Leah Seupersad, 404-413-1354
Larry Berman, the dean of Georgia State University’s Honors College, has written a new book titled, “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt Jr.,” a portrait of a controversial admiral who served as commander of Navy forces in Vietnam and chief of naval operations from 1970 to 1974.
It is Berman’s fourth book about Vietnam, and is being released by Harper Collins.
Berman will speak about Zumwalt’s successful efforts to create a more egalitarian Navy and a smaller modernized fleet at 7 p.m., Tuesday at the Jimmy Carter Library, 441 Freedom Parkway.
“The Navy was the most racist and sexist of any of our military branches,” Berman said. “It had failed to comply in any way with any of the executive orders and laws having to do with creating opportunities for the advancement for people of color and for women. Zumwalt actually had the courage to tackle these issues of racism in the Navy, because in his heart he believed that it was right.”
Berman, a Vietnam War expert, met Zumwalt when they served on the Vietnam Center National Advisory Board in the 1990s, a committee Zumwalt chaired.
“I had known quite a bit about him from talking to him and I admired him very much,” Berman said. “I think that if young people are looking for a model of how to make a difference, how to tackle really big problems, and when you see a wrong to right it, they can look at that pattern through out Zumwalt’s whole life.”
Drawing on never-before-published letters, interviews and presidential archives, Berman chronicles the life of Zumwalt from the moment he went to the Naval Academy as a freshman until he retired in 1974.
“He was the person who had issued the order to defoliate the jungles with Agent Orange during Vietnam because he had been guaranteed by the government that this herbicide was not harmful to human life,” Berman said. “One of the terrible ironies and tragedies of Zumwalt’s life was that his son, who was a swift boat commander in Vietnam, was exposed to this chemical and 13 years later would die of cancers literally from an order that his father had given.”
Zumwalt vowed to find out who was responsible and spearheaded a citizen education and mobilization effort that helped thousands of Vietnam veterans secure benefits, Berman said.
“Zumwalt learned the Reagan administration had a policy for the Justice Department and the Bureau of the Budget to do everything possible to deny a link between exposure to herbicides and Agent Orange,” Berman said. “The documents I was able to get are pretty amazing.“
Berman’s book has received many notable reviews, including one by President Bill Clinton, who eulogized Zumwalt in 2000 as the “conscience of the Navy.”
“You can’t understand today’s Navy without acknowledging Bud Zumwalt’s role in modernizing its technology and renewing its soul,” Clinton said in his review. “He believed deeply in a strong Navy worthy of our great nation, and that anyone who chose to serve in it was deserving of respect and dignity. Zumwalt is the story of a true American hero.”
“One of things I learned from this book is that if you think you are right on something, you can’t be afraid of public opinion and you can’t sort of just waffle,” Berman said. “Take a stand, and let the chips fall where they may be. Zumwalt used his position and power to help those without power throughout his entire life.”
Oct. 8, 2012