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Interview with Albert Santoli

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Santoli, Al, 1949- ; McKiernan, Stephen


Al Santoli is a writer and a former combatant who served in Vietnam and earned a Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts. He has also served as a policy oversight expert in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is currently teaching at the Institute of World Politics.




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McKiernan Interviews




McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Albert Santoli
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: REV
Date of interview: 18 May 2010
(Start of Interview)

SM (00:00:03):
Testing one, two, testing. Start it right now.

Al (00:00:08):
Let me go to your email as well.

SM (00:00:11):
Okay. Did you get my email address for [inaudible]-

Al (00:00:22):
I Did. Thank you very much.

SM (00:00:26):
Yeah. And do not forget, Paul Yuppies at Merrill Lynch in New York City.

Al (00:00:30):
Should I just... I have never met him before. Who else... Who is he close to? What board?

SM (00:00:36):
Well, he is close to Jan Scruggs.

Al (00:00:40):

SM (00:00:41):
For the Vietnam Memorial. But Paul is... He is one of the top people at Merrill Lynch in New York City. He has had a lot of different positions because they had to go through... You know some people lost their jobs there, but he has been very successful and has moved on to different roles. And I am not sure how financially stable they are, but he is a big supporter of Vietnam veterans. And he has spoken at the wall and he has contributed, I believe, to the Women's Memorial and to Jan Scruggs' Vietnam Memorial through the Merrill Lynch. So he would be a great contact.

Al (00:01:20):

SM (00:01:22):
So, alright I do not know if you are ready to go.

Al (00:01:25):
Just about. I have one more sentence here on this message that I have to send, so I can clear the deck on this one and then I am a hundred percent with you.

SM (00:01:34):
Okay. [inaudible]. Okay. We are going right with the questions that I sent you and-

Al (00:01:40):
Now those are a lots of questions. I was thinking of, maybe streamline it. Like the stuff of, what do I think about these different decades? I do not see that that is really... You might have a reason for that, very specific reason for that. The theme of your book. I do not know that I have that much to say about it. I think that there is other things there that, probably, I can address and put some statements into that are going to be more meaningful.

SM (00:02:16):
Mm-hmm. Well, let us go right to number two then. How did the 1950s shape you?

Al (00:02:24):
Well, that is when I was born, I mean, in (19)49. So the (19)50s was my childhood. And I do not know, I think the people's characters are what they are and the (19)50s, people are people no matter when they are born. And I think that you can say that it was pre-high-tech.

SM (00:02:53):

Al (00:02:54):
But then again, I do not know how that influences people because even technology is a tool and it is about your, and your family is your family, and there has always been harmony and disharmony in families that affect people no matter who they are, rich or poor, and no matter when they were born. So that is why with those, I do not see them as being as relevant to me-

SM (00:03:17):

Al (00:03:17):
As some other things. But I never, I do not see it in those terms. I have never seen it in those terms. I have never seen... I have never really taken it seriously or seriously, I will put it this way, seriously considered the issue of baby boomers except that we were a very, very fortunate bunch of people to be born at a time when this country really had a lot of economic security and stability and that is really important. I think that in itself shaped people a certain way. But the kinds of people, they became either responsible or irresponsible that is about their character.

SM (00:04:07):
So you do not see, when we are talking the (19)50s and then the (19)60s and all these changes took place, would you see any difference between those two decades for people of your age?

Al (00:04:23):
No, and I think I judge people by who they are today, but all that matters to me is who people are. And you cannot really tell who somebody is going to become, but you can tell who somebody is. And I feel that a lot of people hide the issue of the (19)60s being this very high polluting time. But I have to tell you that I really do not think it was any more special and I think there were a lot of people who were fake idealists. Who when push came to shove and it was their term to be responsible, completely dropped the ball. I think the people that grew up in the 1930s and were shaped by World War II in the (19)40s had a lot more character development and a lot more character than this group of the 1950s. I say the 1950s as being a bunch of phonies. They are a bunch of spoiled brats by and large. And I think adversity makes people stronger and everybody has adversity in their own lives. And they have, you know, all of us have obstacles that we have to overcome. But, I think that for people to say this, I do not think World War II was the best generation. I do not think that Vietnam was the best generation. I do not think the people today, just because they are high-tech savvy, are the best generation. I just tend to think people are people no matter when they are born.

SM (00:06:11):
When you were in the service, what were your thoughts on your peers who really were trying to get out of serving? And there were many in college, but some outside of college too, and those who protested the war. What were your thoughts on them when you were in Vietnam and when you came home?

Al (00:06:29):
Well, of course when you are in the war, you do not appreciate it because they helped prolong the war because it gave the other side, and rightly so, that was always the target. If you look at the Bratislava conference and the Havana conferences that were met by the Russians and the Cuban and the Vietnamese to whip up the... And Vietnam learned that from what happened with France during the French period, the Communist always knew this. The Soviet Communist always knew this because, how they did mass mobilization. So I felt that the anti-war movement did not stop the war. They prolonged the war. But when I came back from the war, I had friends that were protestors and friends that were in anti-war movement. I myself had very, very mixed feelings about what was going on in Vietnam. Not because I was against defeating the Communist, but because they were bad guys. And they proved that after 1975 in Spain, that I felt that our country had betrayed us and our lives did not mean anything. We are just a bunch of harm. And that itself was something that was very hurtful. And I think part of the reason that there were so many veterans that had such a rough homecoming and that is what my books were about.

SM (00:07:57):

Al (00:07:57):
It was trying to reconcile the fact that people that went were just, was not that Vietnam veterans were like any different than anybody else.

SM (00:08:06):

Al (00:08:07):
We have been tested in a way others had not been tested, uniquely, because of the circumstances. And there were some people that were destroyed by that. And then there were some people that became better people from it as well. And I am thinking if you look at the books, like everything we had, where I included pictures of people in the book. The purpose being of showing that everyone in this book could be your next door neighbor. And there were people in the book that had mixed feelings about being there while that they were there and when they came home. And it was a, I would say one thing, it was a very complex generation, that is for sure.

SM (00:08:53):

Al (00:08:53):
And there was definitely a division between those who would be drafted and those who had the ability to get out of the draft. For me, I was an enlistee. I chose it. I volunteered and I knew it would kill me or change me, which it did. And it almost did both because of the illness that I contacted from the blood transfusion, it could almost both have changed me and killed me. But I am passing, passing through that second stage of it, on the second stage being that even now as I am entering the last quadrant of my life. That a natural cycle that I have been able to use what I learned as a young soldier to help shape me. I think in a way that is constructive that I never would have had if I had not been invested in that manner.

SM (00:09:44):
Yeah, you...

Al (00:09:45):
I cannot say I am grateful to Lyndon Johnson, but I am grateful for the experience because for me personally, it made a better person of me. There were other people that it destroyed. There were people in the anti-war movement, some of whom became better people from it, some of whom became bigger jerks because of it, some of whom it destroyed. If you look at the people that were involved in things like the Weather Underground and other radical movement, if you take it to the extreme.

SM (00:10:17):

Al (00:10:17):
But my personal feeling is that people have a core character, and that character can either be augmented or diminished depending upon their life experience and how they deal with it. And also, I have to say, the mentors and the people that they have around them also makes me appreciate the work I am doing now, and accepting at the stage of my life that it is important for me to be a mentor. To pass on whatever I have learned constructively to the young ones who are going to be taking our place. And that in it for me, it includes very much centrally working in areas of conflict. So there is not many of us that can do that. Just because it is a very tough thing to do. Just like there are not so many people that can be cops and not so many people that can be firemen and not too many people that can be school teachers. All of us have a calling. And I feel that my wartime experience really helped bring that out of me in a constructive way.

SM (00:11:17):
You really answered question six and seven by responding because what did the Vietnam War teach you as a person, and what did the (19)60s, and (19)60s and (19)70s teach you as a person. So-

Al (00:11:28):

SM (00:11:29):
Those are, they are combined there. Certainly what you are doing now is very important. And with all the divisions that took place in America during the (19)60s and the (19)70s, have we-

Al (00:11:42):
So you are on question four now. Okay.

SM (00:11:43):
Yeah. We are on question four and then we are going to go to five. Well, all the divisions that took place in America during the (19)60s and (19)70s, had we healed as a nation from those many divisions or will most members of this generation, boomers that is, be going to their graves not healing like many from the Civil War, who was documented, did not heal?

Al (00:12:04):
I think as a society, the Vietnam War was the symptom, it was not a cause. The Vietnam War was a product of who we were becoming as a nation. I think before this generation ends, this country will be tested like it never has been before. Not since World War II, because of economic reasons, because of conflicts that are just over the horizon. Because of the ramifications of what has been happening with Iraq and Afghanistan of the war on terror. We are still in the process of becoming, and it is going to be not easy. And for the coming generations, they are going to have to deal with a much more difficult world. And for America, we are not going to be having it as easy as we had it before. And I hope this brings out the best in people. And I hope it brings out leadership that we do not see in this country now, because people will be tested. And when you are tested heavily, the best and the worst comes out of people. I am just praying that in this country there is more good things than negative things. But in terms of all the stuff, civil rights, movement, everything that was part of that period, that was something our country was going through in evolution. And the Vietnam War was part of the evolution. The Vietnam War did not create that. It was part of it.

SM (00:13:32):
Do you think the boomers failed, the oldest boomers are now 63 and the youngest are 47. Do you think as a generation that oftentimes you...

Al (00:13:42):
A generation, I think as a generation, it is a failed generation because this generation had the ability to do really wonderful things in the world as a nation. And greed, selfishness, the spoiled brat side of it. The parents who had been through the Great Depression in World War II, who did not want their kids to have to go through that and tried to shelter them from it created a group of privileged. A group, I am talking about people that would be naturally in leadership positions or would be, or they went to the best schools. They were given the best opportunities in life that they lost, they lost their soul because they got so caught up in being, quote "the world's only superpower", the world only economic superpower, et cetera, et cetera. And what we came out of it was basically, what came out of it was Oliver Stone. In terms of the bitterness of someone who had been through prep school, been through Vietnam, had seen people on both sides of the fence and was pretty much pissed off at everybody. I do not feel pissed off like Oliver Stone does, but I think that we had a real opportunity that due to our own selfishness and greed, we have thrown away. I feel very bad about that because it is going to affect the next generations. But hopefully the next generations will rebound and find the kind of character that was missing in the, that post World War II generation.

SM (00:15:23):
When we talk about that post World War II generation, it is not just America. It is in different parts of the world too.

Al (00:15:29):
Oh heck yeah.

SM (00:15:29):
Because when we talk about 1968...

Al (00:15:32):
Active leadership everywhere.

SM (00:15:34):
England, Spain, Japan, Germany. There were protests in some of the Eastern European countries, student protests, and they were the same boomers, but they were from different countries. Do you see that it is part of the boomer generation worldwide?

