Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite Dead at 92... That's the way it is.

The man who lost the Vietnam War, Walter Cronkite, CBS News anchor, died today in his Manhattan home at 7:42p.m. of cerebral vascular disease.

He was the face and voice of news for most Americans during the 1960s through to 1981 when he retired , turning the anchor desk over to the much inferior Dan Rather. It was his voice we remember when the death of President John Kennedy was announced and his face we see taking off his black-rimmed glasses to wipe away a tear.

It's the unabashed childlike thrill in his voice as we heard the description of man's first landing on the Moon, "Oh boy! Whew!" was all he could say when the Lunar Lander touched the lunar surface. While Neil Armstrong walked the Moon, Cronkite said, "Look at those pictures, wow!" It is well that NASA released digitally restored film of the Apollo 11 Moon landing earlier this week.

Despite the years of distinction, and the reputation of being "the most trusted man in America", many Americans would never forgive him for losing the Vietnam War. After returning from personally from Vietnam, he editorialized that America was "...mired in stalemate." His words were interpreted as America was and had lost the war. Support for the war was still fairly high in 1968, but support collapsed. President Lyndon Johnson said, "I have lost Walter Cronkite, I have lost the war." It was Cronkite who, in a private event speech, coined the idea of "quagmire" in reference to real imagined unwinnable wars.

Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff. On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.

We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.

However one feels about that editorial and that war, we cannot deny the Walter Cronkite invented the news anchorman role. In some countries, the word for "anchorman" is derived from his name - in Sweden it is Kronkiters and Holland it's Cronkiters. Nor, can we of a certain age deny he was a very important fixture in our lives, a man who, like LIFE magazine photos, shaped our opinions and memories. Now his part of history.

That's the way it is.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Indigo Rose said...

Walter Cronkite is my first memory of a TV anchorman... or anyone really in the news. I remember him reading about the shooting, and subsequent death, of Pres. Kennedy. I was quite young and he made a big impression that no one has been able to stand up against to this day.
Where have all the newsmen gone?... gone to heaven every one...

Anonymous said...

I never forgave him for saying the war was lost when we had in fact kicked the shit out of the vietcong during the Tet offensive. I think he did more to demoralize America than Jane Fonda could ever hope to. Don