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Paul Hendrickson
Paul Hendrickson
The Living and the Dead
ISBN: 0679427619
The Living and the Dead
In his book, The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Mr. Hendrickson examines the impact of U.S. government actions on the lives of five people, particularly that of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. In this biography of McNamara, Hendrickson asks how McNamara got the job of Defense secretary, when he lost faith in the war and other issues.
The Living and the Dead
Program Air Date: October 27, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Paul Hendrickson, author of "The Living and the Dead," what is your book about?
PAUL HENDRICKSON, AUTHOR, "THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: ROBERT McNAMARA & FIVE LIVES OF A LOST WAR": It is a book about Robert McNamara, who is the archetypal figure of this war. I think when we say that name, it really does evoke a kind of knife point of memories for anybody who lived through that time. But it is not a conventional biography, Brian. It also brings into focus five other lives who were affected by Mr. McNamara's policies. And in a sense, they are like spokes to the hub of the wheel. If Mr. McNamara is the controlling force of the narrative, these lives come in and these are ordinary people, ordinary Americans who lived extraordinary moments and who got caught up in the war, were traumatized by it, and were affected by the decisions of the policy makers.
LAMB:Which one of the five did you get to know the best?
HENDRICKSON: That's a great question. I'm tempted to say the helicopter pilot, Jim Farley. He wasn't a pilot, he was a door gunner in a helicopter called YP 13, Yankee Poppa 13. He represents, in the narrative of the story, the spring of 1965, when all of the major escalations of the war are taking place, presided over by Mr. McNamara. In that photograph, he is hiding his face against a box in Da Nang because he has just witnessed the death of two comrades and he was unable to stop their dying. And so the mission is over, he's come back to base, and he throws down a Dixie cup of water and he goes into that room. And he begins crying against that trunk. And that moment was captured in black and white photographic film in the pages of Life magazine in an amazing photo essay called One Ride With Yankee Poppa 13. It was shot by the great combat photographer of the Vietnam War, Larry Burrows, who later lost his life in Vietnam in 1971. And Larry Burrows just wanted to document one particular day in a helicopter squadron's activities. At this point, the Americans weren't directly in the fight. This particular day, this particular helicopter crew were acting as a transport, a ferrying operation to take the ARVN, the South Vietnamese army, to the fight. The only problem is fate didn't follow the script. They got out there, they got into the middle of an ambush, and the whole thing lit up like a pinball machine. And this young man, 21 years old, who had never seen violent death before, was the central figure in this photo essay, this incredible photo essay with very few words, very little text in Life magazine. And, Brian, you'll recall that back then, Life magazine had a kind of almost religious power. That shot which we were just looking at was the final picture in this 24 page series. Why it became powerful to me is two fold. I was a Catholic seminary student at that same moment...
HENDRICKSON: A place called Holy Trinity, Alabama. I had been a student for the priesthood for seven years. I didn't know from Vietnam. I was really struggling with my own decision to leave religious life. Somehow or other, I saw that issue of Life magazine. We weren't even allowed to have secular literature behind these cloistered seminary walls. I saw that photograph I saw that essay- I saw that photograph and I said, `We're the same age.' And I said, `He's over there, and I'm here, safe and cloistered and doubt filled.' It was an indelible moment for me. Thirty years later, I was able to find Jim Farley and make him an integral part of this book. I said there were two it's two fold why it was so powerful. That would be one, that I saw it at that moment. But synchronistically, which is a Jungian term, at the moment this young Marine is hiding his face against this box just trying to deal with his own terrible, terrible grief, 10,000 miles away in Washington, the policy makers, Mr. McNamara and company and the president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, are changing the nature of the war. Jim Farley in Vietnam knows nothing about that. They're changing the nature of the war and essentially making it an American war, taking it over from the South Vietnamese. And they're doing it with a secret document. It's one of the key documents, certainly not the only document, but it's one of the documents.
LAMB:The year?
HENDRICKSON: The spring of 1965. And these decisions in Washington were made April 1st, April 2nd, 1965. And...
LAMB:Who's this woman?
HENDRICKSON: This is a woman named Anne Morrison claiming her baby child Emily at the Pentagon on the night of November 2nd, 1965 because Anne Morrison's husband, Norman Morrison, has just immolated himself beneath Robert McNamara's window. And this is two hours later and this good, good stricken woman is at the Ft. Myer dispensary picking up this child because the mystery of this moment, Brian, is that Norman Morrison immolated himself to protest the Vietnam War, a shocking unheard of thing in America. But in his presence was his one year old baby daughter. An insane, murderous idea, you'd say; and yet the more you investigate it, the more it begins to seem something other than that. And that photograph was an Associated Press photograph, and that, too, became something that I needed to investigate.
LAMB:Where is the daughter and what's her name?
