updated 5/2/2005 2:04:35 PM ET 2005-05-02T18:04:35

Guest: John Dibble, Paul Cauley, Tommy Franks, David Gregory, Nicolle Devenish

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, the wounds of war 30 years after the end of the conflict in Vietnam.  We‘ll talk to the generals and the servicemen who served in the ranks. 

Plus, last night, President Bush in his first news conference of his second term tackled front-burner issues, the role of religion in politics, his nomination of John Bolton for U.N. ambassador, and gas prices, Social Security, and the red-hot partisan climate here in Washington. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Tonight, we look at Vietnam “30 Years Later.”  Has America learned anything from the lesson of that war?  For some, the wounds are still fresh after three decades.  But, for others, the war served as the defining moment of their life.  We‘ll talk to Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks later in the show.

But, first, President Bush went prime time last night and talked about a variety of issues, including Social Security, religion, and gas prices. 

Nicolle Devenish is the White House communications director.

Nicolle, I thought it was especially courageous of the president to come out for an adjustment in the cost of living adjustment for retirees. 

NICOLLE DEVENISH, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Yes. 

I think the president welcomed the opportunity he had last night, Chris, to speak directly to the American people about some of the facts regarding this debate.  There‘s the tendency in Washington to have a debate that‘s less than intellectually honest.  And there are some real mathematics realities here.  Every senior and anyone nearing retirement is going to get their check.  The system is completely unchanged for them. 

But if you‘re my age or younger, future generations will not have a Social Security system if this Congress fails to act.  So, I think the president put some more details on the table, talked about changing Social Security and the way we calculate benefits for future recipients of Social Security in a way that I think makes a whole lot of sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you explain this sliding scale of cost of living adjustments depending on your income? 

DEVENISH:  Yes.

I mean, it‘s important to take a step back and talk about the philosophy behind it.  You know, I think the president has led on this issue.  And the president has said that, one, nobody, no future retiree will receive a benefit that is less than what the current system is paying seniors today. 

The second philosophy he put out is the one that I think you‘re getting at.  And that is that seniors on the lower end of the income scale will have wages that grow faster than better-off seniors.  So, in the future, if you are a low-income retiree retiring in future decades, your benefits will be accelerating and growing faster than someone else who is better off.  And I think that is a deep commitment. 

He believes that no one who works their entire life should retire into poverty.  And that was an important goal for Social Security reform and one that, frankly, I would be surprised if the Democrats got a lot of support from the American people in railing against. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEVENISH:  And the last thing he has talked about—I‘m sorry, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that American—let‘s say the Republican Congress people will support a measure which will curb the growth, the natural growth, the current growth of Social Security benefits for middle-class people? 

DEVENISH:  Well, I think we need to look at what the system has promised and what the system can afford to pay.  And we need to look at solutions. 

And the president has been very clear that he doesn‘t have all the answers.  But he‘s brought a very reasonable and very comprehensive and a very compassionate plan to the table.  And his hope and expectation is that people in both parties bring other ideas to the table and we have a debate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one of the reasons, I think—well, let me speculate here with you.  Social Security has been popular with just about everybody, middle income people, moderate-income people, slightly above middle-income, upper-middle-income, because it has not been means tested. 

You get when it you work and you don‘t get any reduction because you‘ve done well in life.  For the first time here, we‘re talking now about a proposition which would adjust downward the long-term growth in Social Security benefits for people who have done well in life.  Doesn‘t that take the upper-middle-class out of the constituency of Social Security? 

DEVENISH:  Well, the upper-middle-class—all of us are going to receive a 30 percent reduction in benefits if we do nothing.  So doing nothing means that that same group receives a benefit cut, a guaranteed benefit cut.  The cost of inaction is a 30 percent reduction in benefits, because the system simply can‘t pay it. 

And you understand the math.  We used to have 16 people paying to support each beneficiary.  Now we have just over three workers supporting each beneficiary.  And, in the future, we‘ll be down to two.  So, all of those groups that you talk about are going to receive a cut if we fail to act.  And what the president has talked about is not only bringing the system into line financially, but also giving people an option. 

