open press is something that is built into our system and it is a necessary check.
LAMB: Those who've watched you, from the time you left the military until the time this book came out, saw you control your own public image pretty closely. I mean, you wouldn't let us ever bring a camera into any of your speeches. How come?
POWELL: It wasn't so much controlling my public image. I wanted to get offstage. I mean, I was a private citizen and I was writing a book and my publisher wanted to make sure that I was not giving away, for nothing, that which my story, which they had paid me for to put in a book. And so, as part of my contract arrangements, I was not doing any interviews because we were waiting for my life story to be reflected in the book. And in the speeches that I have given around the country, it's what I do for a living, and it's usually to private groups. I've given many other speeches that also sometimes are covered or not in schools, I've talked in prisons, I've visited VA hospitals, talked to young people and I've been trying to essentially live a more private life.
And then, when the book came out, so much for a private life. I was back in public life, giving interviews everywhere ad nauseam, ad infinitum, and now that the book has been promoted and I've made a decision with respect to political life for the time being, I'm trying to recapture some of my privacy again.
LAMB: What did you think of the experience? You know, you could hear people some of these talk shows get madder and madder the more positive your press was. They felt the press was trying to run you for president.
POWELL: I can show them evidence that there were some members of the press who were less than enchanted with my possibility as a politician, but for the most part I've had pretty good relations with the press and I've had a pretty good press, I think is the term we would use for it. And I've always tried to be honest with the press. I try to give straight answers, I try not to dissemble, but I really don't have a stable of sources out there or people that I am constantly calling and giving stories to or somehow stroking myself with. I've just tried to be honest and open and candid in my public appearances and in my relationship with the press.
LAMB: But have you learned that you can control your image if you want to?
POWELL: I've learned that you can take action to ... see, when you use the word control, it's almost like your it's almost a synonym to spin your image. I think the best way to control your image or to present yourself is to always be as honest as you can, as direct as you can and as candid as you can with the members of the press, who have their job to do, and you have your job to do. I also don't think it is necessary for you to be constantly on camera all the time. I don't search for opportunities to be on camera or to give interviews. I try to, you know, contain myself and keep some privacy.
LAMB: What about ... I've got General Schwarzkopf's book here. What about, also, the criticism, comes from some sectors, that you and General Schwarzkopf cashed in? You get a lot of money for speeches and you get to write million dollar books out of a public service.
POWELL: Well, both Norm and I served in the United States Army for 35 years. When we retired we became private citizens. Neither one of us have done anything that has brought any discredit upon our service. We have not gone into any kind of defense business, where we have used our contacts in the military in any improper way. What we essentially are doing is appealing to the public for, you know, or going before the public, either in writing with books or speeches, and it's a market system and I don't find anything wrong with it at all.
LAMB: Are you surprised that somebody would pay you I don't know the reported $60,000 to make a speech or the kind of money for this book? That ...
POWELL: I assume that the people who decided to buy the book for what they bought it for and the people who contract my services to speak at various events believe they're getting good service for the amount of money they're paying for it. They seem to be satisfied, and I seem to be in some demand, so I think it's a reasonable case of a willing seller and a willing buyer coming together to produce a service or a product for the buyer.
LAMB: We have read a lot about your wife, Alma. When did you meet her?
POWELL: I met Alma in 1961 in the fall of 1961.
POWELL: It was a blind date in Boston, Massachusetts, when a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to see a young girl that he was interested in and to, I like to say, pick off her roommate or at least be, you know, the double for her roommate, and her roommate turned out to be Alma Johnson.
LAMB: What was she like?
POWELL: Beautiful. Stunning, beautiful, intelligent, educated, well bred young lady and it turned out to be a marvelous first evening and that was it.
LAMB: How long before you got married or engaged?
POWELL: It was the next summer, and we were seeing each other and no one else, oh, constantly, but marriage had not yet been discussed. But then suddenly my orders came to go to Vietnam, and I was going to leave for a year and, as I tell the story in the book, I said, "Well, will you write me and I'll be back in a year?" And she essentially said, "We are now 25 years old. It's a little too late in our lives to be quite that casual. How important am I to you?" And I reflected on that question and realized she was all important to me, and the next day I raced back to her apartment and asked her to marry me.
LAMB: Now there were some there were some telephone calls and some knocks on the door after that.