HENDRICKSON: Her name is Emily. She's 31 years old. She's in the mountains of North Carolina. This very morning, the day that we're recording this, I had a very long phone message on my message machine at The Washington Post from Emily's mother, the woman there who's claiming the child. Her name is Anne Morrison Welsh now. She, too, is in North Carolina. She and I have had a voluminous correspondence over the last several years. Emily, the child, survived. That's a very mysterious moment. It also becomes very important in terms of understanding Mr. McNamara because, I truly believe, this was the late fall of '65. The photograph we were talking about a moment earlier was the spring of 1965, when Mr. McNamara presided over all these escalations, this big build up. Now it's the darkening end of 1965. This terrible act takes place at his doorstep. Mr. McNamara, at this moment, has begun to lose faith in the war. I'm absolutely convinced of it; the documents show it.
LAMB:When Robert McNamara was sitting in that chair, talking about his book "In Retrospect," he brought with him a statement by Anne Morrison doing what? I know you write about it in your book.
HENDRICKSON: Anne Morrison, Anne Morrison Welsh is her full name now because she remarried, is a deeply forgiving woman, a deeply Christian woman and has taught me personally a lot about the nature of forgiveness. I end this book, and we can talk about that later, I end this book, literally, on the last page of the book, going back to Anne Morrison and her message to me is, `Let vengeance be for the vengeful.' But to answer your question, directly, when Mr. McNamara, sitting in this chair, came out with his book a year ago "In Retrospect" that book provoked instant kind of outrage in America, Anne Morrison's response Anne Morrison Welsh's response was otherwise. Her response was to salute it in terms of, `Well, this perhaps will help us in the healing process.' And she wrote a beautiful letter and released it as a statement. And, unfortunately, I have to sit here and tell you that I felt that that letter was exploited by Mr. McNamara. I know for a fact that Mr. McNamara, with her permission, he said he would like to use the letter. Well, very shortly after it appeared in a full page ad for his book, he was handing it out to reporters in Washington.
LAMB:Who's this lady?
HENDRICKSON: This is Marlene Kramel, a nurse, who went to the war eight months from nursing school, 21 years old, very Catholic, virginal, possessed of Florence Nightingale dreams and patriotic urges, and landed in Vietnam an innocent and, in her year of duty, went through unbelievable hell. She was a recovery room nurse in a place called Qui Nhon. And, Brian, after the war, she began to experience almost a new kind of Vietnam because she went through nine years of tumor surgeries, monstrous goiter like tumors that began growing in her leg. They didn't only want to take off her leg, they wanted to do a hemipelvectomy where you just slice it off right at the pelvis. She is an amazing person because she wishes to see her Vietnam experience as positive. And there's a deep overwhelming sadness in her about Vietnam. If you talk to her very long, the tears will really start coming. You can't go to the Wall with her, you can't go to the nurse's statue and the tears will come. But I have not seen the rage. So maybe she dwells on a higher transcendent level that I'm capable of myself.
LAMB:I know you wrote about this a long time ago, about 10 years ago - the ferry ride. You start your book with the recounting of the ferry ride. Would you talk us through a little bit of that?
HENDRICKSON: Yes, sir. This material functions as the prologue and the epilogue, the kind of bookend to the story. On a rainy Friday night in 1972, a 27 year old artist in tennis shoes saw the icon of the Vietnam War standing just a few feet away from him, the embodiment of all of these terrible tensions about Vietnam. This was in the fluorescent lit lunchroom of a ferry boat called the MV Islander that takes passengers from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, over to Martha's Vineyard. It's seven miles of open water. And it can be quite choppy. This was a rainy Friday night. This 27 year old artist, who had avoided the war, whose two older brothers had served, who was regarded in some ways in his own family as `the shirker,' stood there on the other side of the lunchroom and watched Mr. McNamara enjoying himself. It was a Friday evening, and Mr. McNamara had a companion and they were standing against the canteen bar of the lunchroom and they were having a high old time. You see a lot of celebrities going over to Martha's Vineyard. Celebrities are partly what Martha's Vineyard is about. A murderous rage began climbing up inside this man's throat. And almost unable to stop himself, he said he was going to do something. And he told me he didn't even know what he was going to do. What he did was walk over to Mr. McNamara, and he explained to me later, he said, `You know, I'm an artist. I work in immediate contexts.' He walked over to Mr. McNamara and he said, `Sir, you have a phone call. Please follow me.' He was posing, in a sense, as a member of the crew. Mr. McNamara, you know, one of the strange and in some ways wonderful things about Robert McNamara is there has been a lifelong quality of naivete about him. He instantly put down his drink and followed the guy right out. So they walk out into the inky dark of the boat. They're out there alone in this narrow passageway, and wordlessly the artist swears to me that wordlessly he never said a damn thing he just turned and got him by the shirt collar and the belt and he tried to hoist him over the side. McNamara's glasses came off according to the artist. McNamara's only words were, `Oh, my God, no!' And there were about 35 or 40 seconds of titanic struggle at the rail. And the way McNamara saved himself was by inserting his hands and holding on for dear life into the metal grillwork. And, Brian, I feel that that kind of sea saw battle, which is 45 seconds out of an artist's life and 45 seconds out of McNamara's life, is the Vietnam War. It's that '60s struggle between what? between immense authority on the one hand and disenfranchised, '60s, quote, "shirker." Rebellion and authority that's what a lot of Vietnam and the '60s and all of this things we're dealing with now in residue are about.
