Viet Nam--A Reporter's View
AN ADDRESS BY
Peter Jennings A.B.C.-T.V. NEWSCASTER
R. Bredin Stapells, Q.C.
JOINT MEETING The Empire Club of Canada The Canadian Club of Toronto
Gentlemen: Today we are confronted by a Canadian problem. This problem is symbolized by a small Canadian flag (yesterday was its second anniversary), an Eskimo print and a young Canadian in a cluttered office in New York City. That young Canadian is Peter Jennings, one of thousands of Canadians who find the opportunities and challenges greater in the United States than at home.
To illustrate the point, Mr. Jennings knew he wanted to be a broadcaster when he was nine years old. He started in radio with CFJR at Brockville, moved to CBC television and then to CTV in Ottawa. But the American Broadcasting Company recognized his talent in 1964 and now, two years later, "Peter Jennings with the News" is carried on 125 ABC network stations. He didn't want to leave Canada but the same scope simply was not offered to him here.
It is not surprising that his ambition was formed at the age of nine. Our guest's father, Charles Jennings, has been a pioneer of our national radio and TV systems and is now Vice-President of the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Son Peter has said "I am determined to be the best god damned broadcaster that Canada has ever produced. . . . No, the second best. My Dad is the best with a track record as long as your arm."
My own research vouches for Peter's opinion of his father.
And so we welcome home to the Empire Club and the Canadian Club, traditional forums of elder statesmen, a real swinger whose network sells him to sponsors as the news caster who attracts younger adults with above average intention-to-buy to compete with aging Walter Cronkite and the blasé Huntley-Brinkley team.
In the last two years, Mr. Jennings has covered major stories in thirteen countries and thirty American States in addition to two tours in Viet Nam, logging in all some 300,000 miles, and from his east side apartment in New York each day he bicycles through Central Park, pedalling towards twenty million TV viewers.
It is my pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Peter Jennings, American Broadcasting Company's TV Network anchorman, who will address us on "Viet Nam -A Reporter's View of the War and its Effects on Americans."
I was first in Vietnam in May of 1965. At that time the American troop build-up had not really begun; a few thousand U.S. soldiers were stationed there and a mission staff was "advising" the South Vietnamese.
What I remember most about that trip was the U.S. soldier and the multitude of difficulties that he was having. He had been trained to fight a conventional war with a dependence on moves like attack, retreat or hold a position. His unfamiliarity with guerrilla warfare was frightening and depressing. He could not accept the fact that this war had no perimeters, no rules and no recognizable enemy. He could not comprehend that no matter where he went or what he did the Viet Cong infiltrated him in every way. In a phrase, he was a most unsophisticated fighting machine.
On my last trip to Vietnam, American soldiers numbered about 360,000. The fighting, for one reason or another, had been largely taken out of the hands of the South Vietnamese and the American soldier was now supreme.
During the time I had been away he had become a better soldier, he had adapted in large measure to his enemy, he had learned to cope with the unfamiliar geography and customs of the Vietnamese. He had in short come to realize that this war was different.
How different was driven home to me and a group of marines on one particular day. Our mission was what is often referred to by GI's as a "slash and dash" operation but is officially known as a "search and destroy" operation. We were airlifted from Da-Nang to Chu-Lai and then from Chu-Lai about 23 miles to the banks of the Son Behn River. There were a thousand men and five correspondents--which I felt were very good odds for my own protection! We were assigned to cover a thousand-meter area and told that in the course of a day we would move 14 miles in a particular direction to clear out the Viet Cong in that area. Throughout the course of the day we did, in fact, encounter the enemy on six occasions-once entrenched, once on the run, once or twice sniping, and a couple of times dug in and ready for a fight. On each of these occasions, we overcame. We killed some Viet Cong and captured a few others, but essentially we did what was expected of us: we pushed the enemy ahead in order to secure or at least to clear this particular area.
