Vietnam will be revisited starting September 17th by a Ken Burns documentary series. Greg Laxer is a Vietnam-era army veteran who refused to go to Vietnam on principal, and was subsequently court-martialled for this. It affected his entire life, and even as he ages, he has not softened his critical views of state misuse of power. Now he has observed how our country has made war a perpetual venture in bringing “peace and democracy” to all parts of the world….- but it is still the same old war. In this discussion he shows his concern that Burns may use his prestigious reputation as a documentary film maker to obfuscate the real disaster that war was.
Many of our readers are Vietnam veterans and this is an invitation to hear from them and other veterans on what their assessment of post-Vietnam official policy is. As a veteran of WW II my feelings are that we cannot trust our two major parties to make wise decisions on war and cannot trust our military bureaucracy to give honest counsel on those wars of choice since WW II. We are in a mess! b. traven
Greg Laxer, US Army Medical Corps, 1967-71
Dear Mr. Burns,
I only learned relatively recently that you had undertaken a documentary project on the Vietnam War, running about 18 hours total, due to air on PBS television in September of this year. I’m sure you are aware that the Federal Government launched a multi-year Vietnam War 50th [Anniversary] Commemoration program during the Obama administration, scheduled to run well into next decade. Its website states that 9,852 events are being held under its aegis. That website has a Timeline which infamously downgraded the 1968 My Lai Massacre of hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by US troops to the My Lai “incident.” We who opposed this criminal war while it transpired, and oppose historical revision of it, cannot but suspect that the government effort’s intent is to whitewash this utter waste of lives and resources as something somehow “noble” and “well intentioned.” And I am concerned that your upcoming series may have the same effect, if not intent.
In the official online preview material for the series (where it’s proclaimed “the television event of the year”), you state that a complex issue needs 20 to 30 years’ perspective to be fully understood and fairly evaluated. Yet you go on to state that, “This film is not an answer, but a set of questions about what happened.” It appears that you will give a lot of attention to the issue of “Vietnamese versus Vietnamese.” If you are attempting to paint this war as a civil war among Vietnamese, you will start right off by perpetuating the foundational lie of the mountain of lies stacked up by the US government to try to justify the carnage. Vietnam is one nation that was artificially divided by an imaginary border at the behest of President Eisenhower, who later admitted that had the election scheduled for 1956 been allowed to take place, Ho Chi Minh would have been elected president. How does a nation commit “aggression” against itself, Mr. Burns? There was only one aggressor in this war, and it wore a flag with 13 stripes and 50 stars on its uniform. The southern “Army of the Republic of Viet Nam” (ARVN) largely consisted of conscripted, poor, frightened young men who hated being put in a position of being puppets for an invading foreign force, not believers in the need to “stop another Communist domino from falling.”
To put it succinctly, there was no “noble cause” for which more than 58,000 US personnel and an unfathomable number of Southeast Asian civilians (some in Cambodia and Laos) had their lives snuffed out. Was the war a “well intentioned mistake”? With close to 600,000 US personnel (counting Naval units off the coast) deployed at the peak, that’s one massive “mistake”! Veterans For Peace, of which I am a member, launched the Vietnam Full Disclosure initiative (www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org) to try to counter the government’s distortions in trying to rewrite the history of this thoroughly sordid episode of our country’s 20th Century history. I understand that you have characterized your series as an attempt to finally heal the wounds of divisiveness over this war. In my opinion, these wounds can never be healed without a full admission by the US government of its crimes in Southeast Asia, an official apology to its victims–which include American veterans, of course–and the payment of adequate reparations to the Southeast Asian nations affected. What is truly sad to observe is that the course of US military adventures since 1975 reflects a remarkable ability to learn nothing from past experience!
If there is to be any roundtable discussion of your Vietnam War project at its conclusion, as part of the series itself, on “The Charlie Rose Show” or any other forum, I feel very strongly that a representative of Veterans For Peace’s Vietnam Full Disclosure campaign merits a place at the table. That is the best way to ensure that “all sides of the story” are presented to the public.
