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JIM LEHRER: And now some general perspective on the day’s events from NewsHour regulars presidential historians Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin, and journalist/author Haynes Johnson, plus Richard Norton Smith, director of the Dole Center at the University of Kansas, and Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University, Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, and William Kristol of the Weekly Standard.
Roger Wilkins, what are your closing thoughts as this day comes to an end?
ROGER WILKINS: Well, there’s been a lot of talk about the December 7th and the greatest generation. It seems to me we do a lot of talk in this country about how great country is and there’s less action to back up that talk. As has been mentioned time and time again today, this is a complex and diffuse enemy that is going to require steady, long-term attack by the United States to eradicate it.
It’s going to require of us it seems to me – a steadier kind of resolve and maturity than we Americans are used to deploying in defense of our democracy. We want to get them, we want to make sure we get the right them and we want to make sure that in the process we don’t damage our own people; we don’t have the equivalent of a red scare. So we have to work hard, it seems to me, on both fronts, on finding out who did it over there and being steady and getting them and on working on our democratic institutions and making sure they are strong.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Kristol?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: I think tonight was just the beginning obviously for the President in particular. I assume he will have to speak to a joint session of Congress within the next week.
JIM LEHRER: Joint session of Congress?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: I think so because he needs the entire establishment on board. I think he will need to ask for a supplemental appropriation for defense for intelligence purposes.
He may want to consider asking for a declaration of war, particularly if — and I base this on a couple of conversations tonight with people in the intelligence services of the government — if it does turn out that Saddam Hussein – and it seems increasingly the case — has links to Osama bin Laden – in other words, if we’re not just dealing with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban Afghanistan but if we are basically looking at finishing the job we began in 1990 with Saddam Hussein. So the President needs,
I think, to speak to Congress at much greater length than he spoke tonight. He needs to make clear this will be a long and difficult struggle, it won’t be easy, and that we’re in it for real.
JIM LEHRER: Doris?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Two things; one following up on Bill. I do agree that tonight was a conversation and a symbolically important thing for the President to appear before us, especially since he went visible earlier today, but when you go before a Joint Session of Congress, as Roosevelt finally did when he declared war on Japan, then you have mobilized the collective wealth of the nation. You have asked for appropriations; you’re asking for action and I think that is going to have to come in the next days. The only other thought that I’ve had is just what this impact will have on the children of this generation.
Think of my generation who had to grow up under the thought that in an entire moment everything you knew in the world could be destroyed by an atomic bomb or the air raid drills, hiding under one’s desk, doing instant fallings at night under your bed. It really had a subconscious effect on a whole generation. I think that was reduced over the last couple of decades and maybe this generation of children has seen pieces of it with the school bombing, but today will have an impact. And that’s the sad thought, that these kids will be afraid perhaps to fly on planes; all of that is all the more important to try and get this thing resolved, if we can, and get moving on it, so we feel that action is being taken.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, your thoughts?
HAYNES JOHNSON: There’s never been a day quite like this, we all agree. It’s not Pearl Harbor. It’s not D-Day; it’s not Gettysburg, probably America will never be the same. But the hard part now comes.
If there’s a consensus – if there’s a declaration of war, as Bill said, against whom and is the country prepared it go to war in Afghanistan or in Syria, or Persia, just you name it – wherever it is. We haven’t been able to commit ourselves. We have volunteer army when you and I wore the uniform – you were in the Marine Corps, I was in the Army. That’s not the case with today’s generation and maybe it shouldn’t be the case. But I think the hard choices now and it’s a long choice — this is just the beginning when I think the most difficult time probably the most complicated time.
The other thing – one last thing. We think we’re so technologically superior. This just showed us how it had nothing to do with our technology or Star Wars or missile systems, you can hijack planes turn them into a bomb and get away with it.
JIM LEHRER: Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: It’s been about a decade since 45 years of basic American consensus helped produce the end of Cold War successfully and the freedom of Eastern Europe, and I’m struck at how little we have done together as a nation since then. This is the kind of assault that ought to produce some of the unity that has been lacking in the America in the last decade and that’s why I was so struck tonight at President Bush’s essentially minimalist response right now. I think he has given us an intention but it is far from a policy.
