INT: You said, talking about there was great support for the war until 1967. Wearing your hat as the President of the Motion Pictures Association, how important do you feel that the media was in changing the attitudes towards the war?
JV: Well, I think they played a pretty big role. I'm one of those who doesn't blame every blemish that happens, political distractions on the media. The media's reporting was going on and they have a right to do that and a duty as a matter of fact. But I knew that Johnson decided that there would be no censorship in Vietnam. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little elf began to tug at my navel to say, wow, this is going to be costly. You cannot have night after night after night in living color, vivid pictures of young men dying, body bags, all of the inhumanity of war every night and not have it have an increasing and deadly impact on the American people. I've often believed that if television had existed in World War Two, and there had been no censorship, that within two years of World War Two, there would have been a great outcry in this country to let's party with Hitler, let's make a deal, let's get out of there, this is too costly, too bloody, too much treasure being spoiled. So there's no question about that. The American people got their views about Vietnam from television and television was unsparing in its, I think, diligent reporting of what was going on and so some of these pictures were unspeakable in their horror and to suggest that they had only a casual impact is to flirt with (unintelligible).
INT: Is there anything in particular that makes you say that? Was there any particular...?
JV: Well, there were all sorts of scenes, mainly young wounded, when you see them getting on a helicopter, lifting them, gaping holes in their gut, stuffing young men into body bags. You're talking about young men, the flower of the country and it was appalling and night after night after night, Chinese water torture, is mild compared to that, without any blame to anybody. The point is that that kind of drenching of America in the horrors of the inhumanity of war is just simply unacceptable for long. I remember that I was reading (unintelligible) and we were planning (unintelligible) the President and I wrote down a little quote from (unintelligible) and I brought it into him. I said, Mr. President, I read this and this was written in 1840, but you know something that's relevant and (unintelligible) wrote was is that people were tired of the confusion, whose end is not in sight. And the President looked at that and he says, yeah, it's true, it's very true. He said that. What you have to understand too is that people who don't live close to a President rarely understand (unintelligible) in sending young men into battle to die, in a war that increasingly has lost favor with the people that you have by solemn oath sworn to serve. It's like drinking carbolic acid every morning. And I'd go in the President's bedroom, Bill Moyes and I, at seven o'clock in the morning, every morning, he'd be on the phone, with a twelve-hour time difference, checking the casualties of the day before. Mr. President, we lost eighteen men yesterday, Mr. President, we lost a hundred and sixty men, we had four hundred casualties, morning after morning after morning. And no President is going to engage in a frivolous war when his guts are being eaten out by young men dying. You have to understand that. (Unintelligible) when people say, when Johnson waimperious and arrogant, he was many things about that war, but you can't those two words to it. He struggled for that accessible exit and sometimes you say, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, he couldn't even find the damn tunnel.
INT: Perhaps that was a mistake in being so closely involved with casualties. I wonder whether Roosevelt or Truman were so au fait to the details of the casualties of World War Two?
JV: Good question. Keep in mind two things. First that we were attacked by people in Asia, from Japan and we were under mortal danger from the masses of Europe. The very survival of the United States was (unintelligible) hazard. I do not count that on the same scale as Vietnam, because the security of this country at that point was not overtly in danger, although down the road our relations with Asia could have deteriorated. But the second thing is that this was a small war and instead of having a vast nation with all its (unintelligible) where you knew everybody and so you're not talking about two, three, four hundred thousand men, I'm talking about ten million men. And so I think that the personal arrows that were just showering the President's belly had a great impact on him and I'm absolutely convinced that one of the reasons why he renounced re-nomination was, even though he thought he could win, though he always said I probably couldn't govern, because I didn't want a slight margin, but unspoken was the thought that he could not bear any more of those mornings of saying, Mr. President, we lost twenty men.
INT: Was there a sense (unintelligible)?
JV: I think the worst point for Lyndon Johnson was when he realized that negotiations were (unintelligible) and I do know this that he heard close to the election time in '68, that Nixon or one of Nixon's emissaries was telling the South Vietnamese, don't make a deal, you'll get a better deal under Nixon. He became enraged and wanted to go public to denounce Nixon and all the people round him and he was persuaded by the Secretary of State that he couldn't do it and if Nixon did win the election, that he would be so soiled by this kind of a denunciation from the thirty sixth President, that as the thirty seventh President, he would be in deep trouble. (Unintelligible). but I think that year of '68 was the low point and he came to those conclusions at the end of 1967, because on March 31st 1968, he (unintelligible) not going to run again. But I think those were those were the deep alleys and he began to realize that his hopes for a negotiated peace were foundering, they would never come to pass and he saw no way out.