116 thoughts on “Vietnam Redux: An Open Letter to Ken Burns”
Thank you for saying what so badly needed to be said. May all of us who understand what you have articulated so well, work together to see that the truth about the Vietnam War is finally admitted, and atoned for, by the US government. It will not, and has not been an easy task, but it must be done if the nation that we love is ever to “wake up” to its past (and present!) There is no other way to a better future for the citizens of our country and the world. With deepest appreciation, Brian Victoria
The Vietnam War (American version) was both mistake and crime. What’s disconcerting is the emphasis on the war as an “American tragedy,” when it was a horrific tragedy inflicted upon the peoples of Southeast Asia (Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians). Yes, of course American troops suffered and died in large numbers, yet Southeast Asian casualties were perhaps 50 times as great. Along with the wanton killing came the poisoning of the environment with defoliants like Agent Orange, which still harm people today; furthermore, mines and other unexploded ordnance continue to kill people today in Southeast Asia. In this sense, the killing from that war still isn’t over.
It’s a series that’s certain to generate controversy because the war will always remain controversial. This is partly because, as Greg says, the U.S. government has taken to whitewashing the worst aspects of this war. Especially egregious is the “stab in the back” myth that suggests the government and “hippie” anti-war protesters kept the military from winning the war, when it was the government that conspired to commit troops to a war that should never have been fought, and on false pretenses ( e.g. the Gulf of Tonkin, an attack that never happened). The “hippies” had it right.
What amazes me is how the peoples of SE Asia have largely forgiven Americans, even as they haven’t forgotten. If another country did to us what we did to SE Asia, would we show the same generosity and grace to forgive?
Thanks, Bill. I have been “at war” with this mentality that “we coulda won if only our military didn’t have one hand tied behind its back by politicians” for a long, long time. I have an answer for it in the Epilogue to my memoir. Oops, I really ought to put the final touches on that and try to find a publisher!
Greg: I’m aware of only “one hand” that was tied: the nuclear weapons hand. Other than that, the U.S. used virtually every weapon in its arsenal in SE Asia. It became a test/proving ground for all sorts of weapons and concepts, from “smart” weapons and electronic fences and sensors to horrendous pounding by “conventional” bombs to war on the environment using defoliants and massive bulldozers to … well .., you know the story. All sorts of pacification theories were tested as well, along with COIN and “small wars” and unconventional tactics to search and destroy to Vietnamization to … well … again, you know the story. SE Asia became a laboratory and its peoples became lab rats.
Ah, yes. “Vietnamization.” The French called this American military policy, “yellowing the corpses.” I think of it often as I have watched (from afar this time) “Iraqification” and “Afghanization” unfold, unwind, unfold, unwind, … unfold … every year now for going on sixteen years. I call the present version of the policy “browning the bodies.” Eleven years ago, I just heard the same old bullshit refrains rattling around in my head like television advertising slogans for some ersatz product that I didn’t need and couldn’t afford. You know: those …
Jaded, Jingoistic Jingles
Someone else would choose, they said,
Those by whom we’d soon be led
Johnson? Nixon? who could tell?
Both pledged not to give us hell
Either way they picked the scam
We got more of Vietnam
Vote the Repugs; vote the Dems
Fall for their same stratagems
Vote them out then vote them back
Then get even more Iraq
Don’t require to see the plan
Just have some Afghanistan
Don’t suppose they think you dumb
Just that your soft head’s gone numb
Lost your job? Laid off? Been fired?
Tax your kids before they’re hired
If it’s an election year
Count on them to flog some fear
Weddings by the queers, you say?
Pregnant women gone astray?
Immigrants out cutting lawns?
Burning flags while Congress yawns?
Hooked on gas and credit cards?
Just acquire some more canards
Fight them there; don’t fight them here
Don’t observe the danger near
Culture war and backlash, too
That’s all they intend for you
Watch them on your TV tube
Buy their bullshit retail, rube
Need some Bill to feel your pain?
Crooked talk straight from McCain?
Don’t thank them and don’t thank me
Thank your own stupidity
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
Mike–With all the smoke and dust in the air about the Trump Clan’s dealings with Russkies, I didn’t see wide media attention here (i.e. in the US) to a story the NY Times reported Monday. Seems Trump floated a trial balloon about turning Afghanistan over largely to private security contractors. I see two advantages he’s envisioning: 1.) rewards (Federal government contracts) for his business cronies; 2.) no need for accountability for atrocities committed, since ops will be “out of government hands.” What do the good ol’ boys (and smattering of gals) in the brass hats at the Pentagon think of this? Only time will tell.
I haven’t had the courage to go back yet, but family, friends, and acquaintances who have all say the Vietnamese people treated them wonderfully. Some, including international pilots said it is the best place in the world to visit. I can not imagine we could do the same, ever.
