Brian Newmark was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950. He grew up in a rough part of New York before moving to a safer neighborhood. He was aware of Civil Rights early, but his real protesting years started in college when he went Harvard University where he played varsity basketball. After college he went to a variety of protests, and remembers events such as hearing about My Lai and the election of Nixon. Dr. Newmark shows us the horror of a police presence on campus, and how some experiences can change your view on the world for the rest of your life.
Q: So I guess we’ll just start with the basic stuff like your childhood. Where were you born?
Dr. Newmark: I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950.
Q: And what was your childhood like? Did you have any siblings? What did your parents do for work? Were your parents involved in WWII at all?
Dr. Newmark: Yeah. I come from a lower-middle class Jewish family. My father was born in Poland; came over with his father in the 30s. My mom was born in the states; grew up in a section of a lower-middle class neighborhood in Brooklyn that got very dangerous. It turned out to be a real unsafe place, and [we] moved when I was about 10 years old, a week after people had tried to break into my apartment in the middle of the night; my mom screaming is my memory and taking the washing machine and putting it in front of the door so the two out of control teens would not get in the house. I remember about a week later moving from that neighborhood, which was called Brownsville in Brooklyn, to another lower-middle class Jewish neighborhood; Brighton Beach… I finished middle school, junior high school and high school and I left New York at 17. My father was an ambulance driver during World War II, and he was very quiet about his experience… I remember trying to talk to him about it. I think there were a lot of very scary, very traumatic [experiences] - you can imagine being an ambulance driver, assuming the worst of everything. I ran into a stack - my parents died like 5 or 6 years ago- but I found a stack of love letters that he sent my mom, which was very touching… well he would talk a little about the war, but they got censored everything that got mailed home from World War II, You could see big spaces where he was trying to talk about what was going on during the war.
Q: Was the sort of violence that you talked about, was that common where you lived?
Dr. Newmark: Well, in New York, it’s the opposite of gentrification, which were neighborhoods that were sort of on the cusp. They were sort of working class, lower-middle class neighborhoods got very- could really go down hill in terms of scariness, in terms of safety. So it wasn’t uncommon and what whites typically did and what Jews as a specific category whites would move up and out. That’s why my childhood in Long Island, which, back until then was sort of like farmland, like Wayland used to be 80 years ago. So, to answer your question, yeah there were some neighborhoods that were quite – [and] right now today, Brownsville, and lots of Brooklyn are in throws of big gentrification. But there are some neighborhoods - Brownsville’s still really tough, scary place. It makes probably Roxbury and Dorchester look like kids stuff in terms of violence and scariness.
Q: As a teenager, how aware were you of world events?
Dr. Newmark: How would I view world events?
Q: No, when you were growing up, how did you view everything that was going on? Or what did you notice?
Dr. Newmark: I was in a bubble… And you got to remember I was a teenager in the early 60s. Now the early 60s wasn’t really the 60s. The 60s really began in the late 60s; 66, 67 were the 60s. Up until then, people were in a bubble and it was the 50s. The 50s were a time of complacency; it was the post World War II prosperity. Everybody was doing well, people had jobs, the economy was buzzing, and there wasn’t a lot of in my childhood being exposed to. We had current events in high school, but it was different than all this stuff coming at you and cable vision. That’s a huge change. You had three TV stations, you know, you had a handful of TV stations versus what you have available today. So to answer your question, my childhood was… I was not very political, and most of the people around me were not very political.
Q: And when you were in high school, what would you do outside of school, like extra curriculars, sports.
Dr. Newmark: Sports and girls were the two things that seemed to be a commonality. I was a big jock. I was a basketball player, so with most of my buddies it was playing basketball nonstop and then being social; not so different than what goes on today. I got good grades, but I was a roustabout. I was like a lot of the Wayland kids; you put on the front when you’re with the adults and the teachers, but what really goes on… I mean it wasn’t that we were doing anything so big or bad, not at all, or breaking the laws, or any of that, but we were regular teenagers looking to have a good time.
Q: You were part of the baby boomers, right?
