David Harris. Remember Him?
His Vietnam War is Finally Over
This was the headline over The New York Times obituary of David Harris: Leader of Resistence to Vietnam War Draft Dies at 76. As Harris always said of himself, he was not a “draft dodger.” He was a resister who refused to report for induction when he received a draft notice in1966. He served twenty months in prison. He was married for a time to Joan Baez, the great folk singer and became a notable writer.
In 1995, my colleague at Times Books, Steve Wasserman and I commissioned Harris to go to Vietnam, where he had never been to write a book which was published a year later: Our War: What We Did in Vietnam and What it Did to Us.” The years had not diminished Harris’s emotional rage about the conflict.
In my book An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen, I wrote about the encounter Harris had in our office just after we published Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s memoir In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam explaining why the war had been, as he put it, “ wrong, terribly wrong.”
When I wrote to Harris a few years ago asking what he thought at meeting the man held most responsible by his generation for the war, he responded that McNamara gave hm an inscribed copy of his book, writing: “To David Harris. With Admiration. Robert McNamara.” David said he was “stunned, and all these years later still was.”
I thought the exchange said much about how the lives of both men had evolved.
This April marks the fiftieth year since the last American GIs and POWS left Vietnam. It was another two years before the North Vietnamese victory.
On April 29, on the campus of George Washington University in Washington D.C., there will be a day-long event we are calling “Vietnam: A 50 Year Retrospective.” The organizers are Dan Weiss, author of In That Time; Michael O’Donnell and The Tragic Era of Vietnam” and me. Platform Books is reissuing the book in paperback.
The event is scheduled to be televised live by C-SPAN. Here is a rundown on the panels and participants. Registration will begin in the next few weeks.
Saturday April 29, 2023 at The Jack Morton Auditorium on the campus of The George Washington University.
Elizabeth Becker: American journalist and author, most recently of You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War.
Robert Brigham: Shirley Ecker Boskey Professor of History and International Relations at Vassar College and author of numerous books on the Vietnam War, including Reckless:
Henry Kissinger and the Tragedy of the Vietnam War and Iraq, Vietnam, and the Limits of American Power.
Raymond Burghardt: Career U.S. diplomat who served as Ambassador to Vietnam (2001-04) and Chair of the American Institute in Taiwan (2006-16). He was a political officer in Embassy Saigon (1970-73).
Philip Caputo: Vietnam Vet and prominent author of 17 books, including A Rumor of War, one of the most important early books on Vietnam. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting along with numerous other awards.
Paul Eaton: Retired U.S. Army Major General with substantial command experience in Iraq. His father was an Air Force Colonel and bomber pilot lost in Vietnam.
Frances Fitzgerald: American journalist and historian who wrote, The Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among other awards. Fitzgerald is one of the subjects of Becker’s recent book, You Don’t Belong Here.
Mark Godfrey.First working on the AP’s Saigon staff covering the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. Godfrey left the AP, joining LIFE Magazine in late 1970 where he remained until it folded in December of 1972.
Chuck Hagel: Vietnam Vet and recipient of two Purple Hearts. Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense.
Bob Kerrey: Bob Kerrey: Vietnam Vet, Winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and former U.S. Senator.
Fredrik Logevall: Lawrence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Professor of History in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Author of Pulitzer Prize winning The Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam and, more recently, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956.
David Maraniss: Prominent journalist and author, who wrote They Marched into War: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967.
Lien-Hang Nguyen: Columbia University historian and expert on Vietnam. She has written numerous books on Vietnam, including Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam and Tet 1968.
Lauren Onkey: Director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and Professor of Music at the George Washington University.
Peter Osnos: Washington Post Vietnam Correspondent between 1970 and 1973. Editor of Robert McNamara’s “In Retrospect” and many other books on Vietnam. Founder, PublicAffairs Books.
Keith Richburg: Longtime Washington Post foreign correspondent with substantial experience in Asia. He is currently director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong.
Thom Shanker: Director of the Project for Media and National Security at GW and formerly an editor and Pentagon Correspondent at The New York Times.
Jim Sterba: Foreign correspondent and war correspondent for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Marcus Sullivan: Vietnam Vet and close friend of Michael O’Donnell, the subject of In That Time: Michael O’Donnell and the Tragic Era of Vietnam.
Daniel Weiss: President and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of In That Time: Michael O’Donnell and the Tragic Era of Vietnam.
Program moderators: Peter Osnos, Thom Shanker, Daniel Weiss
Paul Wahlbeck, Dean of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University
Peter Osnos, CEO Platform Books
Daniel Weiss, CEO, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Session 1: Reflections on the War 50 Years Out
Panel: Paul Eaton, Chuck Hagel, Bob Kerrey
Session 2: Writing About the War: Lessons Learned
Panel: Robert Brigham, Phillip Caputo, Frances Fitzgerald, Fredrik Logevall
Session 3: Post-War Vietnam
Panel: Keith Richburg, Lien-Hang Nguyen, Raymond Burghardt
Session 4: Beyond the War
Panel: Elizabeth Becker, David Maraniss, Jim Sterba
Session 5: The Sounds and Images of an Era
Panel: Mark Godfrey, Lauren Onkey, Marcus Sullivan
In the next few weeks, registration for in person attendence will begin.
The “American” war in Vietnam ended a half century ago, but as the panels will reflect, the impact on this country remains profound.