Al (00:15:52):
I think the world was going through certain stages of evolution, end of the industrial age, beginning of the high-tech age, beginning of globalism. We might see globalism rise and fall within our own lifetime because ultimately people cannot be homogenized. International culture cannot be homogenized if they are, I think that all these high-tech companies thought they would create one global society of consumers that would all act like Pavlov's dogs, the same commercial.

SM (00:16:26):

Al (00:16:27):
And I think what is happening is we are seeing that there is a lot of resistance to that. Unfortunately, some of it is very violent resistance.

SM (00:16:35):
What we are seeing in Greece could happen in America, England. And maybe it is-

Al (00:16:40):
Oh heck yeah.

SM (00:16:40):
All part of it.

Al (00:16:41):
England is not as bad as shape financially as Greece and China might be worse off than both of them. So I mean, that is what I mean. These coming years are going to be not easy. And I am just hoping that we have people that can rise up in terms of leadership, good judgment, and have the ability to deal with this because it is, I think, going to become more and more unpredictably chaotic because overpopulation, food and water shortages. You can go right down the list of all the challenges that the world is facing right now. And God bless the coming generation because they are going to need it.

SM (00:17:26):
The only two boomer presidents we have had, of course, is George Bush and Bill Clinton. And President Obama tries to disassociate himself from this generation, but he is still a boomer because he was-

Al (00:17:39):
I agree with that.

SM (00:17:39):
-He was three years old when, in (19)61, is when he was born. Your thoughts on them as boomers, are they just typical examples of boomers, your thoughts on those leaders?

Al (00:17:56):
Well, they are a product of their time. They are a product of their generation because everyone is. So, for anyone to try to disassociate themselves, that political mumbo jumbo because you are a part of the historical period that you were born in and lived in, no matter who you are.

SM (00:18:18):
What has the wall done to heal the nation? I know what it is done to, I have been down there and I have seen what is it is done to vets. But I am not a vet, and so I cannot feel how you feel when you go there.

Al (00:18:30):
I think it is different things for different people. I was of the group of veteran who was against the wall being just attuned. I was one of the ones who spoke out and supported the position that Jim Webb and others took that there should be a flag and that there should be some kind of a statue that represents hope. And represents the perseverance, not only of the living, but even of those that sacrificed. So, I mean, my feeling was during the time of that wall that it was imperfect. It had, I think for a lot of people, it had a very positive result in terms of closure and in terms of mourning, in terms of trauma relief. I mean, for poor people who lost family members, et cetera. So in that regard, I cannot say anything negative about it. But I am very happy that the American flag, because it was pretty snotty of the person who built it. They called the American flag a mustache on their work of art. And she actually did.

SM (00:19:40):
Who is that?

Al (00:19:41):
On paper. Yeah, the architect who did it.

SM (00:19:44):
Maya Lin?

Al (00:19:45):

SM (00:19:45):

Al (00:19:46):
And she deserved to be put down for that. But bottom line is that regardless of the process, you have to look at what has been the result. And the result has been largely positive. So I have nothing negative to say about it. For me it is like, I do not know. I mean I am, I believe in moving on. Has everybody, have I been to the wall? Sure, everyone has. And but did it change my life. No, because my life has been in doing the work that I do.

SM (00:20:22):

Al (00:20:24):
That is how I reconciled the experience. But for people who have not had that opportunity to go right back into war zones and work in war zones and find, and utilize both the negative and the positive into something that you hope is beneficial, I think that wall has been an okay thing. But I am really happy that there is a flag. And I am really happy that there is a sculpture that represents the hope of the living and so also reminds people that you can die. You can say people died for nothing, but if you can learn something from the experience, something constructive and something that moves, helps to move a generation forward. And they did not die for nothing.

SM (00:21:10):
When, you were probably there in 1982 when it opened, what was that day like?

Al (00:21:15):
No, I did not go.

SM (00:21:16):
Oh, you did not go?

Al (00:21:17):
I really, really did not because I felt that I had done my part with getting the American flag, helping to get the American flight included. That was enough for me.

SM (00:21:26):

Al (00:21:27):
Because these people did not die in an abstract way. They were not in a car crash on some lonely road.

SM (00:21:32):

Al (00:21:32):
They died wearing the uniform of their country. And it was also part of still kind of my protest against the initial attitude of the people that made the wall. But I did not want to be there. I did not want to be there because I felt it was ridiculous that we had to do such a struggle to get the American flag there. But like I said, I have never publicly spoken out anything negative against it because I feel if it is doing a good thing, then more power to it.

SM (00:21:59):
I think you have already answered number eight, but when you think of the boomer generation, what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Al (00:22:05):
I think I have already.

SM (00:22:06):
Yeah. And you already said they are not unique. Do you like the term boomer? Is there another term that you think better defines a generation?

Al (00:22:14):
I have never really, I have never really used that. I just have always said post World War II. But if you look at the baby boomer generation, yeah, it is called the baby boomer generation. But I have never seen it that way. I just always looked at it as post World War II. And I do not know that there is another term that better defines it.

SM (00:22:36):
I think that...

Al (00:22:37):
Sure. Some historian someday will come up with something. Some historian will come up with a clever break.

SM (00:22:44):
I know that some say the Vietnam generation, others say the Woodstock generation or the protest generation, or the movement generation.

Al (00:22:52):
You have to think about how many people protested. It was not the majority.

SM (00:22:56):
Between 5 and 15 percent.

Al (00:22:59):
Yeah. It was not the majority. So it is the hype. Maybe it is the hype generation. It is the TV generation. How about that?

SM (00:23:05):

Al (00:23:06):
That is probably what that generation was, TV.

SM (00:23:10):
Yeah. That...

Al (00:23:11):
Came back from World War II. They had babies and they got TV.

SM (00:23:14):
That is right.

Al (00:23:15):
TV generation.

SM (00:23:17):
Now, one of the things is that this is definitely truthful, and you may agree with this, that this is a generation just does not trust anybody. And...

Al (00:23:26):
I would not say that. I would not say that they trust anybody more or less than the generation before them.

SM (00:23:32):

Al (00:23:34):
And how also, why would not they trust anybody? Man. they were given everything.

SM (00:23:38):
Well, it is the lies that leaders told them, whether it be Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of China.

Al (00:23:43):
Oh my gosh. But think of the World War I guys coming back and doing the squatters things and then getting the shit beat out of them by MacArthur.

SM (00:23:51):

Al (00:23:51):
Was that? No, that was not MacArthur. Who beat them up?

SM (00:23:54):
What was the...

Al (00:23:55):
They had? Remember they had the squatters.

SM (00:23:58):

Al (00:23:59):
They had, and the guys that all the World War I guys that came back and had nothing. And then-

SM (00:24:05):

Al (00:24:05):
-Different parts of the country they set up squatters areas.

SM (00:24:08):

Al (00:24:09):
And got the shit beat out of them by the US Army.

SM (00:24:13):
Yeah. They came to Washington and made a, did a major protest in Washington, I believe.

Al (00:24:17):
They probably got beat up pretty good there too.

SM (00:24:19):
Yeah. But forget...

Al (00:24:21):
Did you ever see that movie? What was it about, the heavyweight champion, the Light Heavyweight Champion.

SM (00:24:28):
Raging Bolt?

Al (00:24:29):
No-no-no. It was a very positive movie about the guy during the Great Depression. He had to go on welfare and cause his career was over and then he came back and won the championship.

SM (00:24:43):
Was that John Garfield?

Al (00:24:47):
No-no. The movie was made a few years ago.

SM (00:24:49):
Oh, I do not, do not know.

Al (00:24:51):
Oh, that was a good movie. But the thing is, part of that movie was about the veterans going and protesting and getting beaten up. Because the movie was really about the Great Depression and about how this guy just would not be defeated. And even when people thought his career was washed up, he came back as a light heavyweight, won the heavyweight championship, and I think he got beaten by Joe Louis. That is when he lost it. But he held onto it for three or four years and then he went on to build the Verrazano Bridge.

SM (00:25:23):
Oh, wow.

Al (00:25:23):
Construction company built the Verrazano Bridge.

SM (00:25:26):

Al (00:25:28):
At the end. It was real, if you guys tend to see it, it is a good movie.

SM (00:25:29):
Yeah, I will...

Al (00:25:29):
Trillion actors is in it.

SM (00:25:33):
So this issue of trust, it is, trust is often defined by political science majors as a very positive quality within a group because that means the dissent is alive and well in the, in any government, in any country. So it is not having trust is oftentimes a positive thing, not a negative thing. Do you agree with that?

Al (00:25:55):
Questioning? I mean, questioning. Not taking things that pays value.

SM (00:25:59):
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Al (00:26:01):
I mean you could say that is part of it, but I think even kids, but kids today, well, I think the kids today get so caught up in testing. It is more impersonal. I think for, because it was TV rather than texting and rather than interactive games, violent interactive games, that it was much more personal. So I guess trust would be part of it. It seems that this generation, I am not going to generalize it, but I would say in terms of technology and the way technology affected them, it is more detached. And you could say that maybe the post-World War II generation was more attached.

SM (00:26:47):
Very good.

Al (00:26:47):
Because yeah. And also there were a lot of kids. I mean, there were a lot of kids born during that time so you always had a lot of kids to play with.

SM (00:26:56):
One thing is, I think I might have mentioned before is that there are more in the people in the millennial generation than there were in the boomer generation.

Al (00:27:04):
Oh, there are.

SM (00:27:05):
Yes. There are now close to 80 million millennials and there were 74 to seventy... You were never quite sure. 74 to 78 million boomers. Now millennials have passed them.

Al (00:27:18):
But you know what I think it is that there were less children per family because the larger number of kids happened. And then, you know what I mean? Families are not, I can tell you the neighborhood I grew up in with this neighborhood I live in now is not even close. And there is kids, but it is not like kids just coming popping out of the woodwork.

SM (00:27:41):
Right. What do these events mean to you? And you do not have to say, you already talked about the wall, so do not have to say anything about that. But yeah, real quick, what does Jackson State and Kent State mean to you? That tragedy in 1970?

Al (00:27:54):
Not very much. It really does not because that was not something that was part of my reality.

SM (00:28:02):
How about Watergate?

Al (00:28:04):
Yeah, I think Watergate affected everybody. That a president would be impeached. But if you look at stuff presidents have done then. I mean, Nixon was not so bad. There has been a lot worse guys that followed him.

SM (00:28:18):
How about Woodstock?

Al (00:28:20):
Woodstock was a party.

SM (00:28:23):
How about the hippies?

Al (00:28:28):
The hippies, the ones that did not get burned out? I mean, let us face it, the idealism lasted as long as long as it was convenient. And you did not have the responsibility of having to make a living. When you got up daddy's dollar. If you did not, if you were not dead from drug overdose.

SM (00:28:49):
How about the Yippies?

