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Neil Sheehan
Neil Sheehan
A Bright Shining Lie (Part 3)
ISBN: 0394484479
A Bright Shining Lie (Part 3)
Neil Sheehan gave five 30-minute interviews about his book, “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.” The third interview was titled "The Press in Vietnam."
A Bright Shining Lie (Part 3)
Program Air Date: October 19, 1988

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Neil Sheehan, author of "Bright Shining Lie," about two months ago you were here. We spent two and a half hours talking about your new book, "John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam." What's been the reaction to the public since we last talked?
Mr. NEIL SHEEHAN, AUTHOR, "BRIGHT SHINING LIE": It's been wonderful for me. I when you when you're a reporter, you never believe anything's going to happen until it happens, and the reception has been just marvelous for me. I pinch myself all the time. The most moving reactions have been from Vietnam veterans, letters and an occasional phone call I get, in which people say, `You you put me back there, and that's what it was like. But now for the first time I know why it was why it happened. I know what it was all about.' And that's what I wanted to do when I wrote the book, and I'm I'm I'm deeply moved by those reactions.
LAMB: On your screen, you'll see what the book looks like, and we spent a long time talking about the contents of the book and we're going to go to the phones fairly soon because the people are already calling and anxious to talk to you. Where have you been?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I've been all over, most recently San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, and then Atlanta and Miami, and then up to New York for the book award.
LAMB: What kind of things have you been doing to talk about the book?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I've been on television, radio and and a good a good bit of of of newspa a good many newspaper interviews. People have been wonderful to me and I'm I'm I'm deeply grateful to them.
LAMB: Any hostile reaction anywhere?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Once in a while you get people calling in on on call in shows, you get people calling in occasionally and they're really angry because, of course, there's still there's a lot of anger out there over the war, and you don't know quite whether they're angry at you or they're just angry, and they and they they they talk about the media doing them in or Lyndon Johnson doing them in or and you see letters occasionally. I saw one recently not about my book but about the saying Nixon had done us in. It's amazing the amount of anger out out out there over the war.
LAMB: What's the question that's most often asked?
Mr. SHEEHAN: `Why?' `How could this have happened?' I mean, `How did our government get us in this deeply and stay there that many years?' That's the question I get most often asked.
LAMB: You won a big award. I you know, it's it was all over the papers the National Book Award. How did that work?
Mr. SHEEHAN: That was quite extraordinary because you go to a you first of all, you have a a reading the night before, in which all the finalists read, and then you go to a dinner and they give they have two two categories, fiction and non fiction. And first they read the fiction f certificates, and then they give each of five finalists a t certificate, and then the jury announces its award. And non fiction was second, so we waited until the end and it was it was enormous tension there. It was like going into battle, in a way. And then they announced the the award and I was just I of course, absolutely thrilled, deeply moved, to to to to have b have been awarded the National Book Award by the jury and deeply grateful to them.
LAMB: Who who gives the award?
Mr. SHEEHAN: A jury does of people who are picked each year by the National Book Awards and they're writers, most of them, and they make the decision.
LAMB: And you say you had to read part of the book?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Yes, the night before, at St. Peter's Church in the Citicorp building in New York. They ask each of the authors and eight out of 10 came both the fiction and non fiction, to read a portion from their book. And I read a section on the argument between General Westmoreland and General Krulak, who was a Marine general, ov over whether we ought to be fighting a war of attrition or not, and then what happens to the Marines up at the DMZ. I re I I read the the beginning of that, and to me, que because to me, that's one of the most moving sections of the book.
LAMB: Who were you up against?
Mr. SHEEHAN: There was there w there was four other books. One was by a by a very fine writer named Brenda Maddox. It was a biography of James Joyce's wife, Nora. And then there was a a book on Reconstruction by Eric Foner and and then a biography of Freud by Peter Gay. So th so th th it was quite a quite a spread.
LAMB: What's it meant? I mean, y the reason why I keep asking you a lot of these questions about that particular award is that you got so much publicity out of that. Wha what does it mean? I mean, have you gotten offers to write another book or go do a movie, or w when you get this award, isn't isn't it in itself enough to satisfy you?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, the the award in itself is is is a wonderful thing because it's it's it's from your peers. It it's it's it's given to you by other writers. And and Richard Rhodes, for instance, who won the award previously, was one of the judges, and Scott Berg, who wrote a fine book on Maxwell Perkins, the the famous editor, was as was another of the judges. And it's it's and a Professor Garrity at Columbia, an historian, who was another. And it's it's very moving when you get something like that from your peers. But, of course, there has I've gotten letters from everyone and it it did get the book some more publicity. And a about movies, I don't know, but there's been a lot of movie interest. I hope somebody will make a good movie out of the book.
LAMB: How's it selling?
Mr. SHEEHAN: It's doing well, thank thank goodness. It's it's been on The Times best seller list and it's been on the local best seller lists that is, in you I run into it in Seattle; it's been on the best seller list here in Washington and it's it seems to be doing quite well.
LAMB: All of our East Coast lines are already lighted and we have three other lines on the West Coast, for those who live out on the West Coast, that you can use. It's (202) 737 3 I mean, 787 2727. And we also have an international number that you'll see on the screen here in just a moment. For those of you who live ar around the world, outside of the United States, it's (202) 737 6734. Begin dialing now and we're going to go to the phones here in just a couple of minutes, like two minutes or so, till we take our first call for Neil Sheehan, who's going to spend a whole hour and a half. This is after you asked to have Mr. Sheehan back after you saw those interviews and wanted a chance to talk directly with him and ask him questions and give us your opinion.

In the book, what chapter do you find that people are most interested in?
Mr. SHEEHAN: The pe people talk to me most about ab about it depends on the individual. The thing that seems to fascinate people most is the character of John Vann, the fact that the man has in him these great qualities, these qualities of greatness, which he had, th o of and also these great flaws. The the mixture of the two in the man seems to fascinate people, and that's what I get the most comments about. People ask me about the man `When did you discover the flaws?' for instance. `How do the flaws how do the flaws in your mind, how oh, is he still a sympathetic figure to you?' I mean, of course, he is. He remains a sympathetic figure to me. `Do you consider him a hero?' Yes, I consider John a hero in the Greek sense of the of the man of great virtues and great philosophy. But that's the the character of John and the way it it melded together with the history of the war is what seems to to interest people most.
LAMB: Any reaction more reaction from his family about the book?
Mr. SHEEHAN: They've been very good about this whole thing. His family had been very good. They are people of the Vanns are people of great moral courage and great honesty, and they've been very supportive about the whole thing.
LAMB: Let's go to the phones for Neil Sheehan. "Bright Shining Lie" is the name of this book. You know a lot about it, especially if you saw the series and the interviews, and it's a chance for you to talk directly with Mr. Sheehan.

We go to Urbana, Illinois, for our first first call. Go ahead, please.
Caller #1: Brian, it's been about a year and a half since I got in when Tom Wicker was on, another New York Timeser, and I can answer a question that came up at that time. How many people voted or how many newspapers went for Republican and Democrat? I saw just before the election and just after the election, sorry to say, that there were 44 percent who did not ca cast for either Bush or Dukakis and fift of the other 56 percent, you may be interested to know that 2:1 I've kept exact figures it was for Bush.

