Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama
Marvin and Deborah Kalb, Journalists and Co-authors
Photos | Transcript

alt Washington, DC—On September 27, 2011, WFPG hosted an event at the home of Board Member Donna Constantinople for Marvin Kalb, a distinguished journalist and one of the fabled Murrow Boys at CBS, and his daughter and fellow journalist and author, Deborah Kalb. At the event, the Kalbs discussed their recent book, Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.

The book focuses on the legacy of the Vietnam War and how it continues to cast a shadow over the Oval Office, from the presidencies of Gerald Ford through Barack Obama. Both Marvin and Deborah Kalb spoke about significant presidential decisions that were influenced by Vietnam including Jimmy Carters policy toward Iran after its 1979 revolution, Ronald Reagans reaction to the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut as well as George W. Bushs decisions following 9/11. The Kalbs also devoted substantial attention to the personal experiences of each president in terms of his military service, or lack thereof, and how this contributed in part to presidential decisions regarding US military intervention in foreign affairs.

During the conversation, Mr. Kalb revealed his surprise regarding the significant impact that Vietnam has had on President Obama and his policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the fact that he did not come from the Vietnam generation, Obama made major efforts to learn about Vietnam through the advice and knowledge of congressional and military leaders, an experience that has strongly impacted his decisions regarding foreign policy and defense issues.

Mr. Kalb also spoke about comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan, and addressed questions concerning the military and non-military aspects of these wars. While the non-military aspects , or efforts to win hearts and minds, of Afghanistan have increased phenomenally, according to Mr. Kalb its all about the military—about whos controlling the weapons, the street corners, the roads—and at the moment, in his judgment, were not doing very well in that respect.

Additionally, Mr. Kalb compared the experiences of France in Algeria and Russia in Afghanistan to the challenge of Vietnam, but concluded that these situations had a limited impact on American presidential decision-making since US presidents have viewed Vietnam through a uniquely American historical perspective, giving less weight to the experiences of other countries.


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 Authors Martin and Deborah Kalb with
WFPG President Patricia Ellis and
Board Member Donna Constantinople

   Board Members Donna Constantinople
and Isabel Jasinowski

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