JIM LEHRER: Richard?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I think what the President said tonight probably matters much less than when he does tomorrow and in the days ahead particularly if, as I suspect, he lets the American military do some of the talking for him. The image that I have had all day, we have been watching the skyline of the New York, which was so radically, violently reshaped today and in the foreground, of course, the Statute of Liberty – and I guess being a presidential historian I thought back to something that Grover Cleveland said in dedicating that statute more than a hundred years ago. He said, we shall not forget liberty has made her home here. Tonight we’re still liberty’s home and no amount of imported violence or thuggery can be allowed to change that.
JIM LEHRER: Michael Beschloss.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, Jim, we have been living through about ten years of very artificial false innocence. After World War II, our Presidents in order to get Americans to support a big defense buildup against the Soviet Union made such a point of saying the big danger to you Americans is going to be an attack from the Soviet Union — Either those bombers coming over the North Pole or nuclear missiles so that in 1991 when that danger went away, many Americans sort of felt that we’re now living in a really safe world and we don’t have to worry about anything beyond our boundaries.
That is now going to look like a very antique view. But the other things is I think a President does really make a difference in even what he says. In the case of Roosevelt, the doors mentioned in 1941 he said in that speech to a joint session of congress after Pearl Harbor – you know, with the in-bounding determination of our people we will gain an inevitable triumph so help us God. Triumph wasn’t inevitable, and rationally there were a lot of reasons in 1941 to think that we were going to lose World War II — when Kennedy talked about the missile crisis in the middle of the crisis and said we will prevail – rationally there was a lot of reason to think we wouldn’t prevail and we’d be in a nuclear war.
One big test for George Bush in the next week is going to be how much he can make Americans feel perhaps more secure than rationality would suggest they really have a right to be.
JIM LEHRER: Roger, when you look ahead you said earlier too that you think the American people have to change some attitudes and you mentioned this also in an earlier segment. Do you think it’s going to happen? When you look ahead at the prospects of getting this resolved in some way that is an American way to resolve an American problem, what you do you think?
ROGER WILKINS: I think it is the President’s huge test. I think that Larry Eagleburger was quite right when he said earlier this evening that this is going to be really tough and really long, and it may turn out to be fairly messy. The American people are stunned and angry and hurt tonight. The question really is whether that stunned, angry and hurt can be turned into a long-range determination without a whole lot of hysterical internecine struggle here in the United States. I think that is going to not only be a test of the President but a test of bipartisan leadership on the Hill as well.
JIM LEHRER: Doris, do you think our country can take care of something that is tough, long and messy?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I have doubt that that they can. And I think that’s the real President’s to remind us that we have done it before. Now in a certain sense Japan when they attacked us in Pearl Harbor thought we were soft and weak and Yamamoto warned that if they didn’t get rid of us completely in that day that there might be a strength there that the rest of the Japanese people didn’t think we had and we did indeed have it for the long run. But Presidents in the past have always recalled the history. When Roosevelt spoke on Pearl Harbor another day, he talked about Washington and Valley Forge and those soldiers wading through the ice and the snow and holding on to the Revolution. When Lincoln, he talked he talked about those people in the past and later people talked about the strength of the North during the Civil War. I think the President has to remind us we have had lots of challenges before, people have thought we were soft; Hitler said we were a bunch of playboys and soft, we could never stand up to him and that’s what we did before. And we’ve had it in our fiber, in our person. We have to be reminded of it. I don’t how we do it right now. It’s different from calling us out to go to factories; it’s different from having our soldiers as a non-volunteer drafting force all over the country. It’s different from getting those people in their cars to go wherever those factories are, but there are things we can do. And I don’t know that I can think of them too right now, but I hope the leadership can, because he had better do it; that’s the important thing. Unless you can mobilize the spirit of the people, in some ways, that’s what democracy’s strength is about.