About 4:00 in the afternoon we were coming down off the hill when we spotted a small Vietnamese hamlet. It consisted of a couple of dusty tracks, some rather flimsy bamboo huts, and rice paddies to the right and left. Except for a couple of water buffalo in the distance, we saw no sign of life.
But we took sniper fire from that village. And at that point I learned two things-first, that I could run faster than any marine in the Corps, and second, how tremendous is the effect of American fire power. The latter was a frightening revelation because we levelled that village.
In the course of a very rapid exchange of fire we killed a couple of known Viet Cong-which I thought was pretty good. We killed a young boy which I and my marine friends thought was unfortunate, but we were forced to rationalize that many civilians are the innocent pawns of war. We killed an old woman, and the same kind of attitude prevailed. And we killed two water buffalo. We offered to make amends to the parents of the boy and the husband of the woman, and we offered to rebuild the village. Then we left to complete our military objectives for that day.
Now I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that when we left with all our good intentions and all our honour, we had guaranteed ourselves that never again would we get information from that village about the presence of the enemy. I was further convinced that we had guaranteed the Viet Cong sanctuary in that village forever after. I am certain that he still uses that small area to get medicine, supplies, and arms simply because we left. We did not see our departure in terms of "destroying and disappearing" as the Vietnamese must have viewed it. We simply were not prepared, nor had we been ordered to remain among the rice paddies of that village in this peculiar war.
I heard more questions about commitment on that day, more why's and what for's and where do we go from here's than on both my tours combined. I learned for myself the frustrations of direction and policy.
The soldier's frame of reference is necessarily basic and narrow; he doesn't generally think of the domino theory or the containment policy. He has, however, seen more closely than any of us the horrors of twentieth century warfare and the age-old Asian methods of persuasion-and they have taken their toll on his conscience.
I remember wanting to convey this message to the American audience, sitting in their armchairs watching the war on film as if it were a grade-B movie.
I remember being so worked up about that particular mission and such a seemingly heartless approach to fellow humans that I couldn't get it on paper and so I asked a GI sitting next to me that night in the boondocks what he would write. "Peter," he said, "you will never impress upon Americans what this is like until a boy from every village, town and city is killed here."
In many ways that soldier was right!
Gentlemen, Vietnam is some 12,000 miles away from where I live in New York City, but there is no measurement to describe how remote the war has been from most Americans, and I suspect Canadians, too.
In 1965 there were few who imagined that within a year and a half, 500,000 of their sons would be fighting and dying for a commitment which they themselves could neither un derstand nor explain to those around them. Now after five years of continuous escalation the realization that this war exists and is a major one is finally hitting home. With that realization has come for a majority of Americans the two intangibles which form the counrty's mood today ... frustration and confusion.
With these two symptoms has grown a longer and more compelling list of questions about American foreign policy in Southeast Asia. I don't mean to imply for a moment that this questioning or lack of faith in U.S. policy has gained the upper hand, for that is far from true, but I do suggest that support is seriously wavering and that those all-out supporters of government action have a position today which is far less defensible than it was eighteen months ago.
This remoteness, this confusion and frustration astounds a reporter at first for he is at least partially convinced in his vanity that he has reported the war comprehensibly. Regrettably, that's not true and the reporter often falls victim to the same confusion as the rest. Since returning from Vietnam the last time I've visited roughly twenty states and throughout them, conversing about Vietnam, I have found an astounding variety of opinions on the war and an equally astounding variety of reasons to support those opinions.
Still, the largest percentage of Americans is in the Hawk category, that is to say that without too much question they support the Administration policy in South Vietnam. The degree of their hawkishness may vary from a temperate "hold the line where we are now" to an extreme attitude which favours going all out to win the war in both the north and the south. This latter group would not even rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The general hawkish attitude is motivated by a number of emotions none of which can be lightly dismissed. The most obvious of these is love of country, the fervent feeling of patriotism or duty which demands support of one's government in time of crisis.