Now what I want to ask Mr. Sheehan about is the impact of the lack of foreign language capacity among the American advisers, and not only those in Vietnam, but I'm a 64 year old man and I went to college after the Second World War and studied a foreign language, which happened to be French, and I was struck I am struck in reading your wonderful book by the incapacity of so many of our advisers and not only there but at home to deal with the cultural impact of the French experience the cultural and military impact of the French experience in Vietnam in the in you know, in our earlier engagement there. To what extent do you think that some larger lessons might be learned about Americans learning about the about the culture of the la of the countries they are going into or I don't want to discuss for the moment the morality of going in. I just want to discuss the truly practical implications of or you to discuss I'm sorry to say I me I mean, the purely practical implications of the inability of Americans, apparently, to relate culturally.
LAMB: OK. Thank you, Urbana.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think that in that period of time, the 1960s, when we went to war in Vietnam in '62, Americans didn't think they needed to know history, and we thought that history didn't apply to us. I think, obviously again, the question of whether you intervene aside that's that's another matter. But the one of the lessons of Vietnam is you ought to know a a what what where you are intervening. You'd better look before you leap. And obviously, one of the lessons is that we didn't know the Vietnamese we went in to support, and we didn't know our Vietnamese enemy. And it would have helped an awful lot if we had studied the his if we had known something about the history of those people and their culture, and I think it would help for the future. We didn't think, at the time, we needed it.
LAMB: Metairie, Louisiana, go ahead, please.
Caller #2: Yes, sir. Thank you. I was concerned about something that you said about Vietnam veterans saying that `Now that I've read your book, I understand what happened while I was over there.' Being a Vietnam veteran and having read some of your writings, I can only say to them that please do not take you as the only source of what happened over there because I I do not agree with your outlook. I don't even think that you understand what the war was all about specifically, that Tet was a complete victory for us. And I don't think you understand that the turning point of the war was not in Vietnam but was here in this country and that you were a part of it. And in my opinion, sir, you hold some responsibility for the deaths of millions of innocent people. I know you have the last word. It is now yours.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Do you have a question or do you want me to simply make a statement? I don't f first of all, I think one has to look at you mentioned the Tet offensive. I don't think anyone has all the answers on Vietnam, and I certainly wouldn't pretend to have them. I've done my best in this book to tell what really happened there and why it happened. You mentioned the Tet offensive as being a victory for the United States. What happened at Tet was that the Viet Cong guerrillas were destroyed, and so it was a military it was a military defeat for the Viet Cong. But, unfortunately, nothing changed on the Saigon side. The Saigon government remained as corrupt and as incompetent as ever. And the North Vietnamese army was there ready to move in and take over. And the surprise blow of Tet broke the will of the American public to continue the war, and that's actually what happened at Tet. Now it's very difficult to accept the fact that Tet dealt a death blow to the war that is, it broke the will of the public and and of the Johnson administration to continue but that's what happened. And I think as a if you're going to write history, you have to write it the way it happened, and that's what I tried to do.
LAMB: Follow up, Metairie?
Caller #2: Yes, if I could respond to that I think that this is one of the few things that you have said that is accurate. Tet broke the backbone of the American people. The point that you didn't say was the reason why. On network television and I understand that they have to show exciting scenes but they portrayed Tet as a defeat for us. They portrayed it as mayhem and the enemy taking over our embassy, all of which was not just disinformation. It was out and out lies. Many reporters wrote about things that were just totally false. I've seen reports where they say such and such a base was rocketed when, in fact, they were not even there. It would have been a ter it was a terrorist attack, in some instances, and from Saigon. They write about rocket fire because they speculate, just like you did about very much, sir. I I realize we have different differences of opinions, and that's what makes our country great.
LAMB: All right, sir. Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: I'm afraid you just can't accept what happened in Vietnam. That's the problem. You you you don't want to accept what happened. The fact is that the Viet Cong moved 15 battalions into Saigon totally unexpectedly. In the book, I relate how the American ambassador was woken up by his own Marine guards at 3:00 in the morning Mr. Bunker he told me this. And they they told him that he didn't even have time to put on his clothes, just pull on his bathrobe. They were going to take him away in an armored personnel carrier. General Westmoreland had just announced to the American public that victory was imminent. And the Viet Cong did penetrate the embassy compound. The Vietnamese Communists attacked all over South Vietnam. It was a complete surprise, and, of course, it had the predictable effect in the United States of causing a political and psychological collapse. Now this wasn't the fault of television. This actually happened. And if you can't accept it, that's that's something that you will have to come to grips with yourself. I simply try to tell what happened.
LAMB: Mesa, Arizona, go ahead, please.
Caller #3: Hi. Mr. Sheehan, I very much enjoyed your book and it illuminated again the lines of protest and accolade I had for the Vietnam War, but illuminated only in the sense of the other side that's still unexposed of our First Amendment involvement, the corrupting involvement of our First Amendment in that whole fiasco. Your book, again, reminds me that our sectarian involvement, corruptly with the Diem gov government, originally, and a quiescent Congress led us into that morass, and it's still amply unremarked that that involvement ever occurred. Now we're into the Constitution's body itself, with the separation of powers doctrine lately only bandied about with the intelligentsia after the election when, in fact, it was the most crucial aspect to that election.
Mr. SHEEHAN: What's your question, sir?
Caller #3: Well, I'm I'm saying that I I'd I'd ask for Mr. Sheehan's he he does illuminate again in his book our sectarian involvement with South Vietnam. Yet the First Amendment is unremarked, and I think it should be broadly discussed because that was the downfall, initially, of our involvement there.
LAMB: Why do you say the First Amendment was the downfall?
Caller #3: Well, because we were, in effect, extrapolating from the First Amendment corru corruptly. By taking a sectarian side in South Vietnam, we were therein establishing a religion.
LAMB: OK. You understand?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I think the gentleman is referring to the fact that the Amer the United States, when it intervened in South Vietnam, relied very much on the Catholic community there. The first president the president whom we put in power in 1960 in 1954 was a Catholic mandarin named Ngo Dinh Diem. I think the United States actually relied on the Vietnamese Catholics because they were anti Communists. It had less to do with the fact that they were Catholics than they were anti Communists. Now they happen to be anti Communist because they were a minority within Vietnam and because this goes back into French Colonial history, but I don't think it was an attempt to sort of to set up a separate religion. I think it was an attempt to find a group who opposed the Vietnamese Communists.
LAMB: New Port Richey, Florida, for Neil Sheehan. Go ahead, please.
Caller #4: Hello, Brian.
Caller #4: Mr. Sheehan, I bought your book after your last interview on CNN and I am delighted that I got your book. Since that time, I've bought four copies for my four children, all of whom were too young to understand what really happened at the time we were involved in Vietnam. But they understand now, having read your book. I thank you for it.

I wanted to say something to you about the title, "A Bright Shining Lie." These were words, if I understand correctly, that John Paul Vann himself used. Is that right?
Mr. SHEEHAN: That's right, yes.
Caller #4: Yes. I find it ironic that this man, whom I consider tragic and a victim as much as all the rest of us, those who gave our lives and those who protested the war, are in this instance. And I do not agree at all with that terminology. I think that Mr. Vann, in the final analysis, lied to himself because the lies which were told regarding our involvement in Vietnam were neither bright nor shining. In my opinion, they were dark and they were tarnished. Would you please address yourself to that?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I used the the the words, "A Bright Shining Lie" because they were John Vann's words. And, of course, in the end, he had lost his grip on reality by the by the end of the war. But I th I felt that they were apt because John had a had a kind of apt way of putting things. And what the title is meant to reflect is all of the ironies and the delusions and the misguided good intentions that went into that war. And, of course, some of them were dark. They weren't all bright and shining, and but that and that's part of what the title means. And I think that's what he meant, too, when he used the words bright and shi bright shining. He he was referring he was referring to to darkness as well as light.
LAMB: Springfield, Pennsylvania, go ahead, please.
Caller #5: Thank you. I heard Mr. Vann, while serving over there in Vietnam, and I think when I did hear him I thought that perhaps he was losing it also, and this was in 1971. Mr. Sheehan, I wish you would address a statement I believe it's on page 153 of your book that the the Germans were, in fact, more barbarism than the Japanese. I believe something like 40 percent of American prisoners of war died under the Japanese, while something under 5 percent des died under the Germans. And you blamed the two million deaths in Vietnam under the Japanese on the French and their Vietnamese underlings. I simply cannot accept that. I think that's a a distorted statement.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, to begin, le let me an answer the first part of your question last part of your question first. The French colonial administration, the Vichy French, those who collaborated with the Nazis in Europe, also collaborated with the Japanese in Indochina. And until March 1945, when they were disarmed by the Japanese because the Japanese thought they were going to turn against them and side with the free French, they administered Indochina for the Japanese. And there's no doubt whatsoever that the French authorities were involved in those forced rice collections that led to the the widespread famine in North Vietnam and in parts of central Vietnam in '44 and '45. There's just no doubt about that.

