JOHN SHATTUCK: Good afternoon, and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. And on behalf of myself, our Board of Directors, and Tom Putnam our Library Director, we’re just delighted that all of you could come here on this beautiful Veteran’s Day. I also want to thank the institutions that make our forums possible, starting with our lead sponsor, Bank of America. We’re grateful to the Boston Foundation, to Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, Corcoran Jennison Companies, and our media sponsors, WBUR, which broadcasts the Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings, the Boston Globe, and NECN, home of “The Chet Curtis Report” and “Chet Curtis, Live at 5.”
John F. Kennedy was a veteran, and he knew the face of war. When he was asked how he became a war hero, he said with typical self-effacing humor, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” [laughter] Kennedy’s generation of veterans didn’t talk much about what they’d been through, and what they said was always understated. But like my own father, who was badly wounded twice as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II, Kennedy knew what it meant to go through battle. And as with other veterans throughout history, he carried with him the names and faces of those who didn’t make it back.
On November 11, 1961, a young president, tempered as he said by war and discipline, by a hard and bitter peace, went to Arlington National Cemetery to honor the nation’s veterans. Here’s some of what he said, 46 years ago today. “We commemorate the veterans this Veteran’s Day with a few moments of silence, and then this country’s life goes on. But it is appropriate that we recall, on this occasion, the sacrifice which so many soldiers and their families have made in order to permit us to gather here together. In a world tormented by tension and conflict,” he said, “we meet in commemoration of peace. Some might say that this day has lost its meaning, that the shadow of new and deadly weapons has robbed this day of value. But at this time of remembrance,” he said, “let us pray in the name of those who fought before that there shall be no veterans of any further war; not because all shall have perished, but because all shall have learned together to live in peace.”
That’s what John F. Kennedy had to say about this day, and today, I think our thoughts turn toward those who serve, have served, or soon will serve in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other distant lands, and toward their families who have joined with them in making that sacrifice about which President Kennedy spoke so simply and so eloquently. I’d like to ask all the veterans of all wars who are here with us today to stand so that we can recognize you and thank you for your service. [applause]
For some years now, we have been a country divided by issues of war, and, by the way, our government has taken us to war. I also know that in Massachusetts and Massachusetts alone, there are now some 30,000 citizens who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a staggering number. For those of us who came of age in the shadow of another device of war, we remember all too well how veterans would return home from Vietnam without the welcome and appreciation they deserved for the sacrifices they had made. And here at the Kennedy Library, we’re determined to play our part in making sure that doesn’t happen again today, and that those who have served are properly honored, even as those who have led us may be vilified for the decisions they have made. And to honor the veterans of 2007, especially those who know too well the horrors of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve invited a courageous journalist, my friend Martha Raddatz, to tell their stories.
Martha, as many of you know, is the author of a remarkable new book, The Long Road Home, that draws on her many trips to Iraq to cover the war. Martha is committed to telling the stories of the soldiers in Iraq and their families from her book; in fact, so committed that she has flown here to be with us from Pakistan, where she was on assignment for ABC News. [applause] And she’s here on this special Veterans Day at this forum and will sign copies of her book after the forum.
I’ve known Martha since the 1990s, when she was covering the war in Bosnia, and I was a State Department official working on the Dayton Peace Process. We also knew each other because her daughter and my son, who is here today, went to high school together in Washington. And since our forum this afternoon is really about stories of veterans and their families, I thought the best way to introduce you, Martha, is to tell your story through the words of your daughter, Greta. Here’s what Greta has written about her mother.
“Why do people like my mom do what they do? They certainly don’t have to go to these battle zones. Why do they take these risks? As the Iraq war drags on,” Greta says, “it is increasingly easy for people to become disengaged from it. To forget about the people who are in the line of fire every day. This is why it’s important for journalists like my mother to go there and get a taste of what both the US and Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqi people, are experiencing. Journalists have the ability to make those realities come alive. I got a first hand glimpse of the reality of this war,” Greta says, “on Christmas Eve, when my family visited with injured Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital. As I listened to their stories, I thought about the ones who would never again spend Christmas with their families. I immediately had a greater appreciation for every military family, and I also felt extremely proud of my mom.” So, on this special family day, Martha, there’s a special tribute to you from a special person.
Let me just sketch a few more details about Martha’s career. She’s the chief White House correspondent for ABC News. She’s covered national security and foreign policy at the Pentagon, the State Department and overseas for the last 12 years, during which she’s won 3 Emmy awards, has appeared regularly on “World News This Week,” and “Good Morning America,” and is a regular panelist on PBS’s “Washington Week.” Before joining ABC News, Martha was the Pentagon correspondent for National Public Radio, and before that, we could claim her here in Boston as the chief correspondent at WCVB TV.
Now, to moderate our forum this afternoon, we’re thrilled to have Boston’s own Chet Curtis, who’s often been called the Larry King Live of New England. Chet, as you know, is the primetime anchor at NECN, where he hosts “The Chet Curtis Report” and “Chet Curtis Live at 5.” Before joining NECN, Chet was an anchor with WCVB, where he served as the original host of the station’s award-winning “Chronicle” program, and, before coming to New England, and we can’t think of New England without you, Chet, he was an anchor and reporter at the CBS-affiliate stations in New York and Washington DC. So please join me in welcoming to the stage of the Kennedy Library Martha Raddatz and Chet Curtis.
CHET CURTIS: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, and it’s so delightful to be here with my friend and former colleague, Martha Raddatz, who, as you heard, got off a plane last night in Boston late from Pakistan. I drove up from Quincy about an hour ago. But Martha, it’s great to have you here. We were going to talk about Martha’s book, The Long Road Home, but since she just returned from Pakistan, she was in the country the night before President Musharraf imposed emergency rule. And let’s start, Martha, by telling us how it was that you were even in Pakistan at that moment?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Now you were going to say that every question Chet asks me, I’m going to say, “That’s right Chet, that’s a good point,” because we’re trained to do that with our anchormen. So you’ll have to-- I’m just going to revert back to my old days with Chet and sort of nod approvingly with whatever he says. I was in Pakistan and I was only supposed to be there a day on the way into Afghanistan. And I was with Admiral Bill Fallon, who is the head of Central Command. It’s a great idea to go with these senior people on these trips because your access is terrific and the transportation goes much more smoothly. When I’m on a military flight and it breaks down and I’m not with a senior officer, I might as well just sit there for four days. With them, they get a new plane, you know, all that.
So I’m going to go back a little bit, because I was with Admiral Fallon in, and I can’t remember, April, and I was on my way to Afghanistan, but we went to Iraq first, and when we came out, the Iranians took the British sailors hostage, so I had to cancel the trip to Afghanistan with him and drop from his trip. So this time I met him in Pakistan. We were going to go to Afghanistan, and he was the last US official to meet with Musharraf. And when he came out of that meeting, he looked rather stricken, and I said, “So it didn’t go well huh?” He said, “No, it didn’t go well.” And, essentially, he sort of gave me a wink and a nod, which was, “You really don’t want to go to Afghanistan with me tomorrow.” So once again, I dropped from a trip, and have become his bad luck charm, because whenever I go with him, something horrible happens.
But that night, and that was Friday, a week ago Friday, we reported on ABC that Musharraf was on the verge of declaring an emergency in the country. But Admiral Fallon asked me to go to a dinner with him that night, or got me invited to this dinner, which was incredible because it was all of the senior army officials in Pakistan, including a general named General Kiani. General Kiani was the head of the Intelligence Service over there and he’s this incredibly sort-of dashing, James Bond figure, who were in this big room and this big reception.
And, first of all, everybody in that room knew what was going to happen the next day. And that was the most bizarre part of this. Admiral Fallon knew what was going to happen, all these generals knew what was going to happen, and General Kiani, who I’d read about, is the head of the Intelligence Service, and very mysterious and doesn’t like to really talk to people. He’s a chain smoker. And he smokes through filters, those cigarette filters. Sort of the James Bond thing. And wherever he went in the room that night, and he was standing up and we were all walking around, they would put a little table next to him with an ashtray. So he sort of has this ashtray and this little cigarette holder, so he was doing that.
Now nobody talked about what was about to happen except at the table where I was. I did ask one of the spouses, “You know, so a lot of rumors are going around tonight.” She said, “All we hope is that whatever happens is best for the country.”
