Friday, February 22, 2019

John Wayne on the War in Vietnam (Part VIII of the Famous, 1971, Playboy Interview)

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

Wayne: Look at the completely irresponsible editorship of our country’s newspapers. By looking for provocative things to put on their front pages, they’re encouraging these kids to act the way they’re acting. I wonder even more about the responsibility of the press when I read about events like the so-called My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The press and the communications system jumped way ahead of the trials. At the time, they made accusations that I doubted they could back up. Frankly, I hoped they couldn’t. Well, it turns out there may have been something to it. But I could show you pictures of what the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong are doing to our people over there.

I was at a place called Dak Song, where the children were all burned to death by the V.C., and that’s not an unusual thing. But for some reason, our newspapers have never printed pictures or stories about it. With all the terrible things that are being done throughout the world, it has to be one little incident in the United States Army—and the use of the word massacre—that causes the uproar.

PLAYBOY: Don’t you deplore what happened at My Lai?

WAYNE: Not only do I deplore it, but so does the Army—which conducted an extensive investigation and charged everyone connected with the alleged crime.

PLAYBOY: Does the fact that the Viet Cong have systematically engaged in atrocities excuse our forces for resorting to the same thing?

WAYNE: No, absolutely not. But if your men go to a supposedly peaceful village and the occupants start shooting at them, they’re going to have to shoot back to defend their own lives.

PLAYBOY: The reports say our GIs slaughtered unarmed civilians and babies at My Lai; no one was shooting at them.

WAYNE: If, after going into the town, they brutally killed these people, that’s one thing. If they were getting shot at from that town and then they fired back, that’s a completely different situation. But you’re bringing up the stuff that’s being debated in the trials. What I resent is that even before the trials, this stuff was even less of a proven fact, yet the newspapers printed it anyway.

PLAYBOY: Do you think there’s a credibility gap between the way the war has been reported and the way it’s actually being fought—on both sides?

WAYNE: It’s obvious to me, because I’ve been there. And you’ll find that the young veterans who come back from Vietnam have a lot to say that the media haven’t told us—even about our allies. These young men know what they’re talking about, because they own a piece of that war, and you should ask the man who owns one.

PLAYBOY: Many of those young men who “own a piece of that war” never wanted to go to Vietnam in the first place. Do you think our government is justified in sending them off to fight in an undeclared war?

WAYNE: Well, I sure don’t know why we send them over to fight and then stop the bombing so they can get shot that much more. We could easily stop the enemy from getting guns and ammunition that we know are being sent by Chinese and Soviet Communists. But we won’t do anything to stop it, because we’re afraid of world opinion. Why in hell should we worry about world opinion, when we’re trying to help out a country that’s asked for our aid?

Of course, Senator Fulbright says the South Vietnamese government doesn’t represent the people—even though it’s been duly elected by those people. How can a man be so swayed to the opposite side? If he were finding fault with the administration of our help over there, that I could understand. What I can’t understand is this “pull out, pull out, pull out” attitude he’s taken. And what makes it worse is that a lot of people accept anything he says without thinking, simply because the Fulbright scholarships have established an intellectual aura around him.

PLAYBOY: The majority of the American people, according to every poll, agree with Fulbright that we ought to pull out, and many think we never should have intervened in the first place. Many Southeast Asian experts, including Fulbright, believe that if Ho Chi Minh had been allowed to run Vietnam as he saw fit after the Geneva Accords of 1954, he would have established an accommodation with Peking that would have given us perhaps a nominally Communist nation, but essentially a nationalist, independent

WAYNE: How? By what example in history can people like Fulbright come to such wishful thinking?

PLAYBOY: The example of Tito’s Yugoslavia comes immediately to mind. In any case, what gives us the right to decide for the Vietnamese what kind of government they should have?

WAYNE: I don't want the U.S. to decide what kind of government they have. But I don't want the Communists to decide, either. And if we didn’t help the South Vietnamese government, that’s just what they'd do.

PLAYBOY: Why couldn’t a general election, supervised by some neutral power, be held in both the North and the South to determine what kind of government the people of Vietnam desire?

WAYNE: That would be no more practical than if France, after coming to help us in the Revolution, suggested having an election to decide what we wanted to do. It would be an exact parallel. The majority of those living in the Colonies didn’t want war at that time. If there had been a general election then, we probably wouldn’t be here today. As far as Vietnam is concerned, we’ve made mistakes. I know of no country that’s perfect. But I honestly believe that there’s as much need for us to help the Vietnamese as there was to help the Jews in Germany. The only difference is that we haven't had any leadership in this war. All the liberal senators have stuck their noses in this, and it’s out of their bailiwick. They’ve already put far too many barriers in the way of the military. Our lack of leadership has gone so far that now no one man can come in, face the issue and tell people that we ought to be in an all-out war.

PLAYBOY: Why do you favor an all-out war?

WAYNE: I figure if we’re going to send even one man to die, we ought to be in an all-out conflict. If you fight, you fight to win. And the domino theory is something to be reckoned with, too, both in Europe and in Asia. Look at what happened in Czechoslovakia and what’s happened all through the Balkans. At some point we have to stop communism. So, we might as well stop it right now in Vietnam.

PLAYBOY: You’re aware, of course, that most military experts, including two recent Secretaries of State, concede that it would be an unwinnable war except at a cost too incalculable to contemplate.

WAYNE: I think you're making a misstatement. Their fear is that Russia would go to war with us, if we stopped the Vietnamese. Well, I don’t think Russia wants war anymore than we do.