To back up I use that term you were ta I was I was speaking in general of of of the Germans being the greater or you mentioned in the book, on page 53 there, I was speaking there of American racism towards Asians in general and the fact that during World War II we perceived the Japanese as the most dangerous enemy when, in fact, the Germans were because they had the technological capacity. And when I spoke of barbarism, obviously the Japanese were were terribly barbarous towards our prisoners. And the Germans did treat our prisoners better than the Japanese treated them. That was because the the the Germans were Europeans and they saw us as Europeans. I think you have to look at German barbarism in terms of the of of using an industrial system to kill millions of people, which is what the Germans did in creating those in those death factories at Auschwitz and in the other concentration camps. That's what I was talking about. To me, that's the ultimate barbarity.
LAMB: Portland, Oregon, go ahead, please.
Caller #6: Mr. Sheehan oh, excuse me, let me turn my TV off. I just I bought your book after the last interviews I'm a Vietnam veteran, too. I kind of wanted to comment, kind of through you, to the brother from Louisiana. We really kind of have to quit fighting the war, which a lot of us are still doing, and figuring out why we lost rather than dealing with what's going on now.

Primarily, I think your comment's just about blaming the messenger. I mean, the comment that the media did us in is just not true. If you go back and read Michael Herr's book, "Dispatches," which was written, I think, in '68, you'll see a book which comments on the heroism of the the warrior in the ultimate futility of the war. I mean I think he had a beautiful phrase: `We weren't for the war or against the war; we were in the war. That was our position.' And I think it be makes it a lot easier for him to deal with the kinds of bitterness and anger that a lot of us, of course, have now.

I'd like to comment on your book and to ask you ask you a question. I'm about halfway through it. Between that and Taylor Branch's book on Martin Luther King, you know, I've got my reading set up right now two fine books that came out. I hope they do make a movie of it. I heard of John Paul Vann when I was over there. He was he became a legend. I have basically two questions. One, how did he hold up that kind because I haven't finished the book that kind of dedication to that war, knowing all he knew from very early in the war, yet he spent 10 years of his life there?

Second, we keep referring to Tet, which was was described correctly by by both you and the caller; basically a military victory which changed the war from a guerrilla war to a to a war against the North Vietnamese Army straight war.

But something else happened during that period which wasn't reported for a year and a half. I was hit on the first day of Tet ...(unintelligible) a few days before I could go out. So I came home, and Tet kind of it took a lot out of me because I came back I was in the hospital for a few days, came back and got out of the service an and and saw this very negative feeling, you know. Coming home from two years in a in a war and expecting to feel proud of it and running into the negative attitudes, I I remember, was a real effect. Then a year and a half later, I'm in college and we get the report on My Lai, and I haven't heard in any of your interviews I watched all the eu earlier thing what effect, really, do you think the reports of My Lai had.
Caller #6: Not a lot on me personally. I I basically was `Bring them home. that's it.' You know, `We're not supposed to be involved in that sort of thing.'
LAMB: All right, Portland. Thanks.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, a to answer I'll answer the the first part of your question and then go on to the second. On John Vann John Vann was a natural leader of men in war. I mean, h when he he was in Vietnam because he he that was something he did best. He was he was one of the most brilliant Army officers of his time and and w and he in war, everything is important, everything has meaning, everything has urgency. Now in those early years, John saw the realities of Vietnam very, very clearly. What happened was, he couldn't let go of the war. And after Tet '68 he had so much of himself invested in it that he couldn't he couldn't give it up. And then he began to rationalize what was going on in Vietnam to say that, `Well, we didn't have to worry as much about the corruption in the Saigon regime. We didn't have to worry about it as much about the incompetence.' He began to rationalize these things and came up with a number of the ideas, in fact, which were incorporated in Nixon's Vietnamization strategy and which was another delusion. And Vann began to then lose his grip on things. But prior to that, I think what kept him there was the fact that that it satisfied him professionally and it satisfied him emotionally and and and so and also, of course, he had that that complicated personal side, which he was also able to satisfy in Vietnam in a way he couldn't anywhere else.

The second part of your question about Tet and the veteran, I think and and My Lai I think all of this ties together. Not only do you have this this scapegoat theory that the media did us in in Vietnam or Lyndon Johnson chickened out you've got a whole lot of other scapegoat theories but one of the things I think that's been most unfair to the American fighting men in Vietnam is the fact that he came home and he was blamed for the ugliness of the war. The the I think the one shouldn't blame the fighting man. One should blame those those in charge, those who victimized the American fighting man. And My Lai was a case of of of of the American soldier being brutalized some American soldiers being brutalized over a period of time by the by the by the way the war was being fought by the generals, and then we you had a sadist in Calley, who who who enjoyed, obviously, killing people, and you had a massacre that was made but the massacre was made inevitable by the way the war was fought by the generals. I do again, I don't think the soldiers should be blamed agai aside from individual blame for Calley and those who were guilty in that particular massacre, but the massacre has to be seen in terms of the whole war.
LAMB: Next call, Clearwater, Florida. Go ahead, please.
Caller #7: Mr. Sheehan, I'm reading your book and I want to thank you for your years of research and labor to bring this book to the American people. My wish is that every American adult would read it. My question is to Mr. Lamb. Is it possible, Mr. Lamb, to purchase the transcript of the five interviews that you had with Mr. Sheehan that I heard one Sunday? I would love to obtain those, if possible, to send them to my son, who is in the military, because I don't think right now, he'd have time to read this book, and I would so like him to read it.
LAMB: Let me suggest to you that you give us a call a in our office at (202) 737 3220 tomorrow and ask for Matt Moore, who is involved in our archives, and and we'll see what if there's enough interest in this. Frankly, we do not have a transcript of those series, but we do have arrangements where people can buy tapes, and we'll have to discuss it with you, if it's all right, tomorrow.
Caller #7: Well, I'll certainly call. May I confirm that number with you again...
LAMB: Sure, (202)...
Caller #7: ...(202) 737 3220.
LAMB: Correct. OK. Thank you very much for the call. Let's go to Bellevue, Nebraska, next. Go ahead, please.
Caller #8: Yes, Mr. Sheehan. A question: I'm only halfway through your book, but what prompted buying the book was, I had just finished, belatedly, David Halberstam's the "Best & the Brightest," and that really got my interest up. I am a Vietnam veteran and a 20 year career officer who recently retired. But do you think that what the current situation with the NSC is is almost a separate power entity within the government and sometimes almost not responsible to Congress to what the Iran Contra affairs and our military excursions with Grenada, Libya, Central America, Lebanon is there any reason to believe that we couldn't, with our `all Communists are bad' approach to foreign affairs or so it appears in many regards within the Reagan administration could we get in the same situation again? Could we, eight or 10 or 20 years after Vietnam, in, for instance, Central America, go in and and have the same outlook on a very noble cause but not ev but falling into the same type of trap with the military saying, `Of course we can do it. We can do it. We can do it'?
LAMB: OK, Bellevue. Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think that if we don't learn the lessons of Vietnam, some other kind of disaster can befall us, and Vietnam was a disaster that we brought o that that that we brought on ourselves and and that we inflicted a tragedy we we inflicted on ourselves and on the peoples of Indochina. I think that the war has changed us, at least for the foreseeable future, in that the president no longer has the ability to commit the armed forces of the United States with the freedom that Kennedy and Johnson had. Now, of course, you can make short term commitments, as Reagan has. He did in a l Beirut. This the Grenada thing was really a very limited thing. If you're talking about one a a very small o o o opponents on a on a on an island, it was a very limited thing. But in terms of a major commitment of the American armed forces, I think there is a recoiling against that that's that has resulted from Vietnam, and I think it would be quite difficult for any president, a at at least unless the issue is clear to the public, to commit the Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps and the Air Force, as Johnson and Kennedy could do, with great freedom.
LAMB: Reno, Nevada, you're next.
Caller #9: Hi, Mr. Lamb.
Caller #9: I was very interested in hearing your report from England, and it was interesting to hear one of the s gentlemen guests mention the fact that it's that the possibility of one world and also the fact that we are the we, the let's say the Western world, are the only people and not the Eastern Bloc or Russia helping out the the poor countries of this world, the Third World. So what I want to talk about today is where we're going with what happened in Vietnam. The way I see it, it was a justifiable war. It was better than there were 50,000 men killed instead of five million men going to war and being murdered by the Chinese crossing the border because, at that time, China wanted to take over, and they were willing to go to war with us except for the nuclear war. So we fought the war instead of letting the South Vietnamese.