“…remarkable, considering how long the war lasted and how intensely it was reported and commented upon, that there are really not very many lessons from our experience in Vietnam that can be usefully applied elsewhere …” — Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a 1975 memo to President Gerald Ford (quoted by Andrew Bacevich in Washington Rules
In other words:
Let’s Already Do It Again
Let’s already do it again
Let’s write with no ink in the pen
On the paper no trace of the egg on our face
Let’s already do it again
Let’s start on our very next loss
With a coin and some dice and a toss
Let’s forget this here game where we’ve come up so lame
The next time around we’ll be boss
Let’s hurry to do it again
With the chorus still shouting “Amen!”
Before we can think of the fact that we stink
Let’s pour on the perfume and then…
Let’s you and him get in a fight
Then we’ll get involved for a night
Helping out here and there, we’ll of course gladly share
What was yours that we’ve “earned” with our might
The brass needs a billet or two
And some soldiers in order to screw
A few jumbo jets and they’ve got no regrets
Not with CNN asking their view
They “can do,” you see, though they can’t
Rhetorically venting their rant
They talk a good show then the battle they slow
Making “long time” the footprint they plant
A “journey,” they say, not a “race”
Attempting to save naked face
In four* years and more, they’ve produced a “long war”
Of their “victory” — no sign or trace
Let’s unlearn our history now
And not ask about why or how
While still sort of numb and sufficiently dumb
Let’s not any learning allow
We failed in Vietnam before
Despite all the blood, guts, and gore
Yet no fortune’s vast for our leadership caste
To squander on warbucks galore
A syndrome we need to construct
To conceal the true fact that we’re fucked
Our governing group has just stepped in the poop
Now they’ve got to deny that they’ve sucked
We need war to prop up the few
Who really have nothing to do
Their lack of a skill means that others must kill
To produce all the “metrics” they skew
The Worst and the Dullest, they paint
Every failure with their smell and taint
In a rut or a groove, they have set out to prove
What Tweedledee said “isn’t” ain’t
We’ve got the worst leadership team:
A truly mad, nightmarish scream
But screwing the pooch while a backside they smooch
To them seems like just a wet dream
Wherever they came from, who knows?
Incompetence in them just grows
They get us bombed stiff then they jump off a cliff
Demonstrating what already shows
We just hung a man in Iraq
Once gone, though, we can’t get him back
Now without any rope, down the slippery slope
Our excuses get ever more slack
They talk of a “spike” and a “surge”
All to cover a fear and an urge
They’ve shot our last wad, now they’ve left it to “GAWD”
To figure out where next to splurge
They’ve had all the time that they need
To knock off the bullshit and screed
With their flat learning curve, they’ve one hell of a nerve
To demand more sick bodies to bleed
This ain’t good and it’s got to stop
Whatever they try at they flop
If left at the helm they’ll just wreck the whole realm
In planting their dragon’s teeth crop
So let us dismiss these vile men
Now mainly less rooster than hen
Before they can blow what at sundown they crow:
“Let’s already do it again!”
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2007
Good work, Greg. You can count on me to hold up my part of the conversation, in both prose and verse.
I followed the link in your article, but I can’t view the promotional videos due to the fact that I live here in Taiwan. I can get the PBS Newshour on the Internet, but I don’t know if they will provide any access to the Ken Burns films or not. Time will tell. Anyway, PBS already did this once before. From Wikipedia:
Vietnam: A Television History (1983) is a 13-part American documentary and television mini-series about the Vietnam War (1955-1975) from the perspective of the United States. It was produced for public television by WGBH-TV in Boston and was originally broadcast on PBS between October 4 and December 20, 1983. Eleven of the 13 episodes were rebroadcast (2 and 13 were dropped) as part of the series American Experience from May 26 to July 28, 1997.
Vietnam: A Television History was the most successful documentary produced by PBS up to the time of initial broadcast. Nearly 9% of American households tuned in to watch the initial episode, and an average of 9.7 million viewers watched each of the 13 episodes. A rebroadcast in the summer of 1984 garnered roughly a 4% share in the five largest U.S. television markets.
I wonder if Ken Burns consulted the previous PBS documentary, or Stanley Karnow’s companion book to the series, Vietnam, A History: the First Complete Account of Vietnam at War. As well, if he hasn’t read and studied Nick Turse’s fine book Kill Anything That Moves: the Real American War in Vietnam (Metropolitan Books, 2013), then he will indeed probably whitewash a great deal of the sordid story. I hope he doesn’t do this.