Dr. Newmark: Yes, I am one of the older [baby boomers]. Anyone born after the war, and think about it, when the war ended you had all these soldiers coming home, they got married right away to their high school sweethearts or some one they would meet and then they would all have families because that was that was the greatest thing you could do. So anybody born after , I was born in  - I have one brother who was four years older and he was the beginning of the boomers - I’m 57, so anyone who is 62 or 63 would be right with the boomer explosion.
Q: When did you start hearing about the conflict in Vietnam and the Cold War in general?
Dr. Newmark: The Cold War was much earlier than Vietnam; they’re too very different events. I was thirteen or fourteen, and that was when JFK, Cuba, and Bay of Pigs fiasco was happening. Back then we had very little information as to what was going on [compared] to what we know now. But the Cold War was around us a lot. Do you know about Sputnik? Sputnik was when the Russians put up a satellite in  and it was the first satellite ever. We had to rush, and I mean rush, to make it happen for us. So you had the tension, and the rivalry, and the competition with Russia. Russia was portrayed as the evil power and there was a lot of tension. The Bay of Pigs incident was the first time that I learned about the Cold War. With Vietnam, for me, it was probably when I went to prep school and more so during freshman year in college, which was . Then we were exposed to it day by day.
Q: You mentioned JFK earlier. Do you remember his assassination?
Dr. Newmark: Yes, everybody does. I was coming home from school and it was 1963, so I was a freshman in high school. We had a huge high school with about 6,000 kids, so we had triple shifts. As a freshman I didn’t start school until about 11:30 and I went until 5:00. As you moved up - as a senior - you had the early preferred shift. (Although I preferred waking up at 11:30 and going to high school. It was the greatest.) Sports were hard because there were weeks and weeks and weeks where I wouldn’t see light because you’d have practice from 5-7, and then you’d go home and it was completely [dark]. It was the only way that they could run a school that size. So, I was thirteen, and I remember walking home… I could hear that everybody had a radio or tv tuned and they were listening, and I was walking home and just feeling the emptiness [inaudible]. Anyone over the age of 8 or 9 at the time probably knows that as a very powerful experience.
Q: What did JFK symbolize to you?
Dr. Newmark: He was the first politician who was a new breed; he was youthful, and he was with it. He just had a wonderful image. And it wasn’t that he did so much, because when you study him, in his three years in office it wasn’t all these things that he put into place or that we still have, but it was the hopefulness in feeling that you could do anything and America was of powers and our prestige.
Q: As you got older how conscious were you of the race matters in your neighborhood? I know you said that you grew up in more of Jewish neighborhood. Were you aware of the civil rights movement or black rights?
Dr Newmark: Growing up in the city you had to be aware of that. When I look back at high school reunions and look at the old yearbook, there are very few people of color in that section. But growing up in the city and then playing basketball has always been a real mixed race thing. I had an older brother and he had played a lot of basketball too, so there was a fair amount of interaction, and understanding, in growing up in the neighborhood I did, of the whole civil rights dilemma. In terms of doing something about it, or getting politicized, it wasn’t until , freshman year in high college. I went to Harvard, so I was in Cambridge, and it was poppin’. The first time I ever saw a women’s movement was a march on the Cambridge commons that I could see from my freshman dorm room. It was the civil rights movement, the Vietnam, and the women’s movement, and they all began just about the same time. It was that key year of war that I became aware, it was probably a little bit earlier, in  it was really coming to a head, Vietnam especially started pounding away at us.
Q: So would you say before this and around late high school and early college life was “good” for you?
Dr. Newmark: Life was good in college, but life was different. I went to four years of high school and then I went to Exeter for a post-grad year. So those years I was in the bubble, and was much more contained and much more separate. I look at it more as those were the innocent, the much more innocent times. Part of it was the times and part of it was my own personal trip, my own journey. To be in any big city, Cambridge, San Francisco, or New York, Chicago, or any of those places, at that time you were just exposed to stuff that was very different.
Q: So after college things started to change, your future, could you talk about that and how maybe learning about Vietnam you thought would impact your future? What happened next?