INT: What in your view was the reason for not running in '68?
JV: Well, I'll tell you what he told me. He said two things, as I said earlier, he said I can probably beat Nixon, but I'll win by fifty point one per cent and I won't be able to govern with that kind of scandalized mandate. He said a fresh face is needed and that Hubert Humphrey would run this country just fine. And he said too, (unintelligible) to let the North Vietnamese know that I have no political ambitions, my trying to get them to negotiate has nothing to do with my political future, that I want to depersonalize it and by saying, I no longer run, therefore I must make a deal. I won't be here any more, but let's make this peace settlement now. He thought that might sort of dampen their antagonisms and their fears and that they might go into real serious negotiation.
INT: But another thing that Nixon actually didn't take... why do you think Nixon carried on the war (unintelligible)?
JV: Why Nixon carried on the war? Well, I think there were a lot of people in the Nixon camp, including Nixon and people around him believed that if you're going to be in a war, you go all out. You either get out or you or you go in and of course that began the (unintelligible) and the unbelievable... sustaining of a new offensive. And then after a while it became clear to Nixon and people around him that that wasn't working either. And so he had to do something else. But I was not an intimate of President Nixon...
INT: Jeremy Isaacs, our executive producer, has asked our contributors to the program to answer some general questions about the Cold War, so here goes. Was the Cold War necessary?
JV: Well, again, in hindsight we see things maybe we didn't see before. The fact was that there was a huge hairy beast slouching towards us at the time called the Soviet Union. It was a rigid ideology and (unintelligible) domination through Communism. They had nuclear arms. How else were we to conduct ourselves, except to stand at the battlements and say, thus far and no further and the whole idea of containment came into effect at that time, the whole idea of NATO as a barrier and trying to build up a world-wide embrace of democracy, to guard against a possible intrusion. I don't know how else it could have been done. There was the Berlin airlift and then all the other that began it and if somebody says should there have been a Cold War, I'll say, well, tell me what the alternative was.
INT: You lived through the Cold War, what do you think was the most dangerous moments of the Cold War?
JV: Well, I think that probably the Berlin airlift was (unintelligible) defining moment. I think the invasion of Hungary was another moment of great danger.... but in that long and darkened years of the Cold War, there were any number of things that could happen. The U-2 incident for example, I think had a negative effect in this country particularly. But I'm hard put to say and I dare say historians would be hard put to pinpoint (unintelligible) this was a crucial moment. It was a time when spontaneous combustion could have taken place, an (unintelligible) missile be loosed from an open silo mistakes, what (unintelligible) called friction that takes place, where you have a plan and things go wrong with the plan, and friction may develop over time, till suddenly there's an implosion. All those things were there and when you have that kind of dry timber, any spark could set off the fire.
INT: And finally, what do you think the Cold War achieved?
JV: Well, I think it achieved a result in that it brought a surprising and dazzling... Communism collapsed like a (unintelligible) massive, like a (unintelligible) it disappeared. I think it was the swiftness of the collapse of Communism that shocked a lot of people and therefore I say that obviously whatever we were doing was right, because in time Communism was exposed. Now, I'm also a believer in the cyclical aspect of history, in that what goes up, soon goes down and what goes down, soon goes up and here we are, so soon after the demise of Communism and we are now faced with the possibility of a resurgence. Three years ago (unintelligible) was a resurgent Russia, where a new leader has been elected and who now is trying to reassemble power back in the Kremlin and using the KGB to fight crime and then by that entry to make them into much more the vicious police force that it was. So... these things are happening now. Where that's going to lead to, I don't know. Now the trick is, how many of us (unintelligible) and with this (unintelligible) judgement, intuition, make decisions that ten years from now somebody will say, didn't you guys see that coming? Why didn't you do this or that or the other? The time for decision-making, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, is nine o'clock tomorrow morning, not five years from now.
INT: So really it's Cold War One and Cold War Two?
JV: Well, I would (unintelligible) signals.
INT: Thank you very much.
JV: Thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH JACK VALENTI