LAMB:Where did you find the artist?
HENDRICKSON: I had always heard of this incident. It was always a footnote somewhere. James Reston Jr., in a book called "Sherman's March In Vietnam," an odd but beautiful book about Vietnam, had it down in a couple of sentences; and actually, it was a little factually incorrect. But that intrigued me. I saw it in a book about Martha's Vineyard. I saw it as a paragraph in Newsweek. When you start researching a man's life, you come on all sorts of…but nobody ever had the guy's name. Nobody ever had a full account of it. So I set out to find him. And it took me a good while but finally, one day, a particular police officer in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts maybe this was the 36th call I had made in the last week. Bingo! He said, `I know exactly who that is.' And he said, `Yeah. I can tell you who that is.' So, Brian, I was very afraid to try to contact this man on the phone or write him a letter because I thought that he would just spook. So I did on my luck cold. I went to Boston. I rented a car. I drove down to Woods Hole. I rode the ferry as a foot passenger over to Martha's Vineyard and I had a taxi cab take me to where I knew this artist's studio was because the policeman at Vineyard Haven had told me. And there was a real tense moment there when I introduced myself. And I said, `I'm writing a book about Robert McNamara and I can't go on with this part unless you consent to talk to me.' And he was smoking a pipe and he stood in the doorway and he just surveyed me. And I felt like we were having our own 35 or 40 seconds of extreme tension in an immediate context. And he just surveyed me. And he said, `How do you know it was me?' And I told him what the police officer said, and by this time, I also had had some other corroboration. And he said, `Come in.' And his stipulation was that I could not identify him by name.
LAMB:Still? Today?
HENDRICKSON: A year that was in 1985. A year later, I went back and got him to tell me in extreme detail the entire story over again. And I was checking everything that was told to me the year before. And I also went back exactly a year later to see if I could convince him to change his mind. I had given him my solemn word; I wasn't about to break it. He said, `No. I still don't want it revealed.' Now that was in the middle '80s. That shows how long this book has taken. I have certainly been in touch with him very recently. And I was in touch with him in the production of this book. And it was still his will that his name not be revealed. And I was sworn to honor that.
LAMB:You said a camera crew was chasing him, too. They ever get him?
HENDRICKSON: No. ABC wanted desperately to find him for "PrimeTime Live." And they had read my article about him I published an independent article about him in The Washington Post which you, I think, knew about because you said, `I saw this many years ago.' And ABC, "PrimeTime Live" was hot after me to reveal the name. I wouldn't reveal the name on my grave because I had given this man my word. I'm certainly not the only person who knows his identity. It's for years been folklore around Martha's Vineyard. I will say that a lot of people on Martha's Vineyard have it wrong. They think it's somebody else. But other people on Martha's Vineyard do know that he's the one. And he has to deal with that. But it will never ever be revealed by me as long as it continues to be his will. McNamara talked fleetingly to me about it, once, in no detail.
LAMB:What's he doing today? You said he was an artist years ago when you talked to him.
HENDRICKSON: He's still making his living as an artist, but he's doing other things to supplement his income.
LAMB:How old is he now?
HENDRICKSON: Well, let's see. He was 27 years old in 1972 he's roughly my age. I'm 52. My arithmetic you're suddenly putting me on the spot. Seventy two, 92, 20 24 and seven he's 51. So...
LAMB:What's he think of what he did today?
HENDRICKSON: He has very mixed feelings. I think again that's part of the legacy of the terrible turmoil that Vietnam caused in all of us. On the one hand, he would understand that what he did was contextual with the rage of the times. And on the other hand, I think he would, of course, regret what he did to a degree that it could have resulted in somebody's death and he could have been a murderer. So he has those kinds of mixed feelings. I will tell you a story and this does not betray a confidence. I've talked to him enough this spring. I received a letter from him about a month ago, as we're recording this show. He told me in an extended phone call this spring, when the book was in production, that one of his daughters came to him he didn't in 1972 when this act took place, and McNamara was out of the Pentagon when this act took place; that didn't matter. Mr. McNamara was still the icon of the Vietnam War. But this man's daughter and he has several daughters, came to him not long ago and said, `Daddy, I want to ask you about this. Tell me about this.' And he sat down and he talked to her at length about it. And he tried to tell her as absolutely honestly as he could all that was in him that would have prompted him to do this. And so I was riveted to this on the phone as he was describing this to me and he said that it turned out to be a far more healing conversation and understanding kind of conversation than he ever would have hoped for. He, I think, was extremely nervous about what his daughter would feel about him in judgmental terms. But that she seemed to get it. She seemed to understand and not have feelings of negativity about her father because of this act. If anything, maybe the reverse, maybe a kind of pride not that she'd ever recommend it or what I mean, that's part of the jumble of emotions here.