Al (00:28:51):
The Yippies. Ridiculous and troublemakers.

SM (00:28:53):
How about Vietnam veterans against the war, which was Bobby Muller and Ron Kovic and that group?

Al (00:28:59):
Well, I think more of Kovic and Barry Ramo and those guys. And I think we were very, those are the guys I knew best were like Kovic and Barry Ramo, and those guys. And I thought they were very, very determined and very sincere in what they were doing. And I have always liked them because I respected the fact that they were being true to their beliefs.

SM (00:29:30):
How about the counterculture itself, which was included dressed long hair, the drugs.

Al (00:29:35):
Contrary. I did not like the political part of those veterans against the war I despised. And I still feel that way about John Kerry. I feel Kerry is a big pony.

SM (00:29:45):
How about Bobby Muller? He is a very political person.

Al (00:29:50):
No comment.

SM (00:29:51):

Al (00:29:51):
I will not comment on Bob Muller.

SM (00:29:55):
Okay. I respect the fact that he sacrificed for his country, but Bob is a politician that never made it as far as John Kerry.

Al (00:30:03):
A politician that never made it as far as John Kerry in that regard. But Kerry, I have always felt total opportunity.

SM (00:30:10):
How about Jan Scruggs and all his work with the Vietnam Memorial?

Al (00:30:13):
Well, I think he worked hard at, I think Jan came from kind of the humble background, and he had a dream and he had a vision and he worked hard for it.

SM (00:30:23):
And how about Lewis Puller?

Al (00:30:26):
I never knew him, so I cannot say.

SM (00:30:28):
I interviewed his wife yesterday.

Al (00:30:30):
No, I never met him. I knew people that knew him and really liked him a lot.

SM (00:30:34):
He was a really nice person. Very nice person. But just the term, the counterculture, you do not...

Al (00:30:41):
Well, I felt bad for him that he had so much angst inside of him. It was not directed to be negative to other people, but inside of him, he felt maybe it was from having a famous father. I mean, I have known other people that have had famous parents in different ways that it is hard for them because they always have to live up to something they feel that people are judging them with. And it is not an easy thing. And especially in the case of this where you have been through trauma, you have lost your physical mobility. And all I can say is God bless us all. I hope he has found peace.

SM (00:31:20):
The word counterculture, just what it stands for.

Al (00:31:26):
I think, yeah, there was truth to that word that people were seeking to find a counterculture within their own society, but it was not something that was very real. It was something that was a temporary fascination.

SM (00:31:41):
How about communes? There are still a couple successful communes in America today.

Al (00:31:49):
Yeah, the farm is a big one. Yeah, the farming communes, farming co-op. I mean, it is the spirit of the pioneers.

SM (00:31:55):
How about the Black Panthers and Black Power?

Al (00:32:01):
I do not know what kind of lasting effect they had. Black Power was different things, but when you choose violence as a means of political persuasion, it does not work. I would say the stuff that was done by those who were not violent had a lot more lasting effect.

SM (00:32:19):
How about My Lai?

Al (00:32:22):
My Lai was a tragic incident that was used to try to color an entire million people that served and most of whom served honorably and never committed any atrocities. I felt My Lai political. It was a political weapon that was used against the US government, regardless of the fact that the people that did it should have been prosecuted. There was no excuse for it, but I felt that it was used in a way that did far more harm than good. It did not bring back those who died. And it really helped the people who later massacred millions to be able to help. It has helped them to succeed. The same way I feel now that there is stuff happening in Iraq, it had the, what do you call the Abu Ghraib? What a horrible thing that was. And that empowered extremism.

SM (00:33:23):
Yeah. How do you deal with commentators? And I have read a couple books where things have been said is that we had prisoners of war, but there were no prisoners of war for the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong because the American soldiers handed them over to the South Vietnamese army, and they did them in. So there are no POWs. Is that the...

Al (00:33:46):
No, that was not the case. They had prisons full, and they let a lot of them go too. Yeah. No, that is not true. That is a...

SM (00:33:55):
That is a myth then.

Al (00:33:56):
That is a myth.

SM (00:33:57):
Well, that needs to be corrected.

Al (00:33:58):
There were times when people were shot on the spot in the same way there were Americans that were shot during the conflicts. And there were a lot of South Vietnamese, my goodness, that were just massacred by the communists. So I mean, it was a brutal civil war, but there were prisons full of war prisoners.

SM (00:34:19):
How about Tet?

Al (00:34:22):
Tet, I agree with the idea that it was a political defeat for the other side, but it was a military defeat. But it was a political victory because of the fact that Johnson and some of his generals believed that they had the war won. But in effect, if they had pursued it after that, maybe the war would have been over and it would have turned out very differently. But then again, going back to the reality of that time, that did not happen because that was the reality of the time. So that political defeat was part of the landscape.

SM (00:35:02):
What event in your youth had the greatest impact on your life at home and at war? You may have already mentioned it, just being in the service. Is there any one event that happened at home and then one...

Al (00:35:19):
No, I think it is a process. I really do believe it is a process. I mean, there are many events, but it is the evolution that you go through. That is the thing. It is the evolution that you go through. And as you get older, you realize it happens over a period of time. And some people might have the event, and I am sure there were some people that had an event that changed their life. But for a lot of us, it is a progression in a series of many events. And you cannot say which one was more important than another because they all had their importance or they all had their significance.

SM (00:36:00):
Why did the Vietnam War end in your view? And I think you have already responded the impact the college student protest had on ending the war, you felt it prolonged the war.

Al (00:36:08):
I mean, it was not because there was a lack of political will. But even beyond that, it is the same mistake they are making with Afghanistan right now. If you do not have a government that is credible, and you try to build a central government and you base everything you do on the credibility of a government that is not acceptable to its own people or at least a substantial number of its own people, then you are ultimately going to lose.

SM (00:36:41):
I have been listing three slogans from the period. These are quotes that I feel defined this post World War II generation. Number one, Malcolm X by any means necessary, symbolizing the more violent aspects of that period. Bobby Kennedy's quote where he says, "Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that are not and ask why not." And then symbolizing activism and fighting for injustice in a peaceful way, nonviolent protest. And then of course, the hippie kind of mentality, which was on the Peter Max posters, "You do your thing, I will do mine. If by chance we should come together, it will be beautiful." Which is kind of a hippie mentality. The only other people that have made comments is the quote, "We shall overcome." Symbolizing the Civil rights movement. And John Kennedy's "Ask, not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Do those quotations kind of symbolize this generation, or are there some quotes or slogans you think symbolize it more?

Al (00:37:51):
I am not sure. I mean, all those quotes that you mentioned had their effect. In terms of dominant effect, I do not know. In terms of masses of people that were affected, I am not sure. Definitely TV and movies had effect. The music industry had its effect. And I think that there were a number of songs and slogans and whatever that had a, again, I look at things in terms of when you are talking about a generation, it is not just one thing, it is comprehensive. But the ones that you mentioned, yeah, I mean, they all had their impact on different people.

SM (00:38:33):
The last question is a lot of different people. And just to respond, it does not have to be any in depth response. It could be quick responses or you can say a few sentences more on people that had greater impact on you.

Al (00:38:46):
I would rather go through this list and rather than saying, no-no-no-no-no-no-no. I would say, okay, John Kennedy had an impact on everybody because he was the president. Bobby Kennedy was his little brother. Dwight Eisenhower represented stability. LBJ was president when I was in Vietnam, so I guess he had an impact. Martin Luther King affected everybody because the Civil Rights Movement. Ronald Reagan, made me believe that something constructive could happen in politics if you had people that believed in what they were doing. Gerald Ford, what I remember for him saying is, "Let us forget about those Vietnam veterans, they are just a bunch of troublemakers anyway." Richard Nixon, the whole Watergate thing had a negative impact on everybody. Abbie Hoffman Jerry Rubin to me were just a couple of rabble-rousers with the Jimmy Carter meant well and much better after being a president than while being a president. Let us see. Let us see. I think Woodward and Bernstein, for those of us that became writers, I mean that whole idea that you could be an investigative reporter, and you have to add Jack Anderson to that too, and some of those guys. The whole issue of the crusading investigative reporter, as a writer that affected, that affected a lot of us. Robert McNamara, I did not have any respect for him because he was a cold, intellectual, sending people to their death and really was before my time per se. Timothy Leary basically was a Pied Piper. A lot of people had drug overdoses because of him. The Weathermen were basically lost souls, and they did a lot of damage to people who were innocent and people that they killed, and they even killed themselves with bombs exploding and things. Earth Day, I think has probably more meaning now than then because of what is happening with the earth. Although the whole issue of preserving the Earth has always been a good one. Little Rock Nine, no-no. Free speech movement. Peace Corps always was seen as a very positive, and it was symbolizing the Kennedy era. Get out there, and do something for society. And international, do something for international society. Of course, all those television shows, in terms of lasting impact, I think Disney and a number of Disney programs have always had, for better or for worse. I mean, now I think it is more not just because they are older, because I have an eight-year-old daughter. And the Disney kids have not turned out so well. Where back in those days, and that is, I think, the biggest difference, where you had the image that Disney very carefully crafted of family values and kids and his actors and actresses not getting in trouble and all that stuff is very different than the Disney kids today. Not all of them, but at least some of them. The Cowboys Hopalong Cassidy. Well, the whole cowboy, I think the cowboy movies affected all of us because cowboy movies were morality plays. And you had this sense of right and wrong, the sense of almost like Puritan values in cowboy movies. At least in the series, there used to be TV series even up through Gunsmoke, I mean, there was always the sense of justice. And that if justice was not happening on a structured basis, that there would be those individuals that would ride in and save the day and create justice where justice did not exist. So I think Cowboy movies had a big impact, I think of all that, probably cowboy movies.

SM (00:43:17):
And certainly the Indian was always the bad guy too.

Al (00:43:22):
Well, Long Ranger had Tonto and Tonto was a good guy.

SM (00:43:25):
Let me change my tape. We are at 43 minutes.

Al (00:43:32):
And also Davy Crockett protected the Indian, brought them. If you remember Davy Crockett, Davy Crockett did not want to see the Indians treated unfairly. So anyway, I never had anything against Indians. And plus one of my favorite characters of all time was Hawk-eye of the Last of the Mohicans in the James Fenimore Cooper series. So anyway, for all of us, it is different. But for me, one of my, I always believed in you are with the underdog. And in the case of the frontier, the Natty Bumppo or Hawk-eye represented the sense of being close to the earth, being with the people that really knew it. And the British were the guys bumbling around and getting in all the trouble. The British and the French were the ones making all the trouble. Anyway, yeah. But that is for me.

SM (00:44:42):
And any of the other names or just did not want to comment on any more?

Al (00:44:45):
No, I mean, none of them really impacted me very much at all.

SM (00:44:48):
And you are not upset over the person like a Jane Fonda?

