Character of Flynt's Congressional delegation in relation to the war

Vietnam. Congressman John Flynt. SR #2518. Side A of tape.
Hi kids. We're at the head of Sound Roll #2518. We're in Griffin, Georgia, the 5th of October talking with Congressman John Flynt. Here's some tone.
Room tone.
John Flynt one, one.
Well let's talk 1965 and 1961, as two different uh, focal points of, of time. My district was somewhat different in 1965 from what it was in my latter years in Congress. The 1965 district was more cohesive, more commonality and community of interest than was true in the 70's. After our district was moved North into the urban area, and even into the very center of the city of Atlanta, the makeup of the district changed rather markedly during that period of time.
I make those comparisons about the makeup of the district in the 60's and in the 70's not because I would have voted differently on the Vietnam War issue and on other issues than, than I did. Because on a matter of that kind it's while, of course, you seek out all of the advice and counsel that you can get from your colleagues, from your constituents, from your neighbors, from your friends and from the so-called experts. But on, on, on so many, many matters you must avoid the vice of being provincial, to try to make a determination not is what necessarily best in the short-run alone, but on vital issues to make decisions which will effect the long-term benefits to, to our country.
Our constituency in the 60's was much more rural than it was in the 70's. The, there were remnants of substantial agricultural activities – farming activities – in, in our district. Our district has always been a heavy textile manufacturing district. But there were many other diversified forms of manufacturing as well. There was a cohesiveness in our district which I don't think existed during the 70's and which I do not feel really exists now.
How did that district which you just described in 1965 feel about the war in Vietnam and America's role in it?
In 1965, I'm inclined to believe that most of the people in the district that I represented at that time uh, while they may have had some misgivings or some reservations about why we were in Southeast Asia, I think that the people of our district overwhelmingly supported the war effort.
They did it for a variety of reasons. Number one, they had always been taught that when your government makes a decision, particularly in the field of foreign relations, foreign affairs, that that decision must be supported on the theory that they gave the authorities credit for having the proper information and applying good judgment to that information. I would say that in 1965 there were very little dissent as far as the conduct of the Vietnam War was concerned in our district.
However, I might add that as far as I was personally concerned, I began to have reservations about the American commitment in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia. Secondly, by February of 1966 I began to carefully examine everything that I could about it. And in 1965, when the Gulf of Tonkin...
Cut. You mean in 1964.
'64. Alright.

Congress's attitude towards the war

We're speeding. Okay. John Flynt, take two, mark it. Clap sticks.
Okay, let's turn to the general description of how Congressman [inaudible]? We'll wait for that to...
This is not a continuation of the last...
Actually I think 435 members of the House see the pressures brought upon them from the Executive in almost 435 different ways. I know that some of my colleagues felt absolutely awed by the powers, as well as the personalities of the White House and of the Executive Branch. Others were not so uh, concerned about what the White House felt about, about anything really.
I know that during my first years in Congress I certainly had a, a feeling, a greater feeling, of, of, of awe — not necessarily respect, but awe for the office of the Presidency than I, than I did later on. However, I do know that a, a large number of my colleagues ah, throughout the twenty-five years that I served in Congress, were sometimes um, absolutely awe struck not only by the power of the Presidency, or the President himself, but also of, of cabinet members.
I found that to be particularly true in uh, committee hearings where someone representing and speaking for the President would come in that um, there was a tendency amongst some of my colleagues in the House to take at 100% face value everything that a representative of the President told us. I think the longer that I stayed there the more access to all types of information, classified and otherwise, I think by the mid-60's that I had reached a point where I thought that I could analyze facts as well as some of the people in the Executive Branch.
I know that in committee hearings I would frequently engage in um, either short or long colloquies when I would find myself holding a different viewpoint from that expressed by the uh, by the Administration. And I enjoyed uh, uh, uh, not necessarily disagreeing, but I enjoyed taking issue when I felt that I might be right and that the person speaking for the administration might be wrong on a particular issue.
