The Vietnam War is a history of exhaustion, as we can never see the guy in the camouflaged corner manipulating the whole damn thing. We just never want to see the truth, because the truth violates our entire core belief system. It’s like finding out your father sexually violated your younger sister. You just can’t believe it, and your little sister is lying about the whole thing. The little bitch… Because, if that really did happen, then all of your wonderful childhood memories with your father are wiped out. Your core belief system has just died. Your relationship with your father is OVER. How can you every love this man ( Country ) again? For me, this is Vietnam in a nut shell. This is why we can be so aggressive when we don’t want to accept the truth. This is what destroys families. The brother still has to believe the father, when his father says that it is all a Lie. So, you eventually never see your younger sister again, because she is a lying little bitch. And, later in life, that little sister takes her own life. And, the brother blames her death on the fact that she had a drinking problem. The brother never looks at why his sister had a drinking problem. We go to any length to protect the father, and of course in the political sense, the Fatherland. That is the nature of human behavior when you cannot deal with the truth. You cannot deal with the pain you have to go through if that indeed is true. So, this brother finds himself on his deathbed someday, and his thoughts have nothing to do with his sister who died ten years before. That sister has drifted out to sea a long time ago. But, there is further damage, because the sister had three children, and the brother had three children, and the bad blood between these six adults is so subliminal, they will never have a peaceful life. Such is the history of a family whose grandfather destroyed everything. And, when the father becomes the Fatherland, an entire country gets sick. Denial becomes an art form.This is where the United States is, involving the Vietnam War. This is why history is re-written so we can all calm down. It wasn’t really the father who did this, but a stranger came through the window that night and rapped the sister. And, it was a different stranger that did it every week for seven years. The United States did not rape Vietnam, they did not commit mass murder, it was those dirty little Commies that came through the window every night. Ho Chi Minh was the reason this all happened. The war in Vietnam was really started in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings. The fact that almost four million Vietnamese lost their lives is not something to be empathetic about. After all, they were all “Gooks.” That’s right, because Drill Sergeants clear across America said so. They were all “Gook” little bitches, just like that goddam little sister.
Army Medic Vietnam
“It is rich in many raw materials such as tin, oil, rubber and iron ore. . . The area has great strategic value. . . It has major naval and air bases.” -Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, March 29, 1954
On Sep 15, 2017, at 5:19 PM, Lembcke, Jerry wrote:
Burns and Novick begin Episode #1 with Karl Marlantes’s claim that coming home was nearly as traumatic as the war itself. Episode #9 opens with Marlantes being driven away from his airport home-coming with snarling protesters assaulting the car—accompanied with visuals created by Burns and Novick resembling so closely those of “Bob’s” arrival home in the 1978 film Coming Home that Fonda and company could claim plagiarism. Then in the Episode #10 finale we have the Biberman lament of having called Vietnam veterans “baby killer.”
We know the technique: tell the readers/viewers what they are going to see and, at the end, tell them what they have seen.
As Todd Gitlin suggests, Burns and Novick have packed plenty in the middle. This is, after all, 18-hrs long, so there is plenty of middle. But the bulk of it is battle, after battle, after battle—the New York Times reporter counted 25. Some of which support a war-is-hell narrative. But war-is-hell has failed as an antiwar slogan a long time ago, especially when, here, we see troops, all 18-20 years old the film has us believe (in yet another of the many myths, clichés, and tropes strung together in this film) loading into those choppers with CCRs “Bad Moon Rising” thumping with the wop, wop, wop of the rotor blades. This was the rock-and-roll, lock-and-load war wasn’t it?
The US government comes off looking deplorable just as Todd says and there is merit in Burns and Novick telling that as it was. But what’s new? Admittedly, I’m not the expert historian on the matter (so I’m ready to listen), but what in the film about government lying and general malfeasance that cost millions of lives have we not known since the Pentagon Papers?
Make no mistake. This film uses Vietnam veterans, not so much as eyewitnesses to a war that we don’t know about—as they were, of course, during the war years—but as props for rewriting the lost-war story into a coming-home-to-the-war-at-home narrative, the story that the real war was the one lost at Columbia, in Ann Arbor, Madison, and Berkeley.
Thoughts on the Burns/Novick PBS series “The Vietnam War”
Claiming it contains “views from many sides,” the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick flag-waver, “The Vietnam War,” gave me a case of the jaws. Yeah, there’s a bit of opposing views. It even shows a few GIs turning against the war and joining protests. Scattered here and there among the stories of hacking and hurting and super-human efforts are several confessions by soldiers that they didn’t resist because they were too scared of the consequences. But it saves the drama for things like the mother of a fallen soldier who when asked to speak at a protest, threatens to shoot the protesters, even as she recognizes their right to dissent. Time and again, Burns’ documentary plays up those moments, which no doubt gets the blood of Trumpsters boiling, and their chests puffed with the sort of “patriotism” which targets their fellow citizens for holding opposing views. The series admits much that we already know, even documents it, for those who pay close attention, but I believe in the end, it is yet another attempt to go up against the verdict of history.