POWELL: Yeah. She had some lingering, dangling boyfriends around the place whom I was not aware, and after we were married, I moved into her apartment. They continued to show up, and so one there was a knock on the door one Saturday afternoon and this very charming young man was there with a box of candy and I was relaxing ... you know, a day off from the military and I had a t shirt on and I don't think I had any shoes on and some chino pants and I opened the door and there he was and he looked me up and down and he said, "Who are you?" And I said, "I'm Colin Powell." And he said, "Well, I'm -- whatever his name was, I forgot but there was a box of candy under his arm and he said, "Is Alma here?" I said, "Yes, she's here." "Well, can I see her?" And I said, "Sure."
So I invited him in and asked him to sit in the living room. I went and called Alma, said, "Somebody here wants to see you." And she went out and explained to this young man what my status in the household now was, and he promptly left with his box of candy, and I kidded Alma about it because he had identified himself as, you know, a very close friend of hers. And she has been claiming for the last 33 years that that was not the true nature of this relationship, and I believe her. What choice do I have?
LAMB: What's she like?
POWELL: She's a wonderful woman ... an absolutely wonderful woman, wife, mother, lover, my best friend, and we've had a fabulous marriage.
LAMB: What role does she play in your life? I mean, how do you .... what's a day like?
POWELL: She's a central figure in my life now that we are in retirement. We spend a lot more time with each other than we ever did when I was in the military. We start the day together, having breakfast, a cup of coffee and reading the newspapers together after decades of me blazing out of the house at 5:30 in the morning without spending any time with her. And we're usually together most of the day. She is in one part of the house, I'm in another part of the house. She lives a very, very and leads a very, very full and active life. She's on the board of the Kennedy Center here in Washington. She does a number of other charitable things, and she goes her way and I go my way and then we get together and go our way. But we're essentially together most of the day. It's wonderful.
LAMB: At the end of this book tour you obviously had some decisions to make.
LAMB: How did you do it?
POWELL: The end of the book tour I had to decide what to do with the next phase of my life. Thirty five years as a soldier, two years as an author and now it was time to decide what next to do. Many people saw it as "He will either go into politics or he will, you know, just go away somewhere."
But for me and for my friends and advisers and for my wife, there were more choices than that: go into politics, go into charitable work, go into educational activities, lots of things to do. So I always saw it as a broader set of choices than just go into politics or not. But obviously, because of the response to the book tour, everybody was waiting for Powell to say something about making a choice to run for the presidency of the United States, and I kept that option open and had said to everybody I wanted to keep that option open until I had returned to public life, and had a chance to see what the book tour was like and then I would make a decision. And I came home from the book tour and then, with some trusted friends and advisers, and I consulted with a number of people. But at the end of the day the real consultation was with myself and with Alma and with our children. And after a period of about 10 days, roughly, of the most tense personal reflection on our life and what this would require, we came to a conclusion and I made a decision that this was not the right thing for me to do or for us to do.
LAMB: How did you how was it intense? I mean, how did you do it?
POWELL: There was a great deal of pressure that said, you know, "You really should serve in this way by running for political office," and what I eventually had to do was to step back from all the external pressure and all the encouragement and all the enthusiasm I was getting from the outside, and I had to see whether I had the internal enthusiasm and commitment to go into what was going to be a very, very intense year and then what follows from that year of political campaigning -- something that I'm, you know, not that familiar with, even though I've seen it up close.
And it was going to be very, very demanding on me and on my family and I had to see if this is what Alma wanted to do with the next phase of her life. We've been a partnership for 33 years, but I've been sort of the dominant partner because whenever the government said, whenever the Army said move, I just went home and said, "Alma, we're moving." And all she could do is say, "Yes, sir. Here we go." And we did that almost two dozen times in 33 years of marriage.
But in this instance, we had settled down and she had things that she wanted to do in her life and our children were out and had things they were doing in their lives. And this choice to go into politics would require a level of commitment on their part and her part and a level of exposure that we just weren't ready for at this time. It's not that we feared that there was something to be exposed. That wasn't the issue. It's just that we wished to live a more private life than we would be able to live in politics.
LAMB: Was there ever a time in your discussions where you decided you might do it and then changed your mind?
POWELL: It went up and down for that whole period of 10 days. There were some times when I felt that, "Yeah, I think this might be the right thing for us to do," and then we'd talk about it some more and it would go down again. It was up and down. It was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make, because even though I knew I had to separate myself from the enthusiasm of encouragement of others, I've always been a service person. I've always tried to serve the country, and there were a large number of people who were suggesting that this was the next form of service for me, and so I couldn't ignore that, and that would get me up. But then, at the end of the day when I sat with my family, sat with my wife, my closest friends and, frankly, just by myself, I was sure this was not the right thing for me to do at this time.