The second, and this is really an extension of the first, is a fear, albeit an unsophisticated fear, of Communism. Unsophisticated because they have not changed their attitudes very much about Communism since they first heard the word. They have been unwilling or unable to separate Stalinism from Maoism ... from Titoism ... from Castroism.
I don't want to overjudge here but it seems fairly obvious to an outsider that this battlecry of the Communist threat has been at the root of most American troubles in foreign policy since the second World War.
A third emotion is a specific fear of China. Many Americans have recognized the detente which has been achieved with the Soviet Union, but now look with even more fear at China and her reportedly expansionist policies. They have been influenced by a number of factors, notably by the overworked domino theory and the policy makers
who would eliminate the nuclear capability of China NOW before it becomes in any way equivalent to the Soviet Union ten years ago.
This group is convinced that China is out to conquer the world by force. Until now they have not realized the essential difference between China's belligerence and her bellicosity. To them the domino theory is real-if Vietnam goes so do Laos and Thailand and Burma and India ad infinitum. In addition this group feels that the war is wholly directed from Peking and not Hanoi. Successful Chinese atomic tests in the last year and a half have further alarmed them, and if technical advancement does not suffer terribly in the cultural revolution successive achievements will alarm them even more.
Flying in opposite directions to the American hawk is the dove. He stands against America's original commitment to Vietnam, calls for an immediate end to the bombing of North Vietnam and the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnamese soil.
While there are various species of the dove, their one unifying factor is the question of morality. The United States, dove contends, has no moral commitment to Viet nam; the government in Washington is as interventionist as the government in Hanoi. The pure dove tends to ignore the political ramifications of America's presence in Vietnam; he sees only an Asian people waging war with crude and simple methods against the super weapons of destruction possessed by the United States. The dove emphasizes the inhumanity of involving the innocent Vietnamese who are victims of this war, while the hawk sees their plight as unfortunate but unavoidable. The dove overemphasizes what he considers American atrocities while relegating those of the other side to some backwater of his argument. He sees President Johnson as a man who is overcommitted to an unworkable and immoral policy and who for purely political reasons will not back away. He is in short the protestor. And regrettably the purist dove tends to speak out with little thought to the overall picture of Asia.
There is however another kind of protestor. He is to be found on the university campus and I think he may turn out to be the most important individual in this whole realm of criticism. I won't dwell on the long-haired, unbathed beatnik, for his eminence on the American scene is largely the result of the American news media's giving him far more coverage than he deserves. His influence and his numbers are minimal. The group that is important though is that which I would call the New Frontier youth, spawned by the Kennedy Administration, given greater credence by organizations like the Peace Corps and VISTA and the myriad civil rights groups in which he can participate. He makes his home on the American campus where panty raids and beer parties have given way to the symposium and the teach-in.
From this large group of inquiring minds has grown the most significant protest movement, if not for today, certainly for tomorrow. These Students are highly motivated. Protest ing is not just the thing to do; they are vitally and vocally concerned with the destiny of mankind and their nation's place in it. They ask, do we have the right to run the risk of another world war, let alone a thermonuclear one on a premise which is only half moral.
Perhaps the climax of last year's protest was the letter sent to the President by the top one hundred student leaders across the country. Now recall that these men and women were not out carrying signs. Rather, after consultation which in itself must have been most difficult, they were agreed on one point: the need to ask their government publicly in which direction the war was going.
In the letter which expressed their doubts about American foreign policy, they said, and I quote, "Unless this conflict can be eased, the U.S. will find some of her most loyal and courageous young people choosing to go to jail rather than bear their country's arms." Though a more detailed examination of these different groups may be valid, I feel this brief explanation must suffice, for one of the basic difficulties in this dialogue is that we have begun to talk about one another as if we lived in an aviary and that in itself is not very healthy.
What I hope I have established, however, is that disunity does exist and the time for a basic realignment of American thinking and reassessment of foreign policy in general and Southeast Asia in particular is now.
American policy in Southeast Asia has been based on a single set of assumptions which although outdated have hardly been challenged. Let's briefly review that policy.