Which reminds me of another book written by David Halberstam who did a great deal of reporting from the rice paddies and meandering jungle trails with the grunts out on their “search and destroy” patrols. A lot of searching, not much finding, but a great deal of destroying. Mr Halberstam won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his reporting from South Vietnam. In 1967, he published a novel entitled, One Very Hot Day, which accurately portrayed a typical U.S./ARVN patrol which ran into a typical ambush which produced the typical “friendly” casualties, one or two dead “insurgents” for the body-count statistics, no enemy automatic weapons captured, and the air force finally arriving once the engagement had already broken off. Not one to pass up the chance to detonate surplus ordnance once finally made available, the U.S. Army captain/advisor instructs the chain-of-command where to have the incoming pilots lay their explosive eggs:
“I want it all over the goddamn place. I want it where they were supposed to get us, and I want it north, because they’ll probably head north, and you tell the zoomies that if they see anything moving, any mother’s sons, white pajamas, black pajamas, no pajamas to zap their goddamn yellow ass. Anything moves, kill it. I’ll take the responsibility.”
I wonder how much of this filthy reality Ken Burns will attempt to show, or if PBS will allow him to show it even if he wanted to do so.
One last thing. It doesn’t take 20 to 30 years to recognize a bloody stupid bungle in the jungle. An hour after arriving at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon in June of 1970 would do the trick for anyone with functioning nostrils and working eyeballs. One whiff of the fetid stench coming from rotting refugee slums, one look at the sandbags and barbed wire all over the place and I thought: “Who ever called this fucking place ‘The Paris of the Orient’?” I’d say about 20 to 30 minutes would probably suffice to explain the situation to any carbon-based life form who actually had any contact with America’s War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). Those who need 20 to 30 hours probably wouldn’t understand even if you gave them a century. Certainly the last 70+ years of post WWII history would attest to the terminally flat learning curve that epitomizes the American conception of “war.” Jungles, mountains, deserts: it makes no difference. When someone said to Daniel Ellsberg, “Iraq is not Vietnam,” my fellow Vietnam veteran replied: “Yeah. Like in Iraq it’s a dry heat, and the language that our military and civilian officials don’t speak is Arabic instead of Vietnamese.”
Again, good work, Greg. Ken Burns has apparently finished his documentary, so I doubt if he will change any of it now in response to your letter. Still, a good panel discussion would help if it included Daniel Ellsberg and reference to his own interview in 2009 with The Real News Network: From Vietnam to Afghanistan. To any interested person, I would recommend viewing this interview — and saving its transcript for future reference — before watching any other program dealing with Vietnam.
Thanks, Mike. I never bothered with “Vietnam: A Television History.” I tend to not commit the necessary time to “mini-series,” including fictional ones. There was also, quite a few years back, “Vietnam: The 10,000 Day War.” I sought out (purchased on tape) two episodes of that, the one dealing with the final days of the war, and “the war on the homefront.” I found those reasonably fair, but never pursued the rest of the series. I feel I’m going to have to commit to absorbing the Burns treatment in its entirety, though.
I need to be clear that my open letter expresses my concerns about what I “suspect” the series will be like, or perhaps better to say, what I fear it will neglect. In all fairness, I cannot yet criticize it, and have to leave open the possibility I will end up actually praising it. Only time will tell.
traven, you invite, I accept.
As in your war, there were many reasons Vietnam-era personnel stood Courts Martial – refusing lawful orders being one, barracks thief being another. I put no credence in the author’s story because it seeks to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Imagine living life as a known coward. Also, “did it for noble purpose” raises a great moral question: Did the soldier who deployed to Vietnam in Laxer’s stead live or die?
By the way, ARVN fielded some damn good soldiers. Shame we abandoned them while the Soviets and Chinese continued to support theirs.
Walter.. Good to hear from you again. You always get my 93 year old heart pumping again. First off it is very offensive to call someone who opposed the Vietnam war a coward just because they happened to be in the army at the time. It takes a lot of moral courage to oppose a powerful government’s actions if you are in the military. That is what the Nuremburg trials were about. From Goering, Head of the Luftwaffe to the lowly commandants of Auschwitz they claimed they were just “obeying orders”. They were hung for showing no moral courage.
Let me also say from personal experience that as an unsophisticated 18 year old in 1943 I looked down my nose at the three categories of draft age men who could avoid the war; 4F (medical), LS (limited service for physical reasons) and war work. It took me many years to realize how foolish I was especially when I was in my forties and my best friend who ended up as Nixon’s chief pollster told me he was LS because of poor eyesight. .
