Vietnam and the Presidency

For Immediate Release: January 10, 2006 
Further information: Brent Carney (Kennedy Presidential Library) (617) 514-1662, 
Susan Cooper (National Archives) (202) 357-5300

On March 10 and 11, 2006, the nation’s Presidential Libraries and the National Archives will host an unprecedented two-day conference examining the history of the Vietnam War and the American presidency. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

“Vietnam and the Presidency” is the first national conference sponsored by all the Presidential Libraries – from Hoover to Clinton – and the National Archives and Records Administration. Leading historians, key policymakers of the era, and journalists who covered the war will examine the antecedents of the war, presidential decision-making, media coverage, public opinion, lessons learned and the influence of the Vietnam experience on subsequent U.S. foreign policy.

Among those participating in the historic two-day conference will be General Alexander Haig; Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Special Counsel to President Kennedy Theodore Sorensen; Special Assistant to President Johnson Jack ValentiSenator Chuck Hagel; New York Times columnist Bob Herbert; Ambassador Pete Peterson; former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark; professors George HerringRobert D. Schulzinger, and Marilyn Young; journalists Steve Bell and Dan Rather; Pulitzer Prize-winning authors David Halberstam and Frances Fitzgerald; and historians David KaiserJeffrey Kimball and Timothy Naftali. Former President Jimmy Carter will speak via video and NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams will moderate all of the Saturday sessions.

The Vietnam War was the longest and most controversial war that the United States ever fought. It claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and over three million Vietnamese. From the arrival of the first U.S. military advisors in the 1950s to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was central to the Cold War foreign policies of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. The war has continued to affect the policies of subsequent presidents, and its legacy is particularly relevant today during America’s war on terror.

“It is our hope and expectation that this conference will reveal a wealth of new information on the history of the Vietnam War and its impact on the office of the President,” said Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein. “As keepers of the nation’s official history, the National Archives and the Presidential Libraries are uniquely positioned to provide a forum for examining the effect of the war in Vietnam on our nation and its citizens.”

Reservations for “Vietnam and the Presidency” are required and may be made by calling (617) 514-1642 or by writing the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston, Massachusetts, 02125, Attn: “Vietnam and the Presidency.” The program is subject to change due to speakers’ schedules.

“Vietnam and the Presidency” is sponsored by Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, Harry S. Truman Library Institute, Eisenhower Foundation, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Gerald R. Ford Foundation, Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and the Foundation for the National Archives.

Speakers for the “Vietnam and the Presidency” Conference

Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11, 2006

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125

Friday, March 10

How We Got In: The United States, Asia, and Vietnam

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.


Professor George Herring, Alumni Professor of History, University of Kentucky, author of America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975.

Professor Robert D. Schulzinger, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, author of A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975 .

Professor Marilyn Young, Professor of History, New York University, author of The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 .

Moderator, Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States.

Vietnam and Presidential Tapes

2:45 – 4:45 p.m.


On Kennedy: Professor David Kaiser, Professor of Strategy and Policy, Naval War College, author of American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War.

On Johnson: Timothy Naftali, Director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs.

On Nixon: Jeffrey Kimball, Professor of History, Miami University, author of The Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy .

Moderator, Sharon Fawcett, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries.

Keynote Speaker

5:00 - 5:30 p.m.


David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize-winner for his coverage of the Vietnam War for The New York Times; author of The Best and the Brightest, the acclaimed critical history of how and why the United States went to war in Vietnam.

Moderator, Deborah Leff, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Saturday, March 11

Moderator, Brian Williams, Anchor and Managing Editor, NBC Nightly News.

Introduction by Caroline Kennedy.

President Jimmy Carter

9:00 – 9:30 a.m.


Video Interview with President Jimmy Carter and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.

Inside the White House

9:30 – 11:30 a.m.


General Alexander Haig commanded a battalion in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967; he was Military Assistant to President Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, eventually becoming Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff. He was Secretary of State from 1981 to 1982 under President Reagan.

Henry Kissinger served as Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977. He was President Nixon’s National Security Advisor from 1969 to 1973. He was a co-recipient of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire between South and North Vietnam.

Theodore Sorensen was Special Counsel to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. He is Senior Counsel for the New York City law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Jack Valenti was Special Assistant to President Johnson from 1963 to 1966. He was president of the Motion Picture Association from 1966 to 2004.

The Media and the Role of Public Opinion

12:45 – 2:15 p.m.


Steve Bell, news correspondent for ABC News from 1967-1986, reported from Vietnam and Indo-China in the early 1970s.

Frances Fitzgerald, non-fiction author and journalist, received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fire In the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam .

Dan Rather, CBS News anchorman from 1981 to 2005 and 60 Minutes II correspondent, covered Vietnam for CBS News in the mid 1960s.

Lessons Learned

2:30 – 4:30 p.m.


The Honorable Chuck Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam. He is Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator.

General Wesley Clark is a decorated Vietnam veteran and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

Bob Herbert served in Korea in the 1960s. He has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 1993.

The Honorable Pete Peterson, a captain in the Vietnam War, was shot down in 1966 and remained a prisoner of war for six and a half years. He was the first American Ambassador appointed to Vietnam after the war.