Ah, certainly by the mid-1960's I felt that I could uh, hold my own with almost any spokesman for the uh, administration, whether a Democrat or Republican. And uh, that I could intelligently uh, discuss issues with them and listen carefully to what they had to say and uh, hope sometimes (chuckling) in vain that they would listen to what I had to say.
Could you go on to describe the vote in 1964 on Tonkin? If you could do it in terms of Congress's search later on, you know, by '66 or '67 there were many examinations — that if you could start by saying that so that...
...and then go back to what happened to you on that whole...
I'd like to talk a little bit about my reaction to the presentation of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by the Administration in 1964. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as I'm sure everyone is aware, did not originate in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution originated in the Administration.
It was brought to the Congress with a, uh, uh real effort to persuade the Congress to, to adopt the Resolution. And it was really what gave the Administration virtually unlimited power in the conduct of the war in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia.
I remember almost as if it were yesterday on the day when the House voted on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. I sat through nearly all of the debate. It's possible that I sat through the entire debate on that Resolution, because I was, I was extremely interested in the content of it. Because I knew that it would have a profound effect on the conduct of the war and on the history of this country as it was being made in the 1960's.
I wish that I had trusted my own instinct and my own inner feelings about it. Because when I went over to the floor of the House on the day that we considered and voted on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, my inclination at that time was to vote against it.
And yet that was based on pure instinct. It was based on um a sixth sense feeling more than any facts upon which I had to base. I thought that the uh concept that was behind the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was wrong. At that time, of course, neither I nor any of my colleagues knew what we later learned, that the events which were uh, given, which were described to us...Alright.
Okay. Mark it.
John Flynt, take three.
Markers. Clap sticks.
I remember a feeling that I had on the way from my office to the Capitol, and in fact during the entire floor debate on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. I had an inner feeling, an instinctive feeling, that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was, was wrong. And I had no, no facts at that time upon which to, to, support, with which to support that feeling.
I went over there uh feeling that I should vote "no" when the roll was called on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. I felt very strongly that it was a mistake to commit this country to the extent that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution did. And as, when we completed the debate and the roll call began I am convinced, I was convinced then and with hindsight I'm convinced, that if there had been a single "no" vote that I also would've voted "no" on that day.
I passed on the first roll call. During the first call of the roll there was not a single "no" vote. When it reached my name on the second roll call there was still no "no" votes. I voted "aye," although I was not sure of the correctness of that vote that I had cast.
But as it turned out the entire House voted unanimously ah, in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. I suppose at the time my feeling was based on the fact that surely every other member of the House couldn't be wrong and that I alone could be right.
I voted "aye." I voted with the unanimous opinion of the House on recorded roll call vote and yet something just told me then, an inner feeling, an instinct, a sixth sense told me that it was a bad resolution and should've been defeated. I...however, looking back on it with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, if I had known then what I know now, I would've voted "no" if I had stood absolutely alone.

Change in opinion towards the war by Flynt's delegation

Okay. We have speed.
Mark it.
John Flynt, take four. Marker.
Clap sticks.
Beginning sometime around 1966 at the earliest, '67, at the latest, and continuing into the early 70's, I began to see and feel an attitude among my constituents in the Sixth Georgia District that there was an increasing amount of dissatisfaction. Number one, with the conduct of the war, the way it was being fought. And then with the war in Asia itself.
You cannot pinpoint the time that the feeling began to really manifest itself, nor can you definitely describe the changes that took place among the uh, community of which I was then and am now a part. Suffice it to say that there was a gradual change of commitment on the part of the people whom I knew best and who knew me best that uh, maybe this was a wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And yet all of us supported the position of our government, of our country, as long as we possibly could. But when it reached the point that we felt we could no longer in good conscience support it, I believe that the people of my district felt exactly the same way I did, that the time had come to call a halt to it, to bring the war to a close, to end our military involvement in Southeast Asia and to save what face we could.
Got it. Okay. Take five. Mark it. Clap sticks.
During the period from...Alright.