Dr. Newmark: Well, the thing that politicized me more than any other event was in , , SDS (students for a democratic society) were the super radicals back in those days; it wasn’t just one college, it was across the country. And they wanted not just to end the war, but they wanted to tear down institutions and really redo everything, and redistribute wealth and all of that. The reason I bring it up is in the spring of my freshman year in college students had taken over Harvard University; a building in Harvard Yard. The building is the one where the John Harvard statue, that building, right there. Students stormed in, and it was protest against the war. It was lead by the SDS radicals… I never went in the building, but … they had the building for about three or four days. This was a building for administrators; no one was allowed to come in, and they were making a stand. And it was one of the first times; Columbia had had something like this, and Harvard was one of the early ones. All the students were getting together [and] there were rallies every day in support. The kids in the building would be hanging out, so this was a major to-do, and again it was in the Spring. Harvard made a terrible tactical decision. What they decided to do - instead of talking with the students and trying to negotiate or work something out - in the middle of the night they closed off the whole yard, you couldn’t get in or out unless you lived in the yard. At 5 AM they got state troopers in full battle gear with helmets on and weapons, and they amassed on Mass Ave, and you could see them. And I’ll never forget, I was standing on the steps of Wyner library with my roommates near University Hall, and the troops started coming. I’ve got to tell you it felt like Nazi Germany. They marched in, they had the full gear, and then the worst thing happened; they went into the buildings and they started beating the crap out of the students. They wouldn’t let them leave; they were just taking big billy clubs, they had tear gas. They tear gassed everyone out, and then they were beating the piss out of everybody. And we’re talking about people bleeding and being pulled down; it was unnecessary, it was completely inappropriate. From that moment on is when I look at my own evolution of being much more political because up until that time I was more of a jock, first year in college, but not very political. So that moment for me was a real defining one.
Q: So would you say that one event impacted your views in general about the war and becoming more informed?
Dr. Newmark: Yeah, more informed, more aware and more active because before then it was easy to let the few crazies do the work and let the radicals go and all of that. At that point it became for myself. I said “man there is something wrong here.” As things started to peel away, all the ways in which governments were [inaudible]- because up until then you’ve got to remember coming from that 50s place, you didn’t question governments a whole lot. Governments were allowed [inaudible], and it wasn’t that governments didn’t do bad things, there was corruption; there’s always been corruption, but it was not reported. And that moment for me, that was my defining moment. I think for a lot of people who were there [it was a defining moment], but everyone had their own sort of time where you put things together, and if you don’t like what you see around you, then it is time to try to do something about it.
Q: And while you were in college what were your plans for college. What were you planning on doing with your career?
Dr. Newmark: I took a psychology major and I always thought I would do something in psychology. As it turned out I was working [at Wayland High School], and after about 6 or 7 years I went back and got my doctorate in psychology, so now I’m a clinical psychologist; those were my plans back when. If you lived during those times, it was hard to only think of you and your own pathway. Now I think it’s a lot easier; when I go back and visit and I see kids, you can just put the blinders on and just get real busy. You want to be successful and go into this or that, and back then you couldn’t, there was just too much coming at you if you were a thinking and feeling person. I can’t imagine being able to be that focused.
Q: So it definitely had a big impact on you with so much going on…
Dr. Newmark: … When you’re 18 or 19, you guys are [inaudible], you have the energy, you have the interest, you have a lot of idealism; that’s part of being young. You think things can be better, and you want to make it happen to make them better; you’re ripe for change in the good ways that we can do that. And yet some of the casualties - we can talk about that later - of what happened during that time that started off with such a bang and with such good opportunity and got waylaid and changed over time. But it was a very exciting, powerful time. My sophomore year in college, the other major incident for me, was the Kent State riots… But in the spring in Cambridge, in solidarity with Kent State, there were riots, literally riots. Do you know Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square? Mt. Auburn Street is parallel to Mass Ave. I was living in a dorm there and there was looting and rioting going on and there was this struggle; it was linked with the Kent State stuff. Classes got stopped and there was a big riot at Harvard where kids were busting store windows and looting; all that was going on. I’ll never forget, I got tear gassed out of my room; I could not enter where I was staying because that street. Mt. Auburn Street was where the crowds would line up of people, kids, everybody and they would press forward and then the state troopers would start moving and firing tear gas to break up the crowd. This went on for about a week and then Harvard as well as tons of other schools basically; we did not have [sophomore year]. 1969, we did not have classes in the spring. They gave you whatever grade [you had] - sort of like what Virginia Tech is doing now with students. So those two, for me, were the defining events of, in my face, stuff going on. Its just hard to shake those memories.