So because I've heard so many things since this war of people like Mr. Lamb I've mentioned Mr. Horowitz's comments and how the Communists in this country were working to see that they would help the expansion of communism in the world I think one world is dangerous. One world would mean who's going to make the rules Russia? Who is going to where are the freedoms of the people? You can't have one kind of leadership. We should remain separate nations and we should stop interfering with other countries.
LAMB: OK. Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think, ma'am, if you take a look at what happened in Vietnam, you'll see it's a lot more complicated than you think. There's an incident in the book, in fact, in which John Vann's assistant is captured by the Viet Cong guerrillas, and he's on his way to a prison camp, on his way to seven years of terrible captivity in in in prison camps in the in the rain forests of South Vietnam. And one of his escorts is a 16 year old guerrilla, a a young farm boy, and he asks Doug Ramsey, who was Vann's assistant who was captured Ramsey spoke Vietnamese he asks him, `Why are you Americans in this country making war on us?' And Ramsey explains to him that we're there we were there because the we were stopping the Chinese from expanding into Southeast Asia.

And this young Vietnamese guerrilla says to him, `You're crazy. The Chinese are our traditional enemies. We're not going to let the Chinese take over this country just because we share the same form of government they do the s same type of government,' and and Ramsey began to argue with the young man, and two older guerrillas jump in and they say to Ramsey, `You're wrong and the boy's right.' And of course, what happened after the war was that Vietnam and China went to war with each other. Two Communist countries the unthinkable went to war with each other. And what you have to remember that is, after our defeat in 1975 I think what Vietnam shows us is th is that the world is an awfully complicated place and you cannot look at it in black and white.
LAMB: White Plains, New York, you're next.
Caller #10: Yes. Mr. Sheehan, I was particularly interested in in your last comment, which kind of dovetails with my observation, in in that in your book, you don't really cover the decisions of the Eisenhower administration i to not go along with the Geneva Accords and leaving it to the Kennedy administration to to figure out whether we were going to contain communism or not. I think that the the real contrast in Vietnam lies with Korea and that Truman went in with the United Nations, and if you consider a 20 year span or a 40 year span, we w sort of won in that we contained communism in North Korea. Had we done likewise in Vietnam I mean, had we acceded to the Geneva Accords and went along with the then attitude of Ho Chi Minh, maybe we wouldn't have had all this difficulty in Vietnam.
LAMB: Mr. Sheehan.
Mr. SHEEHAN: I I do deal in the in the book with the fact that the Eisenhower administration, as as far as the Geneva c Accords were concerned, sought to turn what the the provisional military demarcation line up there on the DMZ, the 17th parallel, into a into a permanent frontier and to create a separate South Vietnam. So I I do deal with it; that is, they put in power in in Saigon the Catholic mandarin, Ngo Dinh Diem. But you can't really compare Vietnam and Korea. They're two different two different situations. In South Korea, you had a nationalist government in Syngman Rhee, which had credibility with its own population. The the Koreans were willing to accept these people as a genuinely Korean government.

The problem in Vietnam so that we could solidify things. You could apply military action, defeat the Chinese and the North Koreans, and then you'd have something in South Viet in South Korea which would endure. The problem in Vietnam was that you had in Saigon a government which had which was composed mainly of people who had sided with the French during the first war, compromised themselves politically. The government was terribly corrupt and inept, and it wasn't anything you could ever build on. It was sand. That was the real problem. And so the two situations really aren't comparable.
LAMB: Putnam County, New York, go ahead, please.
Caller #11: Thank you, Brian. Mr. Sheehan, I want to thank you for a very thought provoking book. My question is essentially this: Had the war been executed according to John Vann's earliest ideas in '62 and '63, was would have the effort still have been worth it? Was the fault in the execution or in the entire effort itself? I'm not quite sure, after reading your book, where you actually come down on that question.
Mr. SHEEHAN: What I try to do in the book is to lay it out as it happened and let people come down their own way. And I'm glad you asked me the question because that was deliberate on my part. I didn't want to preach or draw those kind of conclusions. I think if you look at it in retrospect, there are two things and two things that emerge from to me, from the story, and and probably would emerge from the book if one reflected on it.

One, the entire effort was probably doomed from the beginning, because we were dealing with with a a structure in South Vietnam which which couldn't survive by itself: the Saigon government. Now, Vann, in those in that early period and I think you'd have to include his his ideas when he came back in '65, '66. John saw very sharply, very clearly then that the Saigon regime was corrupt and incompetent, couldn't stand by itself, and his idea was to not fight this big American war of attrition, because that would be applying military force in a void. His idea was to take over the country, take over South Vietnam, completely reform the Saigon regime and create a government that would have some support in its own country that could stand by itself when we left.

Now, of course, the war was fought in the worst way possible. The only thing that the American generals did was to defeat themselves, to apply all of this military force in a void. Had Jo had Vann's ideas been followed, I suspect we would still be in South Vietnam. I'm not re that is, we would have prevailed in the extent that we would have probably crushed the guerrilla rebellion in South Vietnam. I am not sure that, in the end, you could thoroughly remake a society in the way he had thought one could. He would he had come up with the most realistic solution any American could come up with in that time frame, there's no doubt about it. But whether it would have worked over the long run, I'm really not sure. I suspect it probably wouldn't have worked, and we would have ended up in South Vietnam, occupying the country. It would have ended up with a with a permanent economic drain on our resources and a running moral sore in that we would have been dominating a people who who will not accept foreign domination, and the Vietnamese are like that. That's why their communism it was like Yugoslav communism and it was like Titoism, very national as nationalistic as as it was Communist.
LAMB: Ukiah, California, go ahead, please.
Caller #12:Hi. I haven't read your book yet. It's on order, but I have a a rather general question. Why doesn't somebody in the Democratic or Republican Party stand up and say that America is feeding the evil guys? We're supporting the evil guys all over the world we we the dictators, the anti people p people. I get I get a tremendous enragement about what I feel the United States is doing all over the world doing bad things to the people everywhere by supporting the bad guys. And why isn't there somebody who will speak up in in either the Democrats or the Republican Party and say this?
LAMB: Caller, can you give us a an example or two of who you consider to be bad guys?
Caller #12:Let's see. My mind goes blank and I I'm s I I read widely, I read extensively, and I feel that we're and I my and I just have a lot of feelings.
LAMB: OK. Let me ask Mr. Sheehan if he has an do you agree or do you have a view on this?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I don't think we always suppor I don't think we always support the bad guys all over the world. I I I I think that would be an oversimplification of what the United States does in the world. The United States behaves like a big power. It behaves with often with great expediency. Now if you take a look at the sh Chinese or the Soviets, you'll see the same kind of behavior, very often. They the U United States some sometimes supports people like I suppose you could pick out people in Central America, like Somoza, who who certainly are are are I are not very good people. But at the same time, there are other instances where we do support the right people.

It I don't think you should one should blanketly condemn American foreign policy. That, to me, is is an oversimplification. The great tragedy of Vietnam one of the great tragedies of it was that it was all really unnecessary. Had the United States not started out at the beginning supporting the French attempt to reconquer Indochina, had we understood that Vietnamese Communism was also na a nationalistic force, the whole thing probably would have been the whole thing could have been avoided. And it's a terrible tragedy that it wasn't avoided.

So but I don't draw from that the inference that we're always supporting the bad guys. I think that's terribly over that that's an oversimplification. Where we do support the bad guys undoubtedly, we ought to be supporting the right people, but that's a matter of sorting it out case by case.
LAMB: Forty five minutes with Neil Sheehan to go. Atlanta, Georgia, next. Go ahead, please.
Caller #13: Hello, Mr. Sheehan. I have one question. I am a naturalized American. I am French. And I wanted to know: When the French finally pulled out, why did we pull in? Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Because we thought that, first of all, we could gather and and and maintain a nationalist government in South Vietnam in the person of the of an anti Communist the anti Communist one of the anti Communist leaders; then we brought in a man named Ngo Dinh Diem. We thought that, because we were Americans, we could really do anything. We could do anything we wanted. And we assumed that all Communist governments were the same, that they were run by i i I'm oversimplifying it, but not oversimplifying it too much we assumed at the time that all Communist governments were run by a switchboard out of the Kremlin in Moscow, that that that it the Communist world was also not as not a complicated place. And we thought that we could s organize the anti Communist nationalist forces in Vietnam and create a viable government out of them.

