John Dyer joined the Air Force in 1954 at the tail end of the Korean War, which makes him a little older than most of our interviewees. He served until 1957 flying planes on the east coast of the United States. Mr. Dyer moved to Wayland in 1961 where he was elected to the Democratic Town Committee. He was very involved in politics, organizing various events and writing letters to the president. Mr. Dyer believes that people should work for change from within the government instead of attacking it from outside.
Mr. Dyer: I moved to Wayland in 1961. I had been in the Air Force from 54 to 57.
Q: Is that the Korean War?
Mr. Dyer: I got in to the tail end. I qualify as a Korean Vet but I didn’t see any action over there. I was stationed in Texas and then on the cape. Airborne, I flew in the reserves a number of years. I had about 3000 flying hours. And I chose a career in the Aerospace industry because I thought that the real challenge that we had as a country was against communism. But my personal bent is to be a liberal; I think that there is goodness in everyone. I’m an activist. I believe that the government exists to serve the people and you should use the government in that way, take part in it when you can, and I’m active in several committees in town. I said I moved to Wayland in 1961. Around 1962 I read an article that was in the magazine called the Reporter, I can’t remember the guy’s name that was the editor, but he talked about this dirty little war in Vietnam. And he was talking about the struggle, and I guess at that point I was persuaded that maybe it was a good war. I was in the reserves and somewhere around 1964 there was this guy that came back and was an advisor to the reserve unit I was in. He was probably 25, not too much different than my age – I might have been thirty or so. And he said he went to Vietnam because he wanted his tickets punched, and I said “what does that mean?” And he said “well if you wanted to get in, wearing services you have to go where the action is.” That kind of disturbed me a little bit. But when Eisenhower was President, and he ended his term, his farewell speech he said beware of the Military Industrial Complex, because it plasters you to have a lot of pressure on the civil government, the elected officials and it also puts you in an aggressive posture. I think that’s the interpretation I took. I think that’s true, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think there is a posture that says we get in to more wars then we probably should.
Q: So this man that wrote the Reporter article and the 25 year old kid, was this what kind of fueled your…?
Mr. Dyer: I’m just trying to set a background for where my thinking was. In 1964 I had someone come by my house. I was a registered democrat, and he said, “Why don’t you join the Democratic town committee?” so I did. We used to meet where Finnerty’s was, and the building there was an old brick building that belonged to American Legion. It was torn down so that Finnertys could expand. Then they moved down here by old Connecticut Path where the Aqueduct was. And I used to go to those meetings and it used to be like potbelly stove, friendly, but nobody did anything. But I thought these are residents, that I got to know, I eventually, 2 or 3 years later, I was much more involved, and in 68 the election the Democratic town committee members are elected on a ballot, I was on that, and surprise, everyone that got on there was thrown off, and there was a group that took over.
Q: What was the reason?
Mr. Dyer: It was like a slap in the face. Well turns out that these were people that were actively against the war. My personal attitude is that it is better to be in the system and working to change it, than to be outside and throwing bombs at it. I worked in the Aerospace industry, and that was my attitude there as well. I don’t want people working there that are sharpening their teeth and ready for war. I wanted people that are thoughtful, the company I worked for made re-entry systems, war heads to carry the atomic bombs, but we made them in a way that we were trying to develop systems that wouldn’t have to be used. Providing peace through strength. When the Vietnam War started, a lot of the guns shifted from strategic budgets, to tactical budgets, and there were other parts of the company that were working in those areas. You could sense that there was a change in the environment. The drums of war were getting heavy. I went to a talk at MIT, and Wayne Morris spoke. I don’t know if you know who Wayne Morris was, but he was a senator from Oregon. When the Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed there were two people who voted against it, Wayne Morris was one, and the other was Ernest Greening, of Alaska. He talked about the aggressive posture, turns out later, that the incident that precipitated, I think at that point there was a ship that might have been in the wrong territorial waters, it didn’t get sunk, but I think it got shot at.
Q: Which was released by the Pentagon Papers?
