Watch Monday, April 27, 2015 at 10pm on WMHT TV.
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The Vietnam War was the first “television war.” Night after night, the evening news broadcast the conflict into living rooms across America. As the country watched coverage of the fighting, Dick Cavett’s late night talk show featured thoughtful conversations and often-times spirited debate about the war from all sides of the political spectrum, mirroring the public’s growing unrest and the divisiveness that was ripping the country apart.
This April, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon (April 30, 1975) and the end of America’s presence in Vietnam, Dick Cavett’s Vietnam examines the conflict and its impact on America through the prism of interviews conducted by the iconic host of “The Dick Cavett Show.”
"While I started out to do an entertaining talk show, you couldn’t keep Vietnam out of the conversation,” says Dick Cavett in a new interview in the documentary. Joining Cavett area mix of actor/entertainers (Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, Groucho Marx and Paul Newman), politicians (Senators Barry Goldwater, Wayne Morse, Edmund Muskie, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey), sports figures (Muhammad Ali) and more.
Historian and former Director of the Richard Nixon Library and Museum, Timothy Naftaliis featured in the documentary and describes the prevailing sentiment captured in Cavett’s interviews this way, “It’s that America that is wounded, scarred by this commitment in Southeast Asia and is now trying to figure out a way to get out.”
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam combines interviews from Cavett shows with archival footage, network news broadcasts and recently filmed interviews with Dick Cavett, General Wesley K. Clark of the United States Army (retired); Pulitzer Prize-winning author Fredrik Logevall (Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam); and Naftali (who was also featured in Dick Cavett’s Watergate) to provide insight and perspective on this controversial chapter of American history.
The documentary explores many key figures and moments in the Vietnam War including:
- United States Senator Wayne Morse, who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964) which allowed President Lyndon B. Johnson to engage United States troops without a formal declaration of war;
- CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite who, in the wake of the Tet Offensive (1968), delivered an editorial declaring the war a stalemate;
- audio recording of a conversation between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara;
- audio recording of a conversation between President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger;
- President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia (1970) which sparked protests across the United States including those at Kent State University where federal troops shot unarmed college students;
- United States military analyst and strategist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers (1971); and more.
“In terms of what the war means to Americans today, I think it continues to be to some extent an open wound in the American body politic,” says Logevall. How much did we learn?
Not enough, says retired General Wesley K. Clark who served in Vietnam. “And to see us go into Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001 and end up in a counter resurgence campaign and not have appreciated those lessons and to have to relearn them the hard way is a very painful thing to see.”