Al (00:44:54):
No. I mean, she is an actress. I think what she did sitting behind the North Vietnamese, I think the worst thing she did, I will put it this way. Yes, I will say a comment. The worst thing she did was attack Joan Baez, when Joan Baez was trying to call attention to the refugees and to the tragedies and the massacres that were happening after the war ended. I think what Jane Fonda did there was despicable. You can say during the war that she was naive, and she was angry at her father and all of this stuff. But what she did after the war when there were thousands and thousands of people dying, and she did not have the decency because she did not want to speak out and say she had backed the wrong people, that they turned out to be butchers. And at least I have always respected, and I do not see Joan Ba on your list here, but I have always respected Joan Baez because Joan Baez fervently pacifist, fervently against the war. But when she saw injustice, she spoke out. She is consistent. You respect the consistency and the integrity of one's belief. And so Joan Baez is to me, the other side of the universe from Jane Fondant and Tom Hayden.

SM (00:46:10):
Yeah. Okay. One last thing that I just want to add here. When Bill Clinton came to the wall in 1993, there was a lot of mixed feelings. And of course, Lewis Puller was one of the main reasons that Bill Clinton was there. He had been working with Jan Scruggs and they together invited Bill Clinton. And I remember we had a group of students that met with Lewis at the wall. And since the wall was about healing, they felt Bill Clinton should come, and Bill Clinton accepted. But there were some people that shouted at Bill Clinton. So what were your feelings about Bill Clinton coming to the vehicle?

Al (00:46:46):
I do not even remember that. I think they...

SM (00:46:49):
1993, he came and spoke.

Al (00:46:50):
Mut I understand why they would do that in terms of their feeling the need for the healing. And he went, Clinton was the president. I mean, let us face it. He was the President of the United States, and you have to respect the office. So I fully understand why they did that, and I do not think there was anything wrong in them inviting him there. Whether it healed anything, I do not know. But I think the intent of what they were doing was a good intention.

SM (00:47:18):
Last question, what is the lasting legacy once history books are written of this generation, the 74 to 78 million when the last of them have passed on, and historians are writing about the era, the period, and the emphasis they might place on the generation as a whole, knowing that the oldest is still, so...

Al (00:47:39):
[inaudible] to look back. And again, we do not know how this era is going to play out because the most challenging times are still ahead, and most of us will still be alive. And we will see what happens to what we created collectively over the next, I think the next decade between 2012 and 2020 is going to be one challenging period of time. And that will determine in many ways what happened since the end of World War II. If I have to think about this, I mean, if I have to do a projection, what I would say, because no matter how we come out of it, and I hope we come out of it intact as a nation, and I hope we come out of it with the least amount of suffering by not only our people, but other people in the world, that this was an opportunity. It was truly an experiment unknown before in human history in terms of the idea of democracy, the way the Tocqueville described it, and the way that it was created here in this country. And the unfortunate thing is that the people who had the most privilege, the generation that had the most privilege, was the least respectful of it and almost blew it. I hope they will say almost blew it. I hope they do not say and blew it.

SM (00:49:07):
I think most people that look at America, it is like looking at an individual person. They are constantly evolving, dealing with the pluses and minuses of life. So a lot of people believe that America will get through it just like they got through the war and the Depression and everything else. But what could be the worst case scenario if we did not get through this? Because it is the world here now. It is not just the United States.

Al (00:49:33):
And it is a much smaller world. It is a much greater population. And we are more dependent on a limited number of technologies for our wellbeing than we have ever been. And The oceans no longer protect us because of cyber warfare, space-based warfare, computer warfare, everything else, economic warfare, that we are very vulnerable. We are vulnerable in ways that people are now starting to realize that far more vulnerable than we have ever been before. Plus, we have no industry left. So say for instance, if we faced a horrendous attack and we lost a lot of our infrastructure, if we lost a lot of our ships at sea, we would not be able to rebuild them. If we lost a lot of our airplanes, there are hardly any factories left to build them. And that puts us really... This is unlike Pearl Harbor. This is unlike that period. Even during the Great Depression, we still had factories intact, and it was not so expensive to build them. That is nearly impossible now.

SM (00:50:33):
Yeah, I have read some. And I will close with this, that I have read some terrible scenarios. And that is that many Americans working today will lose their pensions, and there will be no social security and they will have nothing to live on.

Al (00:50:50):
Well, and...

SM (00:50:50):
And so a worst-case scenario is such that...

Al (00:50:57):
External and internal. External and internal, and that could be devastating to the survival of the society. So again, I am with you. We hope in the evolution that somehow, we come out of a tailspin but it is not going to be easy. It is going to require a lot of sacrifice, a lot of teamwork. And the unfortunate thing about the generation that we are discussing is that there is an awful lot of selfishness. There is an awful lot of lack of teamwork. And it is something that, one, I am not a pessimist, but I am a realist and I am putting my faith in the next generation. But I think that our generation has blown it. I think that if we are going to pull out of this, it is going to be the next generation that does it. And that is why the mentoring and everything else, whatever we can find that is of value, that can be passed on to the ones who will be taking over leadership in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. They deserve the best teachers. And maybe sometimes the best teacher is things not going well, so that they have to learn to be strong, and they have to learn to be resourceful. So I am with you. Let us pray for it and let us work for it. We are going to go through some tough challenging times if we pass through it.

SM (00:52:22):
Yeah, I agree. I think that the generation that followed the boomers, the generation Xers, never really liked boomers, and were in constant conflict with them and are part of the problem themselves, along with the boomers. But the...

Al (00:52:38):
I am not talking about them because...

SM (00:52:40):
Millennials are the ones we are talking about now, and they are a good group.

Al (00:52:44):
Those are the ones I have to thrive I am having the faith in. And I tell you, with my interns, I have had over 120 interns from all over the world, from at least 20 different countries. And I like those kids a lot.

SM (00:52:58):
That is good.

Al (00:53:01):
Good. And I do have, again, there is going to be tremendous challenges coming, but I feel that there is that proof of life and a proof of courage and a proof of intelligence that I see in these kids that, I mean, I am hoping that American kids, I mean, because I do not just deal with American kids, I deal with kids from all over the world, but the American kids, they are just right there with them. So again, it will be a little bit different. The solutions, the problems are global. Solutions have to be global. But I hope that the strength of what comes from our traditions and our systems are right there in helping to lead the way.

SM (00:53:47):
Well, thanks a lot, Al. I really appreciate the time you have spent. I know you are very busy and I hope the...

Al (00:53:52):
I am making out the proposal, Steven. You know how that is. This is the time that during this month of the months of April and May, if you do not get those proposals in, you are sunk for the rest of the year.

SM (00:54:02):
Right. Well, I...

AS (00:54:08):
Society was fragmented that there became stereotypes. But it is the same thing. I mean, if you went to the other side of it and you say, okay, people that were anti-war, what are they doing today? You find a whole panorama of people doing different things, some successful, some not successful, some having triumphs, others having tragedies.

SM (00:54:33):
The first question I really wanted to ask you is the organization that you created right now that you are working with, I think it is unbelievable. And the more I have read about it and what you are trying to do, I think, yeah, personally, I think you should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because you are doing some unbelievable things. And I do not know if anybody has ever nominated you, but you are doing unbelievable things. How did your experience as a Vietnam veteran, how does that carry over and link with your current work, the organization that you created?

AS (00:55:12):
Well, it is a motivation for sure because on one hand you can say there is the element of all the work I did on the history and understanding, not just my own small experience in Vietnam, but in terms of the bigger picture. And if you look at the books like To Bear Any Burden and whatnot, it gets into the intercultural aspect of it and how important that is. And especially in a much more interconnected local community, it is probably the most significant dynamic because people of different cultures are almost forced to have to deal with each other. And that can create some things that are very positive, some things that are very negative because root cultures do not change. They can adjust, they can adapt. They really do not change. But there are commonalities in human nature that you could bet you could work with in a constructive and positive. And so when this whole 911 thing happened, at the time I was working in Congress. And I had worked Afghanistan for a number of years and understood somewhat the nature of what was creating that conflict of civilizations. It partly was the fact that there were people taking advantage of very decimated society where the Afghans were very vulnerable because their families, their tribes, their plan structures were torn apart. More than half of the population was outside of the country because of the refugee situation and then a lot more than the Civil War afterwards. But I felt that there were many valuable lessons that I had learned starting with my own war time experience, followed by all the history work that I did, followed by other humanitarian work I had done working with refugees and human rights and whatnot. But then the experience with the Afghans kind of prepared me for what was coming down the pike with a billion Muslims. Because if you think about it, a lot of people always look at Islam in the Middle East, which is really not that big of a population. The much bigger Muslim population is in south and East Asia between Pakistan, India, and then that route through the Malacca straits into the Philippines. That is where Indonesia has a population of Muslims equal to the size of the entire Middle East or larger than the entire Middle East. And in the Philippines, it is the longest standing civil war, which is based on... I mean, actually it is economics and land holding, but it has the veneer of a religious struggle that is been going on now that the Sri Lankan wars appears to be over. It is the longest running war in the world. And so my feeling was because I had also been monitoring the peace process in the Philippines at the same time I was working on Afghanistan, that in the Philippines you had a much better chance of helping create models that would have an international implication between people of different cultures and religions than there would be in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan was too polarized. And also the way the international community was going, it made it more polarized because billions of dollars was going into a non-existent central government in a tribal Balkanized society, divided society of tribes, clans, families. And there was no chance of success with that. And whereas in the Philippines, you had longstanding arm struggle, horrendous poverty, but you had coherent families, clans, and tribes, and you could work on that. And so what we will do, we will do interventions work. We will do...

AS (01:00:03):
What we will do, we will do interventions work, we will do humanitarian campaigns and whatnot in other places. I felt there had to be a place where we could create a model that would be something that would go against the brain of the tactic that was being done. At the time I started this, right after 9/11 in 2002, because I felt when you have movements that are based upon revenge vengeance, that if you put more revenge, vengeance, and violence into it, you are strengthening the negative elements and you cannot possibly succeed. And the way that you succeed, if you look at those pictures on the wall, same kids within six months, the difference between that classroom and that classroom, you just look in the eyes.

SM (01:00:55):
Oh, yeah. Oh, my gosh.

AS (01:00:57):
Is that somebody cares that they are not alone.

SM (01:01:01):
Ah, agree. That smiling, it is very, it is like, "What are you doing here?" That kind of...