Mr. Dyer: Yeah. I can tell you a little about that later. As they tried to get information on that, it wasn’t substantive. And so I began to get these feelings that maybe the momentum is carrying us in to the war, there are a few other things that influenced me, but to get to the point. By ‘68, that was five years after JFK had died, I had written letters to President Johnson, saying that we needed to think through, whether this was the right kind of war for us. What happened was that the French had Vietnam as a colony. It was called French Indochina. In 1954, they were defeated at Dien Bien Fu, and chose to withdraw. I think it was the Cardinal O’Connell of New York, invited Nixon, who was the vice-president at the time. He said we need to do something here. There were a lot of Catholics in Indochina. It was on that basis that there were small contingents sent while Eisenhower was president. But the momentum was building while Kennedy was President. I think Kennedy sent in 5000 military advisories. Basically they would instruct the Vietnamese on military tactics. Every time, it was like sand on the beach - it would just get washed away as we kept getting deeper, and deeper in to it. I think it was good intentions, with poor view of how we should build alliances. About this time, or even earlier, we began to create things like NATO, South East Asia Treaty Organization, and [inaudible], there were several of these mutual defense pacts that were created, and were put in place because there was a serious concern that the wave of communism was taking over great parts of the world.
Q: Is that the Containment theory?
Mr. Dyer: In fact that was the name for national policy. But that started when Truman was president. George Kennan, who was one of his trusted advisors, put in place the policy for containment and these alliances were built then. So we made commitments, and it turns out, you will probably have hard time finding information on this, but the CIA was very active in undermining governments that weren’t pro-western, but that’s the kind of game it is. In Pakistan we rigged the election, and in Iran we changed the tables so that the Sharr wouldn’t fall in to power. What we were doing was getting pro-western governments, but alienating large masses.
Q: So we were pro-western but we weren’t carrying that out?
Mr. Dyer: We weren’t carrying out western values that’s for sure. So we had to do things that were convenient, but maybe in the long term to come back to bite us. Just to come back to Wayland now, there were large groups of people that were against the policies of the government. I believed in staying within the system and trying to bring about change. After the election in ‘68, for the town committee, I stayed with it, I had been a member and I said I wanted to stay a member; maybe I became an associate because they had a full slate. There were very few who had been on the committee that made the transition, but I stayed with it and between ’70 and ‘72 I was the president of the town committee. One of the things we did is we put on a program called “Focus on Youth,” trying to get young people interested in politics. One of the speakers we had was John Kerry who had just come back from Vietnam. We had about five hundred people here at the high school.
Q: How old was he at this point?
Mr. Dyer: Well, he had graduated Yale, and had gone to Vietnam so my guess is that he was 24, 25. It was before he ran for Congress, he had testified, or was about to testify in Washington. It was well attended, and it was intended to be well attended, and intended to open the eyes of young people, and I think it was successful in doing that. The election of 1968, was a very multious time, if you remember in ‘63 John F. Kennedy was killed, then in the spring of ‘68 Martin Luther King was assassinated, and Robert Kennedy I think probably was in June. And the Vice President at the time was Hubert Humphrey. Hubert Humphrey had a long and distinguished record in Congress as a senator for Minnesota. Minnesota had this red-[bear], I don’t know if you’ve heard of the McCarthy Trials. McCarthy Marathi, he may have been well intentioned, but he would come up and say “I have in my hand a list of people who are associated with known Communists” and all this stuff. I graduated College in 1954, and that was right about the time that that happened. You probably have heard about the Red Scare in Wayland. The times were unstable, at least there was a lot of spurious things going on. So in ‘68 the question was who do you support? Eugene McCarthy was one of the candidates, Hubert Humphrey was one of the candidates, Bobby Kennedy was until he got killed, and Nixon was. I was leaning towards Humphrey. I supported him, but I wouldn’t have been unhappy whatever the outcome. It turns out that most of the people that were democrats were supporting Eugene McCarthy because they wanted to turn the tables. That makes some sense. Nixon won the election, and his rationale was “I have a plan.” Well, in four years the plan only made things worse, what ever that plan was. There was some talk that he wanted to withdraw, as did Johnson. They wanted to pull out, but he didn’t want the stain to say “we lost Vietnam” because that would have affected his re-election opportunity.
Q: So he kind of looked at, we are still in the war, but we are replacing our soldiers with the Vietnamese.
Mr. Dyer: Well that was part of the plan, but of course we just kept sending more, and more. We had over five hundred thousand soldiers there. The idea was to eventually develop a capability for self defense. There was a lot of corruption among other things. If you ever get a chance look at Robert McNamara’s Fog of War, it’s a soliloquy about his experiences. He had been one of the wiz kids during World War II, a high level strategist, and came in to the Kennedy administration they were so-called the best and the brightest. They got enthralled with numbers, and it was a numerical BS game. Going beyond that, each year we would get deeper and deeper in to the quick sand.