Q: I was just wondering, about Kent State, did you think every ones reactions was justified, or do you think people were blowing it out of proportion with people dying in so many other things going on?
Dr. Newmark: Some of both, but I think that it was the right response. Think about what Kent State [troopers] did; they just shot into a crowd of people, so they were out of control kids as well as out of control police who were also kids, they were 23, and there has always been bad blood between the academic; snotty, college, rich kids, versus the townies, or the locals, or the blue collar, who did not have those advantages and who tended to join the police when they were 23 and 24. An incident like Kent State just exploded over time. It was pretty drastic. Would something like that happen today, where all the colleges would band together in support of an event, even as heinous, and as despicable as what occurred at Kent State? I think not. But I think it was also the time, and you had fuel, like a gasoline, waiting right there and that little flame would get this whole thing going. That’s what it felt like. A lot of Kent State was as much about Vietnam as it about anything. But it was and it wasn’t; it was about how the college treated these students and how they decided to deal with that. But what was Kent State, why were they organizing at Kent State? It was about the war, which got everyone again back in the war and what we were doing.
Q: How did you feel about Lyndon B. Johnson?
Dr. Newmark: I liked LBJ. He was a very strong president; he had complete control. I think he wanted to do the right thing. Now, he came from the Texas School of Politics, so he was very powerful, not corrupt, but he used a lot of influence. But [his style] was the old style politics that we don’t see much anymore. He was like the old boss; he had paid his dues and he was on the hills for decades. He finally had this opportunity, and I think that he really tried to do the right thing. Some of the stuff that is coming out now that I have learned about now, or heard about is LBJ wanting to get us out of the war. He saw the foolishness and [inaudible] ability of being involved; that he was stuck because he had inherited [John F. Kennedy’s] policy and his advisors. Where LBJ blew it, is he listened too closely to his advisors at the time; people who were telling him that we had to win the war, and all the nonsense about justifying the war. I think he felt trapped. I vividly remember him going on TV and saying he wasn’t going to run for president because of the war situation. So I think he got left holding the bag. But he was the one who put in all of Kennedy’s programs; he was the one who really made a dent with the civil rights, and yet he was, from what I was recollect, a semi-racist from Texas, so I think he had an end of career changeover. I have a positive regard for much of [Lyndon B. Johnson’s] stuff.
Q: What did you think about all of the people who were being drafted at this time? Did you think it was a fair way of getting people involved in the war?
Q: Did you think that you were going to be drafted?
Dr. Newmark: Are you kidding? Funny story, freshman year, it was again springtime. They decided that they were going to fair about the draft. So they gave everybody a random number. This was pre-cable, so I am in Cambridge, there are about seven of us in this one room where we were living. We had the radio tuned and they were announcing the numbers. So everybody is on pins and needles. They announce the numbers; I’m one of the first to be called, my number is 86. Now if you were 150 or under it meant that you were being drafted. … So I get 86, and I’m being drafted. I didn’t know at the time that I had this real-life kidney condition called nephritis which made me physically ineligible for the draft. But at that time my world sank. I had three years of college left, and I was going to be drafted. Now, there was no way I was going to go fight in the war; that I knew. And I don’t know if I would have had the courage to go to a place like Canada, but I would have done what many of my other friends, and people [did]…which was go to a shrink and get some sort of note that said I was unfit, mentally, emotionally… I would have done something to make sure I didn’t get drafted. But that was scary because they wanted to be fair about who goes or who doesn’t. Think about the war we’re fighting right now. Who goes? Volunteers, but people who are typically not the super-educated, not the super-wealthy, not the super-connected. So, wars are not usually fought by everybody. So the draft was very real and very scary.
Q: Did the media impact the way you saw the war at all? Did you remember seeing any pictures of the Tet Offensive or of casualties?