Because we didn’t learn the real lesson of that war of choice we let a bunch of “chicken hawk” politicians and careerist military get us into a perpetual series of illegal wars that have left the middle east , the Asian sub continent, northern Africa in chaos.,Europe overrun with refugees, and our economy a shambles with 2% of our population controlling over 40% of our wealth and able to buy our political system.
There is little moral value in War. Although I feel WW II was a necessary war for our country and I am proud of my service I now begin to see how the moral status we earned for our country throughout the world from that war has been misused by subsequent generations of our supposed “leaders.”
I might add a small reminder to all who give unmitigated support to our leaders decision to invade Vietnam, that North Vietnam never attacked or declared war on the US before we invaded. In no way can it be excused as similar to WW II where three powerful land, sea and air navies from large nations attacked and declared war on us..
Your war good; Vietnam War, bad. Got it.
It’s been my experience that those who talk the most about Vietnam, did the least. (The Vietnam War did vomit up more than its share of fakes an fabricators!) A few years ago there was a local news story on a guy claiming to have been so good at flying Cobras in Vietnam that he was recalled to duty to fly Apaches in Afghanistan. Turns out the guy did serve honorably in Vietnam – as a supply clerk – and hadn’t worn the uniform since. The editors fell for that one, hook, line, and sinker.
Anyway, my question stands. Did the soldier the Army ordered to Vietnam in your author’s place, live or die?
Walter–I’m replying to you before catching up on other recent comments here. NO ONE was sent to ‘Nam “in my place.” And my stance was simple: NO ONE should obey orders to participate in a criminal, genocidal war. Fakes? Sure. Stuff happens. Beyond my control. How do we know YOU really rose from Private to General?? Over and out…
No Walter.. “Your war (WW II) good Vietnam War bad”
What I am saying is ‘My war was necessary, Vietnam was a war of choice”
Big difference. Kennedy decided to escalate Vietnam and after consulting Cardinal Spellman in NY they decided in addition to escalation to fight “falling dominos” to install a Catholic ( Diem) as President of this Buddhist country. Then along came LBJ and using the phony “Tonkin Gulf incident” as an excuse further escalated our involvement.
My general position is that all war is bad. WW II was avoidable if the British and the French had not connived to punish Germany after the war by levying heavy reparations on an already bankrupt country thus creating the social resentment that fueled the rise of Fascism.
As far as answering your question “.Did the soldier in the Army ordered to Vietnam in your authors place live or die”. I will say this: People like Greg in the army refused to go were part of the broader citizen antiwar effort that ultimately forced the government to pull out of this disaster and thus saved many thousands of young American draftees lives. And today we negotiate with China ( thanks to Nixon’s initiative) and Vietnam enjoys a healthy trade with the U.S..
traven–In Christian Appy’s book (cited in another of my comments), there is extensive material concerning one Dr. Tom Dooley. This was history I’d been unaware of. This fine gentleman apparently invented tales of persecution, including torture, of Vietnamese Catholics (Catholicism having been part of the legacy of the French colonialism, of course) in the northern part of the country. This led to encouragement (herding) of Catholics toward the south. These tall tales were spread by publications like Readers Digest and (probably) National Geographic. I know the latter was a cheerleader for US intervention in Southeast Asia, and the former was always politically “conservative.” So a staunch anti-communist like Cardinal Spellman would have eaten this stuff up and rattled his own saber in favor of military action. Another dandy irony: being an avowed Catholic did not save Diem from CIA assassination a few weeks before the sitting Catholic US President went down the same way.
I had a feeling Walter the general might show up here. My comment to him is precisely what his comment merits: NO COMMENT.
Always good to hear from you Walter. You seldom have anything worthwhile to contribute, but few people contribute little-to-nothing as revealingly as you. For example, your use of the possessive pronoun “theirs” at the end of your comment indicates that you assume some sort of foreign ownership of the Vietnamese: like the Soviets and the Chinese had “their” Vietnamese and we Americans had “ours.” Certainly, the Vietnamese (from all parts of the country) who have struggled for centuries to win their national independence — something that the United States refuses to acknowledge or tolerate in any nation other than itself — accepted any aid and support that they could get. The Vietnamese would have gladly accepted aid from the United States against the French had we offered any such support. They certainly asked us for it. But we preferred to help France reconquer Vietnam after the end of World War II, which put us on the wrong side of history as the second half of the twentieth century witnessed a wave of long-suppressed national independence movements that no force on earth could deny. Still, we Americans tried to deny the inevitable anyway and predictably failed. You really seem not to understand any of this.