Q: Sending more and more soldiers into the war.
Mr. Dyer: Yeah, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It made me weep. You get the sense that you are going deeper and deeper into this pit, and you feel cleansed when you get to the end of it. I think that’s the kind of feelings I had in this period.
Q: How did you feel at the start of the war?
Mr. Dyer: Well I said maybe there was a role for the US, because there was a spread of Communism. Korea was the same thing, it was putting a bulwark up there against the spread of Communism.
Q: So good ideas just badly executed?
Mr. Dyer: Well, maybe it wasn’t even good ideas, I don’t know. We need to support governments that carry values of the people rather then trying to impose something. I don’t know what is going on in Iraq now. It could be there for oil, it could be that we are there for a military base, it could be that we are there for the freedom of the people.
Q: Do you see any connections between the..?
Mr. Dyer: Well I see some parallels, don’t know if they are connections. We should probably continue on Vietnam. So through this period I was a protester, but I was protesting trying to make it… In 1970 Nixon sent some of the troops, we were bombing in Cambodia at this time, but Nixon sent the army in to what’s called the crow’s beak of Cambodia. That was clearly beyond the scope of the war. It was expanding the war. So I resigned my commission and sent a letter to the white house and I got a White House, and I got a letter back saying thank you for your service, and we understand your resignation, but I also sent a letter to the Town Crier, that kind of thing. So I resigned my commission, and I didn’t do it lightly. I thought about it and I felt that was the only way I had of expressing my – it wasn’t contempt – feelings that I could not in good conscience follow the orders of the executive, and that’s the way the military works, you don’t question your orders you do what you’re told. It’s up to us as civilians to challenge our representatives to make sure they perform up to the values which we claim as a nation, and I didn’t think that was the case, that’s history. It turns out in 1972, I was a McGovern supporter, and also at the state level I was a supporter of Dukakis when he ran for Lieutenant Governor, also later, but when he ran for Lieutenant Governor, and Chet Atkins who was running for the fifth Middlesex, which at the time we are part of, and I think parts of Wayland still is. You asked to bring things, and I brought these, this was one of the things that… Nixon 49, America 1, that was Massachusetts. Massachusetts voted for McGovern. Washington DC did too but I don’t know if they had a vote. Chet Atkins ran for the Congressional District and won a few times, he was replaced later by Paul Tsongas. Both Kerry and Tsongas ran for president and bombed. Mike Dukakis ran for president, and he bombed, well Paul Tsongas was ill, but I knew them before they really made their big splashes. In 1975 or maybe 1974 Henry Kissinger went to Paris, probably 72, he went to Paris and the Vietnamese guy Le Duc Tho, and they negotiated what essentially was a withdrawal, but they held off long enough for the election to take place. Donald White who lived in Wayland, who was Lieutenant Governor, and he was Nixon’s Campaign Manager, he was the only one that lost, he was a good guy though. By the way, while I was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, there was a METCO auction, and Dr. Zimmerman, who used to be the superintendent of Schools in Wayland, offered his band as one of the auction items. Katie Syler and her husband, and Don White and his wife, offered their services as part of the METCO auction, and as chairman I bought their time, and we ran a party called “Politics: try it you’ll like it.” Not only did they show up, but a few other Republican politicians came and joined us and took part in the event, so it was a friendly event. I don’t know if you had any other questions you would like to ask.
Q: While we are in the seventies I was going to ask what you thought of the Kent State incident, and the College rallies, because I know how you said you like to go about rebellion within the system?
Mr. Dyer: That was a tragedy that probably didn’t need to happen. The guard was called out to maintain the peace. I don’t think that they were trained for that kind of duty, so they might have gotten a little jumpy. I don’t blame them, but I think that we need to again try to infuse things by listening to dissidence and at least try to give them a forum for expression. In Democracy, almost every idea starts out with the minority, and you need to have an environment in which ideas can be exchanged, where the pen is greater then the sword, if you can reach someone in their mind, not at the end of a gun. I had a stray thought I wanted to just talk about. Kent State wasn’t the only place. I went to BU as an Undergraduate, and when Kevin White ran for Governor, and Mike Dukakis was the Lieutenant Governor. I met Kevin White and went to the State Convention. At that time there was some activity at BU. The students were protesting, the Boston police came out with clubs, or rubber hoses or something. A friend of mine’s son was injured so I wrote a letter to him asking him, to try and understand the perspective and what could be done. I’m not sure I was effective, but at least I tried to do something that would change the situation. There were several groups and I can’t remember there full names, but two of them merged to become CP tax, and they were probably the spear head in Wayland.