AS (01:01:11):
Because nobody cares. And to know that someone cares, not to do their work for them, but cares enough about them to want to see them be treated like human beings, makes it. And their own leaders will not do that. Even with their own leaders, there has to be a positive model showing. But it is not going to change unless the same way that a lot of these problems with these conflicts are generational. Over many generations, many generations of bad habits, I consider as bad human character habits. If you work with the young, you are also affecting the here and now. Because their parents, their grandparents are going to be happy the fact that their kids might have a future. They are still not going to break a lot of their habits because they are ingrained. But at least you calm it down to perform that you get the next generations can have a chance to develop better leadership and to develop more equitable societies. And that was always the plan. That it is long term. It is not something that you can do, go in, do a flash intervention, and introduce some computers, bring in a couple thousand sacks of rice, drinks, so much tea. That lasts for as long as the tea lasts or as long as the rice lasts. But if you can create a situation where people have both, and they have got the tools, they have got the educational tools, they have got the life of the tools, then they can build it. And that they can build it, they will defend it.

SM (01:02:55):
Interesting. My niece married a young man whose heritage is the Philippines. Marcelos, the Marcelos. They at Geneseo College and fell in love. And they just had their first child. He is the cutest little thing, little Ryan, he is six weeks old. But their family is rich. I am not talking about money. I am talking culture. I am talking about connections, family. I mean, they are all over the United States. I mean, it is a strong, strong family. Strong family. You mentioned that we did not learn the lessons of Vietnam. Who is we?

AS (01:03:36):
I think collectively as a society. But especially, people in leadership positions, whether it be in government or in the military. There is this idea that we do not have to learn history because we are number one. We are the strongest superpower and we make history. And there was like something, there was this kind of article, I do not know if you ever read this. But at one time in the Washington Post in an Outlook article, they were interviewing 20-somethings at the National Security Council. And the reporter asked, it was what Afghanistan asked, "Well, what do you think of Durand Line?" Because one of the problems there going to be the fact that the Pashtuns are divided. That will always be a factor. Going back to the British Raj, none of them knew what the Durand line was. And then the reporter then said, " Well, you guys ever take the time to read history?" And the response was, "Well, we do not have to read history because we are making history."

SM (01:04:40):
That is interesting. Yeah, because we had a person at our school that put the... Well, actually, an honor student from Great Valley High School. And we were in a meeting one day and she said, "When was the Vietnam War?" She thought it was before World War II. How did she get to be an honor student with that kind of a comment? So, the lack of history is...

AS (01:05:03):
But I think that with Vietnam, if you take it beyond into a broader context, into our development as a nation. After we achieved this role of being the strongest country in the West after World War II, Korea in the way was not really a test of that. It was like an extension of World War II, beginning of the Cold War. It was a bridge between World War II and the Cold War. But Vietnam was our first test as to how we were going to conduct ourselves as a leader of the West. And the ambivalence that we had within our own society to what direction we were going to take as a nation, whether we were going to be the international policemen, or guarantor of supremacy of Western societies picking up from the branch, not really colonizing, but kind of maintaining a kind of legacy. Even though you could say what we wanted with South Vietnam was where they would be independent, but they would be more leaning to the West. And whereas the North Vietnamese were, of course, leaning to the East with the Chinese and Russian influence. But it tested us in terms of what direction? We are the leader of the West now. And the Europeans cannot really compete with us. What direction do we take history? I think Vietnam represented that dichotomy that we felt as a nation, which is why there was the polarization. Why there was the, I mean, it was not just Vietnam. I think it was our society in general that now we are making history. We are no longer a part of an ongoing history. World War I was not our war.

SM (01:07:17):

AS (01:07:18):
The Industrial Revolution we were very much a part of. And it helped to shape us. A lot of inventions were made here that fueled the Industrial Revolution. But it is not the same thing as having your economy intact, your industry intact, after so much of Europe was destroyed in World War II. And we really had the leverage. Plus, television and other multimedia was largely coming out of the United States. So, we really were influencing and shaping culture on a very, very broad international, not just national, but international level. So I mean, I look at the Vietnam War as much more than just a little isolated thing. It was very much a part of our collective psyche and our development as a nation, as not an old nation, but an experiment.

SM (01:08:16):
How did you become who you were or are in terms of going to Vietnam? What was your high school experiences? Who were your role models, the people you looked up to that inspired you? And then what was that experience like in Vietnam? And what did you think about the students who were protesting the war back home?

AS (01:08:44):
Back then, I mean, it was more of an... You can look at it two ways. One of which is that there is a war going on. You serve your country. But also, the knowledge that it is going to change your life. And I think that for me, it was okay to do it because our country was at war. And I already had one of my friend's brothers die in the war and all of that. But also, it was something I knew would be help me to change me.

SM (01:09:24):
You knew that going in, you felt that going in?

AS (01:09:26):
Correct, that is why I signed up for the infantry. I wanted to be tested. And I knew it would be something profound, even though I did not know how it would be or how profound it would be. I knew that I would not be the same person. That it would draw out a lot, for better or for worse, draw it out early.

SM (01:09:48):
Did you go in right out of high school, or did you go to college?

AS (01:09:51):
Right out of high school. Graduated what, mid-June? And that would be six weeks later, I was released from training. So, it was a conscious choice.

SM (01:10:05):
How do you feel when... Vietnam, the two words that always seem to stir people, and particularly boomers, if you are in an audience with a group of boomers. And sometimes even younger people are upset because boomers have a tendency to oftentimes reflect on their life like nostalgia, whether it is good or bad. But I was leading into a question and I forgot what direction I was going here. My goodness. It will come back to me. I want you to talk a little bit more about your upbringing now. Because the Vietnam War, we talk about the people that went to war. So, many people were deferred. A lot of students that had maybe a little bit more money or had the right connections, they were deferred and did not have to go. And it was very obvious. But many of the others that did not have those... You wanted to go.

AS (01:11:13):
Yeah. I was-

SM (01:11:14):
But what did you feel about your fellow vets? In terms of...

AS (01:11:19):
To me, everybody was just people. I mean, I am serious about that. Everybody to me was just people. And because I came from a family of immigrants. And grew up in a place where my formative years, the neighborhood I lived in, in Cleveland, on the southeast side of Cleveland, a lot of people were factory workers and were very salt of the earth people. That it was the typical immigrant experience, first generation. We were first generation American. I was born here. My father was born in Italy. My mother's family came from there. That you do not have an attitude. You have to prove yourself. I mean, the attitude is that you do have an attitude, but that is that you have to prove yourself. That nothing is really given to you. You are not entitled to anything. That whatever you succeed with in life is something that you are going to earn because it is not going to be given. And I think that was the other thing too. Being in the military was a way of proving to yourself that you could withstand the tests and that you could eventually rise above it. I mean, because you think about most of World War II people, I mean, went to school on GI Bill after they served. A lot of people got their American citizenship by serving in the military because they were largely immigrants. First generation, they never gotten citizenship.

SM (01:13:12):

AS (01:13:13):
And this was like an extension, continuation of that. Because my family only arrived here in the 1940s.

SM (01:13:18):

AS (01:13:21):
So, World War II was really defining because for that group that came in after the post-World War I group, they were part of post-World War I, that it would define them as being fully accepted as Americans.

SM (01:13:43):
Why did, in your opinion, I have gotten so many different opinion, why did we lose the Vietnam War? Now some people say we did not lose it. I have even had a couple say we did not lose it, we just did not put the effort into it.

AS (01:13:53):
Like what I said before is that we were not sure who we were as a nation. There were many different opinions. So, we were divided among ourselves. I mean, you can say whether we could have, what could have been or should have been, and how you interpret this or that. But the bottom line, I look at Vietnam as part of a process. I mean, we did not quote, lose it that we were a conquered nation. That we lost to a stronger country and hence, we lost our identity. But on the other hand, it was something, and even it did not resolve that question of who we were as a nation. It was just kind of an amazing thing. Now, what happened afterwards from as part of the progression, you can even say part of a process because a Jimmy Carter presidency was very different than a Ronald Reagan presidency. It was very good.

SM (01:14:50):

AS (01:14:51):
Because it has all been a process. And it has been a very fast-moving process going from what could be the richest country the world has ever known 10 years ago to now not being sure, most people not being sure if they can keep their houses. It is just so fast-paced. And there is a question of who are we? Because we are an idea. We are not... Because I deal with tribes that have long histories and that are interconnected. And loyalty to the tribe is first and foremost. We are not a tribal society. We are an idea. The idea of basically that you become some place that you can work hard, you can get an education, you can prove yourself, and you can achieve. Is that still possible? A lot of people doubt, they question that that is even possible anymore within a globalized society. The way the people that have been had the best educations in this country, basically turned against that idea by globalizing and then denying people living within their own homeland the opportunity to achieve middle class, or go beyond middle class if that is possible.

SM (01:16:13):
When you came home, I would like to know, first off, how you were treated? I have asked that to other people on both sides. Secondly, do you feel that the anti-war movement and the students who protested... And again, when I am talking about the boomer generation now, we are talking 78 million. But only about 15 percent of that 78 million was involved in any kind of activism. But that is still a large number.

AS (01:16:43):
Yeah, [inaudible]-

SM (01:16:43):

AS (01:16:44):
...number, but it is not-

SM (01:16:45): were-

AS (01:16:45):
...a dominant majority.

SM (01:16:47):
How were your fellow veterans, when you were over there, were they aware of what was happening in America, number one? Because (19)67 is kind of the fine point. The Americans kind of supported the war through (19)67. Something happened, (19)67, (19)68, (19)69, (19)70 and (19)71, those five years. I mean, people, everybody went against the war. And people, families whose sons and daughters were from Ohio were against the war when you hit (19)70 and (19)71.

AS (01:17:16):
Quite a lot of people were not per se. A lot of people were like, "Okay, our country is doing anything, who am I to say?" And also when you came from communities where there were a lot of people that were in the military, there was not a hostility. Going to school, you would feel some of it. But it was all in how you carried yourself. It was all in how you handled yourself. But at the same time, it was a difficult period I think for anybody that came back, especially those of us that came back barely out of our teens, if we went in our teens. Because on one hand, you would experience events that very few people in this country have experienced, being in war. And especially, within your generation. And then how do you reconcile that with the general experience that many people that you knew? And even if it was not in your neighborhood, if you went to school, most of the people would not have experienced that.

SM (01:18:29):

AS (01:18:30):
There would have been very-very few people who had actually had prior military service before being in school. You are talking about 1970, 1971. And so, you had to inside of yourself deal with all of that. And I think anybody coming back from the war, I mean, you can look at now the amount of post-traumatic stress that there is in people coming back from, but again, we are talking about a situation here where it is multiple tours. They were short. In many cases, they have been short tours. But you never know when you were going to be called back. But I think the key thing is that when you are in wars that drag on, that appear to be unwinnable, how do you reconcile that with the sacrifices, even if it is not just your sacrifice, but the sacrifices where people die in a jam? And then you ask, "For what?" It seemed to be clear at the beginning of this current stuff that is going on, that this was revenge for 9/11. I think by now, people know the Iraq War had nothing to do with that. No one can explain the Iraq... I mean, I do not know who can explain the Iraq War except that the Bush family had a hard on for Saddam Hussein.