America's whole posture in Southeast Asia has been a politically negative one. The United States has based its actions not on being for something but rather against something. That something of course is Communism.
When the United States first entered Vietnam in the early fifties it was to support the French in the struggle against the rebellious Vietnamese who were led by an up and-coming Communist Ho Chi Minh. In 1949 the mainland of China had fallen to the Communists. In 1950 the North Korean Communists invaded South Korea. In the light of these developments, the United States viewed the Indo-China war as an attempt by France to quell the spread of Communism and saw clearly that America's responsibility lay in aiding that attempt. The policy of anti-Communism was the motivating force behind the Korean War and was given an enormous boost at home with the advent of McCarthyism. The fear of Communism and its impending spread was real and all-pervading on the American scene in the 1950's.
While anti-Communism was a workable and believable policy in the fifties, it also served to blind Americans. It did not, for example, allow Americans to view the Indo-China struggle as one for nationalism; Americans saw it only as a fight against Communism which they were determined to support. The same line of reasoning, based on the fear of Communism, is all too prevalent in the United States today. The simple fact, as critics of the war have pointed out and as Canada has come to realize, is that anti-Communism per se is no longer a workable policy. More important, it is no longer believable or realistic. This is what Americans must come to realize.
A number of noted American political thinkers have already come to that conclusion. They have gained added prominence because their criticism, constructive and care fully thought out, comes at a time when Americans are hungry for and receptive to new attitudes which hold out hope for an end to this war and peace for us all.
The list is extensive but I would count among its leaders such internationally minded intellectuals as George Kennan, Edwin Reischauer, Doak Barnett, Senator William Fulbright, and Arthur Schlesinger.
Public awareness of their point of view has resulted largely from their appearances before government committees and from their recent writings. They have in fact become the popular figures in the great debate. The time is coming I believe when it is to them that the public will listen rather than to the Dean Rusks and the George Balls, the Macnamarras and unfortunately even the White House.
They have definite advantages, the most obvious perhaps is that they are not saddled with the responsibilities and pressures of making policy and therefore do not have to contend with charges of creating a credibility gap.
What is it they are saying that has become so important and increasingly popular?
At a recent session of the Foreign Relations Committee hearings Edwin Reischauer, the former Ambassador to Japan, told the Administration that they were overestimat ing both the political and the military threat of China. His remarks made headlines all over the country. Here was one of the country's most respected Asian experts challenging that entire group whose raison d'etre in Vietnam was China's threat to the rest of Asia. In the last couple of years even that anti-China group has been forced to ask itself whether China was not in fact something of a paper tiger. The news reports from China have told of the difficulties of domestic life on the mainland, of the instability of the Maoist government, specifically of the cultural revolution. There has been nothing concrete for this group to latch onto regarding Chinese support of the North Vietnamese government; there are no Chinese troops in Vietnam, there is no Yalu river. Up against Edwin Reischauer their arguments begin to sound a little faint.
What about the group who uses the cry "Communism is out to take over the world." They now have to contend with a man like George Kennan, first a former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and, most important, the father of the containment policy, that policy to which this group subscribes. Kennan says that Communism is not the united threat that it was during Korea. "The unity of the Communist block," and I'm quoting him, "is a matter of the past and will not be restored." It is like some Humpty-Dumpty which has fallen and all of the Kosygins and all of the Maos will not put it back together again.
His arguments are given even greater credence by the very element of political revolution in Vietnam which is not Communist and by the President himself. The Johnson Administration like the Kennedy one before it has recognized and encouraged Communist east European nations in their drive to be free of the shackles of Moscow. Even Moscow herself, while not yet sleeping with the United States may not be too far away from the bed.
Kennan's argument of disunity could not be more selfevident when one looks at China's almost fanatical determination in recent days to break relations with the Soviet Union in every way. It would seem to me that the very last rallying point Mao would pick for his people now is open armed support for the North Vietnamese.