Q: So what was your view on rallies, and things of that sort?
Mr. Dyer: I think it is legitimate, but it does have risks of getting out of control, and in 1968 the Democratic Convention in Chicago was such a thing where the protesters on the outside got out of control. I don’t believe in radical action, and some people do get pushed to the edge on both sides. If we want a civil society we have to have meetings of the minds in a way that defuses rather than incites.
Q: So there was this thing called Vietnam Vets against the War. What do you think of former troops joining up?
Mr. Dyer: I think when you are wearing the uniform you salute and do as you’re told, I don’t think you can tolerate any difference. If you are given an order you don’t see the whole picture you just do it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question it, but if you do you do it by your elected Congressman or something. After you get out, and you no longer are under military orders, I think you have even a responsibility to speak out when you know of things that are done inappropriately.
Q: And that’s sort of what you did right?
Mr. Dyer: Yeah. I mean my service was not really the Korean War. We were patrolling the East coast looking for Soviet planes and submarines, and things like that.
Q: I know you touched base a little on this, but you grew up in Wayland right?
Mr. Dyer: No I was born in Cambridge and moved to Watertown when I was 11 I think and I lived there until I was about 20.
Q: So you went to high school in Watertown?
Mr. Dyer: Yeah.
Q: Were there many incidences in Watertown?
Mr. Dyer: No, see I graduated high school in 1950 and in June of 1950 was when the Korean War broke out. But I remember the start of that and it was a scary time because one of the things was that I was a member of [Demolay], but it’s like a youth boys of free masonry. The advisor I had was an older brother of someone who was a friend of mine, and he got called up, he was a marine pilot, he got called up and went to train and was going to Korea, but his plane crashed, and his wife had a baby. I’ve known maybe 30 people in military aviation that got killed.
Q: Where any of them close relatives?
Mr. Dyer: No, I mean I had relatives that were in combat in World War II, but I had people that I was somewhat close to that lost their lives. One of the guys at my high school graduation, was sent to the air force, and I saw him once or twice in the Air Force, and I introduced him to his future wife. He was a navigator and he was in a plane that was going to Vietnam, I think it was an open owl, and it crashed, and he had four kids that were all probably five or under. I’m not pardon to the military, but I think that we have a responsibility that the people who serve should have a fair, we should not use military indiscreetly, and they should be clearly focused on things that are consistent with our national goals.
Q: I don’t know if you want to go back to JFK, but what were you views on John F Kennedy?
Mr. Dyer: Well I was a supporter of him. One of the reasons was he was very inspiring.
Q: Very charismatic right?
Mr. Dyer: And I guess I had read his book, Profiles in Courage, and I admired people who stick their necks out for principles, I guess I voted for him, but he was not a perfect person, few of us are and few people in politics are.
Q: How effected were you by his assassination?
Mr. Dyer: I think I probably cried. You know it was the America that could have been was irrevocably changed. Part of it was his style, I mean it was very fashionable. Every president has a certain amount of qualities that you like. I think George Bush would be a great guy to have as a friend, I don’t know if I have much respect for his management style, maybe he delegates too much, I don’t think he’s a bad man, I just think he’s not a good president.
Q: Were you a big part of any of the Civil Rights movements?
Mr. Dyer: Well, I was not a protester in that sense. I was a supporter of civil rights movements. I sent checks to people, and I can’t say that I got my feet dirty. Several people in the Democratic Town Committee who took part in a march in Washington, going back to the thirties where part of the support for the strikers at Ford Motor Company. There are lots of more active protesters.
Q: How did you feel about the Selective Service, and the Draft? Did you think that was a fair way to get soldiers?
Mr. Dyer: Well I didn’t think the way it took place in the Vietnam War was right because you could basically buy your way out of it. You could do it by going to college, you could do it by escaping to Canada, or you could do it by failing your physical. I think we need to have a way in which all citizens take part in some form of Government service, and this is very current. Those that chose to go in to the military part of it that’s fine, and if we need more then maybe that happens by a lottery. One of the things that happens, when your in the service, even though you come with your own community values influenced by your family, your teachers, your church or whatever. You enter the service and their goal in the training portion is to marginalize because they want a unified service. You can retain your own core values, but you inter-merge, or resemble each other.