LAMB:You say that this man has seen Robert McNamara on the island since?
HENDRICKSON: That's what he tells me. They were once seated across from each other in a restaurant in Edgartown. They were very close to one another. And their eye contact lasted a second just like yours and mine just now. And then they both looked away and they both went on with their dinners.
LAMB:When was the first time you ever met Robert McNamara?
HENDRICKSON: In February of 1984. I am a staff writer at The Washington Post, and in November of 1983 and I'll bet you and a lot of your audience will recall there was a very famous television movie called "The Day After." It was about a nuclear holocaust in Kansas City. It was very well publicized. I mean, it was the big event of that season Jason Robard's movie. Afterward, in the studio audience, was a constellation of American heavyweights talking about the dilemmas of nuclear war. Elie Wiesel, Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state under Mr. Reagan Mr. Schultz was there for a while, he had made an appearance earlier, and Robert McNamara. Of all these people talking in the studio after this two hour television drama, McNamara was the one that spoke to me. Brian, he seemed to me the most humble, the most humane, the most intelligent, he spoke so movingly about the horrors of nuclear war. I wanted to interview him. I went in instantly the next day and said to my editor at the Style section of The Washington Post, `Did you see that last night?' And she said, `I did.' And I said, `Wow. I wonder if we could get McNamara?' And she said, `I'm having the same thoughts.' And she said, `But, you know, it's complicated because he's on the board of The Washington Post.' Among other things, he's a very good friend of Katharine Graham, the chairman then the chairman and the complete power of The Washington Post. But Ben Bradlee, who was the executive editor of The Washington Post, bless his heart Mary Hedar, my editor, said, `Well, I'll ask Ben.' She asked Ben, and Ben said, `Go for it. Maybe you can get him. Maybe you can't.' I sat down and wrote Mr. McNamara a letter, and about five weeks later he called me on the phone early one morning, and he seemed right then in conflict with himself. `Well, I have got your letter here and I see you want an interview. Well, I don't think I'm interested in an interview and, by the way, the Style section? I don't read the Style section. And feature article? No, I'm not interested in that. But, listen, maybe you want to come over next Thursday, and we'll just talk for a few minutes.' There was, even then, a kind of left hand against the right hand quality that I was picking up on the phone. I boned like a madman for the next four or five days just trying to understand everything I could about this man's life. And I must have passed the audition. I went to his office. I was very scared. Spent about an hour with him. And he invited me to come back. And we then proceeded to have conversations over the next four months. That was in February, and I ended up in May of 1984, writing a large three part series about him in The Post.
LAMB:How often have you talked to him since?
HENDRICKSON: Mr. McNamara withdrew his access, his cooperation with me completely after those articles were published. I think you would probably best ask him why. I would say they didn't turn out those three pieces--didn't turn out as he might have wished. I think also that once the book began, he was aware that anybody who closely and deeply went into his life would start acquiring the documents, the declassified documents. And there the record and the pattern of the deception would be clear. And that's what happened to me. This book has a long history and you probably know some of it. I gave this book up because I couldn't do it. I felt abject failure about it. I went back to The Washington Post after working on it for nearly three years and feeling just total, total failure. I wrote another book in between and...
LAMB:What subject?
HENDRICKSON: It was on a documentary photographer of the Depression named Marion Post Wolcott and the book is called "Looking for the Light." It is a book that I'm immensely proud of but much, much smaller in scope than this. About four years ago, my editor at Knopf, who published the book on the photographer called "Looking for the Light," he said to me, `Paul, if you were going to mount the McNamara book again, if you were going to try again, what would you do?' And I said, `John, John' his name is John Siegel and he's a wonderful man, a wonderful editor. I said, `Don't even ask me. I can't face this.' Brian, I had gotten into quite a dilemma over my inability to write this book. I was emotionally and financially broken. And I went back to The Post, not knowing well, thinking for sure that my book career was over. Nobody'd ever get me to write a book again because I had failed on this one high visibility project, lots of money. But I was unsure whether I could even do journalism again, my confidence was so shaken. I had found my own Vietnam the first time in trying to write this book the wrong way. I was trying to write a conventional biography of Robert McNamara. That's not my strength. I'm not a historian. I'm not a trained historian. Four years ago, when John Siegel at Knopf said to me, `What would you do?' and I said, `Don't even ask me,' he said, `Hey, why don't you sit down and write me a letter?' He said, `We've talked about this now and then,’ and he said, `Just write me a letter about what you might do.' Over the next 72 hours, I wrote him a 45 page letter. It poured out of me. I think about seven or eight years at that point had already gone by. When this book was not being written, was being worked on full time, when another book had taken its place. But this book was always in me, always in my psyche, always either back burnered or front burnered, so that 45 page outpouring in 72 hours startled me, that there was so much pent up inside of me that wanted to get out and try to do this book. And the central thing I said to him in that letter was, `I wonder if I can do a book that would combine biography and history and narrative and novelistic detail, based in absolute fact, in which you make Mr. McNamara the controlling force of the narrative, but you bring in these five other extraordinary lives. And who are they?' I said, `I would want one to be Norman Morrison. That story empowers me.' I said, `I would like to try to find a nurse.' I told him about Farley. I had never met Jim Farley, but I knew about the photograph. I said I wanted to write about a Vietnamese. I didn't have the Vietnamese yet. I said, `I wonder if I could do this.' And I said, `Is it five stories? Is it seven? Is it three? But make Mr. McNamara the center, and show how his policies and his deceptions terribly influenced the lives of these individuals.' And I said, `Bring it all together and maybe that'll work as a book.' And John's response was, `You got it, baby. You did it. You figured it out. Now all you have to do is go and do it.'
