Monday, December 10, 2012

Brent Scowcroft Remembers the Fall of Saigon

BRENT SCOWCROFT INTERVIEW: Raw uncorrected transcript of tapes

Q. To begin, if we're to account for the final collapse, would you begin with the Paris Agreement? Or would you go back even before that? Would you go back to commitment of troops?

There's no absolute point to start. I think I would start with the Paris Agreement for this reason. I think my own judgment was at the time of the Paris Agreement, that it was an open question as to whether or not South Vietnam could survive. That it was not inevitable that it should take the course that it did. I think, as a matter of fact, for a year or so, I think there was an increasing sense of confidence in South Vietnam. Very fragile, but they were getting more and more aggressive. As a matter of fact a lot of the so-called violations were really by the South pushing the terms.

Then I think what really happened was the continuation of the pressure in the United States to disengage. The appearance of Watergate and the President's preoccupation, and a gradual realization on the part of Thieu that we probably were not going to stand behind him in the way he had expected. And I think then, when the Congress cut the appropriations I think he decided he couldn't sustain defense of the whole country and had instead to just defend the populated areas. It was obviously a fatally wrong decision.

Q. During the Paris Peace Talks, what was your position?

I had joined Kissinger as his deputy in the NSA on January First, '73, just before. And I'd come out of the Pentagon.

Q. What was your title?

His deputy.

Q. There's one thing that is still debated and I don't know the truth of the answer -- the effectiveness or the impact of the Christmas bombing.

I think it was enormously effective. I think it, in fact, made the Paris Accords possible, I really do. I think it demonstrated what was necessary in order to make the North Vietnamese realize that they had in fact to bargain with the Administration and could not go behind the back of the Administration and work their will through the people and through demonstrations and through friendly congressmen and so on.

The election, I think, also played a role.

Q. What about the world press response. What that effective at all in discrediting the administration or arousing the peace movement in the United States?

It did do that. I don't think it had that much of an impact on Nixon. Strangely enough he was at his best when he was most embattled.

Q. There's an irony involved in this too. The Vietnamese say they believe if those bombings had continued for another week -- if they were so effective in getting the north back to the table they could have turned the balance.

We actually quit too soon, no question about it. What had happened, the Vietnamese had just about exhausted their defensive capability. They had nothing left. And therefore we could have operated with almost total impunity as compared to the heavy losses they took.

Q. The destruction on the ground was not as expensive as the destruction in the sky -- in other words what the B52s destroyed was less expensive than the number of B52s destroyed by SAMs.

Possible, yes.

Q. But the loss of the B52s didn't have the effect of stopping the bombing itself? No one said this was uneconomical?

I can't really say. It was a shock to the military.

Q. The Peace Movement said this was a carpet bombing.

It was not a carpet bombing. It was amazingly precise. The number of people killed even by their own statistics are minimal -- certainly it was not carpet bombing. It was highly accurate.

Q. That was one of the reasons for the heavy casualties, was it not?

Yes. Absolutely.

Q. Arnold Isaacs in his book on Vietnam [Without Honor] also says it was equally important as a boost for the morale psychology of the South Vietnamese government.

I think it was to do two things. It was to convince the North Vietnamese that they couldn't play games, and I think it was also to tell Thieu that while the terms were not what he would like to have had, that we would, in fact, back him up and that we would be there if the North violated.

Q. Was it your understanding that the B52s at U Dapao, and Guam and the fighter bombers at Na Nam Penom???? -- people have told me, if we weren't going to use them we certainly paid a lot of money to stick them out there. Did you believe that they might be used? Did there come a time when you believed that they would not be used?

Let me put it this way, I think had it not -- and this is just a guess -- had it not been for the public emergence of Watergate in the early months of '72, that in fact they would have been used. When it became apparent that the Ho Chi Minh Trail was just a dumper, just pouring -- I think they would have been used.