CHET CURTIS: Martha, let me interrupt. When you walked into the room, there was a division; a gender division.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Yes. Let’s remember where we were. So I walked into this big hall and I’m with Admiral Fallon’s party, and all the women are on one side of the room, it’s the spouses, and all the men are on the other side of the room. So I have this moment where I’m like, “Hmm, I’m not going over there with the girls tonight. That is not where I belong tonight.” So I made a decision, I thought, “I’m just going to kind of migrate over to the men.” But because I was with Admiral Fallon, I thought I don’t want to get him into trouble. So I went up to one of his political advisors and I said, “Can I go over here?” And he said, “We’re going to make you an honorary man tonight. Yes, you can.” [laughter]
So, because I wanted to meet General Kiani and I wanted to meet the other generals, and it was really quite interesting. And, to tell you the truth, I was quite impressed. I thought, we all go with this super US, you know, we’re the most amazing, and there were some really pretty impressive generals. One thing I know they said that night was that the army would not be involved in this. And the army has not been involved in the declaration of emergency; it’s been the police. And I don’t think the army wanted to be involved. And I think there is some division within the ranks about what Musharraf is doing. And I think he’s gotten advice from some of those generals that he really should take off his uniform and forget about it, because they’re getting frustrated with him, they’re getting frustrated. And I think there’s a division in the officer core, but they’re getting frustrated with what he’s doing. And it’s all about the economy, the way people look at Pakistan, all that matters to them as well. So that was a really fascinating dinner, and I kept thinking, I’ve saved my little invitation, and I thought, “This is incredible to have been there the night before.”
CHET CURTIS: Well obviously you all have heard about the problems in Pakistan for the last week or so. It’s an important country to us. President Bush views Musharraf as one of our key allies in the War on Terror. We’ve pumped about 10 billion dollars into the country over the last couple of years. And we’ve also been reading, and it’s been pretty evident by a piece Martha did just the other day from the Swath Valley in Pakistan, where the Taliban is making a strong comeback.
MARTHA RADDATZ: The Swath Valley, and trust me I go to all these places but I have to look at maps too when I get there and when I’m driving and everything. Now where am I again? The Swath Valley is up in the northwest part of Pakistan, over by the Afghan border, but what’s significant about this is it’s not on the Afghan border. And the trouble that we’ve had, or where they think Osama Bin Laden is hiding is up there on the border. This is fairly deep into Pakistan. Not to be overly dramatic here about how dangerous this was, but it was pretty dangerous going up there. I don’t really blend in that well, I just got to tell you. Charlie Gibson joked with me that he was going to intro the piece that night as a-- Because they e-mailed me and said, “Is this exclusive? Are you the only one going there?” And I said, “Yeah I’m the only blonde for hundreds of miles. Trust me.” So he was joking with me that that’s the way he was going to introduce the piece.
But we had a local producer named Habibullah Khan, and he is an amazing guy, and he basically got-- there was Habibullah and our cameraman over there, Nassir(?), and I had a producer, a British producer who came in with me into the country. And the boys were all dressed in sort of traditional garb, and obviously the two locals could fit in, and Habib told me to just wear a scarf, and that that was okay. I was in the backseat of the vehicle. And he’s very mellow, he’s very-- just nothing gets him excited. He’s okay. But it took us four or five hours to get there, and you go over a mountain passage which, frankly, was I thought the most dangerous part of the trip because there were no guardrails and it was gravel.
But we’d go through these small villages and I’m looking around, and he goes, “Don’t look out the window. Just keep your face ahead.” And because the Taliban has taken over 80% of the Swath Valley now. And I can’t quite describe how horrible that is. I mean they’ve closed the schools, they’ve wiped out businesses that have anything that’s not Islamic. They’re a visible presence on the street with their weapons. And it is this beautiful area. I mean it was absolutely stunning beautiful mountains, and apparently a big area for tourists and hikers, and you go in there, and the Taliban is inching its way down through these areas. It’s quite astonishing.
I thought the most nerve-racking part was because-- Habib was very nervous too-- is we got stopped. I mean there’s kidnapping, there’s all this, and that’s obviously what our concern was. But they were blasting on this road. So we ended up stopped in this area, and four vehicles deep. And these vehicles are, if you’ve ever seen any pictures of Pakistan, their trucks are painted these bright colors, and it’s quite cool, these trucks. So we’re all packed there and we’re essentially surrounded and there are people walking up and down. What you don’t really want to do over there is stay in one place for very long.
But we eventually went up. I got out and did a few stand-ups. There was an area I didn’t go to. And the guy we met in the Swath Valley who sneaked in and got some video from places-- I said, “Should we go over there?” and he said, “Absolutely not, because they’re looking for Americans.” So we did not do that. We weren’t stupid. But even getting out of the car, you do it for a very brief amount of time and then a big crowd gathers, and then you know everyone in town knows you’re there, so you jump back in the car and go on to the next scene. We talked to a few people, but basically we were there for maybe a couple of hours, and then turned around and did the five hour drive back, and put it on the air that night.
The next day, Habib got a call from the intelligence service there, that they wanted to bring him in for questioning. And they called him twice. They wanted to know when I was leaving the country, and he told them the next day, because this was last Friday or Thursday. I frankly think I probably would’ve gotten kicked out of the country. Because my visa-- And what they were saying to Habib is that in a state of emergency, you shouldn’t have gone up there, you don’t have permission to leave the city. And he was very nervous, and we were all very nervous at ABC, too. In fact I e-mailed him right before I came out here and he said he thinks it’s calmed down and they haven’t called him back. Because questioning over there is a little different than it is-- well maybe not. Depending on who you believe. Maybe not so different. But that’s one of those things that was important to me to go see, and we did indeed, and you get a real sense of what’s going on there and how little they’re doing about the Taliban. I think Musharraf’s done a lot about Al-Qaeda but not so much about the Taliban.
CHET CURTIS: Well, before we get on to talking about The Long Road Home, President Bush in a message I believe last weekend to Musharraf said, “Have elections, hold elections, as you had promised, and take off the uniform.” First of all, do you think elections will be held any time soon? And how likely is it that Musharraf will take off the uniform and bring some sort of stability back to that country?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I think the thing that will push him to taking off the uniform is the other army generals, and if he doesn’t do that, I think he knows he’s in trouble. But I think it’s impossible to predict, frankly. I mean, I know the night that he said the elections will only be a few weeks off or delayed a few weeks, that a lot of the diplomats over there were saying that it was just a total ruse. That he’s just trying to buy time and continually trying to buy time.
I just want to add quickly this thing about Benazir Bhutto too, because there is theater in all of this. On Friday, Benazir Bhutto was under house arrest, essentially, and I was standing outside her house, and I was on the phone with her, and saying, you know, “What are you going to do? Tell me what’s going on.” She said, “You know, right now, there are 3,000 police outside my house.” And I’m looking around thinking, where are the other 2,800? Because I don’t really see them. And, you know, to me, I don’t think she really could’ve gotten into the country if Musharraf didn’t want her to come back in, so I think there’s deal-making going on. She says there’s not, but there’s clearly something going on. And when she came out and tried to get through the line, she was in an SUV, and I could essentially walk, which I did, between the riot police which are here, and her vehicle’s over here, in between them. So there was a whole lot of stage managing going on in a lot of this stuff. It’s pretty much a different world. There we are again, maybe not.
CHET CURTIS: What an experience. Martha, as you may know, has been to Iraq 15 times.
MARTHA RADDATZ: 14.
CHET CURTIS: 14 times now. Planning to go again perhaps in March, she tells me. And here’s a woman, not only a great journalist but courageous. She doesn’t stay in the green zone. She’s out with the men and women, with the troops. She is embedded with whatever unit she happens to be reporting on. And The Long Road Home, Martha’s first book, which is sensational, tells the story of the battle for Sadr City, but more importantly it marks the beginning of the so-called insurgency, which changed the Iraq war.
MARTHA RADDATZ: This battle-- And it’s hard to believe when you think back to a time in Iraq when things were going okay. The 1st Cavalry division, which is based at Fort Hood, Texas, had just arrived in Iraq. And I’m in the same military-- the division is about 20,000 people in this case. They added on a lot of people that ended up, by their year’s end, being about 36,000 people attached or maybe more, to the 1st Cav. What they do when they transfer over-- the division that was there-- they kind of do it gradually. So they don’t go, okay, now you 20,000 are in charge. So they do it from the smaller units up.