During the period from 1965 to 1970, people in the entire country, as well as in our part of Georgia, began to realize that this war in Southeast Asia — and we thought of it as a war because it was brought home pretty close to, to many people in our, in our section — the effort to uh, win the war and the determination to win it just seemed never to have, to have really existed in the minds of those who were charged with responsibility of waging the war.
And yet among the people, the people that I ran in contact with, the people I knew, there was a feeling that we are in the war, we're committed to it, we have a responsibility to bring it to a successful termination and to do it in the shortest time possible. By the end of the 1960's many of us began to realize that we had been involved in a military effort in Southeast Asia for a period of time greater than the combined combat time of World War II, World War I and the Korean War.
The people that I talked with and the people to whom I listened began to wonder what's going on, it's taking too long. Things in Southeast Asia, according to the reports that we receive, are, are getting progressively worse. All the news seems to be bad. There seems to be nothing good to report about what's going on over there.
I think that the people began to ah make a, uh, ah, a, a, shift. And whether it was gradual or whether it was rather precipitous but there was a shift of a feeling to from win the war to win the war, get out and eventually to get out of Southeast Asia. Again, the wrong war, the wrong place, the wrong time.
Flynt. Take six. Marker. Clap sticks.
Again the question is how do you think most of your constituents viewed the anti-war protesters?
On the question of how our constituents viewed the anti-war protesters of the 1960's, the general attitude was that they were not in sympathy with the anti-war protest. For a long time they felt that the protesters were undermining the national position, the national policy of this country. I know that I certainly shared that feeling, and I believe that that feeling was shared by most of the people that I knew and to whom I listened in our congressional district.
The uh, people of our district have always been a highly patriotic people. And rightly or wrongly they viewed the anti-war protesters as being unpatriotic. And that is not to say that they were wrong or that they were right, but certainly the vast majority of the people of our district uh, were not in sympathy with the anti-war protest of the 1960's.
The, and later on, the people of our district I think began to want the war to wind down, they wanted the war to stop. So they wound up with the same objectives that some of the uh, anti-war protesters of the 60's had, but for entirely different reasons. They were never in support of the open anti-American uh, uh feeling that many, that we felt that many of the anti-war protesters exhibited.

Flynt's absence from the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Another quick sidebar to a Democrat, how did you feel about the protest, especially at the time of the Chicago Convention? And do you think it affected how your voters went in that presidential election? Did this district go for Nixon or '68?
Went for Humphrey.
Let's just talk about Chicago
...and your own views as a Democrat.
I was selected as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. My wife and I both made our plans to go. We bought our plane tickets on the charter flight. We paid our reservations on our hotel, paid our deposit on our hotel reservations, and both of us fully intended to attend the uhm, 1968 Democratic National Convention.
As the time for the Convention drew closer, my wife decided not to go. But I still intended to go. On the Saturday afternoon, and it was right around noon on the Saturday before the Convention began, the plane, charter plane which carried the Georgia delegates to Chicago, was boarding. There was one missing delegate. I was that one missing delegate.
I immediately drove to North Georgia to visit members of my wife's family. In fact, we, we went together. And efforts were made beginning about 2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon to find me and to find out why I missed the plane. Well, they did not find me. But the answer was very simple. Uh, I didn't miss the plane. I, I deliberately stayed away. Uh, Saturday night, all day Sunday and Monday the telephones rang incessantly...
Okay, we're out of film. We'll pick it up from on Saturday night.
End of side A of tape.
We're in Griffin, Georgia, the 5th of October, '82 talking with...we're at the head of Sound Roll #2519. this goes with picture #536. We're in Griffin Georgia, 5th of October, '82 talking with Congressman John Flynt. His some tone at minus 8.
Head of Sound Roll #2519.
Okay we have speed over here. Rolling, drop it down a little bit.
Take seven, marker.
Clap sticks.
All Saturday night and Sunday various individuals, both in the delegation and in the media, tried to find me to find out why I didn't show up for the plane and why I hadn't gone to Chicago. And calls were coming in, so I was told, although I took none of 'em from Atlanta, from Griffin, from Washington and from Chicago to try to find out where I was and why I hadn't gone to Chicago.