Now, I think that some of the discussion around the voluntary personal savings accounts has been distorted.  I mean, when you go to the movies, if you order a popcorn and a Coke and they give you candy for free, you can take it or you can leave it.  And that‘s the same idea with Social Security.  You‘re going to get your Social Security check.  You will continue to get the benefits that the system can pay. 

You also have an opportunity to choose a personal savings account, a personal retirement account, so that you can earn a better rate of return on your savings. 

MATTHEWS:  So you believe the president is willing to stand behind a proposal which would basically means test benefits for Social Security?  That‘s the bottom line, is that he‘s willing to put—stick his neck out. 

He‘s asking Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to do the same. 

DEVENISH:  Yes. 

This is a debate for the politically—for the visionaries.  And I think, in Washington, what we have very clearly before us is a president who is quite a visionary and who really has a deep belief that it is our job in Washington to see a better day and a better day for the current Social Security system, which, on its current path, will not be there for me and for future generations. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the president‘s comment last night in response to David Gregory of NBC, when David asked him about comments made by people who support the president‘s position on—or support the Republican position on ending the filibuster during judicial debates, debates over judicial nominees, when he said, I don‘t think it‘s a matter of religion; I think it is a matter of philosophy?

Does that separate the president from people like Senator Frist, who have gone out there and participated in these religious broadcasts? 

DEVENISH:  You know, I‘m not sure that that‘s an accurate reflection of what Senator Frist has said. 

I think it was a real interesting question.  And I think the whole issue of religion and politics is something we‘ll be talking about for a long time.  I think that what the president was saying is the same that we have heard from him before, that the opposition to his judges is because people don‘t agree with their judicial philosophy.  The president believes in appointing judges who are good men and women who have accomplished records and who will not legislate from the bench.  That‘s what he believes. 

And he understands that people have a different view.  You know, something else that I think is important in this debate is, the president has said that what he wants is fairness here, that these good men and women deserve an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate and that if, in that full up-or-down vote, one of his judges isn‘t accepted, that he understands that.

But to deprive the good men and women that he‘s nominated of an up-or-down vote is simply unfair. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he think the Senate should change its rules and limit debate for judicial nominations? 

DEVENISH:  He hasn‘t weighed in on that, Chris.  And he really does respect the prerogative of the Senate to sort that out and make their own decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the vice president going up there to say he supports it doesn‘t speak for the president. 

DEVENISH:  Well, the vice president, as you know, has a very different role.  He‘s the president of the Senate and he‘s spoken about his intentions. 

But the president does believe very strongly that his judges deserve an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the outlook for gas prices in your crystal ball, Nicolle? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, are we going to have—I just bought gas.  You live in D.C., too.  I bought high test.  It was $2.60, $37 to fill the car. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEVENISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  When is this going to adjust downward?

(CROSSTALK)

DEVENISH:  I live near the most expensive pump in the district. 

But, look, I think the president understands that every family, every person that goes to the gas station and fills up is really feeling the pain of the current predicament we find ourselves in.  We haven‘t looked at our country‘s dependence on foreign sources of energy and sought to do anything about it for decades. 

So, I think two things, Chris.  He‘s talked about the couple of things he can do in the near term, which is to protect anyone from any price gouging at the pumps and also to talk to our oil producing friends to make sure that all of the supply that is available is on the market. 

But, gosh, this is time.  This is time for our country to take a long hard look at the situation we find ourselves in, which is way too dependent on foreign sources of energy. 

MATTHEWS:  Nicolle Devenish.

DEVENISH:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Communications director for the president at the White House—thank you for joining us on HARDBALL tonight. 

DEVENISH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory is going to join to us talk about President Bush‘s distancing himself from the conservative Family Research Council. 

And later, 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, we‘ll examine the lingering effects of that conflict with two of America‘s most accomplished generals, Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, President Bush distances himself from the conservative group the Family Research Council.  White House correspondent David Gregory will join us. 

And, later, our special coverage of Vietnam, “30 Years Later.”

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

Last night‘s other HARDBALL.  At last night‘s White House news conference, President Bush was asked by our own David Gregory if he agreed with the Family Research Council‘s opposition to the filibuster as acting against people of faith. 