On April 4, 2004, the prior year, only one soldier had died in Sadr City. So when the 1st Cav came in, they thought it would be a pretty peaceful place, that they would be doing stability operations, that, you know, basically they’d all told their spouses that it was handing out candy, and I think they thought it was going to be a pretty boring year. They had been in Sadr City for four days, and the transfer of authority, meaning one to the next, took place on April 4th. And when they did that, the very moment they had their transfer of authority-- and I always think, these are guys who were, a couple weeks before, driving around in their minivans at home and taking their kids to soccer-- these guys had not been in combat before.
So there they are, and the very minute they get a platoon pinned down in the city, 19 soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter are attacked by, who you probably now have all heard of, Muqtada Al-Sadr’s militia. And a gunner in that convoy was killed instantly. And they are hundreds and thousands of militiamen surrounding this convoy. They have four humvees, two are on fire. They are under constant attack. They are running. They finally find this alley and set up in the alley the defensive position. And back at headquarters, Camp Warrego(?) it was called, they start sending in rescue squads in soft-sided vehicles and in open vehicles, because at the time no one was prepared for what was about to happen and a turning point like this. And they kept sending in rescue squads. And by the evening’s end they had eight soldiers dead, and 60 wounded. That may seem like a small number to all of us now, but it was absolutely stunning for them to arrive, think something was not going to happen, and just suddenly have all these casualties.
One of the people in the book who, to me, was just remarkable, is a young pediatrician, and if you saw him, he looks like young Peter Shattuck there. He was a pediatrician, and people always say to me, “A pediatrician? Why’s there a pediatrician in the army?” I’m like, guess what? Those soldiers, they can actually have children. It’s amazing. So he worked at Fort Hood and other clinics, basically, when he was back home. He’d certainly never been to a battle zone. And he described suddenly seeing this tidal wave of wounded come towards him. And they really were just dragging soldiers back. And I originally did this as a “Nightline” for ABC. I had heard about this battle and I had heard about some of the heroics, and I had heard about this young soldier who had sat in his humvee the entire night trying to guide the rescue squads in to help them out.
And when I heard about this, I was in Baghdad, and someone told me-- I wasn’t actually there, although all the guys-- I know the soldiers so well, they’re like, “Oh you weren’t there? I keep thinking you were there. I keep seeing you there.” So they lined up all these soldiers for me, because I had one day left or two days left in Baghdad and nothing ever happens quickly with the military, but they managed to get these soldiers for me for “Nightline.” They flew us by helicopter to Sadr City, lined these guys up, and literally within minutes they were crying, and they were telling me the most powerful stories. And for me, who had covered the war since the beginning, and every day it was a different story. And whether it was a political story or whether it was why there were no weapons of mass destruction, the UN headquarters had just been blown up, but there was something different every day. And when I met these soldiers, it was pretty much for me, too, the first time that I thought, we’ve forgotten who’s fighting this war. We’ve really forgotten the sacrifice or these stories of what’s going on on the ground there. We’ve been so involved in everything else.
And there was one soldier in particular, his name’s Sergeant Miltenberger, he’d been in the army for 20 years, never seen battle, but he was one of those guys that-- It’s always the guy who you never think will be amazing in a battle who turns out to be so. And he looked like it was the last thing on the planet he wanted to do was do an interview with me, but he completely opened up and started crying when he thought back on that night. And he had saved-- he was in the back of one of these open trucks with 16 other guys, and within minutes almost everybody in that truck was injured. And Sergeant Miltenberger had one hand on a sucking chest wound, and he’d had his knee on a guy who’d been shot and paralyzed almost instantly, and he got vehicles to take them back and was running around.
And I also thought that night that-- and for you veterans, and I don’t know what you tell your families or what you have and you haven’t. I know it is really difficult to tell people what you go through. I know it is really difficult to share stories. But to me, it’s because people don’t really ask. I’m sure over the years, our veterans have been asked, “What was it like? Did you kill anybody? Did you see anybody killed?” But we don’t really want to know, or we don’t know what to ask. And sitting down with Sergeant Miltenberger and the others, and hearing their stories, all I did was just keep asking. I’m not a Miss kind of touchy-feeler reporter, I’m not trying to make them cry, but they were remarkable, and their stories were remarkable. And it was really one of the most powerful “Nightlines” I think we’ve done at ABC, to just listen to them talking. And, in fact, if you do read the book, or you have read the book, if you can figure out a way to get those “Nightlines” to see who these people really are, or if you’ve already seen them, it is quite amazing.
CHET CURTIS: There was another gut-wrenching story, Martha, talking about the interviews that you’ve done. The interview that you did with Colonel Abrams, he was the platoon commander, the son of a very famous general, after whom the Abrams tanks are named. But, tell the audience that story.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Colonel Abrams, Robert Abrams is-- he had told me this wonderful story later-- when he was eight years old, Colonel Abrams, who’s actually a brigade commander-- meaning he had like 3,000 soldiers under his command-- he spent the summer of ’69 in Saigon with his dad. His mother didn’t know what to do with him that summer, so she was like, “Hey! I’ll send him to Saigon with his dad. Perfect.” So he said he would run around in a little camouflage suit, so of course he went into the army. But Colonel Abrams is one of those-- they’d call him behind his back, because of his heritage, the natural-born killer. And he is one of those guys like right out of “The Great Santini,” you know, sort of salute, never say anything, look straight ahead. There were a couple of kids I interviewed later who had babysat for him, who were like, “Yeah, you show up and it’s like, roger that, we’ll be home at 10, do this, do that, do that.”
So Colonel Abrams-- I sit him down and what I did is I went back during that year and kept revisiting the 1st Cav after that first story, and go back and talked to the soldiers, and I hadn’t really interviewed Colonel Abrams, because-- I told you that gradually the 1st Cav took over that night. So the battalion that took over that night, 700 soldiers, the brigade would take over a few days later, and since he was the brigade commander, he wasn’t really in charge that night, although they were his soldiers, which was even harder. You’re not in command, and yet your soldiers are dying. So we sit down and, you know, Colonel Abrams is like this and just totally blah, and hated it, and I seriously just said, “What’s the last year been like? And it must be hard for you and it must be hard for your family.”
So he starts out and says, rar, rar, rar. And he said, “But for families--” and he broke down sobbing and could not go on. Literally, could not go on when he started talking about the sacrifice of the families. He has these moments in this interview where he tries to pull himself together and he says, “Oh this is bad, this is bad,” but then he kept breaking down, “I told my wife I wouldn’t do this.” And he kept breaking down. And afterwards he called me and was so upset and said, “Please, you can’t run that. I just am so humiliated that I cried. I’m a colonel, I shouldn’t be crying.” I said, “Trust me, you’ve got to trust me with this, I’m not going to exploit this. We’re going to run it. It is a very powerful, powerful message, not only about what you’re doing but what your families have sacrificed.”
And he was so upset about it, he later e-mailed his boss, General Pete Corelli, and he said, “Sir, I try to do the division proud, but today I was being interviewed by Martha and I’m ashamed to say I broke down and I’ve let the division down.” And General Corelli wrote back, “If you’d done anything else, you would’ve let us down.” Of course, Colonel Abrams was thrilled that General Corelli shared that e-mail with me and I included that in the “Nightline” as well. I mean, that to me, and General Corelli’s response was just so wonderful and deep and powerful about what they go through.
CHET CURTIS: I want to get back to the families in just a minute, but getting back to the battle for Sadr City, which what took 80 days, and a huge number of casualties. We’ve heard a lot from our returning Iraq veterans that one of the difficulties they face is the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform. But in Sadr City, Martha tells the story of how these guys were pitted against an enemy that used children, women, and elderly to shield them as they came out of alleyways and windows and buildings to fire on our men. And they had to make a decision as to whether or not to fire back and when.
MARTHA RADDATZ: There’s a scene where the lieutenant platoon commander of these 19 guys, who were in the alley-- his name is Shane Auguero-- And Shane-- first of all, a testament to him is that he told me this story. I didn’t know this had happened. And he didn’t have to tell me this story, but he told me all the details of this story. And they’re in the alley and it’s 10 feet wide, and on either end of this, he’s got guys wounded in the alley. He has one guy dead, the communications are horrible, they can’t get to these guys because of a series of complications, the communications aren’t really working well because they’ve just transferred vehicles over and they don’t have all their stuff set up.