LAMB:What had broken you in the first place?
HENDRICKSON: I read a review of my book this morning. There have been so many just lately, I can't even cite where this one was, and in a pretty far off place, in Florida or Texas or somewhere. And the reviewer said, `What is it about Vietnam that allows the subject to take over its authors' lives?' And he cited Neil Sheehan spending 16 years on "A Bright Shining Lie" and William Prochnau spending 12 years on "Once Upon a Distant War," and here comes Hendrickson now with a clean decade at least in working on this. And really, Brian, it's 12 years. But it's important to say in terms of honesty and accuracy that I was not working on it at all times during those 12 years, but it's a continuum of 12 years that this book has lived with me. What is it? I don't know. I'm trying to answer your question by saying that the mountain is so large. Vietnam is such a contradictory subject. But I don't think I'm being absolutely clear and direct as I answer this because I would like to answer it. In some ways, whatever power I have, whatever ability I have as a writer, depends on the human connection. I have to have that person in front of me, just as you're sitting in front of me. I have to sort of feel the emotion of that person in the room with me. Mr. McNamara removed himself. He became an abstract for me. I think it terrified me psychologically.
LAMB:You know, Sheehan and Bill Prochnau spent time in Vietnam, and you say one throwaway line in here: `I haven't been anywhere near Vietnam.'
HENDRICKSON: Absolutely correct. As I cited earlier, I was a buzz headed seminary student whose own life seemed to be coming apart in 1965 because I knew I didn't want to be a priest and I didn't know how to get out of that life. Through the course of this long journey, I have sometimes wondered whether I even have a right to struggle with Vietnam. I said that a few months ago to David Halberstam, who actually interviewed me for a piece that he wrote for Vanity Fair in September. He cut me off in the middle of a sentence. I was trying to make the point, `What right do I have?' He said, `Because you went and did it. Because you were willing to go do it.' He said, `You have every right.' He said, `I was a correspondent there and Neil was a correspondent there and others were.' He said, `That's fine. We wrote our versions of the war.' He said, `You have every right to do this.' He said, `You stumbled' how did he put it? He wrote this down, in fact, and I said, `Give me that sheet of paper.' He tore it out of his notebook, and it's hanging now in my cubicle at The Washington Post with a thumbtack. Here's what Halberstam said. He said, `You inadvertently stumbled into the complexity of this man's life,' and Brian, it would not let me go.
LAMB:How had you gotten into the seminary in the first place? And where were you born and where did you grow up?
HENDRICKSON: I was a World War II baby, born in 1944, and raised principally in the Midwest. And I was of that generation of American Catholic boys who are kind of washed in the blood of their Catholicism Catholic schools, fervent Catholic mothers...
HENDRICKSON: Kankakee and then Wheaton, Illinois.
LAMB:Wheaton, suburb of Chicago.
HENDRICKSON: Where Bob Woodward is from, whom I did not know, and John Belushi and Red Grange, the great football player, old number 77. One of his names was the `Wheaton Iceman' because he used to lug ice in his summers. OK.
LAMB:How long were you in Kankakee before you moved to Wheaton?
HENDRICKSON: I was in Kankakee until I was 11 years old and then we moved to Wheaton. My father was an airline pilot for Eastern Airlines. And it's very, very simple. In the early years of his airline career, he flew out of Midway Airport, which is southwest of Chicago. When it all changed up to O'Hare on the Northwest Side, Kankakee was no longer operative for our family, so we had to move to Wheaton. The point I was trying to make was that in those years, in that era, in that context, the best and brightest Catholic boys went away to seminaries. And it may seem ludicrous to you now to sit here and say it, but you went away at age 13, at age 14.
LAMB:What order?