Q: Did you feel like the new media had an effect, because this was really the first time it was evident in the war?
Mr. Dyer: I think that one of the things in Vietnam was that we would get reports from the front, and it would make you very uncomfortable to listen to the news, but it was important because you got a sense that the kid next door is being killed. Very much like now, but the rate was 50 a day or more. Today we probably get 100 a month, so 3 a day. Even at that, I read Newsweek, and each week they have a list of casualties, and there are kids that are 19 or 20 or even people in their thirties these people haven’t reached the prime of life yet.
Q: That’s right next door for us.
Mr. Dyer: Right. I weep for them because they went in with good intentions, I think it’s noble to go fight for someone’s freedom, but I’m not sure that’s what was involved, maybe it was. I will give it the benefit of the doubt. I think that we have an obligation to those in the service to make sure they are not put in harms way irresponsibly. I wish there was an iron proof case that we didn’t have group think going in. I think it’s being charitable to say that all of the president’s cabinet was in this same group think. Now with tenant there is a lot of finger pointing.
Q: I’m sure you recall the My Lai incident, what did you think of that?
Mr. Dyer: I think that’s another case where you put people in a situation and they may get trigger happy, they may do it just because they lack courage to sort things out, they may do it because of revenge, so you need a lot of physiological counseling to condition people what the code of behavior should be. Most people I’m sure know that. I don’t know if Calley was guilty as charged, the court martial found him in error, and that was probably the case. It’s something where you rely on the system to purge those that are bad eggs.
Q: Do you feel like the draft and lesser training of troops may have contributed a bit to the cause of that incident?
Mr. Dyer: I don’t think Calley was drafted. I think he was an officer.
Q: But maybe the less experienced troops that had been involved?
Mr. Dyer: It’s possible, I think that it’s shaky ground for anybody to get in to a combat situation, the things that go through your mind your instabilities, war is hell.
Q: How did the growth of anti-war activism impact you personally, and were you ever in any protests? We are back to the home front now.
Mr. Dyer: Your talking about a rally or something like that, I took part in a few rallies. More political nature rather then a anti-govern stance.
Q: I liked how you said you stayed inside the system to go against.
Mr. Dyer: I can remember a couple times being in Boston with large groups, but it was more to enhance the body count of protesters, as a opposed to challenging some authority.
Q: Many young people of today think that the youth of the 60’s were all hippies who joined the counter culture…
Mr. Dyer: I don’t think that was true, certainly there were lots of those, and part of them were counter cultural because of the stayed… I was probably five to ten years older then those that matured in to becoming hippies.
Q: How diverse do you think the youth movement was?
Mr. Dyer: A couple of times I hired people of that age group who were very sober, thoughtful, reflective people.
Q: So the whole spectrum.
Mr. Dyer: Yeah, Yeah. I don’t think it is any different then it is today. I mean there’s probably as much, not activism, but anti-social behavior, but I don’t even no if its anti-social maybe it’s collegial.
Q: There were many youth leaders such as Tom Hayden, Abby Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin, how did those leaders affect you?
Mr. Dyer: I thought they were a little more towards the fringe then I would have preferred. There were all kinds of black movements at the time, hippie movements, extreme liberalism, there were other things going on. One of the them was the arrival of the birth control pill. Free love was practiced more. I wouldn’t say it’s every generation but the pendulum swings back and forth from being free spirits, and being straight jacketed.
Q: What did you think of Nixon’s Vietnamization plan? Did you think it was going to work?
Mr. Dyer: The problem was not the plan. The problem was that the overriding condition was civil law aimed at an independent Government rather then a communist régime. That happened to be the cloak that they were wearing. I think that the French were probably surprised that we went in and risked so much human and wealth there.
Q: In class we watched this very powerful film where there was this GI that wrote a letter and he was expressing his frustration “at the scale of the Kent State killings, while tens of thousands of men were getting killed in Vietnam without the similar reaction.”
Mr. Dyer: I think that everyone here is hot blood when we see all the GI’s that were killed, there’s no question in that. It was a waste. That was the problem. Without a clear picture that we were supporting a group that had legitimacy. Not that the others were any better. This was a civil war that we chose sides on.