So he sees the Mahdi army coming forward and what they’ve done, the militiamen, is they’ve got the militiamen in the back, and then they have small people in front of them, then they have women in front of them, they have children in front of them, and clearly it’s just for human shields. And they have them coming down both ends of the alley. I mean, it’s the oldest thing in warfare, is the women and children, so they’re advancing and the militiamen are firing over their heads, and Shane says that in that moment, he just calculated at what point he could not let them continue. At what point it would be too late and they would overrun his men.
So he just told me, and Shane’s kind of a straight ahead guy too, and just told me that he looked down there-- he’s a father, had two young kids at home-- and looked down there and knew at some point they would kill his men. He started firing high to avoid the children, but then the gun would kick up and too high, and he just described that at some point he had to start shooting children. And in his mind, he thought, “If I don’t shoot them, they will shoot the fathers who are here in the platoon.” And, again, I think it’s pretty extraordinary that he told me that story.
CHET CURTIS: Indeed, and also part of that, didn’t they have the AK-47s that the fighters were using? They had strings or lines attached to them?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Yeah, they would put out a weapon, and they’d have a string. So if someone died, if one of their fighters died, they would just pull the weapon back and send out somebody else. Or they had little kids who they called peekers, and the little kids would look around the corners and point out where the soldiers were, and then when they’d do that and they’d run back and one of the militiamen would go out and try to aim for the soldiers.
CHET CURTIS: One of the remarkable aspects of this book, and I hope you all get a chance to read it, is that Martha uses-- I’m about to use a television term-- sort-of a split screen approach. That is, she describes what’s going on with the soldiers in Sadr City during that battle, and then cuts back to Fort Hood, Texas where the wives and the children and the mothers and fathers are living and trying to carry on their lives. It introduces us to not only the heroism of the men and women of the battlefield, but the heroism of the families back home.
MARTHA RADDATZ: And I first started reaching out to the families because of Colonel Abrams and because of General Corelli. And General Corelli in particular said-- when I’d go back and they’d just talk about the families-- he’d say, “If you think what we’ve been through is remarkable, you should talk to our families.” And you know, John, you probably don’t know this, but in Bosnia, when the diplomats were killed, when Bob Frasier was killed, I remember that day, was it ’94? There were diplomats and military going up as part of the Dayton Peace Accords. Slobodan Milosevic would not let them fly into Sarajevo, so they went down an incredibly dangerous mountain path. And I remember hearing the news that they had died. They actually went over the side of the mountain. And I just remember being in Washington and thinking, “And somewhere in Washington, these men have been dead for 8 hours and their families are going out and getting bagels, and their children have no idea.”
And for some reason that just struck me, and it always had. That I thought about that; how awful that time difference is. And Iraq, from Fort Hood, was nine or ten hours ahead, and when I heard about these soldiers dying, I thought, “How awful that their families have gone through their day or that they’ve been sleeping and they don’t know.” And believe me, I think about that when I’m over there too. And they don’t know what you’ve been through, or they don’t know what almost happened to you, and they’re living their lives just normally.
And so when I wanted to go talk to the families, that’s pretty much what they said too. That it was so amazing to get up and to go to church or to go to the club or be lying around in the bed with the kids, or e-mailing your husband and wondering why he hasn’t e-mailed back. And that part of it-- and meeting these families, and seeing how incredibly isolated these communities are-- that the rest of us have no idea what they go through. Connie Abrams, Colonel Abrams’s wife, said, “I’m out, I’m running around with the girls, the girlfriends, and getting my son up, and then I get a phone call that says: two dead. Fifteen minutes later, four dead. By the end of that day, eight dead.”
And they have what they call family readiness groups. And these women basically, in advance, are the ones who help out the other families. They are not the ones who go notify the families, but they are in place to go after the families have been officially notified. And so they kind of come together in their own combat mode as well to deal with that loss. Connie Abrams, for instance, gets a call from her husband’s executive officer about the battle, and she think’s he’s called to say that Colonel Abrams has died. And that’s all their first thought. They don’t want to think that way. It’s not just about their husbands. But they also know, they don’t have the names of those who have been killed or wounded. They’re not allowed to have those names until they’re notified.
So these same women who are about to go help people don’t know whether their own spouse or son is wounded or dead, or that their friend’s spouse or son-- And the battalion commander’s wife says she just kept thinking, when she realized her husband was okay, “Then who is it? Who is it if it’s not him?” And there’s almost this guilt for them as well. I mean, it’s sort of like survivor’s guilt that soldiers and marines will go through. It’s the same for a spouse, that your husband didn’t die but somebody else’s did. So their story is remarkable and powerful. And the book stays with it after they’re first wounded and the bodies start coming home.
I’m just going to recognize Bridget Samburg, who’s in the audience who is a researcher and helped me report this book, and I could not have done it without her. And Bridget did a lot of-- Would you stand up Bridget? Sorry to do this to you. [applause] But I did not take any time off from work, and Bridget was really just magnificent. And when I first hired Bridget, she lives here-- freelance for the Boston Globe-- I thought she could just help me with the families, because I was in Iraq so much. And that she could do a lot of follow-up interviews with the women. And she was so fabulous with the military and sort-of got it instantly about how it works, that she was just magnificent. And my schedule was such that I would work until seven covering the White House, then I’d go back to the office and work until two. And so I’d e-mail her at like midnight or something, or call her and say, “Now, Bridget, do you-- can you--” So she was great, and just really such a steady, wonderful friend for me. And Bridget and her husband Andy got the benefit of my trip to Pakistan, because I gave them my tickets to the Bob Woodruff Family Fund event in New York where Bruce Springsteen performed. So thanks for coming to this. I know I’m not Springsteen, but I really appreciate it.
CHET CURTIS: Martha, how did you-- I know Bridget was a huge assist for you in putting together this book, but you talked to a lot of these military guys and to a lot of the family members. How did you manage to coax these gut-wrenching stories and details out of them, and, as a follow up, could you have done it if you were Bill Raddatz and not Martha Raddatz?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I’ve been one of those women who are like, “Oh you know, I can do anything the guy--” But I am a woman, and I love being a woman, I don’t want to be a guy. And I think we do bring something that men don’t, and they bring something we don’t, and I think maybe that wouldn’t have worked so well for Bill. And I’ve had male colleagues tell me the same thing. That there’s something different about it. And Bridget too. I think in some ways I have friendships with these women. It sounds totally gender stereotyped, this book. It is, because it happened to be an infantry unit, so there weren’t women in the battle. But there are remarkable females in the military today. Just remarkable, amazing people. The women are at home, and the men are in battle in this one.
But I think in many ways, too, I was a bridge, and that I’m this woman who’s been there, so the soldiers respect me. I’ve seen what they go through. And yet I’m a wife, and a mother, and I can also relate to them and how isolated they are and how the rest of the country doesn’t really understand what they’re going through. So I feel like that bridge did help. And I think interviewing with the soldiers was really, in particular, something where they opened up to me because they knew I’d taken certainly not the same risks they take, because I’m not armed, and if I change my mind and don’t want to walk a step further I don’t have to. But I try to do everything they’ll let me do. So I think there is that, and that is helpful. And you do, I mean there is an incredible bond when you’re embedded with people or you talk about this stuff. And it’s something I think’s helpful as a women just in empathy.
CHET CURTIS: Sure. One of the great lessons, one of the take-home lessons in this book, and we’ve talked about this many times. Not just we, but you’ll be hearing more and more of it in the media. That so few of us, relatively speaking, in this country have any idea what’s going on over there and so few of us have been asked to pay virtually nothing. We’ve been asked for virtually no sacrifices, while our men and women are dying. There are almost 4,000 of them now. And, by the way, Martha’s book is not a political book. She doesn’t take a stand on the war, pro or-- but you just tell it like it is over there. How has the experience of writing this book and your 14 trips there changed you?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I mean if I wasn’t changed, if I didn’t think more about this, if I didn’t, you can’t do what I’ve done and not be changed and not look at things in a different way. And that’s particularly the case because I cover the White House. I’ve covered the White House for the last two years, and honestly it’s really hard to come back sometimes and listen to people here talk about things in a way that you want to scratch your head. Or even the transition for me, honestly. I mean, it’s not as hard as it was in the beginning, but I think, when you come back, and-- Nate Fick, who’s the author of One Bullet Away who’s a retired marine at the tender age of what, 29? Have you hit 30 yet Nate? That you come back and you’ve been there the day before.