Now it turned out that there really wasn't an anti Communist nationalist solution that you could that a foreign power like the United States would come in and put together out of ou out of in effect, out of the air, because when you come in as a foreigner, you really don't know what you're doing. You're dealing with a local situation, and we really didn't know what we were doing. And if you read the book, you'll see that. There was a great there was great ignorance on our part, barring our intentions were to to create a nationalist government in South Vietnam which would stand against the Communist government in the North.
LAMB: Atlanta, Georgia, go ahead, please. I'm sorry. Herndon, Virginia. We just had Atlanta. Go ahead, please.
Caller #14: How you doing?
LAMB: Fine.
Caller #14: I have a quick question. I agree 100 percent with what you said about how we have a tendency to oversimplify our views, but one thing which really bothers me in the media and in education in general is that we are correctly concerned with how complicated things are with Vietnam, and yet, we're taught that World War I was started by some relatively unknown individual who gets assassinated. We're taught how World War II is is you know, this this totally unexpected surprise attack from these bad guy Japanese. We're taught, you know, how incredibly bad Hitler was and, yet, welcome Stalin as an ally a man who probably killed three times the people. I'm maybe a comment on just why is it that everything else seems so simplified in our culture and in our education except for Vietnam?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think Americans tend to oversimplify things. That that isn't to agree that that that that Stalin was worse than Hitler or vice versa. I mean, Stalin was a monster and and and Hitler was a monster. I think we we tend to oversimplify things, be part we have in the past because we tended to to we liked to think of ourselves, for example, as a simple people with simple and right minded motivations who always act from those right minded motivations when, in fact, I think we're a very complicated nation. I think it it's part of the American inability the American difficulty in coming to grips with history. And and probably it's it it may have to do with some in some ways with the way history is taught in this country. I really can't say. But I think that prior to Vietnam, in any case, Americans had a very simplistic view of the world and we tended to romanticize what happened in World War II, so some of your comments may reflect that.
LAMB: Sedona, Arizona, for Neil Sheehan. Go ahead, please.
Caller #15:Yeah. I haven't read the book, but I've been listening to the program, and I'm a Vietnam veteran as well as a Korean veteran of 25 years in the service. And I I'd like to make a couple of comments I've been in Vietnam of the Da Nang, and I think we I we couldn't win the war in the beginning and we could never win the war because we were fighting, essentially, a guerrilla war. And the United States military is not set up to fight a guerrilla war, has never been set up to fight guerrilla wars. We don't have the equipment and the knowledge. And when you combine that, that we were fighting with a nationalistic pride in in the country and the fact that we weren't equipped for a guerrilla war, we we were doomed to defeat when we started. But people in this country think that, like the author has said, we are the greatest power in the world. And the truth is, we may have a lot of power, but we cannot do everything. And I think Carter had the right idea when he made a comment at one time to the effect that we can't be the policemen of the world. And as long as we think we can, we got big problems ahead of us.
LAMB: All right. Thank you. Neil.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think you can you can overdo this, as as as as you say. I mean, we s we we obviously I happen to believe this is is is the the last best hope of man on Earth, this country. This is the best country that does exist. I think we do what Vietnam has given us a sense of is that we also have limits. And prior to going into Vietnam, we didn't think we had any limits. We thought we could do anything simply because we wanted to do it and and that it was always that it would always be right and good, also, because we Americans wanted to do it. And Vietnam has disabused us of that idea and and, I I think, disabused us of it very very painfully, and that's why it's so difficult to come to grips with the experience, but it's a very necessary one if we're to learn from Vietnam.
LAMB: For Neil Sheehan, we go to Yonkers, New York.
Caller #16: Mr. Sheehan, there's a group of us here, and one of my friends here said that they thought you were born in a Communist country. Is that so? And because I'll tell you why because we have Hanoi (unintelligible) and we have Marxist Ted Kennedy, and now we have sell out Sheehan. Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I'm sorry, but I don't see myself in that light. And if you do, that's your problem.
LAMB: What's next?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I don't really know. I have been busy with the publication of the book now, and what I'll do next, I don't know. I'm sure I'll stay busy. I I have always stayed busy and and I'll I I I probably won't write another book on Vietnam. There's no encore to this book.
LAMB: Are you tired one last question before I g grab this call. Are you tired of talking about this subject?
Mr. SHEEHAN: No, no, no. Vietnam doesn't I one I don't think a subject as important as Vietnam is one that one ever should get or one ever will get tired of talking about. I certainly will never get tired of talking about it, nor a man as fascinating as John Vann. I mean, to me, the two are are Vietnam was the most important event of who whole post post World War II period. There's no doubt in my mind about it. It's changed this country, it was an enormously traumatic event and I don't get tired of talking about it.
LAMB: Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, for Neil Sheehan.
Caller #17: Yes. I I've enjoyed your comments and I enjoy this program. It's the first time I've talked to you in about three years now. But this is a particularly subj subject that's very close to my heart. First of all, I would like to ask you, what do you think about the policies that set up the rules of engagement that so severely handicapped and restricted any military operations? And secondly, why hasn't Mr. McNamara received the blame that he should have as the architect for the disaster that we faced? Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, if you read the book, you'll see that our military operations in in Vietnam were not restricted within Vietnam itself within particularly within South Vietnam. Obviously, the the we couldn't cross the borders into Cambodia until late, and we couldn't cross the borders except in a you couldn't send American troops in uniform across the borders into Laos. You could bomb there. And a there there were restrictions on the bombing of North Vietnam, although they don't really they didn't really affect it in the end because the only target in North Vietnam that that would have would have had any effect was the population, and I don't think Americans would have wanted to kill millions of women and children.

The problem was the way the war was fought. The the m Army generals had this idea that they could it was a called a war of attrition. They had the idea that they could kill off the Vietnamese Communists faster than they could replace themselves the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. And all this succeeded in doing it was it was it was a zany idea when you look at it because it didn't make any sense. All it it did in the end was to cause the deaths of a lot of m thousands tens of thousands of American soldiers and undercut the political will at home to to carry on the war, so that when Tet '68 occurred, the surprise Communist offensive, it caused a psychological and political collapse here. And that really is the problem in the way the mil the the war was prosecuted militarily.
LAMB: Robert McNamara.
Mr. SHEEHAN: (Audio loss experienced) ...and he couldn't do in later years for for obviously personal reasons. He couldn't come to grips with I I suspect emotionally was. He never could come out and publicly say what he what he had said in secret, in private, within government. That's something Mr. McNamara was unable to do in all those later years of the war.
LAMB: Corvallis, Oregon, you're next.
Caller #18: Mr. Sheehan, I spent a couple of years out there teaching in the universities, and I agree almost entirely with everything I've heard you say. I've not read your book, but I'm going to. And looking at it from where I was, I never met any Vietnamese who said they would support the government of South Vietnam. I think that we could only have made the war bigger. I don't think we could have won it. The Chinese didn't want in the war. We went to fight the Chinese; the Chinese didn't show up and I think much to our embarrassment maybe, but we were probably fortunate. I do agree with you that I think we are likely to make the same mistake again, perhaps in Nicaragua or some other like place. I think, generally, our foreign policy i in the Third World n needs much to b leaves much to be desired.

And I don't know if I have any further comment other than I shall read your book, and I think you're doing us a great service because the Vietnamese would have died to the last man before they would ever have allowed us to stay there.
LAMB: Agree?
Mr. SHEEHAN: That that was essentially the problem in Vietnam. I mean, you you you have a a situation where the Vietnamese won't tolerate the Vietnamese are people who will not tolerate foreign domination. They're like the Irish, and in the most recent case, the Soviets discovered, the Afghans. They won't tolerate foreigners. The Vietnamese whom we supported, as I said earlier, were the Vietnamese who had sided with the French. By and large, they were the Vietnamese who had sided with the French during the first war. Now not that there weren't a l a good many really good men on the Saigon side, and a quarter of a million Vietnamese died fighting for the Saigon side. But you're right, in general. It the the society the s s sou South Vietnamese society and the government lacked a will to survive. And it lacked popular support. And that's, I think, what you were running into with the university students.

