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Reflections on The Vietnam War

Published on: October 3, 2017

Filed Under: Burns/Novick

Views: 355

Mike Hastie:

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.
Mike Hastie
Army Medic Vietnam
Full Disclosure


Future Hope column, October 1, 2017
Vietnam!
By Ted Glick
After everything, after all 18 hours of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novicks’ epic 10-part documentary of the Vietnam War, what was their conclusion?
They framed it this way: the war was a terrible thing; leaders on each side of the war lied to and deceived their people; both sides did very bad things to the other side and to innocent people in the middle; and people who had fought each other in brutal battles and survived could still ultimately find ways to shake hands and even embrace years afterwards.
Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! Although there is some truth to these points, their 10-part series—and I watched every one—ended up being an exercise in obfuscation and denial. And what was so insidious about it is that they actually reported accurately in the very first episode the truth which should have led to the right conclusion: that the United States should never have supported the French in their efforts to maintain brutal colonial rule over Vietnam after World War II, and that it should never have moved in to replace the French as a brutal occupying power after the French were forced to leave in 1954.
Why did the US do this? It isn’t complicated. Two quotes from 1954 make it plain:
“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
“”One of the world’s richest areas is open to the winner in Indochina. That’s behind the growing U.S. concern. . . tin, rubber, rice, key strategic raw materials are what the war is really about. The U.S. sees it as a place to hold—at any cost.”      -US News & World Report, April 4, 1954
Both quotes are taken from the excellent book published in 1966, “Vietnam! Vietnam!,” by Felix Greene.
“The Vietnam War” series was mesmerizing for me. I learned many things I didn’t know, and I re-remembered many things I had forgotten. The war was the issue which changed my life. From 1968 to 1973 it was the issue that drove me to do things I’ve never done since as part of what was called the Catholic Left, like breaking and entering into Selective Service draft boards, an FBI office, and a war corporation office and production site. It led to my spending 11 months in county jails and federal prisons and being a defendant in two major political trials, in Rochester, NY in 1970 and in Harrisburg, Pa. in 1972.
The Burns and Novick series made no mention of this Catholic priest-initiated movement; it gave short shrift to the massive and impactful draft resistance movement out of which it came [the military draft was abolished]; and with the exception of the emergence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971, provided little substantive coverage of the organized anti-war movement which played an essential role in bringing the war to an end.
The war took place at a time when fear of what was called “communism” was very strong, when people like J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon were seen as defenders of the “free world” against a ruthless enemy out to take over the world. Never mind that in the vast majority of cases where U.S.-friendly regimes were threatened by so-called communists, overwhelmingly in Africa, Asia and Latin America,  the fact is that it was really popular movements with broad support, including communists, liberals, students, religious people, labor and more, which were fighting for independence and self-determination.
The United States treating these movements in a hostile way unquestionably led to the movements being further radicalized, more hostile to the US, more willing to use—experiencing the need to use– increasing violence to gain their freedom.
In that first episode it was reported that when the Vietnamese popular movement proclaimed their independence at a massive rally in Hanoi in September, 1945, they put forward a Vietnamese “Declaration of Independence” whose first three sentences came straight from the US version: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It went on to say, “This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense it means, all the people on earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.” The remainder of it delineated all of the specific violent abuses and depradations visited upon them by the French “for more than 80 years.”
Tragically, despite this decidedly non-communist statement, and as the series shows in graphic detail, neither the French nor the US governments were willing to adjust their view of the Vietnamese independence movement for the next 30 years as anything other than an implacable enemy.
The defeat of the US government and the unification of Vietnam in 1975 was an historic victory for people everywhere. The emergence of a mass anti-war movement to end it, in combination with the civil rights and Black Freedom movement, changed the USA in ways that continue to echo today.
To keep changing our country in the right direction, however, we should learn the right lessons from that terrible war. Unfortunately, Burns and Novick have thrown up roadblocks to that happening which we will have to overcome.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.

On Sep 15, 2017, at 5:19 PM, Lembcke, Jerry wrote:

Friends:

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.

Jerry Lembcke


Steve Goldsmith:

Here are some false equivalencies
1. Dead: US 55,000 during war – 55,000 postwar suicides and counting Vietnamese 3,000,000
2. MIA unaccounted for: US under 2000 Vietnamese over 300,000
3. – Number of tons dropped by the Vietnamese on the US – zero
    – Number of tons of explosives dropped on Vietnam by the US = more than all of the tonnage dropped in World War II
4. – Number of Vietnamese who deserted NV Army and NLF fighting against the US – few but unreported 
    – number of draft resisters, deserters, conscientious objectors, members of the antiwar movement within the Army, people who fled to Canada – uncounted but hundreds of thousands. Number of those who marched, sat in universities dropped out of school to join the antiwar movement became estranged from their parents, blew up bathrooms in frustration, poured blood on files and draft boards and went to prison, wrote poems, sang songs, help teach ins, wrote essays, notebooks, made documentaries, sat down in the middle of the streets, published antiwar newspapers inside the military, set themselves on fire, sat in front of troop trains and had their legs cut off, ran for office, sign petitions, gave speeches, walked out of school, as more and more and more. Millions
Number of statues to honor such men and women (and children) or any kind of memorial on their behalf – Zero
 
We have to keep telling the story.

Randy Rowland:

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.

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