A little history lesson: The Chinese, throughout the centuries, have had one over-riding principle of statecraft: “Use barbarians to control barbarians.” From the Chinese point of view, having Vietnamese barbarians battle American barbarians suited China’s purposes just fine. The Vietnamese understood this, and deeply resented it, but had little choice. They had to take military and economic and political support from wherever they could get it, first against the French and then against the Americans. The Soviets, for their part, had something of a rivalry going with China in the Communist world and could not afford to show less support for fellow Vietnamese communists than China. Anyway, both China and the Soviet Union could read history and knew that the American barbarians, like the French barbarians before them, would fail at suppressing Vietnamese national independence at great and debilitating cost to America, and this certainly seemed like a worthwhile foreign policy objective from their point of view. Furthermore, as an unearned bonus for the Soviets and Chinese, the Americans would do the awful damage to themselves for no good reason; nothing but what H. L. Menken called “The strife of the parties at Washington.” He meant by this, of course, simple opportunistic partisanship in America’s asinine political asylum. Vietnam, China, and Russia actually had nothing at all to do with why the United States blundered into Southeast Asia and ruined itself there. The Republicans needed a political club with which to beat up on the Democrats and the hapless, browbeaten Democrats caved in to the beating. Simple as that. You would do well not to confuse the consequence of domestic political/economic corporatism in America — namely, American Imperial Militarism — with its venal, mundane, and bureaucratic/careerist causes. As the failed and discredited Nixon presidency taught us: “Follow the Money.” That explains everything that anyone might wish to know about the United States.
In summary, then, no one can claim to own or control the Vietnamese simply by supplying them with aid of one sort or the other. They have their own national interests and understand them with tenacious clarity. They have fought the Chinese, the Japanese, the French, and the Americans for their independence and feel justifiably proud of their achievements. The American military suffered a well-deserved defeat in Southeast Asia — as it will in the middle east today — because our genius generals thought — and still, apparently, think — that they could shoot and kill and idea whose time has come. Nothing “brave” or “courageous” about that. Most of the developed world considers it simply — and devastatingly — stupid. Who in their right mind would ever want to fight and die for demonstrable stupidity? Anyone who protests and refuses to go along with that horrible stupidity has my full understanding and support. Anyone who champions that wantonly destructive stupidity has made of me an implacable opponent for life.
The editor of this website may spank me for “getting too personal” (though being called a coward was slightly personal!), but we need to bear in mind that Walter claims to have risen from Private to General (the latter in the Reserves, as I recall his own telling of the tale). I think this is prima facie evidence that he saluted anything his superiors ran up the flagpole. No, you don’t rise from Private to General in the US military by questioning authority in general (no pun!) or having pangs of conscience over policy. Indeed, conscience is to be checked at the entrance door.
Well said, Greg. As the list of comments grows longer, I sometimes wonder if my replies will associate themselves with the comment I wish to address. What I have to say here relates to your statement about “getting too personal” in response to Reserve General Walter’s characterization of you as a “coward” for refusing deployment to the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam sometime in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yes, that does seem rather personal, if not insulting, but I think you have hit on the right response by analyzing what could possibly have produced such views as Reserve General Walter frequently espouses in this forum. I have spent some time this morning thinking along those same lines: namely, that you have to understand a few things about what serving time in the U.S. military does to an otherwise “normal” person, especially one just graduating from high school during the enormous escalation of U.S. military involvement in the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam. Still, one can understand the poor savage and empathize with his plight without wishing to see savagery spread over any more of the earth than it already has. Forgive me, but I just can’t work up any compassion for the cruel.
Moving right along, I had intended to begin my own response to Reserve General Walter with the following two epigrams:
“I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger.'” — Professional boxer Muhammad Ali refusing conscription into the U.S. Army
“What cause have I to war at thy decree?