On Monday morning I finally accepted one of the calls and talked with uh, a friend who asked where I had been and why I didn't go to Chicago. I called him by his first name and I said, "Well, it's very simple." And I said, "I'm not going to answer your question." I said, "Anything that I tell you today would be wrong. By tomorrow night everybody will know why I didn't go to Chicago, and I think most of 'em will agree with me that I made the right decision."
And certainly that's the way it turned out after the uh Convention voted, they did vote to meet half of us in our regular selected delegation, or at least they technically seated all of us. But they also seated the contesting delegation from Georgia, which had the effect of um, diluting our voting strength by 50%.
The protests, of course, were beginning to take place. The uh Convention Hall was ringed with protestors, I think I'm correct in my recollection that a lot of protestors actually went into the Convention Hall itself. The uh, the, the, the, the, the things that took place at the Chicago Convention in 1968, in my opinion, were not only bad for the Democrats who were in the Convention assembled there, but they were, they were bad for the, for the country as a whole.
Although uh my recollection is that my congressional district uh did vote for uh the Democratic nominee, the, the vote was closer than usual in uh, in presidential elections. The uhm, uh part of it was what had happened at the Convention.
And part of it was the overall atmosphere of protest that took place up there. And those were some of the things that contributed to the vote in Georgia being very close and I think in large measure contributed to the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. In short, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, was a disaster from the opening to the closing gavel.

Effect of national divisiveness on supporters of the war

At what point - back to this district again - did their views change to get out and why? You mentioned in your uh, interview subsequent to your statement in 1971 that it had something to do with the Cally Trial in part, and the fact that a young man could be put in that position as he was. If you could comment on that. And also as you mentioned in your statement in the Congress the tremendous discord, you know [inaudible]...
Uh, many factors contributed to the change and the attitude of our people in Georgia toward the Vietnam War. It's hard to enumerate 'em and certainly hard to delineate them. But nevertheless, those factors came into, into play — more in the last two years of the 1960's than the first two years of the 1970's.
The attitude had been for a long time that uh, "it's our country, we're going to support our country, right or wrong." But uh when everything seemed to be consistently wrong, people didn't lose faith, they didn't lose hope, they didn't lose confidence in our uh, uh government, in our policy, but they began to question it.
And I know that uh many, many people that I talked to in our district when I would be at home on weekends, and when I would hold telephone conversations with a lot of the people at home when I'd be in Washington — they were concerned about the uh trial of Lt. William Cally. Uh, a lot of 'em thought that while he might have done things that he shouldn't have done, and might have left undone things that he, he should've done, uh, most of 'em gave Bill Cally the credit uh for being a soldier.
And most of 'em, I think, thought he was a good soldier. I think that the, while not the overriding reason, I think that one thing that caused our people in my part of Georgia to begin to uh to have changed views on the war and the conduct of the war was the Cally Trial.
How about your sense of division in this country? Could you describe how you saw that?
The um...protesters, the anti-war protesters in 1970 and 1971, I think began to be joined by a lot of people who had theretofore supported the war publicly, privately and as strongly as they could. They, they watched with an increasing feeling of frustration a major national effort of our country uh, uh bogging down in um, a, an indeterminate ah, chaos, chaotic condition and a morass insofar as combat operations were concerned.
The uh, feeling was, I think, much more widespread by now that the war was a mistake and really had been a mistake from the, from the very beginning. And people were beginning to uh, feel that it ought to be wound down, that military operations ought to be brought to a close and, if necessary, admit that we had uh, made a mistake.
I remember even a few years before that I had been in a, a bilateral conference between some, in which some Americans and some um, um British individuals participated. One of the subjects of this conference was the subject of American and military involvement in Southeast Asia. And one of the British participants, whom I had a great respect and whom I enjoyed the battle back and forth during our uh conference sessions. He turned to me one day and he said, "Flynt," he said, "When are you Americans going to realize that you've made a mistake in your war policy in Southeast Asia?"