SM (01:19:54):

AS (01:19:55):
It had nothing to do with 9/11. It had a lot to do with oil. The Afghan War, I mean, it has been dragging on and dragging on now for eight years. And now they are saying, "Well, they did not... The most ridiculous quote I saw was the commanding general saying, "Well, we did not know it would be culturally offensive if we raided people's home in the middle of the night." That is culturally offensive anywhere. But again, maybe it is such that the all-volunteer force, people are so isolated from reality. And plus, these wars have dragged on for eight years. And people that have made careers of this with all the best of intentions, I am not going to impugn anybody's integrity, or their patriotism, or anything like that. But they lose track of reality. That is why I felt it was important for some of us that could be out in the field to show there is a different way of doing it, when you do not lose track of those common causes. The truth is that is one thing that I learned in Vietnam between being in a conventional unit and then being in a more specialized unit that was unconventional. That there is a common base of community. And that if you are away from a large group coming through and raiding people's homes or tearing down their fields, that you start, you can develop a relationship that is a constructive relationship, that is a positive relationship. And I felt that in these circumstances I felt full confidence not knowing what to expect. But there is a part of you that is at peace because you know it is possible. And there is very few of us that have been in that situation where we have been, and I say it did change me. I know what it is like to almost be dead. I know what it is like to be in a totally hostile environment and to maintain a sense of equilibrium. It is not an easy thing to do. And it is not like intervention for earthquake relief, or refugee relief, or flood relief where you are going in to set up emergency shelters for people. The stuff we are doing here we have to become part of people's lives. People who have never experienced anybody from like you from your culture, and where we have to learn the culture. Which is why I feel very comfortable with having a staff of mostly local people that you can establish though that common kind of instinctive bond with besides technical. So, that you know how to work with the local communities who are not very trusting of anybody.

SM (01:22:58):
That is beautiful because understanding culture has gotten us in a lot of trouble in our history. And obviously, Vietnam being one, not understanding the history of Vietnam all the way back, and who they fought for hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of years, and understanding that.

AS (01:23:18):
And how you would be perceived.

SM (01:23:19):

AS (01:23:20):
Even if you were different, they would still perceive you as they would perceive anybody else that came into their space.

SM (01:23:25):

AS (01:23:26):
And that is the one thing, that I had a high school principal, once people got to trust me, gave me a book on the, and again, I was learning, but she also gave me a book and said, "I want you to read this because my brother wrote this, and he is one of us." And it was a book, I will show you the book, on the history and the psychology of the art of the tribe.

SM (01:23:49):
Oh, wow.

AS (01:23:50):
To understand the tribal art. This is how they interact and perceive their relationship with the world.

SM (01:23:56):

AS (01:23:57):
And it was the best gift anyone could have ever given.

SM (01:23:59):
And this was given to you in what year?

AS (01:24:00):
About, this was 2003.

SM (01:24:02):

AS (01:24:10):
I understand why people relate to art in their environment. You can start to understand how they perceive things. And you start to develop a sense of, you learn it by interacting. But it is also nice to know the culture, the history, and warmth, the form of communication. So, expressions in the culture, arts, and society of the Muslims in the Philippines. In particular-

SM (01:24:49):
Oh, wow.

AS (01:24:50):
In particular, the tribe that I was working with, which is the fiercest tribe, the Tausogs, that everyone was afraid of because they were the fiercest warriors in Southeast Asia. But I know that when warriors... Warriors are determined people. And if they are focused, they are very-very focused. And if they can be focused in ways that are constructive, they can do incredible things, incredibly. Or, they can do incredibly destructive things. It all depends upon the relationship, the communications, and their identity.

SM (01:25:26):
I got to share, I got to write this. Well, I will write this down before I leave.

AS (01:25:29):
That is a rare book because it was only published in just probably a couple hundred copies.

SM (01:25:35):
Oh, really?

AS (01:25:35):
Through a university press in the Philippines. But I found it to be profound at that moment because it gave me a sense of structure. It was not just instinctive relationship, but a sense of structure in how people are conditioned to perceive their environment. And the one thing with this, the most helpful thing was understanding... Read the inscription here.

SM (01:26:17):
Dear Mr. Albert Santoli, please accept this book written by Ahta Suk.

AS (01:26:23):
Ahta Suk.

SM (01:26:24):
Ahta Suk, Dr. Abraham Sedeqi, my brother, is in token of one heartfelt gratitude for all your kindness and generosity that you will always have touched the lives of the, less privileged?

AS (01:26:45):
Yeah, less privileged.

SM (01:26:48):
People of this province. Very nice.

AS (01:26:54):
But the thing in here that really got to me, and this is if you are creating educational forms and you are introducing new ideas, is that if you look at their paintings, in their calligraphy paintings, calligraphy... Let us see what we got here. Space is always full. And if space is perceived as not being full, people respond in a negative way for whatever reason that is. So, and it also means it has to be full of things that they can relate to, that they understand. So, when we started working in the schools, I did not want to bring in educational technologies-

SM (01:27:41):

AS (01:27:47): the outset. I had to find ways by which you could replace things that did not work with things that did work. And part of it would be educational technologies. But it had to be able to fit in and keep the space full in a way that people would be comfortable with. So, rather than bringing in computers, educational TV, because a teacher would not be afraid of a remote control, a DVD, or a video that has core curriculum in schools that have no books, where the blackboards are so fucking decrepit that if you write on it, you cannot even read it. And you do not even have chalk. But if you bring an educational TV with a generator, because there is always brownouts.

SM (01:28:38):

AS (01:28:38):
There is not consistent electricity. A, you are not using up as much electric. So, you can be using medium-sized generator sets, which do not cost all that much. And you can afford it when you are working with a small budget. B, you are getting a full... We have this one program we were working with that was sanctioned by the Department of Education National that would bring the tribal peoples into a national curriculum so that their education would have value and they could find jobs. Starting with reading, writing, arithmetic, in the form of Sesame Street type puppets. And the kids loved it because they do not have TV at home. And here is a very entertaining, like Sesame Street with the kids here. And the teachers could feel they were in charge because they could put the tapes in and out and use the remote control. And they still were in control of their classroom.

SM (01:29:31):
And I was reading that we are living in a world of terrorism right now. But during the Vietnam War, it was not as much terrorism as it was not understanding one's culture, the Cold War.

AS (01:29:48):
Well, it was the threat of-

SM (01:29:48):
We were in a Cold War.

AS (01:29:49):
...nuclear annihilation.

SM (01:29:55):
Yeah. So, would this have worked in that era?

AS (01:29:57):
Not in terms of big power confrontation, but in terms of some of the other things. I mean, you can look at things- In terms of some of the other things. You can look at things like the corps program, the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was a part of that. You are right. Yeah. It is kind of like the Peace Corps, except that Peace Corps people cannot go into places that are just very hostile. We can be kidnapped and killed real easily. I do that because I am used to dealing in violent situations and just trying to have good sense and knowing how to work with local people. And I do not utilize, I will not use the word use because we try to respect everybody, we do not utilize expatriates as field staff because it is better to have field staff who know their own space, who know their own culture.

SM (01:30:56):
When you look at the generation that... You are a boomer; what year were you-

AS (01:31:03):
I was born in (19)49.

SM (01:31:04):
Yeah. So you are definitely a boomer, you are an early boomer. I know it is hard to generalize, but what would you think are some of the positive and some of the negative characteristics of your generation? I am probably speaking more about the activists.

AS (01:31:18):
I think there was a sense that all things were possible. There was an unbridled optimism for the most part. I think that depending on what kind of community you came from and what color you were, things were not so hard, you did not have to struggle so much. Education meant something. Now, I do not know, with my kids in high school and college, I do not know. Everybody's worried they cannot find jobs even with-

SM (01:31:59):
Oh, I know.

AS (01:32:00):
Well, you know, just coming up-

SM (01:32:01):
Yeah. I have students who graduated with teaching degrees that cannot find work.

AS (01:32:06):
And for us that is never a problem.

SM (01:32:08):

AS (01:32:08):
That is a big difference because we always had a sense of optimism and hope. When you start to lose that everything really has shifted. And what we have to do, working in the reverse process, with people that have not had hope since anyone could remember, is you are starting to try to build that stuff up. And it is coming down to, I am looking at what we are doing and what we are learning with the tribal people, that will have to be used here too. So I am looking in the future, and I am looking forward in the future to the methodologies and techniques that we are learning by working in these very tough environments that eventually we will be using it right here in the US with very collegial organizations that are community-based NGOs working in Washington and Chicago and New York and Philly. It will be the same, it is the same thing. How do you create hope, education, livelihood that has a meaning in places where people have lost a sense of [inaudible].

SM (01:33:08):
You are going to do this in the US too?

AS (01:33:12):
Eventually, I am sure.

SM (01:33:14):
Philly needs it. It really needs it.

AS (01:33:16):
Because it really is about common [inaudible]. It really is connecting with people. And there are many good community groups here. I think one of the best things that happened to me in the course of... also defining how one gets into this work, there was a period of time when I was writing for Parade Magazine when the Chief Editor, Walter Anderson, said, "You are not going to do any military stories. You are not going to do any foreign stories. I want you for a period of time," it was about two or three years, "Where you are doing nothing but localized stories." When Walter had a vision he goes, we have 100 million readers at Parade. Any story we do becomes a national role model. So I want you to get out there and find community-based programs that are exemplary programs of people that are heroes in their community. And you go out there and you find them. And whether it is a cover story, not a cover story, it does not matter because a lot of people are going to see it. And we can do something really good with showing people that are making a difference in their community. And other people communities will see it and they will adapt it however they will, but it creates hope. And at first, I was a little bit resentful because I would rather be out doing the other stuff. But the more I got into it, it really taught me so much. And it taught me about leadership because I was watching people that were good leaders. It taught me about what does not work in terms of politics and how it impacts on social and humanitarian programs. And usually the biggest enemy of the community organizers who are not politicians, we are the politicians because politicians want people to be dependent on them. And so a true community organizer is an antithesis of a politician if they are trying to help create independence within a community, self-reliability, self-sustenance. Because then they become the exact enemy of the people that are saying, here, take your monthly check and then come back and see me, rather than saying, here is an education program, here is how we are going to improve this housing project. We are going to do a community-based garden out in the... I did one, it was a community garden in the South Bronx where they were doing hydroponic farming. They were farming in the South Bronx, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and selling their [inaudible] because the Bronx is still a farming district. A lot of people do not realize that.

SM (01:35:57):
No, I did not know that.

AS (01:35:58):
But the Bronx was and still is zoned as a farming area.

SM (01:36:05):
I have been there to do some interviews. I did not see any of that. But that is really interesting.

