Ira Zarov, like David Maraniss, was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1967 and was present at many of the events of October 18 described by Maraniss in They Marched into Sunlight .
PW: What made you decide to write this book?
David Maraniss: I wanted to write about the Vietnam era and I knew there was wonderful fiction and nonfiction about the war itself, and some about the antiwar movement, but very little that intertwined the two. I chose 1967 because everything was up in the air. It wasn't like 1970 when positions had hardened. I knew about the Dow riot because I was at the University of Wisconsin when it happened, so I went to the library at the [Washington] Post to find out what was going on that day in Vietnam and I found out about this battle. In the article there were only two names mentioned, Donald Holleder was one of them. He was an All-American football player who had been recruited by Vince Lombardi. I had written the Lombardi book and had a telegram that Lombardi sent to Holleder's widow after Holleder's death, so there was a connection.
PW: It would seem you had a natural affinity for the students and people in Madison, but you developed deep and lasting connections with the Vietnam veterans. Did that surprise you?
DM: That was one of the great things, those relationships. It surprised me to some extent. I spent a lot of lot of time with the veterans that survived that battle. There was a surprising connection to the Lombardi book because several had read it, and as a result, they trusted me. And over the last six years, because of the Internet, the Vietnam vets have come out from a sort of a shell to develop connections among themselves. Much like protesters, most of the veterans are now in their 50s and 60s and all are feeling their own mortality and willing to look back on their experiences without the blinders of ideology.
PW: The events of those two days changed the lives of everyone. What differences do you see between the effects on the veterans and on the Madison protesters and other noncombatants in the States?
DM: The people like [Dick] Cheney and [George] Bush, although he is not in book, people who managed to get through that era without either fighting in the war or opposing it, came out untouched and uneducated. The others were greatly affected, and I found more similarities between the veterans and the antiwar protesters than between either of those groups and those who skirted the war. As between students and the surviving veterans, there were casualties among both, but much of how individuals reacted was a result of what they brought to the experience. But even the Dow protesters who were changed by the events, at some point they could get on with their lives. For the veterans who survived the battle, that single day defined them. They all said they think of that day every day of their lives.
PW: Did writing the book change your view of the Vietnam War?
DM: It deepened my understanding of it. I don't think it changed my larger view. I thought the war was a tragedy and I still do.
PW: You travel back to Vietnam in the end. In doing so you insert yourself and seem to be making a statement about reconciliation and forgiveness. Is that a message you intended to send?
DM: There is a fine line there. I didn't want it to evolve into a statement about healing, but it is about some measure of reconciliation. People all serve their own purposes, some better than others. I wanted to honor dissent because I think it is essential in a democratic society and I wanted to honor the mostly working-class young men who fought and who had their lives changed, lost. I wanted to make it clear that one can honor both things.