Dr. Newmark: On TV, it was very different than what Bush has done with Iraq. [Today], they are really censored and put the kibosh on seeing body bags. Every day, on the news you would see, back then, Vietnam soldiers actually fighting, being exploited, being amputated, and body bags coming home. It was so visual and so graphic. And that scene day after day after day, even in Iraq, we see some shots, but you never see dead American soldiers. They have whitewashed that, and even though you hear, “three soldiers died today,” it’s a very different gut feeling when you are seeing real people and real fatalities, and the injuries were just atrocious. They allowed camera crews back then to go with the soldiers, now they are under tight wraps…
Q: “So would you say that the media did a good job back then, more informing and keeping watch on the war?
Dr. Newmark: “Yep, I think they had less obstacles to overcome in reporting, but you have to remember, if I’m trying to be even handed here; the media has always tended to be the [left] wing, leaning people have always criticized the media for being too progressive or too liberal or having their agenda. And so I think what happened with the war is that everybody - instead of trying to be a little bit more balanced - I don’t think the reporting was balanced. I think it was pretty heavy one sided anti-war, and then the momentum built on that… In seventy three…was the pull out? So we are talking sixty eight, my freshman year, so that’s five years of pretty relentless negative reporting about the war.”
Q: “And also do you remember My Lai?”
Dr. Newmark: “I remember the massacre, yes. I am right now a little foggy with details, but with my memory and how it is [as] soldiers out of control. And these poor soldiers who are put in - and it wasn’t poor soldiers at that time - I felt very angry towards; how could we do something like this? How could we be shooting at so many innocent children and women?”
Q: “So would you say that it also negatively impacted, negatively changed your view of the world? You were more…”
Dr. Newmark: “Oh absolutely, when one thing after another, one event, and you looked at how simple minded it was or how miss-thought and miss-directed it was, and you know My Lai My Lai was an example of soldiers, these kids… they are eighteen or twenty year olds with guns and fear. And some of what’s going on now, the comparison with Iraq, is the same sort of stuff; innocence being completely [destroyed]. We are having a lot more of that coming out to light, but that was a real significant incident. But there were others like that, you know where one on top of the other and then five years of that [buildup] nonstop. It led to, I think, the entire country in the early seventies wanting for the war to end and go away.”
Q: “How did you learn of and react to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination?”
Dr. Newmark: “… That was a TV event, so I remember watching, and then once the replay of him being shot in the ballroom and…I had less- I mean it was just another, you gotta remember Bobby Kennedy was a long …you know you had JFK, then Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy, and it was like; wait we’ve been here before. So it didn’t have the slap in your face of the JFK assassination, but it was just another marker of; boy, we are out of control as a society; we’re these people. It wasn’t that I loved Bobby Kennedy and I thought he was just gunna step in, but for him to just be cut off like that, and not have a chance was another political…but also a story of how out of control those times were.”
Q: “What did you think of those times? Were you a hippy, would you say?”
Dr. Newmark: “Yep. I had hippy trappings. I know Mr. Delaney has asked me to bring in some pictures, I gotta go find them of before and after. But yeah, I would have aligned myself with them - but I was a college hippy, which was different from a real hippy. The really hippies went to San Francisco and lived on communes and you know did the whole nine yards and all that stuff. Whereas college hippies were a little different in the sense that we had the trappings; I had the jeans with the patches and the long hair and all of that, but I never thought that I was going to just go home on …and live here, you know what I mean? So I think it was hard to tell who the real hippies were because everyone looked like a hippy and yet that wasn’t the case.”
Q: “So did you think this whole youth movement and the counter culture was really big and was everyone involved in it, or not so much?”
Dr. Newmark: “No, it was big. It was big because youth for the first time banded together and became a force and as we got older it became both youth and… ; it was the boomers. So you have the biggest percentage of the population, plus they are the same age, plus they are young, and you put all of those factors together and we became a... plus own narcissism thinking that we are the top because we are so many of us; that we are somehow privileged, you know what I mean? So, you throw that all together and - the youth movement it- it [changed] society. You know rock and roll didn’t really start until mid sixties; the Beatles didn’t go on Ed Sullivan as of sixty three or sixty four. Before then it was more pat boon singing; sort of Frank Sinatra stuff to white audiences. So all of that was relatively recent; you know, you are looking at mix sixties and on.”
