Panels on Wednesday (4/27/2016), the second day of The Vietnam Summit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, comprised a fascinating array of star journalists, photographers, historians, and anti-war activists. The keynote speaker this evening was Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Power of a Picture"When I first got to Saigon it was full of energy," photographer David Hume Kennerly said Wednesday (27 April 2016) at the Vietnam Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. "Saigon didn't seem to be in the war zone, but there were signs of the war surrounding it. I took a bus ride and there was a dead person on the side of the road. Not what you see in New York. I didn't even take a picture. It's like, We're not in Kansas anymore."
Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographers Kennerly and Nick Ut discussed with Moderator Angela Evans how their work affected public sentiment toward the war. Evans is the dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Ut, who was born in Vietnam and speaks with an accent, allowed Kennerly to speak for the both of them through much of the session.
Kennerly has been shooting in war zones for fifty years. He has been a photographer since he was a little kid. Kennerly said he went to Vietnam because he didn't want to be explaining why he didn't go twenty years later.
"When I first got there, [photojournalist] Eddie Adams told me there were no more good pictures to be taken. When I won the Pulitzer Prize—something I didn't know I'd been put up for—I was in Saigon and I got all these cables. One of them was from Eddie Adams, who wrote, 'I was wrong. Congratulations.'"
Kennerly's photos are archived at The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, a research unit and public service component of The University of Texas at Austin .
"Which photos do you send forward and which do you hold back?" Evans asked.
"We'd send our film with a courier," Kennerly said. "So we didn't pick and choose our pictures. Our editors did. The photos went to Saigon and were picked there and transmitted out. Of course nowadays everything is digital, so the photographers have much more control.
"The TV brought the Vietnam war into your living room, but the still photo always took the image directly to your heart. The film of the guy shooting the guy in the head. The film is out there on YouTube along with everything else. But the still picture, once you've seen it, is embedded in your brain.
Kennerly was referring to Eddie Adams’ image of a Vietnamese police commander executing a Viet Cong prisoner. Eddie Adams shot the iconic photograph just as the bullet enters the prisoner's head. An American TV film crew happened also to catch the execution, but it happens summarily and quickly, and the still photo had a much deeper reach into public sentiment in the United States.
"Nick's photo of the kid running down the road,... these can be arranged to say this is the kind of thing that happens when we go to war. I didn't look at it as a ... tool but just as informational."
"When I came back to the States," Kennerly said, "it was like there wasn't even a war going on. I kept looking around and wondering how could people be comfortable with all this. Kennerly said that he admires the Vietnamese people who came to the US after the war. "When I look around at this phobia of people coming to this country it makes me sick because the Vietnamese community has been one of the strongest elements in this society."
The photographers took questions from the audience.
"You mentioned several iconic pictures and how they were interpreted," an audience member said. "Do you have any comments on how your picture ended up? You have little control of how people view and use your pictures."
"That's the beauty of photography," Kennerly said. "Nick took the picture of the girl because it was happening. It wasn't to make a political point. I think we appreciate that our pictures can educate, make people get emotional about it, say whatever they want."
Another audience member asked, "What is the comparison between being the reporter of the camera vs. being the artist with a camera? How conscious are you of the composition?"
"That's why God created cropping," Kennerly said. "We're just happy to get something in there that we can deal with later. Artistic is not a word that goes through my mind at that moment usually."
"I fell into the familiarity hole of being in a situation day in and day out. I go to a photo fitness workout, where you go into your neighborhood and take pictures of things you just don't see. I don't think my pictures change or have become more thoughtful over the years. I do think more about what I'm doing, not as an artist, but what's a better way to tell a story.
Kennerly is the author of seven books. The most recent, David Hume Kennerly On the iPhone, was released in the fall of 2014. Previous books include Shooter, Photo Op, Seinoff: The Final Days of Seinfeld, Photo du Jour, and Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. He produced, “Barack Obama: The Official Inaugural Book,” and was one of its principal photographers.
|Moderator Angela Evans, Dean, LBJ School of Public Affairs; photographers Nick Ut and David Hume Kennerly; at the Vietnam Summit, LBJ Presidential Library, 27 April 2016.|
Secretary of StateWednesday evening Secretary of State John Kerry made the keynote address of the Vietnam Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. He was introduced by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who also served as the top fund-raiser of the John Kerry presidential campaign.