It’s like me in Pakistan. I mean yesterday morning I was in Pakistan. But when you come back from Iraq and you hear people complaining about their restaurant reservations not coming through or you hear them not-- and that’s kind of unfair. Or I listen to the President, and it’s hard. I joke that I’m pretty much sure that I’m the only person who’s ever been in Ramadi and the Lincoln bedroom all in one week. [laughter] And I only slept in one of those places and it wasn’t the Lincoln bedroom. But it’s difficult, and I hope that my experience there allows me to ask questions that are better of the President.
He knows I go all the time, and he, I think, respects that. And he’ll ask me about that, and ….(inaudible)
I guess I can’t articulate very well. I mean it does change you, it really does. I feel incredibly, profoundly connected to that place and I miss it. And I cannot really talk to a lot of you about that because you won’t understand that. But Nate will understand it and all of you veterans will understand it. I feel, in the same way the soldiers and the marines who are there, that I want to follow this through to the end. That I don’t want to stop reporting. I feel like I can’t stop reporting this. I have gone to the mat with my bosses who, when I first started covering the White House said, “Okay, no more trips to Iraq, you got to just concentrate on the White House.” And I said, “I can’t. You know, you got to let me go once and a while. First of all, it is the most important foreign policy story to this president. It’s the most important. And I have to see it for myself if I’m going to have any credibility.” I mean, what drives me crazy during the debate about General Petraeus and should we stay, should we go, is I’d see people on the news who I knew knew absolutely nothing about it, and wanted to just tear my hair out, or theirs, actually. But I mean, it’s hard. [laughter]
And I also don’t know everything about Iraq. I don’t have any answers. I try, in my appearances on “Washington Week” or on “This Week” not to say, “Yes”, “No.” But what I’ve done matters to me. And what I’ve seen matters. And I’ve seen it for years. And I’ve seen change, and I’ve seen good periods and I’ve seen periods where we go backwards. And I think that can’t be replaced. There aren’t a whole lot of people who cover Washington and go to Iraq, and have done so for the entire time since we’ve been there. So I feel like I’m an important voice. I don’t mean that in any braggy way, but I feel that I’m adding something to the dialogue, I hope. And that I want to continue to do that.
CHET CURTIS: But it’s got to be frustrating, Martha, when you’d come back from a trip to Iraq, you’re in the White House press room or at a presidential news conference, and you ask a question. For example, you asked once how would the President define success, or the difference between strategy and tactics. And, you know, when he gives you an answer, and even after acknowledging, “Well, Martha, you’ve been there and I haven’t,” it’s--
MARTHA RADDATZ: It was a defining moment.
CHET CURTIS: Yeah, it was a defining moment. But it’s got to be frustrating.
MARTHA RADDATZ: So I was the decider after that. I thought, “Oh great, I’m the decider. This is great.” [laughter]
CHET CURTIS: I mean, is it because he doesn’t know? Because he’s delusional? Because he’s trying to put a spin on it? I mean what is-- [applause]
MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, first of all, it is Washington, and you don’t get a whole lot of answers when you ask. You can ask as many questions as you want. I mean, this strategy tactics thing was one of those moments when I knew the President wanted to strangle me. And we do have this first row seat. In fact, you’re so close to the President at times when you stand up, you need reading glasses. It’s like, you know …(inaudible)
So the President was talking before the Petraeus change, and his whole surge thing. Before the midterms he was being widely criticized and they needed a new strategy. And so at a press conference, I said, “Mr. President, you know, is it time to have a new strategy?” And he said, “Look, you know, we change tactics every day.” And I said, “No, Mr. President, I said strategy.” “Well, you know, General So-and-So does the tactics.” I said, “Sir, I mean strategy.” And he gives me this look like, “Okay, enough.” [laughter] And goes on and just says, “Tactics, tactics, tactics.” Well, and really, I said, “I don’t think you answered the question.” And he said, “Well I did. I think I answered it.” And that was it.
So at the next press briefing North Korea was in the news, and I ask him about that. So another reporter asked him about Iraq. And he literally says, “Well, we are changing tactics every day.” And he literally turns to me and like, listen now, “to reach a strategic objective.” And, you know, you saw this look on his face like, “See? I got it now.” In the instance where he said, “You’ve been there,” I think the question was, “Are we in a civil war because the national intelligence estimates said we’re not only in a civil war, it’s worse.” And he said, “Well, you know, it’s hard for me to decide that living in this big, beautiful White House. You’ve been there, I haven’t.” And I think my jaw was on the floor after that one. That’s what I thought.
But you know, absolutely it’s frustrating. I mean, clearly they’ve made security gains there. They’ve made some amazing ... (inaudible) with the Marines out there and just amazing security gains, but the Al-Qaeda in Al Anbar is very different than what’s going on in the rest of the country. So they can highlight that, I can come back and say, “Now wait a minute, there are these other things going on and aren’t you the one who said we have to have a political solution and not a military solution? So tell me where the political solution is.” He’s actually said to me that it must be difficult to be one of my children because I’m so stubborn and I just keep hammering on these things.
CHET CURTIS: Alright, now, you’ve had experience not only dealing with the White House and the President and members of his administration, but you were also the Pentagon correspondent. Who is more difficult to deal with: Don Rumsfeld or President Bush? [laughter]
MARTHA RADDATZ: That is such an easy question, Chet.
CHET CURTIS: I think I know the answer.
MARTHA RADDATZ: By the end of the time I was covering Rumsfeld, we were kind of barely speaking, frankly. And he was so difficult. And I was one of the few reporters, I think-- the beginning, the rock star stuff, I just couldn’t stand that. It drove me crazy. And I felt like the press was being straight man in those things, and I thought there was a degree of us being rather unprofessional about that, and just laughing at jokes where they weren’t very funny. And I also saw such an amazing change in that building when he came in, because he was incredibly disrespectful in many ways to the military. And I just saw him dress down people in uniform all the time. And I’d never really seen anything like that.
You know, even the briefing changed. Admiral Stufflebeam was one of the first briefers after Afghanistan and Torie Clark would stand right next to him and look at him the entire time he was briefing, which I just thought was a message that wasn’t a great one at the time. He was very, very difficult to deal with, and if you look back-- I can’t remember, was it the Washington Post that had some of his memos, or they called them “snowflakes,” that he had the other day, and they were, you know, “Whenever they talk about Afghanistan, let’s tie it in with Iraq.” I mean, just this whole message thing, which I thought-- he was just really difficult to deal with. He couldn’t stand me.[laughter] I’m sure he’d say the same thing.
CHET CURTIS: With all of the time you’ve spent with the White House and with the administration, particularly with those who deal with the press and also those who deal with the press at the Pentagon, did you ever get a succinct definition of what they’d consider success in Iraq?
MARTHA RADDATZ: The definition changed and still changes. I mean, you know, they always say the same thing, but if you drill down a little deeper into the answer, you know, govern and sustain itself. In Iraq, the governed sustained and defend itself. The definition has definitely changed over the years. Success. You know, I’m surprised the President even still uses the word “victory,” because I think that’s really not anything that any World War II vets here are ever going to relate to as far as Iraq is concerned. So I think the definition has changed.
CHET CURTIS: And one final question, before we go to the Q & A for the audience--
MARTHA RADDATZ: That’s it? You and me?
CHET CURTIS: I know, we reserved about 30 minutes for some questions from the audience, but we’re beginning to hear more and more obviously about Iran, and whether or not they’re going to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon. They’ve got 300 centrifuges going now, or 3,000, whatever it is. You get any sense of whether there’s some thought being given in the White House and/or the Pentagon? I know they must have contingency plans, you know, obviously, but some serious plans for taking out the nuclear facility in Tehran and Iran.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Yes, I don’t have an answer to this question. I have certainly watched, and I think there are certainly people that who, you can probably guess who they are in the administration, who are a little more aggressive about this than others. I guess I can’t. It’s hard for me to imagine. We’ve got the President in there 14 more months, that they’d do anything… But anything can happen. Now, the Israelis just bombing Syria and taking out what most people I’ve talked to-- I mean, this is actually a really interesting thing. So Syria is building a nuclear plant, a nuclear weapons plant. And we have all this intelligence that was horrible, horrible, horrible before Iraq. Then do you learn the wrong lessons? They do you say, “Oh, we can’t take out anything, because it might not be right, whether it’s a real threat or not?” That was easy to take out. The Israelis had a really easy time taking that out, because it was hidden in plain sight. Iran would be very, very tricky, because it’s underground bunkers and all sorts of things, and may not be successful, and may make everybody hate us even more overseas.