Now whether we're going to do do thi make this kind of mistake again, I don't know. I would hope we wouldn't. I would hope we would have learned from Vietnam and not make the same kind of mistake on that scale that that that we would if if we draw lessons from it. I think one has to look at Vietnam as as as let's let's contrast it to World War II.

In World War II, our soldiers brought home victory and glory. And thank God that they did because our cause then was the cause of humanity. In Vietnam we were defeated. But I think that Vietnam can be that defeat can be as valuable in in its time as victory, if one learns from defeat. And tha if we do learn from what happened in Vietnam, then the lives of those men who died there will not have been in vain. Well, I think that we have to find some way to redeem the lives of those men whose names are remembered on the wall and I and and and to to redeem to the extent one can one can never truly redeem it, obviously the the the millions who died who died in Indochina and the devastation of those those lands, redeem it to the extent one can by by by drawing wisdom from it.
LAMB: Wilmington, North Carolina, go ahead, please.
Caller #19:Yes. The the caller who was so emotional from California, I imagine, talking about how the United States' foreign policy is corrupt, though he could not list where we're corrupt in what areas but do you remember that call?
LAMB: Yes, sir.
Caller #19:I was very interested in that call, especially the due to his emotional aspect. But there is quite a number of foreign policy programs, initiated by this country that that are corrupt, and since you asked him to name a few that you can name more than you can count on your fingers very easily what we did to Iran in '54 and why for the oil; what we did to Guatamala it was '53 or was it in Iran? And then in '54 we did Guatemala in for who? The United Fruit Company, obviously. What we did to Chile in '73, what Henry Kissinger did to s Chile in '73 he ended up with the Nobel Prize for what he did in Vietnam. But what did he get for what he did with AT&T and Anaconda and Ralston Purina and Guess Who?

Guatemala in 1980, 16,000 people were dead just like that. Indians, peasants, they called them. Sixteen thousand dead. It wasn't released in the United States, nowhere in the press. But they had a UN Geneva conference on human rights which determined that Guatemala w had genocide going on in '79 and '80. It was front page news throughout Europe, if not the rest of the world.
LAMB: All right, sir. Any comment on the list?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I I really can't comment on most of those situations because I haven't studied them in detail. And I'm the kind of person who, if I haven't studied something in detail, I don't want to address it. So I'd have to just pass it. The only thing I can say is that I've tried to look at Vietnam in detail and see what happened there and and and in hopes that, as I said earlier, we'd draw some lessons from it.
LAMB: Overland Park, Kansas, go ahead, please.
Caller #20:Yeah. I wanted to address a question an earlier caller had concerning how much we've analyzed the Vietnam War. And I think it's just like a basketball game or something. You tend to analyze the losses and point fingers a lot more than you do the wins. And I think from that standpoint, if we'd looked a little bit harder at World War II, saw that by moving the Pacific fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and the MacArthur's headquarters from Hawaiian Islands to the Philippines, we'd been in a a little less of a threatening stance to the Japanese. If we'd have lost or drawn a stalemate in Europe in World War II, why, there'd been a little more finger pointing at the idea of an invasion of France and and, you know, the the meeting which, basically, Roosevelt gave Eastern Europe to the Russians in exchange for them continuing to put pressure on the Eastern front. And that's that's my viewpoint on why we analyze the loss and the tie, Korea, more than we have the wins. And I just wondered if your guest would have any comment on that. Thank you.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I I would say to you that, first of all, v I in war World War II was a war of survival. And it was an an incredible success story for this country. It was a and and it but it was also in it was in in the line of our prior wars. In American experience, wars have always been good experiences. They have been morally cohesive things, they've pulled people together morally. And and th they have been experiences in which you went off, you fought, you defended your cause or your country and you came home and you were praised for it. Even the Confederates, who lost in the Civil War, were honored in their own communities.

The problem with Vietnam was it was the it however you look at the war in Vietnam, you say that it was a war fought in the wrong way, or let's say you say that it was a war in which our cause was not just. It was a bad war. It was a terribly painful experience, as divisive more divisive than any war since the Civil War. And it's it's terribly difficult for Americans to come to grips with it. There's an awful lot of anger out there. And I think what you heard from that caller was a l that kind of anger. I mean, there's just an awful lot of anger out there.

And it's very difficult for people, therefore, to to und to to come to grips with o with with what with the reality of it. They tend to blame it on others: blame it on Lyndon Johnson; blame it on restrictions on the military; blame it on the news media. The president of CBS didn't order the Marines into Vietnam in the first place, whoever he was at the time. He didn't station the Marines at Khe Sanh. Television certainly had an impact in driving home what was happening in Vietnam, but television didn't decide how to fight the war. It was the generals who decided how to fight the war.

So you these these scapegoat myths don't stand up to historic examination. The media didn't lose the war in Vietnam; Lyndon Johnson didn't lose the war in Vietnam. It's a very complicated thing, but I think the reason it's difficult for Americans to come to grips with it is because it's just so painful. And I think we're only now beginning, after these years, to come to grips with it. And what I wanted to do but the reason I was willing to stay with this book, through the grimmest of my long years with it, was the hope that I would help my country to come to grips with that war and to finally set it to rest by facing the truth of what happened there.
LAMB: Los Angeles.
Caller #21: Yes, Mr. Sheehan, I, too, am a Vietnam veteran. By the way, you left out one of the scapegoats and we're it. But I would like to ask you a question regarding the role of the press. It seems to me that America had never really dealt with war, a aside from the Civil War had never really dealt with war on a daily basis, had never had to look at it, had never had to do everything but smell it and recognize it for what it is.

Lately, however, it seems that what has come of that is that there's been a tremendous restriction placed on the press in terms of its ability to not compromise the action itself but to be able to report the action in an accurate fashion. I would like your comments on how you feel America has since placed restrictions on the press, or whether you feel they have, as regard to their ability to report what war is. Thank you very much.
Mr. SHEEHAN: I I think that first of all, I'd like to make one comment on on on the fact that you you you said I left out one scapegoat, the veteran. I didn't leave out the the fact that the veterans have been scapegoated, although I did mention it earlier in the program. I think it's wrong that the fighting men were blamed for what happened in Vietnam. It's not the fighting man's fault. The American fighting man fought with great gallantry in Vietnam.

I recount an incident in the book, the the first battle between the North Vietnamese army and and the the US Army, which I happened to cover, at a place called the Ia Drang, and the the American fighting men there fought, for example, with great gallantry. I I think that what you're thinking of when you talk about restrictions on the media, perhaps, is the unwillingness to allow reporters into Grenada. That was the most recent example of it.

That, I think, came out of Vietnam and out of the anger that that set in as a result of of Vietnam and the bad relationship that has developed between the news media and some in the military as a result of it. It's it's twofold. You people forget that in Vietnam reporters did have military censorship. We did w you could not write about future operations. At one point in '65 and '66, when I was there, you couldn't give the exact number of casualties American casualties. You could say they were light, they were medium or they were heavy. There were a number of re the but they were mil they were questions of military security.

The argument was over whether the press was saying we were winning or losing. Now that's something you can't hide and preserve a credible news media. When people talk about censoring the news media `If we'd only had censorship, we could have won' they forget that if let's say the news media had gone to Vietnam, the television and radio, and had only reported good news. When Tet '68 occurred and the Viet Cong moved 15 battalions into Saigon, caught the American command totally by surprise, moved into the compound the American Embassy compound let's say the American news media said, `All of this is fine. Don't worry about it. Everything is grand.' I think people would have ceased to believe what they were reading in their own newspapers, and they would have ceased to believe what they were watching on television.