Here‘s a portion of that exchange from last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, recently the head of the Family Research Council said that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith.  And I wonder whether you believe that, in fact, that is what is nominating Democrats who oppose your judicial choices.  And I wonder what you think, generally, about the role that faith is playing, how it‘s being used in our political debates right now.

BUSH:  I think people are opposing my nominees because they don‘t like the judicial philosophy of the people I‘ve nominated.  And some would like to see judges legislate from the bench.  That‘s not my view of the proper role of a judge. 

Speaking about judges, I certainly hope my nominees get an up-or- down vote on the floor of the Senate. 

BUSH:  They deserve an up-or-down vote. 

I think, for the sake of fairness, these good people I‘ve nominated should get a vote.  And I‘m hoping that will be the case as time goes on. 

Role of religion in our society?  I view religion as a personal matter.  I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life or lives his life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  NBC White House correspondent David Gregory joins us now from the North Lawn of the White House.

Does the president want an up-or-down vote on these judicial nominations? 

GREGORY:  Yes, he does.  I think there‘s no question he does. 

MATTHEWS:  And what is he willing to do to make that happen? 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know if he‘s willing to compromise, if that‘s what you‘re getting at, because...

MATTHEWS:  No, is he willing to say that he wants the Senate to dump the filibuster with regard to court nominations? 

GREGORY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Nicolle Devenish was just on.  And she said, no, he was not willing to get involved that directly, even if the vice president, in his capacity as president of the Senate, has done so. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

And, look, if anybody think that Dick Cheney, the vice president, is not speaking for the president, they‘re wrong on that.  Certainly, the administration is getting involved and saying dump filibusters.  Stop obstructing my judicial choices. 

This is a very important fight for this president.  And he is not one who has wanted to compromise.  He has got his choices.  Democrats think they‘re out-of-mainstream choices, but there‘s really no flexibility here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if he wins on this—as you say, he is the man championing his cause, along with the vice president and Bill Frist, the Republican leader.  If they win, if they blow away the filibuster, then they only need 51 senators to get a Supreme Court nominee approved.  That means, if they go all way with this by this summer and Justice Rehnquist steps down because of health reasons and someone else on the court, for example, follows suit, they‘re going to be picking the Supreme Court by the end of the summer. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re going to get what they want. 

GREGORY:  Well, you have to believe they‘ve got a much better chance of doing that.  And that‘s why Democrats feel like they have to stand so firm against this. 

And, frankly, it is why they‘ve been standing so firm against judicial nominees up until now, is to send a signal about how they would handle a Supreme Court justice who they felt was—quote, unquote—“out of the mainstream.”

MATTHEWS:  Who is advising President Bush to grab on to the third rail of American politics, Social Security benefits, and hang on for dear life? 

GREGORY:  I think this is very much in keeping with Karl Rove‘s vision for making the Republican Party a permanent majority, for making it a party of big, grand, sweeping ideas that effects a kind of devolution of the entitlement system in America, that changes the structure of the American government. 

And it is really at that level, at that very high level structurally, the way they want the government to operate, that is motivating Karl Rove and I believe motivating the president as well.  This concept of an ownership society is about sort of changing, changing the structure of how entitlement programs work. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you sell that in a state like Pennsylvania if you‘re running for reelection, like Rick Santorum?  How do you sell that in Rhode Island, if you‘re Linc Chafee?  These are states with a lot of retired people, older people, who desperately want Social Security, every dollar of it, and now you‘re telling them, we‘re going to means test you. 

GREGORY:  I think it is really hard.

I think it is really hard because you‘re talking about the means testing. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  The idea, the more you make, the more benefits you would lose over time, that‘s what the president is proposing now.  But a lot of people think he is only proposing that to pay for his private accounts, which they think are risky. 

So, I think there is a tremendous problem in the salesmanship.  I think what he is trying to say is that we have got to get our heads around the idea that Social Security is not going to last forever.  And I know 2041 sounds like a far way off. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  But if you‘re retirement age now, this doesn‘t impact you.  It is for younger people.  And we have got to change the structure of how this program works.  It‘s our only choice.

MATTHEWS:  OK, have a nice weekend, David Gregory.