PLAYBOY: Three Presidents seem to have agreed that it would be unwise to gamble millions of lives on that assumption. Since you find their leadership lacking, who would you have preferred in the highest office?

WAYNE: Barry Goldwater would at least have been decisive. I know for a fact that he’s a truthful man. Before the ‘64 election, he told me that he said to the Texan, “I don't think we ought to make an issue out of Vietnam because we both know that we’re going to probably end up having to send a half-a-million men over there.” Johnson said, “Yeah, that’s probably true, Barry, but I've got an election to win.” So Barry told the truth and Johnson got elected on a “peace” platform—and then began to ease them in, a few thousand at a time.

I wish our friend Fulbright would bring out those points. If Douglas MacArthur were alive, he also would have handled the Vietnam situation with dispatch. He was a proven administrator, certainly a proven leader. And MacArthur understood what Americans were and what Americans stood for. Had he been elected President, something significant would have happened during his administration. He would have taken a stand for the United States in world affairs, and he would have stood by it, and we would have been respected for it.

I also admired the tie salesman, President Truman. He was a wonderful, feisty guy who’ll go down in history as quite an individual. It’s a cinch he had great guts when he decided to straighten things out in Korea; it’s just too bad that the State Department was able to frighten him out of doing a complete job. Seems to me, politics have entered too much into the decisions of our leadership. I can’t understand politicians. They’re either yellowing out from taking a stand or using outside pressure to improve their position.

PLAYBOY: Is that why you’ve refused to run for public office yourself?

WAYNE: Exactly.

PLAYBOY: Is that what you told George Wallace when you were asked to be his running mate on the 1968 American Independent ticket?

WAYNE: No, I explained that I was working for the other Wallis—Hal Wallis—the producer of True Grit, and that I'd been a Nixon man.

PLAYBOY: What do you think of Nixon's performance since then?

WAYNE: I think Mr. Nixon is proving himself his own man. I knew he would. I knew him and stuck with him when he was a loser, and I’m sticking with him now that he’s a winner. A lot of extreme rightists are saying that he isn’t doing enough, but I think he’s gradually wading in and getting control of the reins of government.

PLAYBOY: What impressed you about him when you first met him?

WAYNE: His reasonableness. When he came into office, there was such a hue and cry over Vietnam, for instance, that it didn’t seem possible for a man to take a stand that would quiet down the extreme leftists. He came on the air and explained the situation as it was from the beginning, and then he told the American people—in a logical, reasoning way—what he was going to do. And then he began to do it.

PLAYBOY: What he began to do, of course, was “Vietnamize” the war and withdraw American troops. How can you approve of these policies and also advocate all-out war?

WAYNE: Well, I don't advocate an all-out war, if it isn’t necessary. All I know is that we as a country should be backing up whatever the proposition is that we sent one man to die for.

PLAYBOY: If that view is shared by as many Americans as you seem to think, then why was The Green Berets—which has been labeled as your personal statement on the Vietnam war—so universally panned?

WAYNE: Because the critics don’t like my politics, and they were condemning the war, not the picture. I don’t mean the critics as a group. I mean the irrationally liberal ones. Renata Adler of The New York Times almost foamed at the mouth because I showed a few massacres on the screen. She went into convulsions. She and other critics wouldn't believe that the Viet Cong are treacherous—that the dirty sons of bitches are raping,
torturing, guerillas. In the picture, I repeated the story General Stilwell told me about this South Vietnamese mayor. The V.C. tied him up and brought his wife out and about 40 men raped her; and then they brought out his two teenage daughters, hung them upside down and gutted them in front of him. And then they took an iron rod and beat on his wife until every bone in her goddamn body was broken. That’s torture, I’d say. So I mentioned this in the picture, and the critics were up in arms about that.

PLAYBOY: Did their comments jeopardize the financial success of the film?

WAYNE: Oh, God, no—they ensured it. Luckily for me, they overkilled it. The Green Berets would have been successful, regardless of what the critics did, but it might have taken the public longer to find out about the picture if they hadn’t made so much noise about it.

PLAYBOY: Did you resent the critics who labeled it a shameless propaganda film?

WAYNE: I agreed with them. It was an American film about American boys who were heroes over there. In that sense, it was propaganda.

PLAYBOY: Did you have any difficulties getting The Green Berets produced by a major studio?

WAYNE: A lot of them. Universal said they wanted to make the picture and we made a deal. Then the boys went to work on the head of Universal.

PLAYBOY: What boys?

WAYNE: The liberals. I don't know their names. But all of a sudden Universal changed its mind. They said, “This is an unpopular war.” And I said, “What war was ever popular? You've already made the deal.” Then they started saying, “Well, we don't want you to direct”—trying to use that as an excuse. So I said, “Well, screw this.” So, I let them renege and I just walked out. In an hour, I'd made another deal with Warner Bros., which was in the process of being sold to Seven Arts. Meanwhile, the guy at Universal couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I let him off the hook, but he started blasting in The Hollywood Reporter that the picture couldn’t make any money.

I didn’t go to the press and say these bastards backed out of a deal, but later—after Warner Bros.-Seven Arts released it—I was very happy to inform Universal of the picture’s success.


Anonymous said...

John Wayne was no mere actor of stature. He apparently was a profound thinker with a good grasp of politics at all levels and thought very rationally about most all things.

Anonymous said...

Barry Goldwater said in 1964 that minorities ran this country [USA]. Barry was right. Surely he was.