LAMB: Your wife never said things like, "I'll leave you if you run for president," did she?
POWELL: No, she never said that, but it was clear that this was not a choice she wished to make.
LAMB: What happens and I know you don't like this scenario stuff but what happens if the nominee of the Republican Party says, "I want you to be the vice president"?
POWELL: I will stand on what I said at the press conference last month. I am not interested in a political opportunity in 1996 and I'll stand on that. But nice try, Brian.
LAMB: Should I try again? No. The thing in your book it's interesting. I went I took your news conference, and there's a line, same line in your book and also in the news conference, about, you know, in the news conference you say, "I do not yet have a political life because such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear." And the same line is in the book.
LAMB: Did you go back and...
LAMB: ... take the same line or ...
POWELL: When I wrote that line in the book, it was late spring, early summer.
LAMB: When was the last time that you wrote anything for this book?
POWELL: The last word, the last comma in the book was the night of the 3rd of July of this year, and that night I called my publisher and said, "Tomorrow is July 4th. Come get this thing."
LAMB: July 3rd, 1995.
POWELL: 1995. And the next morning somebody came down on the shuttle from New York. I met her at the airport, handed the manuscript and said, "Be gone." And I never touched it again until it was printed and saw it. That was it. So it was in late spring, early summer that I finished that last chapter, that last section you're referring to the epilogue and said "It was a calling I do not yet hear."
But it wasn't a new position for me to take. I mean, I have been offered political jobs, as you know from the book, repeatedly in the course of my military career. "Why don't you leave the Army as an officer and be the undersecretary of the Army?" No. When I was national security adviser there was a suggestion that perhaps I should think about politics at that time. No, I'm a soldier. And both parties have approached me during the time that I was in the Army to suggest that after the Army politics may be the thing for me to do, and I never found it to be something that connected with me because I'm fundamentally a soldier. Now people call me a political general, but I'm fundamentally a soldier. That was my ethic. I had no political ambitions in the course of my military career and I did not feel a calling. I knew who I was as a soldier. I trained all my life to rise in the ranks of the military, and unique skills are required for political life. I'm not ignorant of those skills and I'm not ignorant of what it takes to be a successful politician.
I worked closely for three presidents and I think I'm a reasonably good politician. I've had to work with the Congress over the years. But at the point in my life when I had to make this decision last month, I did not feel that it was the right thing for me and I'm sure it was not the right thing for my family.
LAMB: There's another line in here I want to ask you about, because you did change your mind on this. And this is on page 607. "`Because I express these beliefs" you're talking about entrepreneurship and free enterprise system "Because I express these beliefs, some people have rushed" "rushed," I repeat ...
LAMB: ... "to hang a Republican label around my neck."
POWELL: Yeah, they did.
LAMB: But you decided some point along the way to...
POWELL: I hung it around my own neck.
POWELL: I felt that I had seen enough in the two years of my retirement and I had been around the country. And in these speeches that you referred to earlier, I'd learned a lot of things about what was happening in the country and met a lot of people. And I felt I should get off the fence now that I'm no longer protected by my uniform from being partisan in any way, I thought I should get off the fence and start to actively participate in the political life of the country as a private citizen. And I thought I could best do that as a Republican, so I have identified myself and I am now a member of the Republican Party.
LAMB: How you doing with your wife? I mean, you suggested at your news conference that you had some work to do.
POWELL: We haven't discussed this. I don't know where she will end up. I'm going to not speak for her.
LAMB: What about the kids? What'd they think when you did that?
POWELL: The kids are OK. My son is a Republican. He has always worked in Republican circles previously. He became a Republican before I became a Republican.
LAMB: What's he do now?
POWELL: He is a lawyer here in town, of the firm O'Melveny & Myers, and he's a very fine lawyer. And the two girls, my two daughters, they have not told me what their political affiliation is. I'm not sure they have decided. Wouldn't bet on them being Republicans. One is an actress and the other one works at ABC.
LAMB: "Nightline"? She's over there at "Nightline"?
POWELL: Yes, she works...
LAMB: Anne Marie.
POWELL: Anne Marie works for Ted Koppel and "Nightline."
LAMB: And Linda is the other daughter.
POWELL: Linda is a very, very accomplished actress. She's appearing in Baltimore now and she'll be coming to Arena Stage here in Washington shortly.
LAMB: Speaking of acting, in this audiotape, there were moments where you were a little more dramatic than others ...