HENDRICKSON: This was an American missionary order called the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, and it was founded in the early part of this century by a Vincentian priest. And the order's principal mission was to work in the Deep South. Therefore, they placed the seminary school in the Deep South. So I left Illinois on a train for a place called Holy Trinity, Alabama, in the fall of 1958. I had an older brother who also was in this same institution. It was like getting on a raft on the river and going right into the seminary because that's where the best and brightest boys were vectored. So I did that and I did it for seven years, and by 1965, it was quite clear to me that I had to leave. You know, Brian, the same revolution that was taking place in the streets of America in the '60s was also happening behind seminary walls, except our was not bloody and was not noticed by the outside world, but it was that same questioning of authority. That's what Vatican II, the council, is about. It's the questioning of authority. So the seminary walls themselves were kind of cracking from the inside. Brian, I came out into the real world at age 21 having never met a Jew, having never been on a date, having never kissed a woman and all of my cultural heroes had `Saint' affixed to their first name.
LAMB:Who was your top saint?
HENDRICKSON: I had a religious name, Brother Garrett, which was an Irish derivation of Gerard, I believe. We all had to take religious names to show that we were dead to the world, we were casting off the world. Gosh, who was my favorite saint? You've almost stumped me. This might sound a little funny but perhaps Saint Paul, because he's a very human saint. You know, he's the guy who hated the Christians. Until he was struck off his horse on the way to Damascus and the scales fell from his eyes. He's a very human kind of story. I love Paul, the apostle.
LAMB:Where'd you go to college?
HENDRICKSON: By the time I got out of seminary, I had most college completed, so I ended up at a Jesuit seminary not a seminary, excuse me a Jesuit institution in St. Louis, St. Louis University good school finished my college credits there, didn't have any money, wanted to go to graduate school in English and American literature, could not afford to pay my own way, so I got a graduate fellowship to Penn State and got a master's degree at Penn State in the winter of 1968. By this time, I'm 24, 25 years old and still very, very wet behind the ears, still playing catch up ball awfully fast. And by now, Brian, we're at the darker half of the '60s. There has been blood running in the streets of Chicago. So to circle back to your earlier question, I didn't know about Vietnam. I didn't know, when I came out of the seminary in '65, in my first book called "Seminary," in which I recount my seminary life, I say I'm sort of stealing lines from my first book I say that when I came out, there had been fire in the Gulf of Tonkin but not yet on the moon. I couldn't have told you where the Gulf of Tonkin was when I came out.
LAMB:Did you marry?
HENDRICKSON: I married. You know, what I did in some ways was in pattern with so many terribly insecure, scared ex seminarians trying to make their way in the world. I married quickly. I married by 1969 and I was chronologically old enough, but you could say I was an emotional midget. I didn't know very much about women at all. And I married a young person who was at Penn State as an undergraduate and we divorced in the early '70s. Now given the background that I've just described, that too has to be a fairly big moment in my own psychic history to have been raised in that kind of environment, come out of a seminary, get married pretty quickly, discover the marriage isn't working because, in a sense, I didn't know anything about women, much less myself. This woman's name and she still has my last name is Sunday Hendrickson. She lives in Los Angeles. She is one of my closest friends. And when I go to Los Angeles on this book tour, I will see her. And she has visited our home in Tacoma Park. I remarried in 1979, and I remarried the right person and for all time. And I married a Catholic woman from Philadelphia who comes from a large Irish Catholic family. And we have two sons, we have two boys, 12 and eight. And my wife Ceil is a nurse here at Children's Hospital in Washington. So it took me, Brian, a whole decade to sort of get it back together in terms of my own emotional maturity.
LAMB:Here's the cover of the book. What do you really think of this man, if you were to, you know, just to spend a minute putting all the adjectives and whatever you want to say about it?
HENDRICKSON: I think Mr. McNamara represents a postwar, technocratic, hubristic fable. I think he was an extraordinarily impressive person, almost a new Adam, who abused his trust and knows he did, and has spent the rest of his life paying for it. Mr. McNamara ceased believing that the Vietnam War could be won militarily, and he stayed on to prosecute it for another two years and four months. He was not the secretary of state. He was not the counselor to the president. He was the man who was in charge of America's military forces. And he ceased believing that it could be won on the battlefield and he did not resign his office. I feel, in sum, that if he had resigned his office at the point at which he began to believe it could not be won militarily. Of course, it was always a political and a diplomatic struggle at the same time. But that doesn't wash with me because he was the chief military person, and the consequences of this are profound because young 18 year old boys were continuing to go into the tall elephant grass and would not come out again. He didn't think the war could be won militarily. If he had resigned at the point at which he ceased believing, when he lost faith, I believe that today there would be something known as the McNamara Prize, and that prize would be coveted around the world by men and women of conscience.
LAMB:Was he moral?
HENDRICKSON: Mr. McNamara struggled within himself and I would like to stress that point. I think people who see him as the tin man without a conscience, without a heart are way off. I think he struggled within himself. I think he tried to alter his fatal mistakes. He tried to cap the war. He tried to do an awful damn lot, but he did not resign. So your question to me, `Is he moral?' It cannot be answered in a yes or no. What I would say to that point is, in his book last year and in retrospect, I do not find moral anguish. I do not find moral grief. I find a man saying on essentially the first page, `We were wrong,' but when you read the book, you begin asking yourself, `Well, wait a minute. What is he saying we were wrong about?' It seems he is saying we were wrong strategically, we were wrong geopolitically, we were wrong globally. Where is anguish moral anguish for lives lost needlessly?