I think it seems to me that Condoleezza Rice is a voice for not doing anything. And whether that’s about legacy or whether that’s-- who knows what they’re up to. I think this is a dangerous period in history when you have a president who’s about to leave office. And dangerous because of the way other countries look at us. And I think they know he’s about to leave, and even if it wasn’t George Bush. If it was any president, I think these are dangerous periods; with the end of the presidency, they see us in some ways as more vulnerable, or that we’re not going to make decisions based on things we’d make decisions on before.
CHET CURTIS: Alright, let’s take some questions from the audience. We have two microphones set up, and please come up to the microphone. And we ask that you’d just state your name, ask a question of Martha, and try to make the questions brief and succinct so we don’t have some speeches and we get more folks to take advantage of talking with Martha. Yes, ma’am?
SHEILA DAVIDSON: Hi, I’m Sheila Davidson. You speak about the 1st Cav and about the families back at Fort Hood. Have you had any experience with people who are in the Reserves, and you know, I mean, there are so many people now in Iraq and in Afghanistan who don’t have the huge support system of a base-- the home people. And then there are people who are not currently active professional military, but they have been activated. Have you had any of those contacts and how did they differ?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I’m so happy you brought that up, and if you haven’t read this Boston Globe story this morning, I read it this morning, it’s excellent. I think that is the hardest-- I mean the Reserve and National Guard who do not have this community to come back to, who have civilian jobs, who have to deal with civilians, who don’t have that base of support. I think this little article my daughter wrote about seeing the Marines in Bethesda, they come back, they have other Marines, they keep in touch with their unit. The Reserves do to a certain degree, but the care, I think that is going to be one of the biggest issues in this country in the next decade-- caring for the wounded.
I have heard beyond what you’ve read in the paper. I mean there are just horror stories. There’s a Marine reservist in Bethesda who was brain damaged slightly, but lost both his eyes. And his wife told me this story-- I mean, visibly, without eyes-- that he finally was released from Bethesda, went back to the VA, and the VA is so used to dealing with Alzheimer’s patients, but they throw in these brain damaged kids who want to have a life with the Alzheimer’s patients because they’re not prepared for them. And this young man with no eyes-- they came in, and they’re just used to checking off things and blood pressure, heart rate, blah, blah, blah, and they sat him in front of an eye chart and asked him to read it. [audience groans] But his answer was, “I-A-M-B-L-I-N-D.” [laughter] But I think, you know, I mean we are just so ill prepared to deal with this. Particularly the Reserves.
And I’ll tell you one of the things that opened my eyes to all this was, of course, my own colleague, Bob Woodruff, who was injured. And Bob was certainly one of the very few people in Rye, New York, who’d been injured by an I.E.D. And Bob and Lee-- I know you probably know their story, and there’s nobody who got finer care than Bob Woodruff through Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Marines. But, also, you know, had unlimited access to care afterwards. But still, Bob and Lee lived in Rye, New York. And I think it’s very much like the Reserves. I mean, she had no one to talk to about what it’s like to have a brain injured husband, or who has just gone through this horrible thing. I mean, I helped Lee set up with some Marine spouses or military spouses so they could at least have someone to talk to who had a shared experience, and I think that’s what we’re going to have to deal with.
And one little, tiny thing too on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, because I think this is something they’re going to see as well in Iraq, unlike other conflicts-- Other conflicts, I think, in Vietnam, maybe every 60 days there was a fire fight. 30, 60, 75 days. And in between, they had time to recover or feel safe. In Iraq, every single day, you think you can get blown up, whether you’re behind the wire, whether you’re out in the streets. And they’re seeing adrenaline junkies come back, because your “fight or flee” [response] when you’re out in the field kicks in, and it’s constant. And it keeps you going through the day. But they’re getting it all the time, so when they get back, they miss it. And I don’t mean it’s like, “Hey, this is great, I want to go out and feel like I’m not going to die any more.” But their bodies react to that, and psychologically you react to that, and I think, you know, there’s that bonding experience, and when you come back, it’s not there, and I think that’s something they’re going to have to deal with as well. Thank you.
CHET CURTIS: Thank you, next question.
STEVEN GOODE: Good evening. My name is Steven Goode. I’m a US History teacher and AP Government and Politics teacher at the John D. O’Bryant School in Boston. My first thought is to say thank you very much for your book, because I think this brings history alive, and it makes my job easier in the classroom because what you do here, I can’t do in the classroom as a history teacher. My question for you is, you mentioned two things. One about the elections. My father said something a long time ago, and I’m quite sure many people have heard this, “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.” So, in Pakistan, wishing for free elections. We, here in America, can express that in 2000 as well as Hamas being elected. So what would you want to happen in Pakistan? Would you want free elections during this time period, and if so, what happens if the wrong party wins?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Well that’s a really good point, because some of the people I talked to here when I was over there said, “You know, it wouldn’t be so bad if the army took over because at least it wouldn’t be anarchy.” I mean, I think you have to look at everything different. I mean, whether Musharraf would win or not, I’m not so sure he would actually win fairly and squarely, so I don’t-- what would I want to happen over there? I mean, certainly, they’re on the road to democracy. Certainly when I hear about Habibullah, who I told you about, getting shaken down by an intelligence service, that upsets me. You know, democracy’s a great thing, you know. Whether they’re ready for it or not, I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t-- I guess I can’t answer that question. Doing the best I can, but I don’t have a concrete answer for you, so you’re just going to have to think of it in your history class.
STEVEN GOODE: But the other part was just-- this was the second part. The last part was when you mentioned the part about the women and children as human shields in front of the troops, could you elaborate a little bit more on that? Because I think this is what their media uses to show on television as propaganda to show, “Gee, you’re killing women and children,” when they actually sometimes actually have the weapons. But then you remove the weapons.
MARTHA RADDATZ: That’s exactly what they do. I think something the military’s dealing with now, and probably too late, is 24-hour media. And the media that uses it over there to make us look horrendous. Our military is not geared to respond to that very well. And they’re not geared to respond to that very well for good reasons, and that is, we don’t want to release information until it’s totally accurate.
There’s a case, in fact, with General Corelli, who ended up going back to Iraq for a second year, and I remember-- I can’t even remember if I was over there or over here, but I was in contact with him, and the media over there put out a story that soldiers and Marines had gone in and slaughtered people in a mosque. Well, what had actually happened is they moved the bodies to a mosque. And that’s what it initially looked like, and I’m saying, “General Corelli, if that’s what it looked like, you got to tell us now.” He said, “I can’t tell you now, because I’m not positive, and I’m going to look at the stuff.” And I said, “In two days, this is going to be out of your control. So if that’s what you’re thinking happened, and you’re not positive, you’ve got to at least let reporters know that that might be a possibility.”
And I think that’s hard for them to do because they want to be accurate, but I think that’s a really good topic because it has changed warfare. It is information operations as they call it. It has completely changed how you do battle, and how you get information out. It is part of winning. And I think the military doesn’t quite get that yet. And that doesn’t mean you come out. And I am, you know-- don’t try to spin me over there. It drives me crazy. Don’t tell me that I’m not doing the good news every day, that’s not the function to me of what those public affairs officers should be. They should be telling me what happened. I don’t want to hear the little press releases. There’s somebody in Afghanistan who sends out at least 15 press releases a day, and I think it’s Disneyland over there from what I’m reading about in these press releases, and I don’t think that’s their job. But they do have to deal with this very serious problem of how we’re perceived.
CHET CURTIS: Thank you. The lady over here on the left? Go ahead, ma’am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have a grandson who served in Iraq. He was from Fort Carson. He was in one of the first groups that went over there, expecting nothing. He ended up with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, one of the first ones to come home with it. They put him out of the army with a personality disorder. He was lucky that he had a mother and an aunt who really fought for him. He didn’t have the Iraqi Freedom Medal. None of his papers came with him; they were sent someplace else. They said he didn’t have the Iraqi Freedom Medal so they couldn’t treat him. Is there still that problem with the vets coming home?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Yeah, I mean there’s still a lot of problems with the vets coming home. And I know Bob Woodruff has done a lot of stories on the personality disorders claim, and that they’ll say guys have personality disorders and that’s why they’re released. I mean, the other thing that they’re now understanding is the traumatic brain injury, and how much these improvised explosive devices, even if they don’t physically hurt you, what they do in rattling your brain.
A couple of times ago when I was there and I was sitting in a medic’s office, they said, “Look, whoever’s in any incident around an I.E.D., make sure you ask them what the effects of that were.” So no, the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a huge problem still.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And in this area, there wasn’t any place. Now Bedford does it.