The news media of this country would have lost their credibility. We would have ended up with Pravda and Izvestia and Soviet television and people would have listened to s gotten their news from somewhere else because the wo the truth would have come back somehow. You have to deal with the truth. And it's only wait lately, one sees, in fact, in Soviet media that now the Soviets are beginning to believe what they read in their own newspapers because, as a result of glasnost, the Soviet media are finally printing the truth and so they don't have to get it from Voice of America. But I think this is a complicated thing and that people don't think of it in those terms.
LAMB: Hang on, Massachusetts. You're next.
Caller #22:Mr. Sheehan, I'm a Vietnam veteran and I was over there between '69 and '70. When I was a MAT team leader, and they had me the first guy I met was after going through was John Paul Vann, who had me in his office and me and some other officers. He was really gung ho at that time. And then about, oh, when I was in the Delta, about four and a half, five months later, they had me in a they brought me in from the field to at this cocktail party for Colby Andrien at the time. And, you know, he was talking to me and stuff and he was heavily drinking, whatever. And he seemed like a really depressed guy at the time. I haven't read your book, but when did he change his views on it?
Mr. SHEEHAN: John began to change his views on the war after Tet '68. And he began to rationalize things at that point. I'm surprised that you would find him drinking because he rarely drank much at all. The the he was not a man given to alcohol. The he he drank almost hardly at all. The the what happened was after Tet '68 he couldn't let go of the war and because it satisfied him so much. And he began to rationalize what was happening there. Prior to that he had a very firm grip on the fact that the war of attrition the American generals were fighting wasn't going to work. That it would just help to undercut political support for the war at home. The fact that you had to have a decent Saigon government, not the corrupt regime we had, in order to prevail in Vietnam.

But after Tet '68, he began to rationalize and say, `Well, the Viet Cong are gone. We've only got the North Vietnamese Army to deal with. Somehow we can we can we can we can crush what's left of the Viet Cong and we can prevail against the North Vietnamese.' And he began to say, `Well, it doesn't matter that the second regime is corrupt anymore. It doesn't matter as much. It doesn't matter that their incompetence we can somehow overcome all of that.' He he started to rationalize the whole situation there. And he came up with a number of the ideas, in fact, that were were put into Nixon's Vietnamization strategy, which was another delusion that you could transfer the burden of the war to the South Vietnamese and progressively withdraw the American forces in order to grain gain political tolerance for the war at home. And what happened, finally, of course, was that when the American forces were withdrawn, the North Vietnamese attacked in 1972 and the whole situation started to come apart.

The South Vietnamese panicked. By that time Vann was a general commanding the II Corps up in the Highlands; he was our first civilian general in history. He'd left the Delta and gone to the mountains of the Central Highlands and the central coast. And he stopped the North Vietnamese offensive there in a battle that I'm which I recount in the book at a t town called Kontum. He stopped the panic. He took it over himself. But he didn't see that in having to take it over himself, the Saigon system didn't regime didn't have any will to survive of its own. And so he won the battle and then he was killed a week later. He died in a helicopter crash thinking, when he died, that he'd won his war, but, of course, he hadn't.
LAMB: Baltimore, Maryland, go ahead, please.
Caller #23: Mr. Sheehan, there is such an awful unrest in the world. Do you feel it tonight from the callers? And I was just wondering, Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher seem to be making so many changes, but the changes seem to be orchestrated by a larger group. And I can remember after World War II I was reading a book, and I think it said that a group of very wealthy and influential men were forming then and they were going to make this one world. Do you believe this is happening when so much is happening in the world and no one seems to be able to understand?
Mr. SHEEHAN: I'm not given to conspiracy theories of history, ma'am. I I happen to think that history is made by individual countries and by individual leaders of those countries with, obviously, major trends and forces involved, but but trends and forces that are affected by individuals. You mentioned Mrs. Thatcher. She has changed in major ways Britain. Some people say for the better, some people say for the worst. But this is the affect of an individual. I'm not given to these con conspiracy theories of history. No, I don't think that everything's been been been planned in some big room by a bunch of wealthy men.
LAMB: Boise, Idaho, you're next.
Caller #24: Yes. Mr. Sheenan, the question that I have is more or less really a comment, I guess because it it seems to me that in your book which is a fine piece of work by the way, and I was glad to see it is that for the people of America this war is over. In your book, a lot of the programs that I've seen, this war is over for the veterans. And the thing that that I have to deal with every day and that I know more of you know, they're all over the place is that this war is not over. The the only problem is that the enemy has changed. It used to be the Viet Cong in the Delta. For the veterans the the enemy now is the American political system as far as the anger and frustration that's been caused in, like, disabled vets who can't receive aid or treatments that are they're termed anti social when, in reality, it's nothing more than anger and frustration for being really messed over and denied benefits when they get back.

My primary concern with this is like, I'm from a family where my father was in Vietnam. Then later I served. My father is now dying of Agent Orange cancer and the Veterans Administration says, `Oh, no, there's no such thing.' So he can't receive aid. My father's, well, about 60 now. I was in an airplane accident; my back was tore out. And the Veterans Administration and all this stuff they denied the benefits. It creates more anger, more frustration, not just for the veterans but for the families, for everybody around the families. It it really makes me me angry when I when I hear all these people going over to Vietnam an and it's the attitude that the war is over and it's not. And...
LAMB: OK, sir. Thank you. Neil.
Mr. SHEEHAN: I didn't say the war was over. I I said that the war was still very much with us in that the pain and is with us and we're only now beginning, I think, to come to grips with it. I can't comment on the individual cases that you you specified, your own and your father's, because I don't know the facts of them. I do think it is was was terrible that the Vietnam veteran was made a scapegoat for what happened in Vietnam. But what in in fact, the the American fighting man in Vietnam was a victim of his own military and political leadership senior military and senior political leadership. A superb Army went to Vietnam and it was destroyed there by its own senior leadership. It was the best Army we have ever fielded from the training camps of this country to the battlegrounds of Vietnam.

I mean, I saw those men go into to battle. I was extremely proud to be there as a reporter to see them. I I recount in in in the book a an example of the first battle with the North Vietnamese a at a place called the Ia Drang in the mountains of South Vietnam. One company s came in, the first day, 100 men strong. The next morning they got hit by a Viet by a North Vietnamese battalion on their side of the perimeter and only 40 men walked away unharmed. But no North Vietnamese got through that line. Those men were absolutely superb. And I think it's terrible that that they have be been made scapegoats for what happened there. I I think that that the American veteran from Vietnam ought to be treated with with extreme consideration and and ought to be helped in any way that this country can help him.
LAMB: For Neil Sheehan, we go to Dayton, Ohio.
Caller #25: Yes. Just a comment on a comment you made. You said the generals fought the war. The generals didn't fight the war. The American people in Congress fought the war. Goldwater, if you remember, said to us, `Get in there and get it over with or get out,' 11 years before the war was over. The people called him a warmonger. Congress cut off the money without giving us any way to get out of there with any respect whatsoever because of the the way the pol politics was running at the time. I'd just like for you to comment on that.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think that Barry Goldwater's solutions to Vietnam were simplistic and I don't think they would have worked. He recently said, for example, that he would have he would have won the war in Vietnam by by bombing North Vietnam into a swamp in 1965. That would have broken their will and stopped the Communists from taking over South Vietnam.

There are two things involved here. First of all, if you bombed the North Vietname North Vietnam into a swamp, you would be attacking the population of North Vietnam. You would be killing millions of women and children. Now that choice was available to President Johnson and he chose not to take it. I'm not sure the American public and the flyers themselves talking about the pilots, the airmen would have wanted to do that. Do do we want to kill millions of women and children?

Secondly, it would not have won the war in Vietnam in 1965 because the Viet Cong guerillas were winning in South Vietnam. And if we had bombed North Vietnam into a swamp, it wouldn't have stopped the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. They would have gone on to victory. The only thing that temporarily stopped them was sending in the US Army and the Marine Corps into South Vietnam itself.

So these solutions so called solutions, which were which which were propounded i in in retrospect and at the time, the simplistic ones, really just don't stand up to historic examination. If you read the book, I think you'll see that.
LAMB: Birmingham, Alabama, for Neil Sheehan.
Caller #26: Yes. I wanted to ask a couple of questions about the Tet Offensive. It seemed that when you were talking earlier that that was a loss for the US of course, I guess emotionally or psychologically it probably was, but it was a military disaster for the North Vietnamese. I've never seen any records where they gained any significant ground hold or permanent advantage from that.

