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Guest Thinkers

MSNBC Morning Joe Panelists Discuss Why Vietnam Still Haunts Presidents

On Morning Joe this morning, Mavin Kalb and Deborah Kalb discussed their new book “Haunting Legacy,” an examination of how Vietnam has shaped the thinking and policy of presidents over the past forty years. 

The discussion was fascinating as the panel featured Watergate investigative reporter Bob Woodward and Nixon White House speech writer Pat Buchanan.  The segment and panel is another example of why Morning Joe is perhaps the very best program on cable news.

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The Kalb father and daughter duo also appeared last month on the PBS News Hour. Below is the clip from that interview followed by a key excerpt from the transcript.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marvin Kalb, why do you argue that the Vietnam War and the loss of it was a turning point in American history?

MARVIN KALB: Well, because, up to that point, Judy, the U.S. had never lost a war. And people — friends of mine in Europe have always said, you guys have been so lucky. You don’t know what it is. We have lost many wars, and we adjust. But, in the United States, it took a long period of adjustments. It’s 36, 37 years now since the end of the war. And we’re still haunted — presidents are — by the way in which that war affects what they think about. Are we going to lose another war? How do we get out of another Vietnam? These issues are on their minds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why has it persisted that way, Deborah Kalb?

DEBORAH KALB: I think that, in addition to the idea that it was the only war that the U.S. lost, it also played an important role in a lot of these presidents’ lives. And there’s three different sort of mini-generations of presidents that we look at in the book. The first are the ones who are more the World War II — or just missed serving in the World War II — generation. They were already serving as governors or in Congress during the war. It was more their children’s generation who was affected. But for a number of these presidents, the baby boomers, it was a real life decision about whether to go serve or not that really carried through their entire life. We go into a lot of detail about — for example, with George W. Bush. And also we have a chapter on John Kerry and the swift boats. So it’s — now we’re at the third generation with President Obama, who was too young to serve.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, even with this third generation, as you say, President Obama too young to have served in Vietnam, he read about it, studied it in school.


JUDY WOODRUFF: It has still affected these presidents differently, and as — and, you write, particularly Democrats. Why is that?

MARVIN KALB: Democrats have always been saddled with the responsibility for losing wars. That’s what Republicans have said. And, since 1949, Richard Nixon came in, when Harry Truman was there as president, when China turned communist. And Richard Nixon asked, who lost China? And I hear from people at the White House right now that, among Obama’s closest people, one of the reasons why they’re so careful with Afghanistan is they don’t want to lose it. They lose it, Obama loses the election next year. So, they are very mindful of the legacy of a lost war like Vietnam.


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