Now that I have spent some thirty-five minutes talking to you about America, you might legitimately ask where if anywhere does Canada fit into all this. In fact the government and individual Canadians have stayed safely out of the dialogue within the United States. But I contend there is a place.
Arthur Schlesinger points out most urgently that Americans must not allow this war to poison their national life as Korea did briefly in the early fifties or Algeria did for France in the early sixties. The U.S., he points out, is facing perhaps the greatest test ever of her democracy.
Canada has as yet not had to face a comparable test of her democracy, but by virtue of her unique position she can still seriously influence American public opinion. First, there is her proximity to the United States, her neighbour, and secondly there is her emotional distance which historically has given her a sense of objectivity.
The combination of these two factors should enable Canadians to see clearly the misdirection of American foreign policy just as this small group of American political thinkers has come to see it.
With Canadian help, this group will win their battle for support as I think they should. This prompts me to remind Canadians that they have an obligation, but that in itself is not enough. What makes it more vital, what makes it a challenge with a meaning to Canadians is that they too have an opportunity to learn. The teachings, if you will, of this foreign affairs group will mark, if successful, the most basic change in American thinking in thirty years. I would urge you to study these men, become wholly conversant with their theorizing and then to take on what could be a most exciting obligation ... that of reshaping the thinking of a nation in trouble, a nation in need of counsel and perhaps, in five years, a nation receptive to a Canadian brain trust.
The new wave of moderate thinking in the U.S. presents a positive rather than a negative policy to the rest of the world. It has not yet, however, reached the bloodstream of America and to do so it will need a conscientious supporter. Canada and Canadians can better offer that support than anyone else.
This country has had a glorious record of doing things peacefully. I believe her influence now in support of that new American rationale could be crucial to the achievement or failure of peace and democracy. In essence I am suggesting that Canada share this test of democracy with the United States. If she thinks she should not -I suggest she is wrong.
It is not true that Canadian-American influence need only run from south to north. Too many of my Canadian friends bemoan the fact that Canada's role as an inter national good fellow, as ideal peacemaker or moderator is finished, that we must line up quietly and submissively behind the great power in this hemisphere. Those friends of mine confuse power with influence.
In terms of influence remember that while Ho Chi Minh and President Johnson fight the war, it is a Canadian, Chester Ronning, who has influence in and the respect of both camps.
America's problem is that the moderate voices of rationality, those men calling for a re-examination, have not yet emerged strongly as the dominant theme amid the chorus of dissonant sounds from both the hawks and the doves in the states. History shows us that in just such a conflict of opinion, the voice of peace is often the loser. In the McCarthy days, debate was degraded, almost eliminated.
I contend that maintaining a role on the International Control Commission is not enough. It seems regrettable that the position of neutrality, if you will, has been used by many Canadians as an excuse not to involve themselves personally in the questions surrounding the war. Furthermore, it has impeded Canadians subconsciously from taking their full responsibility in attempting to influence their American counterparts.
Paul Martin, in refusing to criticize the American position, points out that it is better for Canada to quietly pursue a peace settlement on an official and diplomatic level.
I believe that as individuals, Canadians can also pursue and practice effectively a quiet kind of influence in America on a person to person level.
It is my opinion, only as valid as the next man's, that the United States is unable to acquire peace by herself. There are three countries which could successfully bring about peace-Britain, the Soviet Union and Canada.
By virtue of her proximity and the daily interaction of our two peoples, Canada has an added responsibility. For it is individual Canadians-it is each one of you with your daily contact with Americans professionally and sociallywho can affect the thinking of Americans themselves. This may appear as a totally American war, not even a South Vietnamese one, and no business of the rest of the world. That is wrong, the war is everybody's business.
There used to be a saying here at home that when Washington sneezed, Ottawa caught the cold. If Canadians fully acted out this responsibility which I contend we have, if each of you sitting here today were diligent, strong and yet subtly influential in the call for reason, then perhaps we would all go a long way in seeing that we all don't catch nuclear pneumonia.
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. John Dinnick, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.