MARTHA RADDATZ: And I hope we do more and more, and checking, and them coming home. So good for you guys for fighting for him. Thanks.
CHET CURTIS: Sir, go ahead.
STAN FELTON: Stan Felton, Boxborough, Mass. Martha, you have the ultimate credibility in my opinion, and a national recognition face, and name recognition. Have you ever given any thought or serious signs to running for president, where you could do even more good?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Actually, I think about it all the time. But president of Pakistan is what I’m thinking. Thank you, you’re very sweet, and you’re delusional, but thank you.
CHET CURTIS: Yes, go ahead.
JULIE DONNELLY: Well that leads into my question well. My name is Julie Donnelly. I’m a reporter. I have worked in Washington so I understand that opacity. I have not worked in Iraq. The concern among journalists has always been that we, in Iraq, had two choices-- those who went-- either to be imbedded with the troops, or to be in the green zone. And for many reporters, neither of those was a really great option. When I hear people like Lou Dobbs say, “Our troops,” I kind of cringe, because you’re taught in school that you don’t say that. That you really have to be fair. What do you think? Do you think that the concerns about being embedded are overblown, or do you think that in a war situation there just is no way to be objective, and you have to just give that up?
MARTHA RADDATZ: The story of objectivity I think-- First of all, when you’re embedded-- thanks for your question. You’re right, you know you’re there, and the guys you’re with are pretty much your security, too. I think if you just had embedded reporters, you would not get a complete picture of the war. I was all for that imbedding in the beginning of the war, because it was one slice of what was going on. I thought it was probably brilliant of the Pentagon, because normally-- And one of the things we talked about afterwards at ABC is that it was an unusual war because there was nobody left on the ground. I mean there were very, very few reporters there when the invasion began. So normally, you hear stories of war from the other side. You didn’t as much this time.
If I was the only voice at ABC reporting this, it would be wrong. It is very difficult, you’re right. It is more and more and more difficult to get out, and talk to Iraqis, or to get the full story, because you cannot believe what a nightmare of security it is, particularly for TV. I mean John Burns can disguise himself for the New York Times and run out around and do things we cannot, and it is deadly dangerous, and ABC in particular because of what happened to Bob. And I know Chris Cornwell went over a few months ago and an I.E.D. blew up next to him, that it’s-- you can’t do it.
Here’s what I’m not objective about. I am not objective about the fact that it is sad, and breaks my heart, that so many soldiers and Marines have died over there. And I should add airmen as well, but obviously it’s not an air war in particular. And the wounded, I’m not objective about that; I’m just not. And I don’t think I have to be. When people talk about journalism and you have to be objective about this, I think, “Why? I am an American. I am. And I’m proud to be an American.” I try to be objective in my reporting, but I also think there are very, very tragic things about this war.
CHET CURTIS: Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’d like to preface my remarks. First of all I want to thank the Kennedy Library moderator here, who asked those of us who are veterans to stand and be recognized. The next thing I want to say is, this is Veteran’s Day, and I’m going to recall what President Clinton said on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he said, “The ranks are growing thinner, and they walk with a little less spring in their steps, but the world must always remember that when these men were young, they saved the world.” And I break up every time I say that. [applause] So I can identify with the Colonel when he had that emotional moment when he was talking to you.
But the other thing is, I got a couple of stories I’d like-- I know General Odierno. And he’s the second in command, and he actually commands the people who are doing the fighting. And one day I got a phone call from Fort Hood, and I was told that General Odierno assigned who was serving as a lieutenant in the 1st Cav division. The 1st Cav had replaced the 4th Infantry Division, which General Odierno commanded at that time. And they were told that his son, Tony, had been seriously wounded and he was at Lanch Dell Hospital(?) for treatment. And General Odierno and Linda, his wife, had gone over to be with him. They knew, at Fort Hood, that I have a close friend who was a nurse who works at Lanch Dell Hospital, so I called her to find out what Tony’s situation was. And she told me that he had been stabilized, and he was on his way back to the states with his parents. So my friend didn’t know at the time that he had lost his left arm in an I.E.D. attack. After I told her that, she sent me an e-mail, and said, “This may sound heartless to you, but a soldier can live with one arm. But after the irreversible brain damages I’ve seen, that’s what I dreaded when you told me he was seriously wounded.”
Another story is, my friend, Ann Shields, has a friend who is a lieutenant colonel nurse, and she was stationed at one of the forward aid stations. And a soldier came in, and he was very badly burned, and he gave her a message to deliver to his family. Subsequently, he was transferred to the burn station at San Antonio, and he subsequently died. And the nurse, even though she was a lieutenant colonel in the army, could not get the name and address and phone numbers of the parents to deliver the message because of privacy considerations. So my friend, and she was a friend of my friend who was a nurse in the hospital. So my friend sent me an e-mail, and said, “Can I help?” So I sent an e-mail to Celia Stratton(?), who was the curator of our 4th Division museum, and she said, I’ll do better than that. I’ll get you in touch with the chaplain, who has been in touch with the family. And surely--
CHET CURTIS: I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we’ve got some other people who want to--
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I’m almost finished. Anyway, because of my connection, I was able to get through, and the family was so grateful to me for having been able to contact them.
CHET CURTIS: Great, thank you, thank you very much. Ma’am, go ahead.
MARTHA RADDATZ: I just want to say also, thank you sir, that Tony Odierno is doing great. He’s great. And so is General Odierno. So Tony is working with the prosthetic arm and doing pretty well. So thank you.
MARGIE KAHN: I’m Margie Kahn, and I’m the founder of the Worcester Institute on Loss and Trauma, and I’m concerned about secondary traumatization. What do you and your colleagues do to take care of yourselves?
MARTHA RADDATZ: Nothing, really. You know, there’s a soldier in my book who--, this is Sergeant Miltenberger again. I’m the only person he ever talks to; it’s the weirdest thing. His wife can be sitting right next to him but he won’t tell her about it. He’ll just tell me about it, and I’ll say, “Sergeant Miltenberger, you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, why don’t you go get help?” I said, “How often do you think about what you saw?” And he said, “Every day.” And I said, “Why don’t you get help?” And he said, “Because I don’t think I have PTSD.” And I said, “Well, do you want to stop thinking about it?” And he said, “I’m never going to stop thinking about it.” And I guess that’s my attitude that you-- I mean I don’t feel like I have any problems from this. I mean, I certainly think about things. I think there are probably colleagues of mine who do, but we don’t really do that.
I’ve talked to people-- there are people who I am very close to. And again, I don’t really talk to my husband about this stuff because I talk to soldiers and Marines I know who I think will understand. I had a very hard time coming back the last time because I saw things that were so upsetting, and because I spent the day in a combat support hospital.
And those people are heroic. The doctors and medics and nurses there are unbelievable in what they see in one day. Unbelievable. And the first thing we saw was a kid who had both his legs blown off. And we had access to it. And we’re in the operating room everywhere. And there were some rocky babies that had been brought in, and it was horrendous. And I called somebody who I trust and am close to who’s in the military and just talked about it. And I also, when I came back, was determined to find the young man who lost his legs, which I did, because I overheard that he was from Virginia, and I knew he’d be at Walter Reed.
So I, through General Corelli’s help, found his parents, because I wanted to talk to his parents, because I felt like, if someone had been with one of my children all day in an experience like that, I would want to know. And I called her, the parents, as not a reporter but as a mom, and then saw him in Walter Reed, and-- So the answer is no.
CHET CURTIS: Interesting question though, that’s great. Ma’am, please.
NANCY LYONS: Hi, I’m Nancy Lyons, from Duxbury. Based on your earlier comments about them hiding behind women and children, would you like to give us your opinion of this Blackwater controversy? I see both pros and cons to it, but I’d like to hear what you have to say.
MARTHA: I’ll try to not give an opinion, but I’ll say this. The Blackwater people have a very different job than the US military. The Blackwater people are hired to protect whoever they’re protecting. The US military does its job to be successful in the war. And so Blackwater goes in there with a completely different mindset. They don’t think, “Well, if I shoot a guy accidentally, then 25 other guys are going to hate me.” The military, I think, is very aware of that, unlike Blackwater. I’ve had experiences where I was in a convoy in Fallujah, and they-- this was several years ago-- and there was a vehicle who approached our convoy, and the gunner in our convoy, not in my vehicle but a couple of vehicles up, opened fire on them and killed them.