"John Kerry voluntarily enlisted in the US Navy," Barnes said in his introduction, "serving two tours of duty, earning a silver star, a bronze star, and three purple hearts. He became a veteran speaking hard truths against the war. As a senator he served on Foreign Relations Committee."
Kerry said that his official topic was the Vietnam war remains a complicated and controversial part of American history, but "it occurred to me that the thing to do wasn't to give a long keynote address as billed, but to give a few observations, then to have Ken [Burns] ask a few questions."
"The Vietnam War calls for a serious analysis of what happened, but it also calls for us to feel what we feel in our gut," Kerry said and invoked "Santayana's famous warnings of what happens to those who don't remember to the past.
"There were mistakes in leadership, communication, strategy, basic assumptions about the war. So it's no surprise that public support disappeared at a critical time.
"Our veterans did not receive a welcome home. Nor the benefits nor the treatment that they not only deserved but needed. The vets themselves had to fight a whole new round of battles. Fights for benefits. Fights to deal with trauma. Fights for a memorial that they deserved.
"When we talk about Vietnam, here is lessson #1: whether a war is popular or unpopular, we must always treat returning vets with the dignity they deserve.
"We were right to work hard, and in some cases we are still working, to go forward from the divisiveness of the war. We were right to welcome the many Vietnamese refugees after the war.
We were right when the Supreme Court upheld the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
Kerry has been involved in the attempts to account for and recover the remains of American soldiers who never came home. "The accounting," he said, "tells you something remarkable about the remarkable openness of the Vietnam people. They helped us search for the remains of American troops even though they lost a million of their own. The Vietnamese did so because they wanted us to move beyond the war. They let us into their homes, their history houses, their jails. On more than one occasion they guided us across mine fields.
Kerry said that on this trip to Texas he had visited George H.W. Bush yesterday in Houston. Along with Brent Snowcroft, Bush has been working with Vietnam to find bodies of American soldiers still Missing in Action. Kery described a 30-foot-deep pit, in the wall of which was the detritus of a C-130 where they hoped they might find the remains of soldiers.
Outlining some of the peaceful ties between the US and Vietnam today, Kerry said there are nearly 19,000 Vietnamese students studying in the US, and he mentioned a Fulbright School that exists today in Ho Chi Minh City.
"If we forget," Kerry said, "we cease to learn. The tragedy of what happened in Vietnam has to be a constant reminder."
Afterwards Ken Burns asked Kerry several questions about Vietnam not as it is now but as it was during the war.
A Ken Burns DocumentaryAn afternoon session of the Summit featured a Conversation with Documentary Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The co-directors shared scenes from and discussed the making of their upcoming ten part, eighteen hour PBS series The Vietnam War.
"Vietnam would complete a trilogy with The Civil War, The War (about World War 2), and the Vietnam War. But we decided to do it in a different way." Burns explained that the Vietnam War would include interviews with American soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, and Vietcong.
"The Vietnamese government let us come in with our cameras and talk to the people of our choice," Novick said. "We just started talking to the American War generation there."
At first they had older men who were all dressed in more or less the same way, carrying the same medals, and giving the same speech. It seemed likely they were getting an official story, but eventually a few people expressed independent minds.
"This will be our most controversial work," Novick said.
Speaking of the Civil War, Burns said, "In the presence of the enemy, who happen to be our brothers, we have to drop our assumptions." But it becomes immediately clear that Burns isn't speaking merely of a war in a country divided within itself, but of the divided brotherhood of humanity. In a war, Burns said, the leaders feel it's very important to make the enemy just bad, which is a way of reducing people to nothing.
"I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Ann Arbor had the teach-ins," Burns said, speaking of coming of age during the war. "It consumed our country. By the time we get four or five decades away, when you can get some historical triangulation, you get where you realize that a lot of the things you believed are just not true."
The War at HomeAn afternoon panel featured historians and a social and political activist to examine how the war divided the nation and shaped American culture, but the time was so short and the topic so ambitious that they had barely started before they had to stop. The panel included Tom Hayden, politician and anti-war activist; David Maraniss, author (They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967) and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post Journalist; Marilyn Young, author (Vietnam Wars 1945-1990) and professor of history at New York University. Robert Schenkkan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright (All the Way: A Play), moderated the panel.