Q. I had Vietnamese pilots tell me that in those last days of early April they looked down and said the whole North Vietnamese Army was there in the open, just a fat snake waiting to be chopped up and they had no way of doing it. Colonel LeGro said fighter bombers or B52s could have -- B52s weren't even necessary he said, fighter bombers could have done the job.
When you went back to the peace table then, I know Le Duc Tho had one story, but did he seem shaken by the Christmas bombings?

All I can do is say, I was not involved in the sessions. I didn't go over. Henry said it was the nicest meeting they ever had, friendly, civil.

Q. Why the definition of all foreign troops out of Vietnam, and then the non-inclusion of North Vietnamese regular army divisions or the exclusion of them from the definition of foreign troops? How deeply bothered were we by that? Because to the Vietnamese that was it.

I think we were bothered by the rationale that you couldn't replace, and that if in fact by the peace terms eventually those forces would have to be withdrawn.

Q. So would you say in the end, by our philosophy it was a face-saving gesture?

No, I don't think it was so much a face-saving gesture. It was something I think we would have preferred not to do, but that if other things worked out it was manageable by itself.

Q. The treaty then is signed. Some of the Vietnamese put pressures on President Thieu, going so far as to say that if he did not sign his fate could be that of Xiem. Was an unduly large amount of pressure necessary on Thieu or did he understand the reality of American politics?

That's a value judgement and I really don't know the answer to that. He really did react very strongly when Alexander Haig took the terms over to him. That's one of the reasons for the collapse.

I think in a sense he was a realist and the terms put him in a difficult position. Yeah, his arm was twisted, how much we never would have gone the Diem route. No, because both Nixon and Kissinger felt so strongly at the mistake of trying to play that kind of game with Diem was the beginning of a disaster.

Q. How well did -- people said this ICCS was such a farce --

Yeah, in a couple of cases it worked but by and large it was.

Q. I can't understand why no one would foresee that the Poles, the Hungarians, the Canadians and whoever, would ever reach an agreement.

I'm talking, not from direct experience, but I think in a sense the assumption was that the Soviets probably, while they didn't want us to win in Vietnam, wanted us out of Vietnam, were not at that point with detente cooking and so on, were not interested necessarily in humiliating us and therefore the Poles and the Hungarians would be expected to be cooperative. And in a couple of cases it worked.

Q. In those next months then, working with the Secretary of State, did you go out to Vietnam?

No, I've never been to Vietnam.

Q. 1973 went well, then in December '73 there started to be trouble with funding. When did you first begin to become gravely concerned. Do you remember a point where you were looking at reports coming in?

It was into '74. I think '73 was a pretty good year, but then starting in '74 was disquieting signs. But not all that bad.

Q. Were the disquieting signs just supply problems from the United States?

Yeah. In some cases, and growing signs of concerns supplies weren't showing up and the consequent erosion of morale as a result.

Q. Was corruption a major consideration for congressional opposition to funding? Was the issue of corruption?


Q. McCloskey told me the basic idea was that no matter how much we send out very little of it is used and most goes into people's pockets.

McCloskey was a zealot.

Q. With Ford coming into office, you saw a nuance of change?

There was a nuance of change. Not from Ford himself, but in people Ford brought with him there was a strong argument to him saying, "Look, this is not your war. This is not your problem. Don't grab that tar baby. Walk away from it. It can only drag you down as it has everybody else. So don't stand up and fight."

Now he didn't follow that, except for one speech in New Orleans near the end. Or it was Temple. They got to him on the airplane. He had a speech written and changed it in the air.

That's the most overt manifestation of this tugging at him, but in fact with that one lapse there was no change. He was a tower of strength in those days. He stood virtually alone, certainly against the Congress and even within the Executive Branch. I believe with the exception of Henry Kissinger there wasn't anybody who was not advocating a quick pull, but he held off and delayed and delayed and delayed so that we could get as many of the Vietnamese who had put their trust in us out.