LAMB: ... and I want to play one for you.
LAMB: This is a story you've told before. Let's listen to this and get your reaction to this part of the tape. (Excerpt from audiotape)
POWELL: On the speech circuit I tell a story that goes to the heart of America's longing. The ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson was interviewing a young African American soldier in a tank platoon on the eve of battle in Desert Storm. Donaldson asked, "How do you think the battle will go? Are you afraid?" "We will do OK. We're well trained and I'm not afraid," the GI answered, gesturing toward his buddies around him. "I'm not afraid because I'm with my family." The other soldiers shouted, "Tell him again. He didn't hear you."
Soldier repeated, "This is my family and we'll take care of each other." That story never fails to touch me or the audience. It is a metaphor for what we have to do as a nation. We have to start thinking of America as a family. We have to stop screeching at each other, stop hurting each other, and instead start caring for, sacrificing for and sharing with each other. (End of excerpt)
LAMB: There's more. What do you think of the drama there?
POWELL: Well, it's my favorite story. I've told this hundreds of times. And I use it in my speech around the country, and I'm always touched by it. It's a wonderful piece of television that Sam Donaldson did. On the audiotape I gussied it up a little bit, but the audiotape was designed to be somebody sitting in a car with you, talking to you. You're not supposed to be watching a mini drama. Just remember that you're driving along in a car with somebody telling him this story.
LAMB: Look back on the whole book tour, all the interviews. What did you think of the experience what would you tell somebody that was about to do this? What did you learn from it?
POWELL: I found it very, very enjoyable but very, very exhausting. I had talked to other authors out. I would tell folks that one of the sad things about it is, if you're expecting a large crowd, only thing you can do is your signature. Regrettably, you can't say, "To Aunt Minnie and Uncle Ezra." I would say make eye contact and show some human response to everybody who goes through the line. I would say make sure you're well rested and enjoy the experience. I don't know most authors do not go out for five weeks. It's usually a much shorter tour and it's seldom as many as 25 cities. But it can be done and I had a good time on it. And I also went to two countries during that five week period. I went to England and I went to France.
LAMB: What about the media part of it, the interviews?
POWELL: The interviews? I found those to be very interesting and the what I haven't done a lot of is radio, and on this tour I got a chance to do a lot of radio. And I found that to be very, very interesting and enjoyable, because you usually had enough time to develop a theme on radio, and it isn't quite as demanding as television. You didn't have to be as on point as I think you have to be on television. And so I got a lot of radio experience. But I found it most enjoyable.
LAMB: On the cover of this book is your photo as taken by Annie Leibowitz, famous photographer.
POWELL: Famous photographer.
LAMB: What did you think of that idea?
POWELL: Annie has photographed me before. She did a Vanity Fair shot of me right after the Gulf War, so I was pleased that she was available to do this shot. Working with her is great because she is an absolute professional. We did it in in a library here in Washington. She took lots of shots of me in uniform and civilian clothes. We even have a Larry King in suspenders kind of shot. But of all the shots, that's the one that we selected. That's the one my publisher thought was best.
LAMB: This seems out of context, but in the book you refer to reading "Street Without Joy" by Bernard Fall -- Frenchman, died back during the Vietnam War. I'll just quickly ask you, why did you read that and what impact did it have on you?
POWELL: At that time in the early '60s, when we were trying to learn about Vietnam, Bernard Fall was considered one of the great experts on the country because he had chronicled the French experience in French Indochina in Vietnam, and so we all read Bernard Fall as part of our training. "Street Without Joy" was the story of Route 1, the main artery going up South Vietnam that the French had difficulty along. And we probably all should have studied Bernard Fall a lot longer and with greater intensity, especially people in high policy positions, because he made it clear in that book and we should have realized that it was a war as much about nationalism and self determination within this one country than it was about the ideology of communism or the worldwide Communist conspiracy.
LAMB: The reason I bring it up is the I want to ask you the general question about books. How often have books had an impact? And you mention a lot of books in here that you read.
POWELL: Yeah, I read a great deal. I haven't read as many books as I would like to in recent years, because when you're chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you're reading things from 7:00 in the morning when the intelligence folks show up until late that night, and it's difficult to get into novels or into biographies or historical books, but I'm getting back in the swing of things now and reading a few things that are strictly for fun and for my general rounding as opposed to work.
LAMB: In the book you say and we've talked about this in other interviews -- you call it a turning point in your life when you were selected for the White House Fellows program. Why do you think you were selected? And why do you think of it as a turning point?