Now, that gunner thought we were threatened. Do those people in that town, are there more people in that town who hate us? Yes, absolutely. It’s one of those decisions, those split-second decisions that sometimes you wish you had another second, or could take that decision back. So I think the Blackwater stuff is difficult. I mean I think, clearly, they need more rules, and I don’t know really who was in charge of talking to them about that. So it looks like probably the military will get yet another job over there.
CHET CURTIS: Alright, thanks. Go ahead, sir.
RICHARD WOOD PAYNE: My name is Doctor Richard Wood Payne, and I’m a member of the Harvard Institute for Learning and Retirement. There are about 500 of us. I seem to be the only one here today. I didn’t even know about this meeting until I walked in here, as I often do, to be in touch with the spirit of John F. Kennedy. So I don’t know whether this question has already been asked of you, but I just want to mention that I’m not going to speak for the 500. I don’t have a right. But I do want to say, my daughter has, for some time now, been jeopardizing her pretty good job here in Boston by devoting herself to the movement to impeach the president. And I’d just like to know-- That was no joke when somebody said a minute ago you should be president. I’m all for that, etcetera, etcetera.
MARTHA RADDITZ: I’d be kind of the Rudy Giuliani, the checkered past and all.
RICHARD WOOD PAYNE: Anyway, to make a long story short, I guess all I want to do is get your comment on that. And thanks a lot-- thanks for being here.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Thank you, thank you. You have the Air Force jacket on, right?
RICHARD WOOD PAYNE: Yeah, I’m retired from the Air Force. When I was 18 years old, I learned to fly B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and at the age of 19, according to the Air Force Times, I was possibly the youngest B-17 aircraft commander in the entire 8th Air Force. That’s something that’d be hard to prove, but there must be something.
MARTHA RADDATZ: We trust you, we trust you. We think you should be president. Thank you. Okay, what he wants me to talk about is George Bush, and I will just briefly say, there’s no one more controversial to cover than George Bush. And I know everybody-- like next year, we’re all saying, “What are we going to do? Who are we going to cover? He’s not going to do anything.” I think it’s kind of standby with George Bush because you never really know what he’s going to do. Boy I’ll tell you, I even said at some event earlier this year, someone asked me whether they thought he cared about the wounded, and I got booed because I said I thought-- I know he spends a lot of time at Walter Reed and Bethesda, and times they don’t even tell you about, and parents up there who can’t stand him have come up to me and said that he was pretty terrific with their kids. So there we go. Whereas Donald Rumsfeld used to come out of these things and could go and instantly be fine, I think there are a couple of people, and many of them you may not like, who come out of there and are pretty deeply affected by it.
CHET CURTIS: Ma’am?
CAREEM MENDEZ(?): Good afternoon. My name is Careem Mendez and I’m here with the John D. O’Bryant School, and my question is: Do you as a reporter, who has witnessed the violence and struggles of this war, feel that the media has successfully informed the public from an unbiased point of view?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I think we try. I’m always going to be hard on us in some ways that we’ve failed you all in some way. But I think we do the best we can over there, given the enormous limitations of where we can go and where we can’t go. I think we have to take a hard look at ourselves in the buildup to the war, in whether we asked the right questions. I’m pretty proud of ABC during that period. Peter Jennings was a maniac about trying to ask the right questions. And Peter Jennings is one of those people who absolutely did not believe there were weapons of mass destruction, and I think that came across in the coverage of ABC. I hope it did in some small way, but there we go. Thank you.
CHET CURTIS: Alright, go ahead, ma’am.
KATHY GOULD: Thank you. Kathy Gould from Quincy, and I just want to thank you both for being here. Your devotion to the veterans, all of us, it really turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. And most importantly for my own personal-- my god son is over there over a year, he’s just been extended longer. My brother, who’s a physician’s assistant, was just told the other day he has to go back a second time after Christmas. And I just want to thank you for putting a face to the other side of what’s really going on, because I think it’ll help a lot. It helped me a lot over the--
MARTHA RADDATZ: Physician assistants, they’re some of the-- like the combat support hospital. I mean there are kids over there who are 18 years old who are seeing this trauma every day. And when you say being extended, these physician assistants, these doctors, the medics, they’re getting extended too for 15 months. I was there for one day. I mean, day after day to see this is just extraordinary. And I kept looking at the faces of the youngsters, the physician assistants, and one of the surgeons said to me, “Those are the guys I worry about, because look, I’m an old guy, I’ve done this day after day, and I can deal with it. But look at their faces.” And there was a little Iraqi baby who came in, who this one young kid kept coming up to me and saying, after all we saw, day after day, just kept saying, “How’s the baby, how’s the baby?” And I thought it was so heart warming that, you know, that is who he connected to that day. And that baby died. So I know that that kid, that night-- I don’t know how they work it out. I don’t know how they deal with it.
KATHY GOULD: It helped me a lot listening to you, and I know I’m going to enjoy your book. When you go back in March, or when you go back, and you go to the hospitals, reassure them all, the men and women, that they are in our thoughts and prayers, and that we do think about them and pray for them.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Thank you, I do, boy I do tell them that all the time. So thank you.
CHET CURTIS: Go ahead sir, he was waiting, go ahead, and I think we’ll have time for one more.
HERB MOSCOVITZ: My name is Herb Moscovitz and I’m from Norton. We’ve read a lot and seen a lot about Musharraf, and giving up his military uniform, and I’m kind of wondering what your opinion would be, if he gives up his military uniform, will there be somebody emerging to take over that military responsibility, or will he continue to be the commander in chief and have the authority and responsibility of the civilian government, and the military government, and is it symbolic?
MARTHA RADDATZ: I think he’ll lose a great deal of power in that country if he gives up the military uniform, which is why he doesn’t want to do it, but I think if he doesn’t, his generals will probably revolt in some way. I think probably the successor is the James Bond guy I told you about, General Kiani [laughter]. I think the US, and I’ve heard it on background and I’ve heard it on the record that they have no problems with General Kiani. That they think he’d do pretty well with the army over there. And when you think about a nuclear powered Pakistan, you really don’t want anarchy, and I think that’s one of the reasons the Bhutto rallies didn’t turn out as many people as was expected. I think she probably got a little, “Please don’t call out 500,000 people into the streets, because we really don’t want total chaos over there.” So I think they’re being very careful. So thank you.
CHET CURTIS: Thank you. Ma’am, please.
SYLVIA WEISS: Sylvia Weiss, of Sharon, Mass. I’ve enjoyed everything you’ve said, but I was waiting for somebody to touch on this subject, so it left it up to me. Nobody has. Tell us, what do you think about the Iraqi government? How will they ever be able to take care of their country so that we eventually can leave?
MARTHA RADDATZ: So far we’ve had not really a lot of progress in that department. I think pretty much zero progress in terms of moving along. Boy, I don’t know. I mean the thing that most of the people worry about over there is this: that the end state, like what the US wants, this multi-ethnic government, and Shiites, and Sunnis and Kurds all having a part, that that may not be what the Iraqi government wants. And the Iraqi government and Maliki, they want the Shiites in control. As I say, all the Sunnis want at this point is to find somebody who won’t treat them as badly as they treated others under Saddam’s rule, so you’ve got age-old tensions of different-- And Mr. Shattuck can certainly talk about the Bosnia model and what happened there, but they have not really done much at all. And I think, when I look at the progress over there now and the security gains, and fewer soldiers and Marines are dying, but I really worry that they’re just laying low for a while. And that they’ll come back, and they’re like, “Great, we’ll get rid of the Sunnis and then we’ll come back and pounce.” So I think there’s a whole bunch we don’t know about what’s happening. That’s encouraging, huh?
CHET CURTIS: And I hasten to add, in conclusion here, that this past summer, when Tony Snow was telling White House reporters that the Iraqi parliament was going to take the month of August off because it gets too hot, it was Martha Raddatz who said, “Yeah, but our American soldiers dressed in battle uniforms and Kevlar and helmets, don’t you think it gets hot for them?” Thank you, Martha, thanks to all of you for being here. [applause]
MARTHA RADDATZ: And please tell all the veterans again, thank you. Thank you very much. And thank you Chet.
JOHN SHATTUCK: I can’t imagine a better way to honor all of our veterans, those who are here, and those who are everywhere, than this wonderful forum. Martha, thank you. Chet, thank you. Thank all of you and thank those of you out there for your service, as we have already. Thank you again. [applause]