Q. One of the interpretations of this in Isaacs, I think, was the fact that if there was major disaster or eventually a whiplash effect that he wanted it to look like it was Congress's fault and not the Executive's fault. In other words there was a political motivation to it not just moral motivation. The support of funds, for example, was hopeless from the beginning. The fact is the reason he supported it was because he wanted the onus of the no funds going out to be completely on the part of Congress. He proposed things that weren't realistic only so Congress could turn them down.

No, that's not true. The last annual appropriation for a million four, Congress cut that and he sincerely fought for a million four. Then right at the end the supplemental that was asked for had, I think, a couple of purposes. One was to try to stabilize the situation temporarily, give pause to the North, give Saigon the sense that they weren't actually being abandoned, with the possible backlash against Americans still in Vietnam, but to allow time for a graceful withdrawal rather than a rout that could have harmed Americans and also would have resulted in the abandonment of a lot of Vietnamese friends.

In that case it's probably true that there was no reasonable expectation that we would get three hundred and fifty million. I think there was some hope that we would get some, but I don't think -- I would say that's not accurate that it was just "stick the Congress". That motive, in general, there was a lot of bitterness and frustration with the Congress, but I don't think that was the purpose, but it was to allow a graceful termination.

Q. The communists admitted eventually that seizure of Song Be and Phuoc Luong Province in early '75 was a test to see what the Administration would do. Do you remember any debate as to what American response should be? Because our response was no response. Was there any consideration of responding?


Q. Then the congressional delegation went out the end of February and March. When they came back did you meet with them?


Q. Did they accomplish anything? Did they find what they went out looking for? Was it useful to have visiting dignitaries?

I think that they learned a little in that they were -- my impression is they were somewhat less virulent after they came back, less violent, a little more understanding. I remember we had an unpleasant session. But even Bella Abzug [to soft to hear???]

I don't recall it changing any minds at all.

Q. General Fred Weyand is sent out the end of March. He looked over the situation. He was sent out directly by the President and came back. How did his briefing go? Was anybody coming back and saying "My God, this is a disaster of tremendous proportions?"

Oh yeah. Well, Weyand came back and -- I think before he went we had the sense it was all over, but he was sent in part to verify that and in part to ascertain whether or not, for example, if we could get some amount of money whether it would be possible to stabilize the situation and to rescue the metropolitan area.

Q. Did he favor the aid?

He favored the aid for stabilizing.

Q. How good was our intelligence that Thieu decided to withdraw from MR2 and MR1.

I was totally surprised.

Q. Shock? Of course we weren't advising on anything like this. But he didn't give any indication that this was in mind?

Not as far as I know. If he did I don't think it ever got to us. It was a disasterous thing.

Q. Disastrous in execution or disastrous in concept?

In concept. For this reason: I can understand his rationale for doing it, but from a military standpoint there is no maneuver that is more complicated and difficult than a withdrawal. Besides the technical aspect it puts terrible pressure on the morale of anybody, which was fragile. Second, to imagine that troops were going to withdraw and leave their families behind was unrealistic. What they did is just walk out from their units and go get their families.

It was a lousy decision to make. However, you can understand the rationale for making it.

Q. Everything just collapsed from that point on -- and our people were getting trapped --

Well, it just snowballed then. But I think for obvious reasons. This fragile sense of morale and confidence and so on, just broke like an eggshell. And when it did there was nothing left and everybody just turned to "How do I save myself?"

Q. Was anybody in the Administration at that time saying that the B52s must save the situation? The Seventh Fleet must save the situation? Our planes are in place, they're out there. I'd heard people say if it hadn't been for Ford's hundred day pardon of Nixon, he could have had the power to use the B52s. Various people come up with different theories. I don't know how much independence Ford had at that time. Was there any support for use of B52s?

Not seriously.

Q. So we were just observers by that time.

Well, you know, it would have been a violation of law.