And the second thing was it always seems like Vietnam is the one loss and everyone talks how we lost the war, whereas the facts, militarily, we did not lose the war. We essentially, effectively pulled out in '73, and Saigon and the rest of Vietnam really didn't fall till '75 after a gradual deterioration of cutting off aid to them and supplies. I wanted to get your comments on that.
Mr. SHEEHAN: First of all, we didn't cut off aid and supplies. The South Vietnamese had plenty of fighting equipment. The problem in 1975 was that they wouldn't fight; they ran. They fought one last stand at a place called Xuan Loc north of Saigon. But prior to that they ran because the whole system collapsed the panic broke out. That same panic broke out in 1972, as I recount in the book, and had John Vann not been there, the country would have split in two in 1972. Vann took over in the in the Highlands. He was a man of great force and great character, who by that time had become part of the South Vietnamese system as much as he was in the American system. He was kind of an American Lawrence of Arabia. He took over and won a major battle at the town called Kontum and stemmed the panic. But that panic broke out in '72 in '75, three years later, and undid South Vietnam. It wasn't the fact that the United States cut off aid.

Secondly, if if you take a look at at that earlier period of time, you will see again that it's it's not a question of us of of of these simple solutions. There just weren't simple solutions in Vietnam.
LAMB: Los Angeles, California, go ahead, please.
Caller #27: Yes. Mr. Sheehan, I just finished reading your book. I'm a Vietnam vet. I was with the 25th Division at Ku Chi in 1966. And one thing I wanted to say is the reaction I had as I was reading the book was one of rising anger as I read what you were the case you were building against Westmoreland and the way he he used American soldiers and just threw threw us away. And and this may not even be a question to direct to you. I guess what I don't understand is how, 20 years after the war or a little less than that even Vietnam veterans still invite Westmoreland to be grand marshall of their parades and treat the man as a hero. And I wonder if you could just comment a little bit about what the attrition theory was if we keep losing Americans, you know, we we might stop them.
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, the attrition theory was that and that the Army generals ha ha had evolved was that you could kill off the Vietnamese Communists faster than they could replace themselves. And you would bleed them to death, as Westmoreland said, and and break their will. Well, the theory didn't make any sense because, first of all, their military manpower pool was huge. And and once you've committed American soldiers to battle on the ground against them, what would happen was that you would run up very large American casualties.

Early on in the war John Vann saw that this wouldn't succeed. All it would do would be to run up American casualties at home and undercut the American political will to fight the war. A Marine general named Victor Krulak, a brilliant Marine general, in 1965 when we were going to war there, the big American war was starting also took a look at this whole attrition theory. He worked out the mathematics of it and said, `This isn't going to this isn't going to work. We're just going to undercut ourselves. We're going to we're going to get Americans killed off. You can't' he he calculated it would take 175,000 deaths on the South Vietnamese and American side to reduce the military manpower pool on the Vietnamese Communist side by 20 percent. The whole thing was ridiculous when he worked out the figures. But you couldn't get the Army generals to listen. And McNamara and Johnson, at that point, had faith in the Army generals. Well, what Krulak wanted to do was the same thing Vann wanted to do. He wanted to follow a pacification strategy and reform the Saigon regime.

See, the the the Vietnamese have had a history of defeating powerful invaders. Every time a new dynasty came to power in China, it would inevitably invade Vietnam. And the way the Vietnamese, and including the Monguls, who the Vietnamese def who invaded three times and whom the Vietnamese defeated in in two of the invasions were major ones and the Vietnamese defeated them. They they defeated them by wearing them down. And what the the Vietnamese Communists did to us was they would create these man traps of bunkers, complexes out in the rain forest. And our generals, following this attrition theory, would send our infantry out there again and again to take these ridges in the middle of nowhere on the theory that we were going to wear down the enemy and all we did was wear down ourselves because, of course, when you get out of a helicopter in a rain forest, you're on the same basis as that fellow who's also a well armed infantryman and and and a lot of them and the Vietnamese were living out there for months at a time. The American soldier who landed in the middle of nowhere, he'd he hadn't been there before. He didn't he didn't know anything about what he was facing.

And and our people didn't win all the battles in Vietnam as that's another myth. We won all the battles but we still lost the war. We didn't win all the battles. And even if we had, it would have been irrelevant.
LAMB: Five minutes for Neil Sheehan. We go to Columbia, South Carolina.
Caller #28: Yes, sir, Mr. Sheehan. I'd like, first, to compliment you on your book. I found it just an excellent piece of work. And have you read a book by Andrew Krepinevich? It's called "The Army & Vietnam." He has much the same ideas as you do, that that the Army leadership of essentially got everything they wanted and didn't learn anything from the war. Do you see any change in the especially in the Army any change in their ideas or views about how to win wars after the war now?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Well, I think that if you take a look at the military leadership in general, post Vietnam, you see people who are being a lot more cautious. You have well, let's take an example in the Army. The first of the Vietnam generation to become chief of staff was a general named Edward Myer. Shy Myer is his nickname. He I met him when he was a lieutenant colonel, first as executive officer and then a battalion commander in Vietnam. He served two tours there.

General Myer, as as he said, inherited a hollow Army because Vietnam just the the American Army was destroyed by the war in Vietnam, and and he had to start rebuilding it. He was a man who, in his in his views, as far as intervening abroad, was one of those who has said, unlike the generation of the '60s the military leaders of the '60s were always telling the president, `Look, just used armed force. Turn loose the Army, turn loose the Air Force, turn loose the Marine Corps and force will solve your problems.' Myer and a number of the other military leaders of his generation were saying, `You better be careful. Look before you leap. Don't don't intervene unless you know what you're doing. The the lesson isn't not to intervene at all, but you better know what you're doing before you intervene because a lot of consequences are going to follow once you do intervene.

Now whether the institutions will really learn, in a sense that they will truly see all the bureaucratic problems they have, which which created which were behind a lot of the Army behavior in Vietnam the s six months only in command the so called ticket punching. You had to have a battalion in order to to to get promoted to to full colonel. You had to have a brigade in order to get promoted to general and so you had officers rotating in and out of these command slots six months at a time learning nothing, all all those other bureaucratic patterns. Whether the Army is going to come to grips with those things and really learn from them, I don't know. I think only time will tell. And the Army is an institution, and this is truly the Air Force as well will have to learn from itself.
LAMB: Last call for Neil Sheehan. Chicago Heights, Illinois.
Caller #29: Yes, Mr. Sheehan, I never read your book, but I read a book in 1981 by a four star general in the Marine Corps who was in Vietnam and he was in Korea also. And you know very well, and I wish you'd tell the public, the reason we didn't win Korea and Vietnam. And you news media and you people write your books you kind of leave it out. The reason is is because of our detente, assault one, assault two, the American people aren't really aware of that we have rules; the enemy don't have any. We have a DMZ line. We can't take real estate. How are you going to win a war if you can't take real estate? You know that. And not only that, the general wrote a book and there's a very you probably read the book, I bet. Have you or not?
Mr. SHEEHAN: Which general are you talking about, sir, and which book?
Caller #29: Lewis Walt. He wrote the book "Eleventh Hour."
Mr. SHEEHAN: "Eleventh Hour"?
LAMB: Lou Walt.
Mr. SHEEHAN: I know General Walt and I've read one of his books. It's not it wasn't called "Eleventh Hour," though. I read an earlier book of his on on Vietnam. I think your your view of Korea is I I did know General Walt quite well in Vietnam and and and talked to him talked to him a number of times was with him quite a bit there. But to go on, I think your view of Korea is somewhat oversimplified. We had a problem in Korea because MacArthur went into the mountains of North Korea with an Army that was fu he and was fully unprepared to take on about three hundred th hundreds of Chi thousands of Chinese who were waiting for us there.

I recount this in my book because John Vann was involved in in in Korea. And we were defeated in the mountains of North Korea in the winter of 1950 and had to retreat 125 miles down that peninsula, the longest retreat in American military history. And in Vietnam, again, you have a very complicated situation with the generals fighting the war in the worst way possible the Army generals against the advice of the Marine generals, including, initially, General Walt. And so you you you have, really, a a a pretty complicated business. I'm afraid you're looking at it in a much too simplified way.
LAMB: Time's up. Neil Sheehan, the author of this book, "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam." Published by Random House. Neil Sheehan, thank you very much for coming and joining us...
Mr. SHEEHAN: Thank you.
LAMB: ...for an hour and a half of calls. And to our audience, thank you for your comments and questions. Have a good evening.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2001. 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.