GREGORY:  All right.  You, too.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for that report from the White House. 

Monday on HARDBALL, an in-depth look at the first 100 days of             the Bush second term. 

And when we come back tonight, 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, we‘re going to look at how it continues to affect national politics today and individual people.  Plus, we‘ll be joined by Four-Star General Norman Schwarzkopf, who served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  In 1973, President Richard Nixon announced the agreement of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. 

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam.

ANNOUNCER:  The treaty did not bring peace.  Two years later, the U.S.-allied South fell to the communist north.  President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of all U.S. Embassy personnel in South Vietnam.

GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today, America can regain a sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.  But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished.

ANNOUNCER:  The last American helicopter would leave Saigon just seven days later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While the Vietnam War continues to weigh on so many aspects of our American life, it also continues to frame our national politics.  The passions over Vietnam have been a factor in nearly every presidential campaign over the last 30 years. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It began in 1964.  Incumbent President Lyndon Johnson told voters he had no intention of taking the U.S. into Vietnam.  That was misleading, because, as historians note, Johnson was already planning to expand the war.  The political strategy, however, worked.  Republican candidate Barry Goldwater argued for intervention. 

BARRY GOLDWATER ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Failures infest the jungles of Vietnam. 

SHUSTER:  Many voters thought Goldwater was an extremist, and Johnson won the election.  During the 1968 campaign, Vietnam came back to haunt Lyndon Johnson. 

A relatively unknown Democratic senator named Eugene McCarthy ran in the New Hampshire primary as the anti-war candidate. 

EUGENE MCCARTHY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I do offer, I think, a new approach and new policies to replace those which have failed. 

SHUSTER:  McCarthy‘s strong showing vaulted him into the national spotlight and, three weeks later, President Johnson withdrew from the race.  The Republican nominee that year was Richard Nixon. 

NIXON:  And I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  Nixon won the election.  Four years later, a majority of the U.S. troops were gone from Vietnam.  But Democrat George McGovern made the bloodshed a central theme of the ‘72 campaign. 

GEORGE MCGOVERN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And as one whose heart has ached for the past 10 years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt the senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day. 

SHUSTER:  President Nixon suspended the bombing one month before Election Day.  And his reelection victory was assured when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced:

HENRY KISSINGER, SECRETARY OF STATE:  We believe that an agreement is within sight. 

SHUSTER:  In Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 presidential campaign, the politics of the war began to shift.  Reagan declared the war was a noble cause.  And despite claims from President Carter that REAGAN:  was a war monger, Reagan swept into office. 

In 1988, the politics focused on military service. 

DAN QUAYLE ®, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  As a young man, I served six years in the National Guard.  And like millions of American who have served in the Guard, I serve today and I‘m proud of that. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  In 1992, Bill Clinton, who did not serve, had to answer serious questions about deferment letters that helped him stay at Oxford and avoid Vietnam.  It made his political turnaround even more remarkable. 

WILLIAM J. CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  Five years ago, John McCain‘s record as a Vietnam POW jump-started his presidential campaign.  But Republican voters preferred George W. Bush, despite questions about his service in the Texas Air National Guard as a noncombatant. 

Then there was last year‘s campaign. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John Kerry.  And I‘m reporting for duty. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  John Kerry earned medals in Vietnam, but accusations by swift boat veterans that his valor had been exaggerated and that his protests were harmful ripped open old wounds.  And the Kerry campaign, say analysts, never recovered. 

(on camera):  It all adds up to something stunning.  Vietnam has been a story in nine of the last 12 last presidential elections.  And with Vietnam veterans, including Kerry, Hagel and McCain, considering campaigns in 2008, a war that has shaped our political leaders for the last 30 years is going to remain on center stage for at least a few years more. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David.

When we come back, General Norman Schwarzkopf and two other Vietnam veterans will share their feelings on the 30th anniversary of the end of that war. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, 30 years after Vietnam. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, did we learn any lessons from the Vietnam War? 

Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf served two combat tours in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart after being injured there.  He later became the commander of allied forces during Operation Desert Storm. 

General Schwarzkopf, what were the lessons of Vietnam? 

NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Oh, I think there were many of them. 

I think the first one was, we had to understand it was the Vietnamese that had to win that war for themselves with U.S. support.  As a matter of fact, General Creighton Abrams had changed from search and destroy to what he called seize and occupy.  And, really, at one point, according to the historians that are making the analysis today, at one point, about the ‘70s, we were winning the war. 

Unfortunately, I guess when Congress cut off all aid to South Vietnam, we left them with a lot of equipment, helicopters, guns, that sort of thing, but no ammunition, no spare parts, no fuel, no capability to get it.  And that changed dramatically from 1970 on and went downhill from there. 

MATTHEWS:  A hard hunch, but you could tell or can you tell now whether all that extra materiel and power, firepower that we could have given them and didn‘t would have made any difference in the long run? 

SCHWARZKOPF:  Oh, I think it very definitely would have been. 

And I think that, as I say, in 1970, things were looking pretty good as a result of Abrams‘ policies.  But, after that, things went downhill because they just weren‘t capable of matching—remember that the Russians, even after the Paris Accords, the Russians and the Chinese were supplying North Vietnam tremendously.  And we had cut off all aid to them whatsoever.  So, I think that was really the turning point. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was a lethal mistake to allow as part of the peace treaty of ‘73, the Paris Peace Accords, to allow the V.C., the Viet Cong, to remain in the country in South Vietnam within the territory of the government we were trying to defend? 

SCHWARZKOPF:  Well, I think that was a compromise that had to be made.  And I don‘t think it would have all that bad, given the strength of the V.C. at that time. 

I think it was later on when, really—you know, the V.C. had almost become a nonforce by that time based upon several major battles, but not to mention the Tet Offensive, when they took terrible losses and had thousands and thousands of killed.  But I think it was more the NVA and the ability for them to come in with overwhelming firepower and tanks and that sort of thing.  And the south really didn‘t have an ability to defend against it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—hold on there, General.  I want to you join in our conversation as we bring in a couple of other veterans of that war.  Enlisted soldiers have a different perspective, obviously.  And we have two of them with us.  John Dibble and Paul Cauley both fought and, even today, have intense feelings about their experiences. 

Paul, I want to begin with you. 

Let me ask you about your feelings about the Vietnam War overall. 

PAUL CAULEY, VIETNAM VETERAN:  Overall, I think our country went there to do a job and left without completing it. 

MATTHEWS:  And why do you think we left?   

CAULEY:  Well, I believe that the media and the wants and the needs of the people back here in the United States forced our country to pull out of there. 

They just didn‘t understand what I think our mission and job was over there.  And we was getting such bad press that there was just no option but to pull our troops out of there. 

MATTHEWS:  And do you believe that a continued campaign beyond ‘73 would have been successful? 

CAULEY:  Well, I think—I don‘t know that it would have taken that much longer time.  I just think that it would have taken 100 percent commitment out of our government to have won that war.  It is hard to believe that a country no larger than the state of California could defeat a country like the United States of America. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your personal experiences.  Were you in any way humiliated by your experience—by the American people? 

CAULEY:  Oh, absolutely, Chris. 

My first interaction with civilians when I came home was at an airport in Seattle, Washington, where the person, the flight clerk recognized the fact that I was a Vietnam returnee.  And she upgraded me from economy to first class and welcomed me home. 

But my next exposure to a civilian was sitting in a Chicago airport waiting for a connecting flight home when I had a young lady walk by me and spit at me and call me a baby killer and told me I should go back to Vietnam with my own kind. 

MATTHEWS:  Who was—how old was that person? 

CAULEY:  She was probably in her mid-20s. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think was sparking her day that day?  What do you think made her think that she should—could humiliate a guy who had put his rear end on the line, his life on the line over there?  What made her think she was superior morally to you?  What do you think? 

CAULEY:  Well, what I think—I was not aware of it, because we did not get that much news when we was over there. 

But, when I came home, they had recently convicted Lieutenant Calley for My Lai. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CAULEY:  And so the front page of all the papers and all the headline news was the fact that these U.S. soldiers had just knowingly and wittingly just lined up all these civilians and mowed them down.  And I think that was the perception that most citizens in the U.S. had of ‘Nam veterans.  And they just couldn‘t be further from the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Hold on there, Paul. 