Q. It would have been violation of our law, but we disregard the violations of the treaty on the other side. That was fairly clear. Nobody was under the illusion that the treaty hadn't been broken by the other side?

No, that's right. But the mood of the Congress was unmistakable.

Q. How did Congress get that way? Was this a gradual thing?

Yeah. The notion that has grown up in retrospect that LBJ pulled the wool over the eyes of the Congress and they were dragged unknowingly into an enterprise they didn't understand or support, I think, is a crock. They were on board fully until the thing went on and on and was not successful, then they started to bail out. But it wasn't this executive run amok and so on.

Q. Was anybody at this time equating South Vietnam with Berlin? The Vietnamese will say they had no champions in the world. There was no other country in the world that stood up for them in the end. They were alone.

That's true.

Q. So nobody was saying this is Berlin, or South Korea, no metaphorical --

Yeah, there were attempts at it, but it didn't work. The Congress was increasingly hostile.

Now, you talk about the American people. I'm less certain that the American people as a whole had turned against -- when Nixon appealed to the people he never lost. But clearly the Congress, reading what they were getting from home thought that the American people had. I don't know what he could have done.

Ford was in such a difficult position. The Watergate trauma, the pardon, and all of that. For him, under these circumstances, to violate the law, right after a President was nearly impeached was asking for it.

Q. Could he have gone to Congress and asked for an emergency repeal of the law?

Well, that's what he could have done. I don't think it would have worked.

Q. Was there talk of him going on television?

Yes. That's one thing he didn't do. Kissinger pushed that.

Q. I don't remember how effective he was on television in those days.

He knew how to speak.

Q. There is a criticism at this time of the President going to Palm Springs and he's there when the C5A carrying the orphans crashed. I think the news reporters tried to talk to him on the golf course and there's the episode of him running away. They held a microphone up and he kind of dashed away from them. I don't know whether it was the reporters fault or his fault or everybody's.
On the orphan lift were you taking much flak on that? Or was that a fairly straightforward operation? Because here I remember the propaganda that these were not really orphans, these kids were being kidnapped.

No, I don't remember all that much.

Q. In this critical period was it wise for the President to be in Palm Springs? Or am I wrong, did Washington see it as an extremely critical situation?

Well, I think it was not a crisis in that sense. It took some time as the whole thing unraveled. When Weyand came back he saw him. I didn't go out there. I stayed in Washington. Yeah, I'd say he didn't enhance the sense of urgency by going.

Q. Was the message traffic from Palm Springs to the White House and from there to CINCPAC? Or can you go direct from Palm Springs?

You can but by and large you don't.

Q. What about Graham Martin out there? He's a controversial figure having to do with him being in touch with reality.

Martin was difficult to work with, but he was tough as nails. And I think, by and large, he did a fine job, because what he did by the strength of his presence and by the confidence he exhibited in the Vietnamese -- whether he actually felt it, I don't know -- but he kept saying right up to the last that it's not hopeless, yeah they can do it. I think he did a lot to prevent a collapse entirely. I think he did a fine job. He was a very controversial figure. Maybe in part lost touch. He was difficult for us to deal with. By and large, I think it would have been hard to find a person more suited for that position.

Q. In March he came out and met with the Secretary of State and Congress. You found him to be on top of things?

Oh, yes.

Q. Now when Mr. Kissinger was interviewed for the PBS series, he defended Martin by saying, I believe, that we had intelligence information that indicated there might be a bloodbath out there if they thought we were leaving prematurely. The South Vietnamese would turn on the Americans.
I keep running across this -- I think it's the tip of an iceberg.

I don't know if it's a real iceberg underneath that tip. I doubt it.

Q. Some of the Air Force people told me they thought they removed their families because they were worried about the safety of their families, but then they discovered later or concluded later their families were removed from Vietnam because the U.S. wanted to hold them hostage in case the Air Force turned on the Americans. In other words the Air Force seems to be the group that believes themselves to be suspect. You had no indication of that?