The distant Trojans never injured me.” — Homer, The Iliad
These two statements, separated by thousands of years of human history, express precisely the same sentiment: namely, that kings and princes and presidents and parliaments will condemn their subjects (or citizens) to every conceivable suffering for the most trivial and pointless — if not patently criminal — of “reasons.” And they will do this in almost every case by invoking the shadow of some evil specter and flogging their frightened people into making “war” upon it. These venal and vainglorious “wars” require military establishments willing to do the killing, maiming, raping and looting that the posturing potentate du jour proclaims a “vital” (meaning, our self-proclaimed “rulers” to do anything but feather their own nests requires a credulity, if not gullibility, that I simply cannot muster. So, to our newest Commander-in-Brief and his “mad dog” military minions I say: “Shame on you, just on general principles; and don’t even try to fool me once.”
I’ll have more to say on this topic, later. But that ought to do it for now. FTN. FTA. FTMC. FTAF.
P.S. Have you seen pictures of what the “liberated” Iraqi city of Mosul looks like after nine months of bombardment by the “U.S.-led coalition”? Reminds me of Hiroshima, Japan, after the atomic bombing of 1945 or Hue, Vietnam, after the U.S. marines levelled the city following the Tet Offensive of 1968. Same old same old U.S. military. “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Salvation through slaughter. Nope. No sympathy for the savage. Not from me.
Mike–Yes, when I saw the ruins of Mosul I thought immediately of that brilliant colonel (or whatever his rank was), speaking on behalf of the military establishment, explaining to the press the “need” to destroy that Vietnamese village in order to “save it.” And speaking of venality, it’s hard to top the “Global War on Terror”! Invade Afghanistan (never mind its reputation as Graveyard of Empires!) because the Taliban, who supposedly governed in 2001, refused to turn over Osama bin-Laden, who was allegedly holed up in a cave on that side of the Pakistan-Afghan border. And then keep fumbling and bumbling, and trying to justify your presence there, through another two presidencies (thus far). Imperial hubris is really an inadequate label for the US’s brilliant approach in this arena. And don’t say you weren’t warned, America: it was made public from the outset that THIS WAR HAS NO KNOWN END DATE!!
Sorry for the mangled second-to-last paragraph, but I meant to say:
“… a “vital” (meaning, “a matter of life and death”) priority for the tribe, or race, or nation: whatever one wants to call the community or body politic in question. Expecting our self-proclaimed “rulers” to do anything but feather their own nests requires a credulity, if not gullibility, that I simply cannot muster. So, to our newest Commander-in-Brief and his “mad dog” military minions I say: “Shame on you, just on general principles; and don’t even try to fool me once.”
There. I hope that fixes things.
I borrow and paraphrase a retort to your author’s claim that no one went to Vietnam in his stead: “He must be stupid or something.” As to you estimate that such “heroes” saved the lives of thousands of draftees, you’re wrong. Late in the war, before Congress abandoned the South Vietnamese, the only large US units still active were all-volunteer Air Force and Army (helo units in particular). ARVN was fighting well and only needed what their own AF and helo units could not provide – and because we pulled the plug, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese died in re-education camps and while trying to escape on rickety boats. I sense you don’t like yellow people – unless they are the communist kind.
I wish you luck on what you are trying to do. However, the C.P. Kool-Aid is more than I can handle.
Walt: Yes, some ARVN units fought well, but many did not. Also, recall that Nixon and Kissinger had both concluded that the Vietnam War was lost. (Their conversations on tape prove this.) All they were looking for was a “decent interval” between a peace treaty (“peace with honor”) and what they saw as the inevitable collapse. They got that decent interval of roughly 2.5 years. The Congressional decision to cut off funding was convenient for the Nixon/Kissinger acolytes, since it allowed them to shift the blame to Congress as well as to the usual suspect elements in American society, i.e. the peaceniks.
It’s essential that people realize that Nixon and Kissinger knew the war was a lost cause no later than 1969. Everything that came afterwards was a CYA exercise. Many U.S. troops paid a high price indeed for a “decent interval” — and many, many, more people in SE Asia also paid that same price.
Walter–Virtually everyone with my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was destined for orders to Vietnam, so your contention that some specific individual had to “replace” me–one of scores of thousands of troops who said to hell with this BS, and the officers in charge of it, during that war–remains absurd. I won’t argue against your statement that the US abandoned the ARVN. But it was the determination of the Vietnamese people to rid themselves of foreign aggressors that defeated your military, Mr. General. But you’d rather find a million excuses than admit to that reality.
If your closing statement is an intimation to the editor of this site that you’re bailing, I won’t shed any tears. And for the record: I am not now and have never been a member of the Communist Party! I imagine “traven” would say the same for himself, though I see no need for him to have to resort to that.