We want to bring another voice in, John Dibble.  He and I used to work together in political campaigns past.

Let me ask you, John, what was your experience compared to that coming home? 

JOHN DIBBLE, VIETNAM VETERAN:  I did not have the experience that Paul had.  I came back and it may have just been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What year were you back? 

DIBBLE:  I came back in ‘71, late, about, I‘m going to say in July. 

And I didn‘t find people particularly antagonistic.  I didn‘t advertise the fact I‘d been in Vietnam.  And I found out later when I went back to school, to law school, that some people were actually genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say.  I didn‘t have much to say.  I wasn‘t really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear stories, John, from people, because we‘ve all heard them, of people who were, if not spat upon physically, were, you know, mocked in some way, ridiculed in some way? 

DIBBLE:  I have heard them.  I never saw that.  And it doesn‘t mean it didn‘t happen, because I‘m sure that it did. 

As Paul noted, part of the problem was, there were two things that happened.  One, you had the famous My Lai picture.  And you also had the famous picture of Kim Phuc, the little girl running down the road who had been covered in napalm.  And those things were kind of imprinted on people‘s minds and they took that as what the war was all about. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul, let me go back to you.

The comparison between the accusation, the generalized accusation that you were some kind of war criminal because of what Calley may have done, or did do, compared to what you went through, you—what was it like to go through the Vietnam War, compared to the way it was branded when you got home? 

CAULEY:  Well, I would not have to have gone over there.  But I volunteered to go into the service and go serve in Vietnam, because I believed that we had to stop the spread of communism. 

When Johnson had said, if we let that country fall, then it would be Cambodia, then it would Laos, and eventually, the communist countries would overpower us, so I really felt my country needed me to go over there.  And everything I did over there, I did with pride and I did it for the people of the United States. 

And when I came home, I thought that I would be treated with some respect for doing that.  And, as it was, as soon as someone found out I was a veteran, I couldn‘t get a job on a building that had a huge sign that said, we‘re now hiring. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to General Schwarzkopf. 

General, you have a little—you have a bit of an eagle‘s-eye view of this whole thing, being at the highest command.  Do you think this represents the dichotomy, the difference?  Some guys got one experience and one got the other.  And how do you account for it? 

SCHWARZKOPF:  Well, you know, I had two tours.  I had one in ‘65.  ‘66, and another ‘69, ‘70.  They were two entirely different careers based upon circumstances that were going on in the war at that time. 

I would tell you quite categorically that nobody spit on me or they would have paid a price for doing it, regardless of what would come after that. 

MATTHEWS:  How many sneers did you take?  Any sneers?  Any obnoxious behavior? 

SCHWARZKOPF:  Oh, yes. 

As a matter of fact, one time, I remember I was down shopping at Christmastime back in the Washington D.C. area.  And I just—I felt alienated from the crowd, the people, the way they were looking at me, the things they were sort of saying and avoiding me and that‘s—I couldn‘t believe it, because, you know, here I had come back from my second tour in Vietnam and I was stuck in the Pentagon.  I wasn‘t too happy about that to begin with. 

But then, to go to downtown Washington, D.C., and sort of—it was hard to describe.  But, believe me, I felt very uncomfortable. 

MATTHEWS:  John, what‘s your lasting feeling about Vietnam, John Dibble?

DIBBLE:  From a personal or a political...

MATTHEWS:  Personal.

DIBBLE:  From a personal standpoint...

MATTHEWS:  What do you dream at night when you think about it?  And when it flashes back to you, what flashes back?  Any good memories?  Any...

DIBBLE:  Well, yes.  There are good memories of the people I served with, some of whom are still friends and we keep in touch.  And, also, I grew as a person.  I went—I was 24 years old when I left and I‘d been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Was this your test by fire? 

DIBBLE:  It was. 

But it also got me into a situation with people that I probably never would have been in a situation with.  And I learned a lot from it.  And I think some good come out of it.  You can also have a lot of bad come out of it.  But, for me...

MATTHEWS:  You were lucky. 