Q: “And you said how the Tet offensive and some of these big riots and the big riot at Harvard, you said how it affected you. Would you say that any of the young leaders affected you, like Jane Fonda or Tom Hayden or any of the…”
Dr. Newmark: “Not much, and part of that was my healthy disdain and you know distance from leaders per say because leaders - that was one of the mantras, don’t trust, you know, it was don’t trust anyone over thirty. It was a real statement and when you are twenty one you believe it. Anyone over thirty felt like a real old phony. It was good to see… people like a Fonda or a Hayden or some of the young politicals coming in - but you know, he turned out to be more real than she. But anyway with leaders it was the healthy cynicism of not buying anything they were selling.”
Q: “Did you understand the appeal of the Republican candidate Richard Nixon’s position about like restoring law and order and how did you feel about him?”
Dr. Newmark: “Oh sure, and you know anyone could see that there were ways in which things had gotten out of control, and everything that the youth movement did was not good. We made a lot of mistakes, we were, you know, when you are young and reckless, and we had that youthful enthusiasm but you make bad decisions. Right. So yeah, with Nixon things were a little – now not being somebody who - at that time I was so anti-government and anti-someone like a Nixon… I mean Nixon was a fairly detestable character from the get-go just the way he looked. He represented everything that we were against; but there was a whole segment of millions of Americans who were not of the youth movement. They were regular people, and they had felt that, you know, how could we have allowed things to get where they had gotten to? So yes, the backlash made perfect sense.”
Q: “So were you almost in support of his peace with honor strategy and kind of getting out of Vietnam and shifting the war more over to them, to the Vietnamese?”
Dr. Newmark: “Yes and no. And the no part was, theoretically it made sense, but you know I couldn’t stand Nixon, and to get past the fact that it was Nixon coming up with this - so you know anything he said was more than a grain of salt. And, you know, it was the lack of trust I think that we all felt towards that administration which is born out to be true, given the tapes that have come forward and everything we know now about those times.”
Q: “So I’m guessing that the bombing of Cambodia made that lack of trust even more…”
Dr. Newmark: “Absolutely, absolutely, but one thing I didn’t know about - I just took a course about Cambodia and Vietnam over Primary Source, which is something that some teachers do - but I didn’t realize that the Ho Chi Mihn trail looped way into Cambodia as a way of [transportation of goods], that was something that wasn’t really shared. And then the other thing is that I didn’t realize how much bombing Cambodia endured. They say something like more than all of Europe put together was the amount of bombs that we dropped all along [Cambodia]. Cambodia was this innocent, they just in a bad place geographically. They just, they got smacked upside the head over and over again because of the trail being diverted there.”
Q: “Right, and after the war, a lot of vets joined, and maybe during the war, a lot of vets joined - its called Vietnam Vets Against the War. Would you say that this is, would you look down on them like they were in the war?”
Dr. Newmark: “No, no they were seen, with Kerry being one of the foremost, they were seen as coming to their senses. That these were people, for whatever reason were involved, but they came back. And they were - the whole culture at that time - there were tons of movies out during that time about this type of change over. In fact, Jane Fonda had – I forget the title of it, there’s this great movie where John Voight plays her husband and he’s crippled and they struggle with their relationship and he can’t…and you know, lots of stories and movies and being talked about it being portrayed. So I think those folks, those Vietnam protesters of the war, had a lot of power and didn’t make a difference.”
Q: “You were part of protesting right? Do you wanna tell us about some of the protesting you were involved in?”
Dr. Newmark: “Oh there were tons and tons of - I wont – oh, I remember going to Washington in one of the big event busses and you just got on in Cambridge and you went down. But there were loads and loads of protests in this area, on the Cambridge commons and Boston commons, wherever…and it was a way of just feeling a part of [it], and it wasn’t just you and people like you…and then as the year started ticking seventy, it wasn’t just youth and hippies and it was everybody; it was your parents who were saying “what are we doing here with this war.” So the protest though felt more real than some of the ways in which we ban together now. You know? And remember it wasn’t just the Vietnam protests, it was women’s rights, because that was brand new to the scene. That started really in sixty eight. And Civil rights, and all three were major events and happening all over the place.”
Q: “So how were people, all of these soldiers being treated when they came back, all of the Vets? And how did you feel about that?”
