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Dan Rather Recounts Experiences as War Correspondent, Calls for American Unity in Lt. Col. John H. Dale Lecture

Fri, 09/13/2019 - 14:12pm | By: David Tisdale

Dan Rather speaking at the Dale CenterVeteran newsman Dan Rather knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two, to borrow a line from a popular television commercial – and so much, much more.

Rather, who served 24 years as anchor for the CBS Evening News after succeeding the famed Walter Cronkite, shared what he’s seen and knows from a career in journalism that spans more than six decades, when he gave the Lt. Col. John H. Dale Lecture in International Security and Global Policy Sept. 12 at Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theatre. The event was sponsored by The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Dale Center for the Study of War & Society.

From the assassination of President Kennedy, the battlefields of the Vietnam War, the moon landing, Watergate, the Cold War, the 9-11 terrorist attacks and military interventions that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rather expressed his gratitude for a career as “an eyewitness,” reporting on world events, inspired by his early journalism idols Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, and Cronkite.

“By the grace of God, I’ve been able to do that,” the 87-year-old Rather said of his work, which continues now with the media company he founded, News and Guts.

As a news correspondent covering the Vietnam War, he cited two experiences he reported on that left an indelible mark on him, including that of a 25-year old commander calling in a napalm strike in order to overtake an enemy position that he knew would result in the deaths of innocent men, women and children. The other was when he visited a hospital ship recovery room that was full of young soldiers, “heroes all,” severely wounded and many with fresh amputations, some calling for their mother - an experience he likened to being in one of “Dante’s hellish circles.”

Once you’ve seen those things - “the brutality and savagery of war,” Rather said - “you’re stripped of any notions” about war being glamourous.

“It’s impossible to convey the confusion and chaos of the battlefield, the brutality and savagery of war, unless you’ve fought in it or been an eyewitness to it,” he said. “I had never experienced anything close to it before, and I hope never to again.”

Rather also reflected on the current political divisiveness in the U.S., saying that people around the globe are watching, and wondering “can we endure?” along with the pursuit of policies he believes, seemingly indicating a retreat from our role of major player on the global political stage and as an advocate for, and example of, participatory democracy in a world that “needs us now more than ever.”

“Would we turn out a light that has been, for so many, a beacon of hope?” Rather asked, pointing to the American legacy of advancements in science, research, global economic development and outreach, world peace while also leading the way to victory in the fight against tyranny in World Wars I and II, among other achievements.

He called for Americans to stay grounded in a spirit of optimism about the future and good will toward others, and said he’s devoting his remaining active professional years to “inspiring others to love our country” because “our greatest strengths are our people and our ideals,” he said, “not our tanks and bombs.”

“If each of us does our part, stays steady and refutes the voices of distrust and division,” America will prevail, Rather said, “Because we’ve seen what we can do when we stay united.”

The USM History program’s Dale Center for the Study of War & Society is housed in the College of Arts and Science’s School of Humanities. Previous Lt. Col. John H. Dale Lecture presenters include General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army, Retired (2017); Dr. Robert M. Gates, Former Secretary of Defense, CIA Director (2015); Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State (2010); and Wyche Fowler, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2008). Learn about the Dale Center at https://www.usm.edu/dale-center-war-society/about-dale-center-study-war-society.php.