LAMB:What happened in Dean Rusk's dining room?
HENDRICKSON: That's a great moment. From some of our foregoing talk here, maybe you get the idea that I believe that a person cannot live a lie forever and that it will out, and at that moment, that's one of the moments where it outed. Like murder, truth will out. On February 27th, 1968, two days before he left office it was a leap year, so he left office on February 29th, '68. On February 27th, '68, he's at a private luncheon in Dean Rusk's dining room with the Department of State and there are six or seven other key figures in the room. They're there to say goodbye, to have a little farewell luncheon, but also to do some discussions about Vietnam and especially about the Tet Offensive, which is taking place during this point. Well, Mr. McNamara is just getting set to leave office. Other people have spoken in the room. There's lots of gloom in the room because the Tet Offensive is seeming to change everything about the war. Mr. McNamara gets up and he loses control `The goddamn war has done nothing. We've overrun them. We've carpet bombed the place. We've we've done more bombing than we did in all of Germany in the last year of World War II. And what's it done? It's done a goddamned nothing, a goddamned nothing.' He's by several accounts written, you can look this up in several books. And then I went to some of the participants. I talked to four of the participants who were in that room. These people were looking at their shoe tops. A man named Harry McPherson, who was an LBJ aide; a man named Joe Califano; Clark Clifford writes about it in his own book and talks about the barely suppressed sobs. It poured out, all of his anger I don't think anger's strong enough all of his incredible rage about the way the war had turned out for him, for America. He was leaving in disgrace. He was leaving broken. It just flooded out.
LAMB:You walked the streets with Harry McPherson, up and down I don't know L or K or one of those streets. How long did you walk to get this story?
HENDRICKSON: You know, Stanley Karnow, in his great book "Vietnam: A History," is the first place I saw this and recognized that this was a moment I had to investigate in the same way you asked me about the man on the ferry, and in my reporter's instincts, when I saw a little footnote or a line here, a line there, `Wow. There's a story. Hey, I've got to get it. I've got to find.' Well, I eventually did. Stanley Karnow, in his great book, one of the great researched books about Vietnam, talks about this and he specifically mentioned Harry McPherson. In McPherson's own book about Vietnam and about the presidency, about Lyndon Johnson, he treats it very lightly. But I called Harry McPherson directly on the phone and he just didn't want to talk about it. He was reluctant. He certainly acknowledged that the event had happened, but out of probably a need to wish to protect Mr. McNamara in some way, he just kind of didn't want to talk about it. But I pursued him a little more, and we passed some letters back and forth. Harry McPherson is a lawyer in Washington who's highly respected, who is a Texan, so he has a natural raconteur ability. And he turns out besides to be a nice guy. Finally he said to me, `Come, let's have lunch,' and he told me the story and, you know, we talked about it at the lunch. We went to a little soup place on Connecticut Avenue, and we had soup and cornbread. And then we walked up and down what he called Washington's rialto, which is Connecticut Avenue, and he told me the story. And I must say that he told it to me with respect for Mr. McNamara's humanity. That's in a large sense what I got out of it because, yes, the utter nakedness of this emotion and that's the point of that meeting, the utter nakedness of the emotion when all of the lies that have been so suppressed inside you are now being revealed for this group. But Harry McPherson told me the story with what I feel is great sensitivity and compassion for McNamara, and not judgment, just, `This is what I recall.' He said, McPherson said, it was one of the most riveting moments he had ever experienced. He said it was just absolutely riveting. And on the way back to the White House, he said it was all that he and Joe Califano, who was a young LBJ aide, could talk about. `Did you see that? My God, did you see that?' And I asked Califano much more recently Harry McPherson told me this back in the 1980s I asked Califano about it much more recently. And he certainly verified exactly what McPherson said. Califano's caveat was, `I want you to know that in that room that day, before McNamara got up and gave this incredible display of emotion, there was great gloom in the room because we were all feeling that Vietnam was destroying this country and destroying this presidency, and there was no way out.' And he said, `There was terrible gloom, terrible gloom in the room.'
LAMB:On another story that you wrote in the style section of The Washington Post, you write about here, the Joan Braden Robert McNamara relationship. Who was Joan Braden, and why did that become a story?