Dr. Newmark: “I didn’t have any…I knew one person who went to the war; just to give you a little bit of my window of personal connection with these people. But from what I read, everybody felt terrible about the way these soldiers were treated. You know it was, you know the Bruce Springsteen song, Born in the USA? Its about a coming back, a soldier coming back from Vietnam and looking forward to his job and his girlfriend and all the benefits you get from a homecoming hero. And guess what? And the guy is left … nothing is there for him. He can’t get work and has flashbacks. It’s a greats song, but the funny little story about that, is Reagan - who was it? - some president- I think it was Reagan, used it as a song to show - because of the title is Born in the USA - but I think Reagan didn’t know what it was really about, and used it as a “proud to be an American” kind of song for his inaugural. It was a joke, because it was the opposite of what it was about. So yeah we, we felt, that the soldiers got screwed over royally and it was further evidence that, man, don’t be a soldier, don’t have anything to do with the government because this is how they treat you.”
Q: “So that made you even more against the war?”
Dr. Newmark: “Yeah”
Q: “And a lot of veterans experienced a lot of problems when they got home, like drug abuse and alcoholism. So do you think that in today’s world [flipping tape over]…so as I said today a lot of Vets who come home and back in Vietnam they experience a lot of problems like alcoholism and stress. So do you think that today we have let this generation of soldiers down [by] not helping them enough with maybe their psychological problems when they come home?”
Dr. Newmark: “Absolutely, [inaudible] and I just read something where one in three soldiers coming back can clinically be diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. That’s a ton. That’s diagnosable. What about all the others that just have regular nightmares or can’t sleep and you know, don’t meet the criteria? So yes we’ve, been able to…do this same patter of mistreatment and not enough care, and just not enough energy to what happens to people who … incredibly traumatic things happen to and they have to perform in a certain way. And you know, it’s not just the hospital in Washington; the veterans’ hospital being inadequate. It’s across the board that these soldiers come back and there is nothing for them. There are no jobs, and they get into all kinds of drug and alcohol problems; family’s gets broken and they are relics of who they are and we are not doing any better now. You would think the one lesson is treat your soldiers with respect and provide for them. And so, as a soldier, I don’t understand how soldiers convince themselves again and again that its gonna be better; why would you enlist even if you come from a military family. Why, you got to be seeing how your own are treated and then [that would] drive me to look the other way.”
Q: “So in comparing Vietnam to Iraq, do you think people have taken any of these lessons into account? Do you think we have learned anything?”
Q: “Do you see the parallels?
Dr. Newmark: “Right. I see the parallels, I don’t see - and this is something that has been talked about for the last few years - I don’t see us changing - us being the government - changing how we approach it, knowing full well that the parallels are inescapable. What this administration won’t own to is that this an un-winnable war, just like Vietnam was; an un-winnable war and the other similarity is the premise for entering the war. For Vietnam was the domino theory, right? You can’t drop Vietnam because everything else will drop. But with Iraq was this bogus…they were the harbor for terrorism, which has proven to be so not true. We made them fertile ground now. We accomplished for them what we were worried about at the beginning of the war. We made it happen. So the parallels are just inescapable, and we will, whether we are out in six months or a year or two years from now, it will be the same; we will look back on the Iraq war equally with the same sort of feelings as we do now with Vietnam - maybe even worse. Because there was a little justification with the Vietnam War, or a little more then [Iraq], because [with Iraq] we knew from month two that there were no weapons of mass destruction; there was no terrorism and yet that’s what the Bush administration linked for everybody. So yeah, there are big time parallels.”
Q: “And looking back, would you say that the resistance to the troops in Vietnam, would you say that it was more… would you say that the people who resisted the troops were more pro communist or just like anti…
Dr Newmark: “Are you talking about the Americans? Who is resisting against the troops?”
Q: “The Vietnamese in Vietnam - would you say that them resisting against the Americans, would you say that they were fighting for communism or just against the American presence.”
