MPR: Where America gets its strength
From a really good hour-long talk on MPR yesterday that you can catch on RealPlayer:
David Halberstam: Journalist (including in Vietnam) and author, in a speech from the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Mpls. Halberstam recently edited a collection of essays titled "Defining a Nation: Our America and the Sources of its Strength." There was a ton of good stuff about journalism and what actually makes America work.
He advises everyone to see the Battle of Algiers (1966) because if you see it, "you will not want to see American kids go to Iraq." Also he talks about how Iraq is "damaging to the soul of the country." This is crucial - my fuzzy transcription:
Journalists matter when the policy is wrong... When it doesn't work, and that's when journalists really matter in a free society. When I went to Vietnam in 1962 there was a really small group of us and the Kennedy people had upgraded the commitment from 1600 to 18,000 [troops]. They didn't want to send in combat troops but they didn't want - because of what happened in domestic politics - what happened when Chiang Kai Shek fell in mainland China, they didn't want to lose Vietnam as we lost China, as if China was ever ours to own.
So they did this halfway program and it didn't work. And when it didn't work, the people in the field tried to report to their superiors in saigon that it didn't work and when their superiors in Saigon said in effect, don't ever report that way again. Report that we are winning or you will not go from colonel to brigadier general, or light colonel to colonel, which was the backchannel word...
They turned to us, they turned to the journalists, so we became a ventilating system for the bureaucracy. It was not a press struggle, it was a struggle within the United States Army, between those in the field actually fighting the war, and those in Saigon and Washington who were reflecting the political desires of the Kennedy administration. Bad policy, when the policy doesn't work, journalists become infinitely more important.
Anyhow I thought that was pretty damn good. Relevant to the current thing, I gotta say.