Q. However we did have intelligence there might be a turn on the Americans? Organized, I should say.

That was a live issue that was debated. Whether or not it stemmed from intelligence as opposed to judgement of people like Martin, at this point I can't tell. That was a live issue. If we just dropped everything and ran, tried to, the Vietnamese troops could easily have turned against the Americans.

Q. What about the invocation of the planning for Frequent Wind. Practice for evacuation had started as early as December of '74 if not earlier. They were well prepared for that type of operation. Phnom Penh went so well, went off without a hitch. I hear a lot of complaints from the Marines about Saigon that everything was bungled, that message traffic was bungled, it began too late, that it should have begun earlier, three or four days earlier on a small scale and been better organized.

Well, as I say, President Ford held off just as long as he absolutely could. Every day that he held off let that many more people be evacuated. At terrible risk. Because if he had been wrong, and held off a day too long, he would have been individually responsible for --

Q. Maybe we did hold off a day too long. Four hundred and twenty-four people left standing in the embassy yard -- that's only a few more helicopters.

Not Americans.

If we'd kept the helicopter lift going three or four more days we still would have left some. We left thousands and thousands of people we would like to get out. I think you can say, yeah, maybe we have a few more days. On the other hand, maybe he was running a risk higher than he should have by waiting as long as he did. I don't know how you come to a judgement like that.

But I would say that it was on deck. We couldn't have held out much longer without running a risk that was imprudent. But to do it earlier, sure would have made it easier for the Americans, but it would have kept people getting out by other means.

Q. Was there an agreement with the North Vietnamese? I keep hearing that. The North Vietnamese was so close in range of the operation and nothing happening. Was there any understanding there?

Well, yes and no. Actually some helicopters were shot at.

Q. But we don't actually know who shot at them.

Yeah, but there are stories.
We went to the Russians and asked them for assistance in permitting an orderly withdrawal. And they came back and gave us an indirect way of saying Okay. Now whether in fact the North Vietnamese paused long enough to let it happen. Whether they felt they had at that point after the victory at Xuan Loc, to pause to regroup for an assault on Saigon, I don't know.

I don't know what happened, but in fact, there was a pause. It could have been worse, of course.

Q. Was this a request made through channels, or through the telephone.

Through the embassy????

Q. Okay, and they were friendly, they didn't say you'd made your bed, now lie in it?


Q. There was a hell of a lot of flak over Ed Daley and World Air out there in the last days. Eventually the State Department asked World to get out.

He was grandstanding.

Q. So he was part of the problem, not the solution.

Absolutely. I had forgotten all about him.

Q. World was important because it was carrying rice over to Phnom Penh.

Oh, yeah. It was an important contract carrier, there's no question about that.

Q. When Thieu resigns on April 21st, did we have any advance warning of that? Were we encouraging, discouraging? How was the message traffic on that?

There was a lot of message traffic. Martin was speculating on whether Thieu would step down and if so, . . . ???cant hear him???. .. .
My recollection is that by and large we were bystanders.

Q. Were there any guarantees? I know he flew out on an American plane. There's all kinds of myths about that. Not only he went out but his whole entourage including Cao Vien on the same plane. Did we guarantee him a flight out, or anything? People at the airport said he wanted a second plane to carry out his new Mercedes Benz. How high up did the authorization go for taking care of him?

My guess is it was local.

Q. We didn't offer him sanctuary in the U.S.?

I don't think so. There may have been something, and my memory doesn't extend this far, but there may have been something that Graham said. I'm not sure. So don't use me as a source.

Q. You were not hopeful that would happen?

Oh, no. We were keeping up a brave public front, but by then we were trying to keep the withdrawal from becoming a rout.

Q. Now on the night of the 28th, Xuan Van Minh was sworn in as President and they bomb Tan Son Nhut and destroy the runway so fixed wing C130s can't take off. The next morning Martin drove out to the base, went in, looked it over, and then I believe he went into LeGro's office and called you on a secure phone at the White House . . . .