POWELL: I think I was selected because I was doing rather well in my career as a military officer. It's a very intense interview process you have to go through and I think I interviewed well with the people who were selecting fellows that year. I was a little more mature than the other fellows. There was an age limit at that time, before it became discriminatory to have age limits, and I was at the upper edge of the age limit, and the people who were doing the panels that year saw something in me that they found attractive and thought it useful to pick me and give me this experience.
It was a turning point because until then I was just your average Army officer, going along through life learning how to be a better infantry officer. And suddenly I went from being just your average Army officer to somebody who was working in the White House, meeting presidents, working in the Office of Management and Budget, examining the whole federal government, getting exposed to the whole federal government, seeing how Congress worked, seeing how policy is being made at the highest levels of the government. And then after a year of this, suddenly I'm back to being an infantry officer and I was shipped off to Korea to command a battalion.
But that experience of seeing government at that level stayed with me so that about five or six years later, when I'm now a brigadier general, the gentlemen who I had met in my White House Fellows year at OMB, Cap Weinberger and Frank Carlucci, come back into my life, remember me and I go to work for them and was able to use the high level government experiences that I had had years earlier as a White House fellow. So it really fundamentally changed the shape of my career and the shape of my life.
LAMB: After you discuss in the book a lot of Republicans in the government, the Weinbergers and people like that, you do make this statement at the end, that you and President Clinton were close. What did you mean by that?
POWELL: We got along very, very well. We obviously had differences on some issues gays and lesbians in the military. But as a personal matter, we got along very, very well and we do to this day, even though I have gone on to become a Republican. We talk on the phone from time to time and we have very, very cordial discussions. And I like President Clinton. And when we first started working together at the beginning of his administration and we had this very difficult issue of whether or not to allow gays and lesbians in the military, and I said to him after one of the first meetings on this subject, I said, "Mr. President, I'm very, very sorry that this had to be the first issue that you had to deal with with the military. I had hoped it would be something else and I regret that this is the case."
And what he said to me was, "I understand that, Colin, but, you know, this is a very tough issue. If it was easy, somebody would have solved it before we came along, so we will just work this problem." And that showed understanding for the problem that those of us in the military had with this issue at that time, and still do. And he and I were able to work every issue that we faced in that same way, problems to be dealt with. I spent a lot of quiet, private time with President Clinton. Usually when I went to see him, we would meet alone, one on one, with no one else for long periods of time. So I think I have a good relationship with President Clinton, even though I'm sure we will have areas of disagreement in the future as we've had in the past on various things.
LAMB: I'm going to try one more time on something and I know you're going to smile. What is your hunch about your future? Do you think you'll ever find yourself out there shaking hands saying, "Vote for me"? Any time?
POWELL: I can't answer that, and I won't try to. One of the things I did learn along the way is don't get trapped into trying to answer hypothetical questions about the future. The beauty of my personal situation and the wonderful thing about the country we live in is that there are all kinds of opportunities out there. There are all sorts of doors that are waiting to be opened. I would hope that my future life will be one of service to society in one way or another. I'm not sure how best to perform that service.
LAMB: Is there anything about the being a Republican that you don't like?
POWELL: I have said candidly that I think there are some aspects of Republican political activity right now that are a little too harsh. I think we're ... the Republican Party, as a party, is coming down a little too harshly on affirmative action. It isn't all bad. It isn't all preferences and quotas. Some very, very good things have happened with good affirmative action over the last 30 years, and I think we have to be careful as we get rid of things that no longer make sense, like quotas and preferences that are no longer based on anything.
We can't show such a harshness to the affirmative action that has produced such good things over the years that we communicate the wrong signal to people who are still in need of affirmative action. And I've criticized my party for that. I also think we have to be very, very careful as we change the social safety net system as we change welfare reform and Medicaid and Medicare, things that do need change and the Democrats are going to change as well. We have to remember that at the at the far end of this process there are young people, and in many cases there are young people who have only one parent at home, who are in need, and if we don't make sure that they are provided for in some way, then we'd better start building all the jails we're going to need for them in 18 years.
LAMB: When the call comes from the people running for the Senate and the House for you to come speak for them, are you going to do it?
POWELL: Some of the calls have started to come in already. At the moment, I have elected not to do any active campaigning or political fund raising. I'm a private citizen who happens to be a Republican.
LAMB: And here is the book of the private citizen called "My American Journey." Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico. Thank you for joining us.
POWELL: Thank you very much, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.