One of the odd things that passes for political discourse is when both sides in an argument feel a sense of moral outrage. Standing opposed to the US War on Viet Nam, then and now, are those incensed at the continual lying by our governmental leaders, and the immense, sustained carnage inflicted in our name on the people of that unfortunate country just to keep them from democratically selecting their own leadership and form of government. Among other things, we question why Americans feel they have the right to tell others around the world what to do and how to live. We are repelled by the cruel, racist, bullying behavior of that illegal, immoral war, and what it inflicted on Southeast Asians, and what it required Americans to become.
Arrayed against the anti-war movement are people no less morally outraged. Their complaint is that the Vietnamese were too harsh in their efforts to defend their country, and that anti-war protesters defiled sacred icons like the flag, or weren’t loyal to our country–right or wrong–and its war effort. Both sides in the controversy felt that the other side lacked morality and the courage to do the right thing.
The “Vietnam” series, rather than clarify what a person’s duty is, or reinforce the verdict of history and the highest levels of human understanding (Nuremberg Principles, international law), purports to play out, yet again, the clash between the opposing sides. But it doesn’t even do that.
Even Coca-Cola understood the higher aspirations of humanity enough to make “We Are The World” commercials, but as measured by where the emotional highlights are in their series, Burns & Novick settle for tales of and sympathy for a beleaguered bully rather than the efforts to achieve America’s historic potential, or as Angela Davis said, “change what I can no longer accept.”
One of the things I learned in the 10 years I made activist videos for PepperSpray Productions, is a basic principle of film-making: the power of the film maker is in manipulating the audience emotionally. Facts can be presented via many mediums, but film and video excel at shaping a viewer’s experience by grabbing them emotionally. The emotion in Burn’s series is in patriotism, and tales of courage and true grit in the service of an aggressive, immoral war. But I don’t think loyalty to the wrong side of history is a plus.
Parallel to the debate around Confederate monuments
America is currently arguing out the same issues around the confederate monuments. Davy Crockett said it many years ago “First make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” If you’re on the wrong side of history, on the low road instead of the high road, then all that courage, loyalty, honor, sacrifice, and distinction is wasted. The moral high road raises the larger question of “what are we fighting for?” Even though Burns & Novick show us Country Joe McDonald singing those very words, the emotion in their series is pretty much all on the low road. And in case we were slow to get the point, the series ends with protestors apologizing for their protests, while the so-called patriots weep for their fallen heroes. (When’s the last time somebody wept for Auschwitz guards, or SS Stormtroopers?) Instead of thanking protesters for keeping their moral compass in confusing times, the series ends up spanking demonstrators and thanking those who obeyed rather than challenge their country’s call to arms. Our moral outrage against the war, and US imperialism in general, is deflected by the moral outrage of a narrowly defined patriotism.
Parallel to the debate around athletes taking a knee
This is not an unusual tactic. Consider the charges currently being levied against professional athletes who participate in the National Anthem protests. Trump and Co. don’t address the issues raised by the athletes. He shakes his angry fist at the protesting athletes. He finds moral outrage by claiming they are scorning our national symbols and therefore deserving of every bad consequence. The debate then becomes whether to crush the protesters outright, or “tolerate” with pinched nose their protests, however abhorrent to decent Americans. Lost in the frenzy is the point that started it all off, that black people are treated in so many ways as if their lives don’t matter, and in particular, that America is killing black men at an astonishing rate. The low-roaders try to deflect these moral questions, and related call to improve America, with the very powerful shield of patriotism. Somehow the moral outrage shallow patriots feel when they perceive their icons are being slighted in some way–or the status quo is being challenged–is supposed to be equivalent to our feelings when the police wrongfully kill a child or a country is invaded.
We are in a constant battle for a better future and the real high ground, rather than the fake high ground of narrowly defined patriotism. Ken Burn’s series sandwiches massive flag-waving–the moral deflection–in with some incidental criticism of how the war was “handled,” giving us a video equivalent to the people carping about Confederate monument removal and politicized athletes. The series could have clarified the difference between taking the high road and squandering our potential. It could have helped America become a country like the athletes in every sports story ever told: where we never stood so tall as when we bent down to help a child. A more accurate accounting of the verdict on American behavior during those years could have moved us as a nation to be the country of “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
Burns never mentions the Nuremberg Principles, and skips many great stories of Americans breaking with their own leadership to find the moral high ground. I can’t remember a single mention in the series, for instance, of Mohammad Ali refusing induction and going to prison, exercising in his little cell to stay in shape, and then boxing his way back to reclaim his title. That’s a pretty heroic story, very much related to the war. It’s a story that uplifts, and inspires. It is an example of standing up to oppression, even at great personal cost. The Burns/Novick series could have been a lesson in how to find your way in morally confusing moments. But then, perhaps, Bank of America and David Koch wouldn’t have sponsored it.