DIBBLE:  I was lucky. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, gentlemen.  It‘s an honor to have all three of you on the program, General Norman Schwarzkopf, John Dibble and Paul Cauley.

Good luck, Paul.

And, up next, the man who led the American victories in Afghanistan and the second Iraq war, General Tommy Franks, as HARDBALL‘s special coverage of Vietnam, “30 Years Later,” continues, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, we‘ll talk to the general who led the American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, General Tommy Franks—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

General Tommy Franks led the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  And, as a 22-year-old fresh out of officer candidate school, he went to Vietnam, where he earned three Purple Hearts.  General Franks‘ best-selling autobiography is now out in paperback.  What a great book, what a great title, “American Soldier.”

General Franks, we‘re talking now about 30 years ago tonight.

RETIRED GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the feelings that a lot of fighting men and people in America, American patriots, felt when we watched the evacuation from Saigon from the rooftops there.  What was your feeling watching that at that time?  And where were you?

FRANKS:  Well, Chris, at that time, we were stationed on the East German-Czechoslovakian border.  And my focus at that time in 1975 was much more on the Cold War and what was going on, on the other side of that border than it was in thinking about—in thinking about what was going on in Vietnam. 

I guess my memories of Vietnam span the personalities, the people that I‘ve worked with day in and day out for the time that I spent over there.  And I not only thought about them in 1975.  I still think about them. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the war when you deeply think about it?  And, as a fighting man who got three Purple Hearts over there and became such a figure in later military campaigns, do you think that Vietnam campaign could have been won? 

FRANKS:  Yes. 

One never knows.  It is like asking the question, well, do you think if you had done this or that in Afghanistan, that this or that would have happened?  I‘m not—I‘m not really sure.  I know that, as I think back about it, one of the things that popped into my mind as a young lieutenant was, hey, if I ever have to fight a war.  And if I‘m ever in charge of anything, I bet you that I won‘t permit a sanctuary someplace where the bad guys can hide and shoot Americans. 

And so maybe that‘s the thought that I carried with me for a long, long time, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was a mistake—now, this is a political call, but it affected the whole sort of fortunes of war, everything, all the guys who were lost over there, some almost 60,000 Americans. 

FRANKS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And the many more people, of course, killed in that war on both sides. 

But the decision to leave Vietnam in early ‘73, when we signed the—when President Nixon signed the Paris peace talks, and basically allowed the V.C., the Viet Cong, to continue inside South Vietnam.  They were parties to the peace treaty.  Was that a lethal decision that meant, eventually, the government would fall, because you had the V.C. there and the North Vietnamese right on the border coming in? 

FRANKS:  Yes, I think so. 

You know, my view is, my views is that, whether you‘re in business or whether you‘re in the military—my view is that, whether you‘re in business or whether you‘re in the military, you ought not ever say you‘re going to do something that you don‘t do. 

And I think stick-to-itiveness when it comes to fighting wars is a necessary ingredient.  You ought not ever have a war if you can avoid it.  If you are going to have one, you need to commit to it until it is won. 

MATTHEWS:  And you don‘t believe we did that in Vietnam?

FRANKS:  I don‘t think so.  Obviously, we left. 

Look, I think about—people talk to me about a very contemporary period, 9/11/01 and why did it happen and what could have been done to prevent it from happening?  And I—when I think about that, I go all the way back to 1983.  And then I think about 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia.  What did we do there?  Well, we walked away.  Did that produce any sort of good outcome for the United States of America?  I don‘t think so. 

We saw Khobar Towers then, the attack on our airmen in Saudi Arabia in 1996.  And we saw Osama bin Laden attack two American embassies in 1998 in East Africa.  So, it isn‘t that I yearn for the fight, that I yearn for war.  Actually, I yearn not to have the fight.  But the fact, is if you‘re going to have one, if you get yourself involved in one as a nation, it‘s pretty important that you finish it.  And we did not do that in Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  General Franks, we‘ll be right back with you after this break. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  On the morning of April 30, 1975, the fall of Saigon was well under way.  The evacuation of U.S. personnel and South Vietnamese as part of Operation Frequent Wind was quickly nearing an end.  The last helicopter lifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy, marking the end of our country‘s military involvement in Vietnam. 