JIM LEHRER: Bill, do we have it this time?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: I think so. I think so. When the Japanese attacked us in Pearl Harbor, Churchill said the Japanese thought that America had gone soft. He quoted a predecessor of his as saying the American people are like a giant boiler; they’re very quiet but when lit, they can have explosive force. I think that’s the case. But it really does depend on presidential leadership. We have divided government, the Congress is awfully important on all these domestic policy issues. The courts play a big role. On this kind of foreign policy issue, this is why we have a President.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, how do you see it the future?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Absolutely. A supreme test of leadership for the President, for the country. We’ve got to have unity, everybody says. Yamamoto said, “I fear you arouse only a sleeping giant,” after Pearl Harbor. The question is now I’ll bet you won’t find people going to draft wars that don’t exist tomorrow morning enlisting to fight terrorism. Now, maybe they’d like to – if they knew what it would be — that’s the test of our political system’s leadership to say here is what we have to make very clear, the steps we’re prepared it take and see if your willing to follow us, and if that means calling more people into the service or getting more money, okay; that’s what a president has to decide.
JIM LEHRER: Richard, what do you think, do you think the country is prepared to follow good leadership on this and if so where, what should the American people be prepared to do?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: It’s interesting, Jim. Roger mentioned the greatest generation. Implicit in most discussions of the greatest generation is the suggestion that there was something unique about their courage and their capacity for sacrifice. I’ve always thought that it was a little bit backyards; it isn’t whether a generation is great; it’s how great the tests that are posed. And we’re about to have a test posed that will indeed test our metal as a democracy, as a people. It isn’t just the President. The President’s words are important, the President’s leadership is important. I would remind you that this is an unfolding horror story. We’re very early in this. The President has days. I think as the horror quotient rises in the days ahead, as the death toll rises, I think you’ll find even more of a rallying to the colors but it’s also Congress and it’s a willingness of both parties to adjourn the petty bickering which has trivialized so much of politics of late.
JIM LEHRER: Is it going to happen, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Sure it will, but it’s going to be very will be very tough for President Bush. I think no one should doubt that. In Roosevelt’s case at the time of Pearl Harbor we all knew about the problem with the Japanese and the Germans and he doesn’t have to educate anyone. And the policy was there, you intervened. Same thing with Kennedy — we didn’t have to be told that there was a Cold War on in 1962 and Kennedy announced the missiles in Cuba the same time as he said I’m going to put a quarantine around the island. In this case, George Bush has to explain the terrorism problem to many Americans who were barely aware yesterday that it was a serious one and at the same time come up with a policy, sell it to Congress, sell it to the American people. That’s a towering test of presidential leadership.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think the American people are going to be receptive to it?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think after what happened today I mean bizarrely enough –and it’s a horrible thing to say — this was a gift because it dramatized for anyone as almost nothing could have how serious this is. And that’s very much like Pearl Harbor because as was said in 1941 for a lot of Americans who wondered whether Hitler and the Imperial Japanese were a danger Pearl Harbor made that case.
JIM LEHRER: The American people got educated today on this, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: Two early clues, Jim: I do not discount these massive lines at blood banks around the country because by and large people weren’t called out to them. Secondly, you cannot tell Democrats from Republicans in the way people are talking about this, the anger has a richness that I think is exemplified in its depth and even almost its quiet. As far as what happens now — and the President’s role in of all this; it’s interesting that over the last 20 years you search in vein for a detailed call to arms or explanation to the American people in depth by their President’s of the nature of this menace and the need to confront it in what you might call another long twilight struggle. And so that is yet to come from our national leadership, but the signs at the grassroots are that this time the sleeping giant woke up.
JIM LEHRER: Tom Brokaw, who invented the term greatest generation has lamented that it took a war, a Depression, then a war, to rally people to do their greatest. Is that what we’re talking about here?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not necessarily. Again, I share Smith’s reluctance to see this in generational terms, because I think it’s always been interesting that the people we call our greatest Presidents were Presidents in crisis. When we see ourselves at our best as Americans, it tends to be in crisis. So generation doesn’t explain this; challenge does.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you all very much.