HENDRICKSON: When I first started interviewing Mr. McNamara, which is really the only direct contact that I had with him in that four month period in 1984, between February and May, when those articles were published very early into the start, one of my editors one of the deputy editors of the style section said to me, `Well, you've got to ask about the Braden thing.' And I think I said, `What Braden thing?' And Ben Bradlee himself brought it up and said, `Well, you know, you've got to ask about this relationship with Braden.' And I said, `What relationship?' What it is, is that Mr. McNamara, a man we think of as a kind of Puritan in terms of the look, the swept back hair, the glasses, the leanness, was having this odd, odd romantic relationship. And I asked Joan Braden about it directly and she said, `I will not deny that it is romantic.' I asked her directly. I said, `Is it romantic?' and she said, `Yes, I will not say that it isn't,' which is sort of a funny quote, but I remember exactly the words: `Yes, I will not say that it isn't.' She became his traveling companion, and she was a very married woman still is to a man named Tom Braden. And they had this, if not public, at least not hidden relationship that all of the gossip salons of Georgetown were hip to but that I wasn't hip to because I didn't live in Georgetown and and am not privy to that kind of society and talk. This is at the very start of my relationship with interviewing McNamara. So in the pieces, I brought this into public print for the first time. But your question you said, `What was the Braden thing, and why is it important, and why did you write about it?' You could say that I wrote about it on one level because my editor said, `You've got to do this. You've got to ask about it.' But I very quickly began to understand that it was another window on the complexity of this man, on the contradictory nature of this man, another little opener as to the fundamental feeling of a very lifelong conflictive personality.
LAMB:Tom Braden used to be on CNN's "Crossfire." Joan Braden had eight children "Eight is Enough" television show.
LAMB:Did you ask Robert McNamara about that?
HENDRICKSON: I asked him directly about it and he I can recall to this moment. I didn't have the nerve to bring it up to him until our third or fourth session, and he sort of laughed and turned his chair sideways and said, `Oh, oh, oh, that.' He said, `Well, I'm going to tell you two things about it.' And, you know, McNamara can talk very fast and shoot things at you, and he can be intimidating with his arm and boom, boom, boom and A B C D E F G H, tabbing them on the fingers. He said, `Oh, that. Well, I'm going to tell you two things. Number one, you write whatever you have to write about that. But number two, I just hope you get it all damn straight.' I said, `Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I will.' He called me the very next day. We would have these meetings in his office, but then there would be phone conversations. He called me and he said, `Listen, at the tail end of yesterday, you asked me about this relationship with Joan Braden. Well, I've now talked to Joan and Tom, and we've decided that the best thing for you to do is to talk directly to them. You ask them and they'll tell you about it, too.' When I talked to him and he told me those two things, he went on to describe for me what he thought was important that I should know, that he said, `It's a very unusual relationship. I know this. I know the whole town's talking about it.' He said, `But I think she's a wonderful woman, and she's my traveling companion, and I do travel with her. And we don't try to disguise that fact.' He said some pretty amazing things, actually. And then I went to Joan Braden and then I went to Tom Braden, and then I came back to McNamara and read to him their quotes, especially her quote when I directly asked her if it was romantic. And I said, `So is it, Mr. McNamara?' And he said, `Well, Joan said it was. I won't say that.' And that's where that ended. But the whole town seemed to know about it in the beginning, but I didn't.
LAMB:You have to look closely, but this cover has a picture behind the words of Robert McNamara and a soldier. Where's the picture from? Do you know?
HENDRICKSON: That picture is from the Pentagon. I think it's from the Bettman Archives. I must say this will sound immodest. I love this cover. I certainly didn't have anything to do with it. The great artists at Knopf Publishing came up with this. If you think about this in terms of all we've talked about today, Mr. McNamara is the ghost. He's the ghost coming behind that print. He's bleeding up behind that print. And this soldier in the front, who's not one of the characters in the book he's simply emblematic of the other lives. Mr. McNamara is haunting this narrative on every page. Even when he's not on the page, he's on the page. And that's what that cover's about. And it's called "The Living and the Dead."
LAMB:What was more useful for you in your own life, writing this book or talking this book?
HENDRICKSON: I'm not sure I follow that. You mean, talking about it...
LAMB:In other words, you've now written the book and now you're out talking it. Which part of this is a catharsis for you to get this all out eventually or...
HENDRICKSON: That's a good question that no one has asked me and, therefore, I would like to try to answer it with absolute honesty. I consider this part, the going around chatting about it, awful. I don't like doing this. After I feel it has gone well in a particular session, when I have intelligent questions such as yours, I have a certain adrenalin high about it and feel that maybe somebody out there has understood what I've attempted to do. But for me, the calling and I'm sorry to use a word that might sound highfalutin for me, the calling, the vocation was to sit in that room and write that book when very few people knew that it was happening my editor, my wife, my agent, my children, McNamara against his will and just do the best with it I could. And Marlene knew it was happening she's the nurse and Jim Farley, and the family of Norman Morrison and Tron Tu Tang, the Vietnamese. That to me was when it was golden, because I was doing the best I could, and I was only responsible to the truth as I could find it. Now it's out there, the world has it and the world can accept it or reject it.
LAMB:This is the cover of our guest's book, Paul Hendrickson, "The Living and the Dead," and we thank you.
HENDRICKSON: Thank you very much for having me.

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