Dr. Newmark: “They were fighting for their land, their territory, their way of life, and here you have this, whether we were Americans or Germans or whoever coming in and bombing the hell out of their villages, their drinking water, their homes. I don’t know if they, I don’t want to sound condescending, that they didn’t really know their political stuff, but anybody would be [mad]. Imagine somebody coming in your hometown, and just coming in, these foreigners, and trying to take over and telling you it’s for your own good. You know you would go up in arms and do everything you can [to fight back.] I do think that now we look back on both Cambodia and Vietnam - I think they were under a lot of pressure from the communist, that their families, and if they didn’t play ball with the communist, bad things would happen. So there was pressure there; but I think the way we went about it- the Americans were pigs when we went over. We would destroy, we would shoot, we would see something we wanted and then take it. I mean it was so unfair and at least now Iraqis… that’s one thing that’s changed - they will bring charges, they have brought up a lot of things to the government about the atrocities and where soldiers are really getting nailed and court marshaled and stuff. So that’s a little different.”
Q: “So do you see the same sort of violence with Iraq, like we are coming in and they are sort of just reacting in the same way.”
Dr. Newmark: “It’s a little different because of the centuries old internal strife that was there way before the Sunnis and the Shi’ites; and they hate each other. It’s like the Arabs and the Jews in Israel, in Palestine. That’s so true for so long now, and we just entered… it’s like we just entered this hornet’s nest. We stirred it up and its out of control now; the bees are flying every which way. They are attacking each other, they are attacking us, and there is really no way out. I mean how do we just take off and say okay now you guys fix it? It’s a real dilemma if you really do care about the region. Forget about American interest, how do you resolve this? How do we got to get out of this, but what do you do if we leave? There is going to be major bloodshed and major instability, and no one has a real good answer as to how we provide some sort of protection. I think we are trying to do the right thing it’s just… there is no right, the right thing is not to be there, but other than that how do you make sure this doesn’t go violent as soon as you leave?”
Q: “And looking back on Vietnam, would you say that you today view this differently than say, you did back when you were in college or when you were younger? Has your view really changed at all?”
Mr. Newmark: “…No my feelings about Vietnam have stayed pretty consistent and it was a immoral war fought on faulty beliefs and we had no business being there, and you know it didn’t end soon enough, and this Iraq war, I’m sure, will be similar for, you know, another generation.”
Q: “So you didn’t regret any of the protests you went to or any of the things you did?”
Mr Newmark: “In fact, no. I don’t think we did anything or personally that I was involved with, anything so heinous that I feel regrets about; the pressure we put on [the government] was appropriate. Because I think if the youth didn’t spear head this movement and this anti Vietnam [sentiment], I think it would have lingered on for a lot longer. Our [governments] policies would have been an obstacle to ending that war. So I feel good about, I feel quite the opposite [of regret], I feel good that I was a part of trying to make a little difference in the [inaudible].”
Q: “So do you feel that maybe today with the Iraq war, if we had the same kind of backlash it would help?”
Mr. Newmark: “I think it would help tremendously, but part of it is being 57 versus twenty. What’s sad is that I don’t know if it’s my age or the changes but I feel a lot more hopeless. I feel a lot more resigned. I have seen it before; its another repeat of something - we just don’t learn very much from our mistakes. When I was younger it was much more “we can do something”, you know? And that’s the difference between that youthful zeal and when you get a little more cynical.”
Q: “Are there any more thoughts you want to share?”
Mr. Newmark: “No it has been an interesting looking back and just verbalizing some of this stuff. You know, I haven’t talked about it, or thought about it in quite a while. And you know what’s funny too is being archived. You don’t think “oh I did anything so exceptional.” I was a person in a time and place, but it wasn’t like I made something happen. And yet…I don’t know if you guys saw on PBS there was a sixties show a month ago, and I look at some of the footage and it was like holy mackerel! That was a whole different era and a whole different time. But no, nothing [more]. I think you covered everything. It’s just interesting to revisit. The other thing, just one other comment is, in a few weeks I have my thirty fifth college reunion, so I’m going to be seeing a bunch of these folks who I shared [things] in pretty intense ways. That will be very interesting. We are all the same age now and very different paths. I’m looking at our little talk here as a prelude and a preamble to [inaudible]…and I’m sure there will be a bunch of groups and discussions about the way things were, so I appreciate that. I want to thank you all for listening and good luck.”