((End of side A. Begin side B.))

. . . as long as we could in terms of the volumes of people we could get out. (((HIs voice getss too soft to hear over the scratchy noise on the tape)))

Q. Did you have final authority to invoke it or did you check with the Secretary of State?

Oh, no. Checked. ((Unclear, voice too faint.))

Q. When you give an order such as this at such an important historical moment, are you aware at the time this is historical?

No, not really, because one of the things you've got to remember is that a couple of weeks earlier we'd gone through Phnom Penh and saw this was coming.

Q. Phnom Penh. Certainly we never planned to bring our people out of the embassies by helicopter -- that has to be the first time in American history that was done.

There are always in every embassy alternative evacuation plans.

Q. I can't remember any like that before. Did this weigh on your mind at all? Of course the Iranian thing comes after all this. Were we entering a strange new world? Did you ever sense the United States beginning a long period of humiliation?

Yes. It was a major concern. The United States appeared to be through in Asia and that the withdrawal from Phnom Penh and Saigon would be interpreted as withdrawal of U.S. power in Asia. If you go one step further, __ (((Much too soft to understand)))

Q. What if -- was there a contingency plan for Frequent Wind being interrupted. If the Russian agreement didn't work, if there had been active intervention was there a plan B?

As I recall, the plan was, how many Vietnamese we could fit in to the whole operation. The longer you went, the more extended Frequent Wind was, the more Vietnamese you could get in and if it looked like we were running out of time, then we would squeeze it down and fewer Vietnamese would have got out.

Q. Initially Frequent Wind, there was no set number was there?

There was no set number, because we didn't how long we could operate. And originally we had two sites and we did the best we could.

Q. You were in constant contact with the embassy during the operation or with CINCPAC?

It varied.

Q. It was invoked at eleven a.m. Saigon time, which was eleven p.m. Washington time. So you were up all night that night.

I remember somebody in CINCPAC screwed up the time. And at the time the first helicopters were anxious as to whether or not they would meet opposition going in. We waited for an hour longer than we thought and had heard nothing.

Q. Boy you just cleared that up. (((Larry, I hope your notes are good, because he is hard to hear and didn't clear it up for me.)))) That was a real screw up out there and the Marines never could figure out what was going on.

We kept saying we haven't heard, what's going on, and it turned out somebody had countermanded.

Q. Or the time zone differences.
Now, the President was back in Washington at that time. So where would you be during this operation?

In the White House.

Q. Was the President and the Secretary of State up during the entire evening? Or was there no reason for that?

I can't -- as I recall, they did not stay up all night. What I did eventually is stretch out on a couch in my office. I stayed in to the end. They stayed to two or three o'clock until we had started the evacuation and it appeared that it was operating smoothly.

Q. Two helicopters were lost?


Q. You got word exactly when those went down, as the story goes. Did they have something to do with the President saying that the Ambassador had to be on the next helicopter? How did that order come about?

There was a real screw up on the last two. The situation as I recall -- they were afraid the situation was going to get out of hand in the compound and that the Marines would be unable to keep order with all the people clamoring to get on the helicopter, and that we therefore had to shut it down. We just couldn't maintain order.

I think this was an assessment probably by the Marine commander. But there was some confusion about -- in fact we announced to the press that the last helicopter had left and it turned out that we had left some people behind.

Q. Yeah, all the State Department staff did not get on the helicopter with Martin. There had to be another helicopter for them and another for the Marines after that.

I remember we sent a note to the Press Room that the last helicopter had lifted off. So there was a lot of communication foul ups.

Q. When it was all over and the last helicopter arrived -- so there was no determination that simply because we lost helicopters, and it had gone on long enough and the pilots were exhausted that it should stop. It was the fear we could not control --

That's my recollection. It was the fear that the situation was becoming terrible???