Soon after, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the presidential palace, as communist soldiers took to the streets of Saigon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with General Tommy Franks.

General, you talked about your experience of serving over there on the Iron Curtain, right on the line over there.

FRANKS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  In those years as the war in Vietnam was winding down. 

Do you think that the war or the fighting, the bloodshed and sacrifice the United States paid in Vietnam, helped in any way to end the Cold War, as it did so wonderfully in Europe in 1989? 

FRANKS:  I guess I would have to say nothing pops into my mind, Chris, about Vietnam as having helped end the Cold War. 

I think the consistency of the United States of America‘s approach to communism, I think the consistency of our commitment along the Iron Curtain, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, contributed to the fall of the curtain.  I‘m not at all sure Vietnam did. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s what I want to ask you about, because you know so many fighting men and women who served.  And some came out of it OK and some didn‘t. 

Tell me what your general sense is of the aftershock of war to all the people you‘ve known over these last three decades. 

FRANKS:  I think one of the great blessings of having written this book is that it has given us a reason to travel from coast to coast and from Canada to Mexico to talk to lots and lots of Americans where they live. 

During the course of that book tour, I have met lots and lots of people who served our country during the period of Vietnam, some damaged and some not.  I think that perhaps most damaging of all was the sense that our country walked away from the men and women who served over there.  And I think that‘s a sad thing. 

One of the great characteristics of our country right now, Chris, is, I don‘t care, during this last presidential election, whether we wore a Kerry bumper sticker on our car or a George Bush bumper sticker, just as likely to have that little yellow ribbon that says, we support the troops.  As you would know, we did not have that in Vietnam. 

(CROSSTALK)  

FRANKS:  And I suspect that that contributed at least as much to some of the difficulties that some of our veterans face today. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about you personally, General.

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We only have a minute or so. 

FRANKS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  This is what you wrote in your book, “American Soldier,”

about your own personal experience in Vietnam and what did to you—quote

·         “I‘ve joked that I shipped out to Vietnam a rookie of 22.”

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: “And came home 12 months later a 50-year-old veteran.”

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: “Some people laugh, but not the guys who served there.”

FRANKS:  Absolutely.  And all you and I need to do is just ask some of these people who served their country with great pride and with dignity at a time when the nation didn‘t appreciate it. 

I learned a lot when I was in Vietnam.  And I came home a much more mature human being than I was when I went. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think some fellows could go home and go right back to business, almost like, in “The Best Years of Our Lives,” you know,, that movie about after World War II.

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They go back to get a job, go to school, graduate school, move on with their lives.  And some really never get back off the bike again.  They wear a pony tail.  They still wear the uniform, the bat, the medals.  They hang around with other guys. 

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They can‘t quite break out.  What is it, do you think?

FRANKS:  I don‘t know that you could put your finger on just one thing. 

I think part of it is our society‘s view of Vietnam vets when they came home.  I think another part of it is the fact that we had the draft back in the Vietnam time.  And everyone who was in Vietnam was not a volunteer, although many were.  And so we had this amazing cross-section of America involved in that war, so some combination of all those factors, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  When you were in Vietnam over there, when you were facing it, who did you fight on the other side?  Was it V.C. or North Vietnamese regulars? 

FRANKS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Who were you facing?

FRANKS:  Both, depending on when it was.  I was there in 1967 and ‘68.  And I was down in the Mekong Delta.  And we had Viet Cong down there, to be sure.  And then, during the Tet Offensive period, we had some North Vietnamese regulars.  And so—so, both.

MATTHEWS:  What are your feelings about the Vietnamese now, the people themselves? 

FRANKS:  I suspect they‘re just about like any other people living in a Third World country.  They seek to better their lot in life.  They seek to provide for their families. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  It is great to having you on, as always, General Tommy Franks.

FRANKS:  Thank, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  His book is a great book, “American Soldier.”

On Monday‘s HARDBALL, an in-depth look at the first 100 days of the Bush second term, the second term of the presidency, and the challenges the president faces as he tries to get Congress to accept his agenda.  That‘s Monday on HARDBALL. 

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant,Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,