AS (01:36:12):
And so this guy, he was a local businessman, Hispanic guy. I am sure he was not totally aware of that. And that was completely irrelevant. But he saw that hydroponics work and he also saw there was a trend to a lot of restaurants running natural ingredients so they could grow all kinds of herbs. Just used cars or little vans, truck them around the city and create employment for people in the neighborhoods. So that was a pretty cool story.

SM (01:36:42):
And you have heard of Benjamin Barber, that Benjamin Barber. He used to be at the Walt Whitman Center at Rutgers, and I think he is at the University of Maryland now. But he has written a lot about the importance of understanding that we have a tendency to want to have strong presidents and strong leaders when in reality our nation will be greater if we have a strong citizenry without the need of a strong leader. Now we need a strong leader like FDR in times of crises and President Obama-

AS (01:37:11):
[inaudible] people would be-

SM (01:37:12):
But basically, he is saying, we always need, more than we need a great president, we need great citizens. And that is-

AS (01:37:19):
Education is critical to that.

SM (01:37:20):

AS (01:37:21):
People have to believe that education has to have a purpose. And that is what I worry most that we are losing in this country. We have already lost it in the inner cities.

SM (01:37:31):
See, I think there is some, and I cannot pinpoint it, but I think there is some... we had Dr. Botstein on our campus, and he has been a very critical president of Bard University, a very talented person. And he has been very supportive of elementary education, that elementary education is working in the United States, but secondary education is not. And he advocates ending the senior year, and I am hearing more and more of ending the senior year and letting them graduate at 17. But he basically said that the universities have somewhat failed in many respects because we talked and we were wondering, of all those students in the (19)60s who got deferments because they went to become teachers instead of going to serve their country, but they had no interest in teaching, the effect-

AS (01:38:20):
And did not stay as teachers.

SM (01:38:21):
And did not stay as teachers. What has the effect of the education on those students-

AS (01:38:28):
I never thought-

SM (01:38:28):
Because I know when I went to Binghamton, members of my intermural team, they had no interest in being teachers. And that is frustrating. Quick question here on the [inaudible] and the (19)60s generation and boomers as a whole, I think even Vietnam veterans too, felt that they were the most unique generation in history, that they were going to be the cure to all these-

AS (01:38:53):
Maybe the most pampered.

SM (01:38:55):
Most pampered. But when you hear, and I know you have heard this before, there was a feeling as a generation that they were unique. They were different than anything before and anything that will follow.

AS (01:39:07):
Well, the thing is, the opportunity that was there and the wealth that was there, the creature comforts that were there was unique. I mean, I am sure that throughout it, throughout antiquity, that there were periods of times, maybe at some point Rome had that at some time, some place in Greece had that at some point, parts of China had that during different kingdoms that there was a uniqueness because they were so better off than any other kingdom or any other country or any other population compared to how the rest of the world lived. And we did have that uniqueness. I mean, we still do. Even though things here are not as easy as it used to be, from what I see in the places where we are working, other places I visited as a journalist and whatnot, we still do not have it so badly. But what worries me is what is coming down the road.

SM (01:40:05):
See something that you are talking about here, boomers are going to be supposedly changed retirement. I retired to write my book, but I do not plan on being retired. I know a lot of my friends do not either. A lot of people do not look at sitting on a beach and maybe taking a trip once a year or whatever, go and see the grandkids, as the fulfillment of one's life in your organization. With the boomers retiring and the attitudes that so many of them had that they wanted to be the change agents for the betterment of society, that might be a group that can link up if they know people like you exist.

AS (01:40:55):
Communicating what we have learned and what we are doing. And that is one thing we had not done so well, partly because I wanted to make sure we had something that was real. And also because trying to do that work in difficult places and create the model, I could not be doing everything at once, including administration, which I have to do fundraising, we do not have government money.

SM (01:41:19):
You are nonprofit?

AS (01:41:20):
Yep. And we do not have government money. Most nonprofits will survive on government. We do not have government funds. So I have to be continually fundraising and then continuing budgeting to lower than a T. We are in a constant month-to-month crisis as to how we keep things going. And on top of that, as a part of my wartime experience, I found out in 2005 that I got a bad blood transfusion. One of the times that I was wounded and my liver was gone, just about gone, and so you would not believe this, but in September I had very serious surgery and almost lost my life on the operating tank. And that puts a whole other perspective on things as a feeling of responsibility that I do not know how much longer I have to live. I hope it is another 30 years, but it might not be. I have had doctors tell me in the past, I had two or three years to live.

SM (01:42:32):
Because of your liver?

AS (01:42:33):
Because of my liver. And here I am, you can see my energy, it is pretty good. And except for this little eye thing, which is unrelated to the liver, I think it is the commitment to the work that keeps going strong.

SM (01:42:49):
Oh, I believe people that care about others. This leads into my next question, which is about healing. We took a group of students to Washington about nine years ago to meet Senator Aman Musk. He was pretty ill at the time. He passed away with a very sharp period. He had been in the hospital and he had watched the Ken Burns series. But the students came up with this question because these were students who were not boomers. And the question they wanted to ask is when they looked at 1968 and the protests in Chicago and the people being smashed over the heads and all that kind of stuff, and the divisions even within the hall itself, the question they wanted to ask was, have we healed as a nation? And how close were we to a civil war in 1968 with all the divisions? And we had riots in the streets and the assassinations of two major figures, a president resigning and even though we had the walk on the Moon which was a hopeful thing, I think that was a blessing at the end of the year. But do you feel as those who supported the war, those who were against the war, those who were white versus black, all the divisions and all the things that were happening at that time, do you think that we still have a problem in this nation with healing, particularly within the boomer generation? I do not think the generations [inaudible] really care, but I am talking about the boomer generation. Is there an issue of healing here?

AS (01:44:25):
I think it depends on the individual. I really do think it depends. I think in large part that there was a lot of evolution that was done in terms of, if you look at the positive trends in the social elements of things in regard to racial acceptance and a number of other things. But again, it does not happen overnight. It is a generational process. So you figured from the time of (19)68, those assassinations, to now having a partially black president given his mixed race, still most people considering him black, that is from 40 years. So it is like two generations.

SM (01:45:09):
Yeah, we are the Generation X and millennials.

AS (01:45:11):
So that is why I am looking at what we are doing here. And again, it is something that we know from our own experience that it takes a couple of generations to get something on track. You plant a seed, you try to stay with it the best you can. There is going to be all kinds of turmoil along the way because that is life. That is human nature. But it takes a little bit of time. But I think that there were a lot of very positive trends and changes that happened. And even with the negative things you could say about the military, the military was a social leader in starting with things like citizenship and bringing people together to the issue of integration.

SM (01:45:59):
Oh yeah. Harry Truman and that whole integration.

AS (01:46:03):
And then a number of other areas as well that I am sure somebody in the future will look back and say, well, I do not think it is good for young mothers to be sent into combat. I think that is wrong. Because it is for a number of reasons. One is just because you should not separate a child from a mother unless you have desperate situation where you are defending your homeland on your own soil and everyone has to defend it. But also because it hurts morale. It hurts morale terribly. And I think it is very countless. And I think the one thing that concerned me after 9/11 was that we would become vengeful ourselves. I have been dealing with Taliban for six years and saw the way that vengeance was being turned into just a horrendous psychotic poison. And the way boys being separated from their mothers, because that is a part of the evil psychology of the Osama bin Laden and the Prince Turki al Faisal and the [inaudible]. The guys who created the Taliban, they know human psychology. These guys were trained in the best schools in England. They are not idiots.

SM (01:47:15):
What is interesting, one of my last efforts at Westchester was a day and a half conference called Islam in America. And we brought major figures in and I wrote a grant, I did a lot of things to make it happen with a very small committee of three faculty members and three students in the Muslim Student Association. And I could not believe, we were packed. Every session was packed, but security was all concerned. And also the Jewish community was out in arms that we were doing a program on understanding Islam. There was nothing in this program that was supposed to be attacking Israel. It was simply understanding the faith and understanding Islam, even though some of the people they were attacking, they checked the backgrounds. But I can understand again about the culture. It is not understanding a culture. And even if you are a person who wants to educate students about the culture, you are an enemy because you are not supporting our culture.

AS (01:48:17):
The Middle Eastern thing was the worst.

SM (01:48:19):
Senator Muskie responded by saying that he felt that we had not healed since the Civil War. And he did not even talk about (19)68. [inaudible] Civil War. And anybody that goes to Gettysburg like I do, because I feel I have to understand war, and I go there to understand it because I did not serve and my dad did in the Pacific. But I have noticed that on the southern side, there is a lot of flags [inaudible]. Nothing is ever left at the northern side. And I am trying to figure it out. I am trying to figure it out. And then I interviewed Phyllis Schlafly last week and she said the south has healed but the north has not healed. I disagreed with her. She says, oh no, the south has healed from the Civil War but the north still has a problem. So I am getting all these different perspectives on the healing. And I think of when I talk about the healing, I was thinking about the Vietnam Memorial. I made a point of going to the wall since I got to know Lewis Puller. Lewis met with our students in November before he committed suicide the following spring. And the wall means a lot to me. But I think it is very important for our generation. I think Jan Scruggs' book "To Heal a Nation" is right on. But I wanted to ask you, as a Vietnam veteran, what does the wall mean to you as a veteran? And I know a lot of vets still have not healed because I had been there and I have experienced it. But those that were the anti-war people on the other side, I am wondering if there is guilt feelings that they did not serve.

AS (01:50:02):
I think it is [inaudible] to the individual. When that monument was being planned, I felt very strongly that it should not just be a tombstone because a tombstone is about you do not heal from it. You agree. And I felt it was important and I very strongly supported it at that time. Jim Webb was the guy that was most up front. But I supported very much having an American flag there and also to have something else that would be about life. I felt it was important that life be a part of it. Not just death, but life. Because there were 55,000 that died, but there were over 2 million who survived. And it should be something when healing takes place, it is the whole picture. It is not just a partial picture. Grief in itself. I know that there is people, I know that there were some, the friends of the Vietnam Memorial, nice people, really nice people, I do not know if they still have a station down there, but they used to and they had grief counseling, they had nurses that were specialists. And I think all of that is great. But I also felt that there should also be, the way that you deal with grief is life, is to know that life continues and that there is some things you cannot do anything about except cry because it happened. You are going to have the emotions about it. Because it is very real and it is very deep. But life has to go on. And so with that, back then, I did not have a problem with the wall itself being built, but I felt it should not just be in place like a cemetery. We [inaudible] as a cemetery but there should be something about it that put it in perspective. So I was really happy that the statute and the flag were there. Because it should be about transcendence and transformation, the optimism of the boomers. But I believe in transformation. I believe in transcendency.