Q. When it was over, was there a meeting in the White House to evaluate it, immediately after? Or do you just go home and go to sleep?

Go home and go to sleep.

Q. What was your feeling going home then? Do you remember?

Mixed emotions. An overall sense of depression that the country had terminated a major enterprise unsatisfactorily. But some sense of exhilaration that for a month we had been under enormous pressure to evacuate sooner and the satisfaction of knowing we had done everything that we could to get every possible Vietnamese out.

Q. Did you have any final exchange with the Secretary of State? Was the President up when the order was given?

Yeah, that was three o'clock in the afternoon.

Q. Right. Is there any congratulations to you from the President or the Secretary of State?

Yeah. Well, I think a sigh of relief, we got everybody out. It was no disaster.

Q. Tell me about that Temple University speech again. That was mid-April wasn't it?

It was a rainy day. It was added to the text after the Press got on there. I didn't go with him. It was a domestic speech. Bob Hartman added it to the speech.

Q. What did you think when you heard that?

I was outraged. It would demoralize them. And it was a break in what I thought was a very courageous position. He was fighting for what was right, not to keep his own political skirts from being soiled.

Q. Clark Clifford was kind of the man inside the Johnson administration working to stop the bombing. Was Hartman the man inside the Ford administration trying to do the same thing?

Yeah, but for different purposes. Hartman's not a peacenik by any stroke of the imagination. What Hartman was saying is, you've got enough problems, don't take on Vietnam. Vietnam is not your issue. Liquidate. Get out of it. It's over. It's gone. You can't win. Why don't get sucked down like two predecessors have by Vietnam? Step away from it.

Q. How happy was the Secretary of State then? Was there a hangover from this the next few days? It must be difficult to get up -- after the evacuation?

Yeah. It was the end of a travail of one kind or another for a long period of time. But it was followed shortly thereafter by the Mayaguez.

Q. You certainly went through a whole series of them in a short period of time.

Two evacuations from Beirut. Very anti-climactic.

Q. The Mayaguez was very much present in everybody's mind our position in Asia. This was extremely important.

Two things that were predominant. One was our position in Asia and the other was the fate of the Pueblo and to not let the crew get on the mainland or out where they could not be rescued and we were pretty much helpless and were hostages. We had to try to act quickly while we could keep the crew from being dispersed.

Q. I don't remember the Congressional reaction to the Mayaguez.

It happened so fast we swept them off their feet. We did brief them, but we briefed them, as I recall, as the operation was under way.

Q. Did any of them have misgivings?

Nobody said anything at the time, because as I say, the President called the leaders down and said, in a sense, "The operation is under way." Mike Mansfield afterwards said that this was not consultation, this was a briefing under the war powers act. There were a few comments and questions. But nobody said, "You idiot. What are you doing?" But I think that's because we had American forces on the way.

Q. Some of them were the same Marines, weren't they?

Some of them may be. They were Marines from Okinawa.

Q. Let's get back to Phnom Penh.

That was a gem of an operation. Marines from Okinawa, Air Force helicopters from Thailand, Navy ships scrounged from everywhere.

Q. In the perspective of ten years, looking back, what are the lessons of Vietnam? How do you explain the last four years of Vietnam?

I think we bugged out, because I think at that point, after investing so much, had we just carried through with substantial funding a couple more years -- it might not have made any difference, I don't know. But to have nickled and dimed Thieu to death at the end, seems to me a real tragedy. But after all the blood we invested --

Q. Have you visited the Vietnam Memorial?


Q. Do you have any thoughts when you visit it different from other Americans, given your position?

I have very mixed feelings because I visit it from two standpoints. One is the policy aspect. The other is the first year I was in the White House I was a military assistant and one of my responsibilities was as liaison with the families of the missing. Of course I've got friends on the memorial too. But a lot of them are people whose lives I nurtured through the Marines .

(((End of interview)))

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