He said, "You've gotten yourself in a hopeless situation, one that you cannot possibly win and one that we in England, of course, hope you, you don't lose." But said, "You are going to wind up in a situation that could go on for five, ten, fifteen, twenty, forty years. And it's, uh, insofar as uhm, uhm, achieving what you have, have went into it seeking to achieve, you, you might as well uhm uh give it up as a bad job, and, and, and get out with as much as you can salvage from it."
And then he turned on a broad smile and said, "Take it from one who knows. We learned that lesson the hard way ourselves." And I suppose all of those things uh, uh played, played a role, not only in my own decision in 1971, that the war was a mistake and it ought to be stopped as soon as we could and to get out and save what face we could.
Ah, I think that many people throughout the United States who had previously supported war as strongly as I had, began to feel the same way. We saw a feeling of division in our country, a uh, a manifestation of uh, divisiveness the likes of which this country hadn't seen since over a hundred years ago in the war between the states.

Flynt's decision to vote against the war

Sound speed. Mark it. Take eight.
Clap sticks.
In April of 1971 I made one of the hardest decisions I had ever been called on to make in my entire life. It was on the day that I spoke in the House of Representatives and uh, announced my rejection of the war policy of our country as it applied in Southeast Asia. I made that decision consciously and I did it without any regard for the political consequences.
And frankly when I make it, when I made that decision, and when I spoke as I did on the floor of the House of Representatives, I didn't know whether uh that decision that I made would be supported by the people of the sixth Congressional District of Georgia or not. In fact, I was a little bit doubtful that they, that they would support it.
And uh, I made that speech and I think it was uh, was certainly one of the uh, major speeches that I made during my congressional service. I did not know it would be received by my colleagues. I did not know how my other uh, uh representatives from Georgia would feel about it, nor did I know how the people back home would feel about it. But I had made the decision that I felt had to be made. Uh, five of the ten...
Okay. We're going to head up the Camera Roll #537. Speed. Mark it. Nine markers.
Clap sticks.
The ten member Georgia delegation voted right down the middle. Five of us voted the way I did, the other five voted the other way. And evidentially the people back home did not disapprove because in the next election following that decision that I made, I was re-elected by what I believe was the largest vote that I ever received in uh, in thirteen terms.
The decision that I made was not an easy one, but it was one that I felt had to be made. No one single factor uh, triggered it, but a combination of many. The um, uh division, the divisiveness that had uh, uh become widespread throughout our country was certainly a factor. I know that the Cally Trial, the Trial of Lt. Bill Cally, was a uh, a factor in my decision, because I, like so many other people, felt that he was made a scapegoat for something that um, many of us felt that he had not done alone.
All other factors combining together, in my opinion, fully justified the decision that I made on that day in April of 1971, to, to break with the Vietnam War Policy. And once having made that decision uh I never regretted it. In fact, the only regret that I've ever had about it was that I didn't make that decision sooner.
Whether it would have had the effect that it may have had in 1971 if I had made the decision earlier, I don't know. But I, I, I like to feel that uh, the result of the House action that day, although the House passed a bill which was under consideration — and really it was not the bill it was not a good vehicle to announce the break on the, my break with the Vietnam War Policy.
Uh, the House uh, uh passed a bill which was under consideration and uh I, with a lot of my colleagues who had never voted against the War Policy before, were in the minority. But we were uh, uh increasing in numbers uh, uh, from then on, on nearly every roll call that took place. Finally, the majority of the House, and I believe the majority of the Senate became disenchanted with the Vietnam War as I had become disenchanted with it. And gradually it was, it was brought to an end.
One right interesting thing is that on the day that I made that speech neither one of the Atlanta newspapers gave it any coverage whatsoever. On the other hand, the New York Times and other national newspapers throughout the country gave it front-page coverage. And it's right interesting that although the two Atlanta papers made no reference to it...
Excuse me, sir, you have a fly in your hair. Why don't you just start with that story about the Atlanta papers again.
And um, it's right interesting to note that the two Atlanta papers completely ignored uh, my speech and my vote and my announced break with the Vietnam War Policy. There was absolutely no mention of it on the, on the day of the speech, the day after, the next day, or even the day after that, even though many, all of the wire services in practically all of the major dailies in the United States gave varying degrees of coverage to it.