Q: Many of the troops that came home, were you friends with the survivors?
Mr. Dyer: The kid next door he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the school, but he was a kid that was very pleasant, when I had moved in he might have been 8,9,10, and he came over and says is there anything I can help you with? Good natured.
Q: He was your age?
Mr. Dyer: No, no. He was probably 15 years younger. But he went in to the Navy, he might have dropped out of high school I’m not sure. But one day his father said he was in the Navy. He came down about, probably less then 2 years later, he was driving this big Lincoln, he had gotten out of the service, and his hair was white. He may have been 18, or 19 by then. I said what happened? He said I was on a gun boat, and the kid looked terrified, I don’t know if you’ve seen Apocalypse Now.
Q: There’s a quote that says you really mature when you go to war.
Mr. Dyer: It’s like becoming president they are not the same person going in as they come out. Here is someone whose life is all dead….. (Tape flipped)
Q: So you said he came home with white hair, and completely changed after he experienced something so horrible. But, while we’re talking about the return home, a large number of Vets reported being treated with scorn and called “baby killers...”
Mr. Dyer: Well, I don’t know if that’s an appropriate term. In World War two, in the beginning, the Japanese went into [Mankin] they would toss babies up and bayonet them on the way down. That’s baby killing. I think these are guys who did what they were told, and under less than ideal conditions. I had at least three cousins that served in Vietnam. I think it affected all of them.
Q: I can’t believe that they would be spit upon when they came home…
Mr. Dyer: I think there may have been some who did that. I never looked at any of them with any scorn because they were doing what they were told; they were scripted to do it. It wasn’t their fault. I think they should have been thanked for what they did, but what they did probably should have been criticized as an act of government, not as an act of individuals.
Q: Especially since a lot of them got drafted, and were forced into the military.
Mr. Dyer: Regardless of whether you support one of these conflicts or not, we owe our independence and our freedoms to people who serve in the military. As much as our government is important, they are the enabling part of it. It takes courage to be outspoken in government, but it also takes courage to serve – especially if you’re in a situation which is countering your values.
Q” Your neighbor… Did he experience any post-traumatic stress or increased alcohol usage or anything?
Mr. Dyer: Well, his family moved away, and he had come by just to say hello, so I don’t really know. My suspicion he probably was close to a basket case. He was jittery… That’s another aspect that… The Veteran’s administration is really not adequately funded. Particularly with regard to psychological rehabilitation. We need a lot more. If we weren’t so aggressive in our posture, perhaps we would need less. That’s an unfunded liability that is going to happen as a result of Iraq. There’s clearly a distinction between the war on terror in Afghanistan and our presence in Iraq and I think not enough people draw that distinction. However, given that we are there and we’ve destabilized the area, it’s almost irresponsible to leave. We’ve got this problem that, no matter what we do it’s going to be difficult.
Q: So Now that we are talking about the Iraq war – Have we learned any lessons from Vietnam? It sort of seems like we’re doing the same thing…
Mr. Dyer: I don’t think so…There’s a whole body of complaints against the CIA and what they’ve done. Maybe you have to play the game that way, I may be naïve, but I am troubled by the way that we get into these situations. It’s not just the military industrial conflicts. It’s oil, it’s power politics… We need to be unified as Americans before we posture to support one side or the other. I could very easily be a republican and I admire many of them. I thought Sue Pope, who was our State Rep was an ideal kind of candidate, and I voted for her for many years. I think that republican principles are good. I wish they would stick to them. There are a lot of things where the [blind eyes are turned]. Each of you are going to go off to college and get challenged by ideas. Keep your mind open. You can have critical judgment, but look and see where do these things come in and how do they come home to roost.
Q: Do you think that our generation is ignoring the war more than in Vietnam?
Mr. Dyer: I don’t think so. At least, from what I can tell from the kids in Wayland, if you’re in Kevin’s program… One of the things we did as part of the Veterans Memorial is we put together the freedom prize. It’s targeting at sophomores. There are other things that I’m sure you do. And I think that they try to give you the seeds to think about. I have a lot of respect for both the program here and the kids that come out of Wayland. You’re probably a hell of a lot brighter than I was in my generation.
Q: I know you laughed off the question about lessons we may have learned, of which there aren’t many, but what are some that you think we could have learned?