Young began with some critical observations of Kissinger, who was the keynote speaker the night before. Kissinger blamed not the nature of the war but the split in opinion in the US for the quagmire in Vietnam. She pointed out how egregious events in the war eroded support for involvement.
She pointed out that the US had an early, post-WW2 relationship with Ho Chi Minh. They were working together to fight the Japanese. After the war, Ho asked for a developmental support and reciprocal economic exchange with the US, but the US missed the opportunity. She also strongly disagreed that Nixon's bombing inside Laos and Cambodia was limited to a five-mile strip along the border as Kissinger had said.
The moderator, Schenkkan, rose questions about how America's obsession with race prevents it from focusing on class distinctions. "The war changed Americans' awareness of class," he said. "We talk about the draft, but not about who actually got drafted and who didn't. We think of this as an egalitarian society, but how true is that?"
"The working class is fighting the wars," Maraniss said, "and the policy makers are coming from another class."
"Martin Luther King was shifting from a black people's march to a poor people's march," Young said, "and that's when he died."
|Dan Rather and Peter Arnett|
In another afternoon session, television news personalities Peter Arnett and Dan Rather spoke about about the often tense relationship between journalism and government. Andrew Sherry, Vice President for Communications at the Knight Foundation and a former foreign correspondent, moderated the panel. Sherry has worked in Hong Kong, Hanoi, Pnomh Penh, and other parts of Asia.
"The policy of all four presidents during Vietnam attempted heavy handed manipulation of media," Arnett said. "Even in 1962 there was a credibility gap plaguing military and media relations that worsened as time went by. And the South Vietnamese Secret Police arrested and beat American journalists."
Rather went back and forth between Vietnam and New York. The first trip was in October 1965 and lasted about a year. He went three times after, but not for as long. On a combat operation at Tam Ky he saw the first wounded american he'd ever seen in combat.
"The longer you were in Vietnam," Rather said, "the more you said what I'm seeing isn't what the politicians are saying."
"What was the impact your reporting was having in the US?" Sherry asked.
"There was a 180-degree difference between government statements and press reportage," Arnett said. "In 1962 Senate leader Mike Mansfield visited and lectured the press on their reportage."
"What made the press/military relationship in Vietnam so different from that in Korea?" Sherry asked.
"We could go anywhere in Vietnam we wanted to go," Rather said. "We were basically in the hitchhiking business. The military in Vietnam war was eager for correspondents to see the war as it was. But on the question of censorship, there was censorship in World War 2 and Korea, but not in Vietnam. But here's the point: they didn't want correspondents to see combat."
"All too often," Rather observed, "the corporate leadership doesn't have a sense of the value of the Press to american society."
"It was only in the later stages," Arnett said, "under Nixon that the tension started to materialize between the military and the press."
"The military had learned some good lessons from Vietnam," Sherry said, "like how to define an objective and pulling out afterwards."
"From the time we got to the invasion of the Iraq war," Rather said, "by and large by the time we reached that point, American Journalism had lost some of its moxie. We got caught up, questions arise in your mind, if you raise the questions you're gonna pay a heavy price. To ask the tough questions, the tough follow-up question, you're gonna have a sign placed around your neck, 'unpatriotic,' 'bolshevik,' or whatever. Every journalist knew it, but nobody wanted to talk about it. If you don't get on board with the invasion, it's like the burning tire they put around people's neck in South Africa."
"In Iraq," Arnett said, "you couldn't photograph wounded Americans, but you could go all over country."
"By the time we got to the Nixon administration, a president who did deal in deceit, the reporters were skeptical. Not cynical, but skeptical."
The reasonss the president said for going to iraq were not true. we had good reasons to question it.
Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, covered Vietnam for 13 years for the Associated Press, from the buildup of advisers in the early 1960s to the fall of Saigon in 1975. He penned two thousand news stories and has written several books, including memoirs Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zones and Saigon Has Fallen.
Dan Rather, former CBS News Anchor and Journalist, spent 43 years at CBS, 24 of which as anchor and managing editor of the CBS evening news. In his early days with CBS he often reported from combat zones inside Vietnam. His books include Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News and The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist.