Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vietnam War

BOND: Vietnam coincides with the period or creates a period in which the traditional relationship between the civilian population [and] the military population shifts. Unlike World War I, II, Korea --

THEUS: Yes, that's right.

BOND: -- all of a sudden, there's enormous difference of opinion in the public about whether this is wise, whether we should do it. And as you recall, marches, protests, demonstrations -- do you detect this as you're there in Vietnam? Is it pressing on you? I don't mean changing your feeling, but you're certainly aware of this.

THEUS: Yes, we were aware of it but it did not adversely impact on our performance of our duties out there nor the morale. What did happen though, what did happen is upon return to the United States, we had heard about this and we came face to face with it. When we returned to the United States from Vietnam, regardless of what role you played out there, there was such animosity that many individuals, upon arriving in the United States, as quickly as they could, they immediately shed their uniforms because they were blamed for things, some imagined, mostly imagined. But in any case, because there was this aversion to the war out there, they were made to be very uncomfortable and they were called very bad names.

BOND: Baby killers.

THEUS: Baby killers and et cetera, et cetera, and so therefore it was in our best interests to immediately take off our uniforms.

BOND: Now after a period in which the work that you're doing and the career that you've chosen have been generally celebrated by your fellow citizens --


BOND: -- all of a sudden there's a shift, how much do you feel?

THEUS: Well, there's no doubt that it can't help but impact your feelings in a negative way. You can't help but be concerned that here you are fighting an unpopular war but, on the other hand, you have to also realize that you are a military person, the decisions are made topside by our president and all of those who work for him. The orders that come down have the weight of those coming from our Commander-in-chief. So whether you're happy with them or not, you have to carry out those orders. The public had to understand that military men and women are subject to these kinds of orders. Sometimes they must do things that are not necessarily popular, but that as professional men and women of the military, you have to carry out the order that are given to you. And so, we took comfort in that fact, the knowledge that we were military people, we had no choice but to do what we were told to do -- short, of course, of committing atrocities, we wouldn't do anything like that. But to conduct the war, we had no choice then.