Mr. Dyer: I think there are some. I think we don’t give adequate debate, discussion, dialogue before we rush in. I think that we got into Iraq, there wasn’t a clear and present danger. I think that the other lesson is that our government works best when the checks and balances are in place. It’s a very expensive overhead to pay to get a bill passed. You have to get two houses to agree to it. The Senate and the House of Representative go through all of these different readings, then the president can veto it or he can put on signing agreements. Are you familiar with those? It’s mind boggling! The legislature has the responsibility – the president can veto - but I think that signing agreements is an innovation that should not be allowed. Here’s another example: in the election of 2000, Florida was the determining state. Up until that time, the matter of resolution and disputes on elections was the [purview] of the states and the Supreme Court would reject any participation. If that had happened, George Bush would not have carried Florida. But, it happened, and that’s a case where the checks and balances have changed. I don’t want to sound one-sided. I think that we are in a situation now that we have to work our way out of, and it’s unfair for the people of Iraq that we have destabilized without giving them… I don’t know how many millions, a few million anyway, have fled the country. More than 100,000 have lost their lives, maybe closer to 200,000. There probably have been 30,000 or so Iraqi soldiers that have died. One of the arguments I’ve heard is that we need to be fair to the troops that have already lost their lives. I think that’s a sunk cause. What we need to do is make sure that the ones that are there get home and get the services they need to rehabilitate. But I don’t see any way out of it.
Q: Yeah, because we have caused a little bit of chaos…
Mr. Dyer: We’ve brought on a situation in which, we may have had good intentions or it may have been a problem which we probably could have worked in a different way. We didn’t we’re there. Those are the facts. Smarter people than me have to figure out how to get out of there.
Q: Going back to the Vietnam War, do you have different views now than you did back 40, 50 years ago on whether the war was for a good cause or for a bad cause?
Mr. Dyer: I think our intentions were noble. I think our understanding of the situation was if not primitive, insufficient. And I think the same thing about what’s happening in Iraq. We have very limited knowledge of the language and the customs and the difference between Sunnis and Shiites and the several other sets. It’s almost like Christianity, where we have the Catholics and the Protestants, and Mormons, and whatever else.
Q: Also, in Vietnam there were two – the Vietcong versus the other groups.
Mr. Dyer: Well, some people practiced one by day and one by night. What happens is that the insurgents can blend right back into the population. You can’t put a litmus test on them and say, “Are you a bad guy?”
Q: It’s kind of like we’re fighting a war against an invisible army.
Mr. Dyer: The other thing that’s perhaps a little bit different in Iraq… Or in the war on terror, is that there’s almost an independent initiative taken so that rather than a top down organization, it's so it's like cancer – it's spreading. So a lot of young people… The Saudis, in order to prop themselves up have funded schools to teach the religion. I forget what they call the schools, but they’re taught by religious leaders, and in it they are provoking this militant Islam. And that’s going to be with us probably not just for you guys but for your kids. I am regretting that we have this because my grandchildren are going to be [inaudible]. It’s a long way – It’s a Humpty Dumpty situation. Once the egg is cracked, you can’t put him back in the shell.
Q: I had another question about Vietnam. I was just wondering, do you think the unstable status we had on the home front helped contribute to why we went into Vietnam? Or the fact that how…
Mr. Dyer: Well, I think that to the extent that when Johnson succeeded Kennedy, he didn’t want to look weak. So rather than put a halt to it, because if you listen to any of the people that knew him, he was very troubled by the war. But no matter what he did, he got deeper into trouble; it was like quicksand or a slope…
Q: And it finally ended up at 500,000…
Mr. Dyer: Yeah, and it has to be a political decision to get out. But you get out, and [inaudible] the consequences, to me that’s irresponsible too. As I say, I don’t know the … But maybe the thing is that when you undertake one of these things, and go in with more force than you need, you have a defined set of goals, and you exit when you can. I think that Colin Powell was very capable and yet he didn’t have the courage to stand up and say hey, he wanted to be a team player. Sometimes it takes more courage to raise a question and say “I think we’re wrong,” than it does to beat the drum. And I think that’s maybe the main lesson: Don’t be afraid to speak up, because you may not be popular, but you’re acting out of conscience.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts, or points you’d like to share?
Mr. Dyer: Well you’ve got a great future ahead of you, and I hope you’re able to look back on your days at Wayland High School, not count them as the best days of your life, but count them as putting in place the foundation to enjoy the rest of your life.
Q: Thank you so much Mr. Dyer. Thank you.