SM (01:52:17):
So I am not in your shoes, but it is a great quality that Vietnam vets have, and that is brotherhood. I see it. I know some vets that I know in Philly, some of the top leaders in Philly wish that some of the vets would quit wearing their outfits from Vietnam because they are gaining weight and all that other stuff. And they wear suits and that is the only thing that they love them. But they are tired, they wish they would stop wearing that stuff. But I have been to the wall now for 14 some years, since Bill Clinton gave his speech. And they can be whatever they want when they come to the wall. They identify and they all have people on that wall they lost. And I just admire them. I admire the brotherhood, I admire the caring. It is something I wish you could just bottle and people put it on their breakfast every morning. So not only that we did not have another war.

AS (01:53:19):
It was about adversity. And unlike what you could say, what happened in certain ghetto environments, it was a broader adversity because it was one part of the American society that was not small, it was a minority who did feel isolated. And even for Joe McDonald, Joe was in the Navy and I think Joe felt that too. Even though he became a symbol of anti-war and this and that, he still was very much a part of feeling a part of brotherhood.

SM (01:53:57):
He served early though. He served-

AS (01:53:59):
But he still felt a part of it even though he then experienced and got involved with the other part of that experience. But there is a sense of that. You still have it in you because you did have the experience. And I think that is a part of it is that we are thinking about with everything we had and my books, especially everything we had, if you look at the beginning of the book, the preface, I said, we do not want to parade, a monument, or mercy, or pity. We were simply people like any others. Except that what we experienced in its own way, was prepped. And we cannot talk to our families about it. Because if you have experienced, especially those of us that were combatants, I know a lot of World War II guys when I was growing up that would not talk about their experiences.

SM (01:54:54):
Why did not you talk?

AS (01:54:56):
Because it is not the kind of thing you share with people because it is tough and you do not know yourself because you have all kinds of people when you are involved and kill or be killed. And it is within a structure, you have all kinds of mixed emotions because you know how to survive it because you have not fully crossed the line like someone who commits an act of murder out of passion, and you can justify if you are fighting people that you could say are wanting to take over the world and do bad things. But still there is those common bonds. We are still as a human being with a conscience, even if you kill somebody that is very bad or you could say whatever the case may be. But you still have gone beyond a line that is a part of our social convention and our emotional convention and how you reconcile that is not an easy thing. And I think that is a root of PTSD and all that stuff is how do you reconcile [inaudible]? And especially if you are young, Vietnam had the youngest level of combat, youngest age combatants. The average age was 19, 20 years old. And you know from working with students, 19 or 20, for your own kids, when they are 19 or 20, when you are going through, it is like everything is just going to happen.

SM (01:56:34):
Yeah. The first Vietnam vet that I knew was in my very first job at Ohio University. And he was a father, I think one child or two. He was working at Ohio University, the Lancaster campus outside of Columbus. And he had a little office. So Ohio University was a little ahead of the game here, but the students never went to say hi to him, none of them. And I was close to all the students because we had a campus of 2000. But I got to know him. So I was sensitive about the war anyway-

AS (01:56:59):
Oh, he was only 2000 students?

SM (01:57:01):
The Lancaster campus.

AS (01:57:02):
Oh, okay.

SM (01:57:02):
I worked at the branch campus, which was outside Columbus. And that campus was the most radical of all the schools because they purged from 18 five to 13 five in a year and a half. Some of these I read a book on. They purged all the liberal students out of the campus in Athens. Ron Kovic actually came there and he was arrested just for the mere fact of being there. And it was a very conservative community. And where they-

AS (01:57:31):
Were they West Virginia?

SM (01:57:32):
Yeah. And I can remember when Ron Kovic came, I actually went down to see him speak, but they would not allow him on campus. So they just booted him off and they took him off to the prison. They did not care if he was in a wheelchair or not. He was a radical. But what are the other, I know you probably-

AS (01:57:50):
I have to go, it is past 6:30.

SM (01:57:51):

AS (01:57:52):
I need to get home and make sure the kids have eaten.

SM (01:57:56):
Yeah, sorry. Could we continue this with another... Because there is a lot of questions like personalities and I had a whole section here, but-

AS (01:58:03):
A part of the experience. But it is not the dominant... I would not be doing this if it was not for that. So I cannot say it was not the dominant experience.

SM (01:58:13):
If you could sign that for me. Just [inaudible], your name and today's date. I wish I had my other books, but I do not have a [inaudible]. I had three of your four books.

AS (01:58:28):
But I am more concerned right now about what direction things are going in. I am worried we are going to go broke and on a lot of different levels, forget who we are-

SM (01:58:41):
It is interesting, a person that I interviewed said to me when I asked that question about did we have a second Civil War, of course they did not live at those times, but this person said, the times that we are living in today are comparable to the Depression and the Civil War. I thought, whoa, and because we have such a potential for people to lose everything and when people lose everything, violence can start, people place blame. The reason why I am in this situation is because of this person or that group or the immigrants are the problem or the people from Mexico are the problem or the taking the jobs over to China are the problem. And or blaming the whole boomer generation.

AS (01:59:30):
Well what concerns me is the big one is coming. Because inevitably that is what it leads to. And it is not the stuff now. The stuff right now is an agitation. I am more concerned about the fight over food shortages, will be continuing because of low weather patterns changing and water shortages become more profound. And when you have more competing countries that are fighting for the same oil, gas and other things we are like during World War II or right before World War II... like during World War II, right before World War II, the Depression. Then the competition and the conflict between the emerging empires like Japan and Germany, reconstituting its strength against the West. And I am very concerned we are going into a similar period right now.

SM (02:00:23):
Do you think Japan could eventually come back to the-

AS (02:00:26):

SM (02:00:26):
Okay, because-

AS (02:00:27):
But Russia definitely-

SM (02:00:27):
A lot of people are-

AS (02:00:34):
And China. And China, most definitely. I am watching it happening in Asia. And there is... Rivalry is very strong. And the thing that I am looking at is instability among the smaller countries. And if there can be some coherency and some stability among the smaller countries, it might have influence the larger countries. But if there is instability and weakness of the smaller countries with the resources and other countries believe that they can take advantage of it, it will lead to big power conflict. That is my historical perspective on that.

SM (02:01:12):
Everybody predicts that the problem will end up with Israel and the Middle East, and Palestine or whatever the issue might be. But the-

AS (02:01:22):
That is a flash point for sure. But the bigger problem is going to be... China right now is very full of itself. And they believe that they had a couple of bad centuries. And there are the resources to sustain everything. Plus, and on top of it, there is the hold onto a system that is an intolerant system, and that the elite, not every Chinese person, but the elite, that whatever the 1 percent that controls the dominance of wealth will get very a vicious and be looking for outside enemies. I mean, here we have a problem with the potential of emerging police state. And with higher technology, that makes it a little bit easier, because it is more easy to monitor people. That worries me a lot. And also, now our dependence upon private security groups and vigilante, not vigilante, but mercenary groups, to be doing national bidding, it undermines democracy and [inaudible].

SM (02:02:33):
Oh, we had a discussion just before I left. It was not a program, but some of the top scholars at a school that was at a luncheon. And there was a fear that something will happen to President Obama, and that whoever the powers are that... Anybody that threatens the money market or the money has to be eliminated. And, of course, the China situation is something we know. And historically they have hated the Japanese. And the question is, will they destroy them? And they do not like Vietnam either. And the two historic enemies of China, even though Vietnam and China were linked, is Vietnam and Japan. They do not like... I know there is a relations... They do not like each other.

AS (02:03:29):
The Vietnamese, right now are a threat.

SM (02:03:31):
They might have resources there, but they want to take over.

AS (02:03:35):
They will take it. They will take it in the north. They will just take it. But with Japan, they owe some heavy, heavy vengeance too. I would not be comfortable right now if I was Japanese. This is going to get real interesting these next five or 10 years.

SM (02:03:54):
Will the Germans ever forget that we beat them either?

AS (02:03:57):
The Germans have largely gotten over it. I think it is partly because there has been other... Like, Russia was always the overriding shadow. Maybe if it was not for Russia it would be different. But Germany has been more aligned with the West because of that.

SM (02:04:16):
Russia might be heading... Of course we see some changes happening now with a-

AS (02:04:20):
Sliding back.

SM (02:04:21):
Yeah, sliding back. They do not like what is going on in Eastern Europe.

AS (02:04:37):
Well, like I say, I am hoping that the hard times bring upon us greater, better leadership, and that also there is a way of sustaining some of what is-

SM (02:04:49):
Three more pictures. And then I will let you go.

AS (02:04:51):
Okay, some of what is remaining of the things that led to the optimism of this country. Actually, there you go. Oh, that is fine.

SM (02:05:08):
The one thing I was going to ask too is when you think of... There is two things that happened in the (19)80s that really stand out when you think about Vietnam. It is when Ronald Reagan came to the presidency, I interviewed Ed Meese last week, and Ed says, "I do not remember him saying that." He does not remember. I have got to find the speech where I read it. But it is basically saying, "We are back." And it was a reason. He is going to build the military up and he is going to do a lot of different things. That is what it really meant, that is what he thought.

AS (02:05:38):
Well, I remember when he said that Vietnam was a noble cause. And I thought that was a really radical but a good thing to say. And it was also during the Iranian hostage crisis, and the country was different, was ready for a different view of itself.

SM (02:05:58):

AS (02:05:59):
That Iranian hostage crisis also was a flashpoint history that altered our perceptions of ourselves.

SM (02:06:08):
I was taping the whole thing.

AS (02:06:10):
So, again, if you are looking at all of these things, that historical progression. Remember, the other one was the Vietnam syndrome is over, which is what George Sr. said. And a lot of people said, "Oh, that is ridiculous," because every time we had to do something in foreign policy, we are still talking about Vietnam. And whenever you bring up the word Vietnam, or the word quagmire, it sends shivers down... Did I...

SM (02:06:34):

AS (02:06:35):
Yeah. I actually go up New York Avenue and get back on the highway, and... That is the only thing I know. No, not that [inaudible]. You want to get to the... Are you talking about the 30th Street Station? Or not 30...

SM (02:07:18):
[inaudible 02:07:23].

AS (02:07:18):
Can you point me on how to get there?

SM (02:07:18):
[inaudible 02:07:32].

AS (02:07:18):
Yeah. [inaudible]. Should I follow you, or?
SM (02:07:18):
[inaudible 02:08:02].

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Al Santoli, 1949-

Biographical Text

Al Santoli is a writer and a former combatant who served in Vietnam. He earned a Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts. He has also served as a policy oversight expert in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is currently teaching at the Institute of World Politics.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Interview Format


Subject LCSH

Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans; Authors; Bronze Star Medal (U.S.); Purple Heart; Santoli, Al, 1949--Interviews

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Vietnam War; Anti-war Movement; Veterans; Weatherman Underground; Jim Webb; Vietnam Memorial; Maya Lin; trust; WWII; Watergate; Bob Muller; Counterculture; Louis Puller.


Al Santoli.jpg

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About this Collection

Collection Description

Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Interview with Albert Santoli,” Digital Collections, accessed July 13, 2024,