Former U.S. Senator and Navy Secretary James Webb joined the National Constitution Center on Tuesday to discuss his new memoir, I Heard My Country Calling—a deeply personal account of his early childhood through his tour in Vietnam and eventual election to the U.S. Senate.
“[During] my last year in the Marine Corps, I was on the Secretary of the Navy’s staff, and I started writing as a part of my job,” Webb explained. “I found I loved the written word—what Hemingway used to call the ‘chemistry’ of the written word.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent, the self-described “military brat” and decorated war veteran discussed his relationship with his father; the mango that shaped his career; the differences between an all-volunteer military and a conscripted military; the credit, if any, deserved by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for recent developments in Myanmar; and much more.
“I know what it’s like to have my father deployed. I know what it’s like to be deployed,” said Webb of life in a military family. “But I’ve never had it as hard as when I was a father with my son deployed.”
“I honestly believe that if 25 percent of the U.S. Congress had to wake up every morning wondering if their kid was alive, you’d have a different foreign policy right now,” he suggested.
O’Donnell also touched upon the growing anger over the failure of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide adequate and timely care to millions of veterans, suggesting that President Obama may look to Webb for new leadership.
“I really don’t have any desire to be a member of the Cabinet,” he said, “and I don’t want to presuppose that something’s going to happen to [VA Secretary] Gen. Shinseki, either.”
But Webb went on to argue that “the VA really needs more activist leadership to solve these problems.”
And when asked if he is “actively considering” a presidential candidacy in 2016, Webb remained tight-lipped.
“We’re just taking it a day at a time,” he responded. “There are a lot of ways for me to begin contributing again.”
The author of nine other books, including the widely acclaimed Fields of Fire, Webb has called his latest effort “the hardest book I’ve ever written,” a project conceived “in order to pay respect to the people who made a lot of sacrifices for me.”
“If you were to boil it down to one word,” asked O’Donnell, “are you a writer? Marine? Leader?”
“In my mind, I’m a writer,” Webb answered. “In my heart, I’m a soldier, and I always will be.”
You can watch the full program below or by clicking here.