It's interesting to note that on the Sunday following my speech, which was made either on Wednesday or Thursday, that the Atlanta uh, combined edition of the Atlanta papers carried my speech in its entirety and verbatim in the Sunday edition, just as the New York Times had almost done on the morning following the uh, speech in which, for the first time uh, a large group of Southern conservatives, who had previously been classed as "Hawks" decided that this war was no longer for us and that we had made our decision and we were going to do what we could to wind it down and bring it to a close.
What was the action you actually took? Could you talk about the piece of legislation that was voted on, that bill?
The bill which was under consideration that day, of all things, was the bill to extend the Selective Service Act. And that was not necessarily the best uh, vehicle upon which to make a dramatic speech against the Vietnam War. But it was the only uh, vehicle I had to ride on that occasion.
It's sort of like a man looking for a poker game. He might not find the game he wants, but if it's the only game in town, if he's an inveterate poker player, he's going to play in it. So that's the way I was with the um, the debate on the extension of the, the Draft Act.
The one thing that had always concerned me about the way the war was being conducted was that young man of draft age with little or no military training, certainly with inadequate military training, were being sent to fight in combat 12,000 miles from home. At the same time organized Reserve units and National Guard units were not being called up. And except for young company grade officers, lieutenants and captains, uh the Reserves as a whole, were not being called up.
National Guardsmen were not being called up. And one thing that we've had in this country has been the first line of defense, the regular active military. In this case we'd say the Army. In the second line of defense are the Reserves and the National Guard. The third line of defense are the conscripts, those who enter because of the Selective Service Act.
And I have always felt that it was wrong to resort to conscription to fill the military manpower requirements unless you simultaneously use the Reserves and the National Guard before you use uh Selective Service inductees for combat service overseas.
So actually, maybe it wasn't such a bad vehicle to ride after all, because it certainly had the effect of pointing up something which I had talked about for, for years prior to that was that if you were going to fight a war, nobody ought to be exempt from it, certainly your National Guard units and your Reserve units ought not to be exempt from it if you're going to use Selective Service personnel.
Why were they exempt?
Well, that's a question uh we'll never know why the policy of the Administration was to exempt the um National Guard and Reserve units and personnel. However, that decision was made.
I think it was a mistake to exempt the National Guard and organized Reserve units, because I feel that when you have your National Guard personnel, your Reserve personnel in the Army in combat conditions, that they bring into military service the civilian point of view. If those men had been called up for active duty and had been in active military service in Southeast Asia, it is quite possible that one of two things would have happened.
Either we would have achieved a military victory quickly, or else we would've realized that the whole war effort was a mistake and have gotten out of it sooner than we did. I think that the Administration made a serious mistake by exempting National Guard and Reserve units and National Guard and Reserve personnel.
Okay. We have speed. Ten, and marker.
Clap sticks.
We have speed here. Eleven, and marker.
Clap sticks.
Prior to my decision in April of 1971 to break with the War Policy, I had always supported the um, the War on every measure that had come up, whether it was an authorization bill or whether it was an appropriation bill, I'd vote for it. During the two or three years preceding 1971 I, I had to uh, uh cross my fingers and to uh, uh bite my tongue in order to continue to vote for it because I had reached a conclusion that I knew we had to make a firm decision sometime and that I had to make a personal decision to do what I could to bring that war to a close.
It, it, it, it was not an easy decision. It was one of the hardest decisions that I ever made in, in, in my, in my Congressional service. I know that immediately upon um, giving up the will of the House I went to a luncheon in one of the rooms in the Capitol with some of my Southern friends, some of whom I thought would absolutely disown me for the position that I had taken. But even among a group of former hawks, I found pretty widespread uh, uh support for the position that I'd taken, just as I found widespread support for it back home.
Could you describe what that position was? What did you actually say to them?
I spoke out against a policy of frustration and continuing a war in which there was an absolute abandonment of any uh, will to win, any determination to achieve a, a military victory.
Didn't get very much...
Okay here is area tone at Congressman Flynt's backyard.