Here’s the reference: Having watched the recent HBO documentary Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words, it’s now glaringly obvious that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. Indeed, that’s precisely what Nixon and Kissinger (secretly) concluded. As they talked publicly about “peace with honor,” Nixon and Kissinger were privately conceding that the war was lost. They were looking only to deflect blame from themselves, for “a decent interval” between when US troops withdrew and when South Vietnam collapsed, which is exactly what they got — roughly three years, by which time Nixon had resigned in disgrace due to Watergate. Nixon and Kissinger also cast about for scapegoats; at the time, they planned to blame the inevitable defeat on the corruption of South Vietnamese leaders.
Where do you get your information from, Walter? Marvel Comics? You wrote:
“Late in the war, before Congress abandoned the South Vietnamese, the only large US units still active were all-volunteer Air Force and Army (helo units in particular). ARVN was fighting well and only needed what their own AF and helo units could not provide.”
You don’t specify exactly when you mean by “late in the war,” but as Barbara Tuchman writes in The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam:
“In 1971, ARVN forces with American air support but without American ground forces, invaded Laos in a repeat of the Cambodian operation. The cost of “Vietnamization” for ARVN proved to be 50 percent casualty rate, with the added impression that they were now fighting and dying to permit Americans to depart. This was reinforced by Washington’s tendency to herald all operations as designed to “save American lives.” Anti-Americanism spread, and with it undercover cooperation with the the NLF and open demands for a political compromise. Protest movements revived – this time against Thieu in place of Diem. Morale among the remaining American forces sank, with units avoiding or refusing combat, wide use of drugs, and – something new to the American Army – cases of “fragging,” or murder by hand grenade, of officers and NCOs.”
The operation in question had a name: Lam Son 719. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you like. I spent the second half of 1970 and all of 1971 in South Vietnam as part of Nixon-and-Kissinger’s “Vietnamization” program concocted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. I remember seeing pictures of panic-stricken ARVN soldiers hanging from the skids of U.S. helicopters as they fled from the mauling they received by regular NVA troops waiting to them along the trails of Laos. So much for that “ARVN was fighting well” bullshit.
I left South Vietnam at the end of January, 1972, and by the end of that year, all U.S. ground forces had withdrawn — i.e., had retreated — from South Vietnam. This means that, for the last three years of the American intervention (1973-1975), no “large U.S. forces” (volunteer or otherwise) remained in Vietnam. Yes, the U. S. bombing of Vietnam (north and south) continued, but did so from offshore U.S. Navy carriers and B-52 bomber bases in Thailand and Guam. Once the U.S. ground forces had safely retreated from South Vietnam, the American people pretty much stopped caring about how many bombs we dropped or on whom. The out-of-control financial bleeding, however, could not continue. Somebody would have to pay for all the planes and bombs and pilot replacements for those shot down and taken prisoners of war. No one in either Congress or the White House wanted to raise taxes or train more expensive pilots for any more bombing of Vietnam.
So you can prattle on all you want about the period “late in the war” but you don’t seem to really know much about your subject matter. Try using a little common sense. If the U.S. military ever had any confidence in the ARVN, then the ARVN wouldn’t have needed our “advice” in the first place. The Vietnamese largely ignored our advice, anyway. What good had it ever done them? Certainly the NLF and the NVA didn’t require any assistance from us Americans. How come the local losers always do? Does the phrase “kiss of death” mean anything to you? As well, the U.S. military wouldn’t have massively invaded the southern part of Vietnam with half a million men if they had any confidence in the ARVN. In fact, the U.S. military had no confidence in the ARVN at all. The more advice and material support we Americans heaped upon the various “musical chairs” Saigon regimes, the more they figured: “OK. So you guys do it. What does any of this have to do with us? You just want to use us as proxy bullet catchers in your ideological struggle with the Soviets and Chinese whom you don’t have the balls to fight yourselves.” As one Vietnamese official told an American adviser: “If you Americans want to be in Vietnam so much, then wait until your next life and perhaps you’ll be reborn Vietnamese.”
I could go on all night, Walter, but I think I’ve more than made my point. As for the U.S. Congress finally doing the job that the Founders of our Republic had envisioned for it: namely, using the power of the purse to regain civilian control over a Commander-in-Brief and military establishment run amok, I would call that their finest hour. I recall retired U.S. Army colonel — and self-styled “conservative” — Andrew Bacevich in one of his many books stating that he had voted for every Democrat he could locate in the 2006 mid-term elections in the hope that another Democratic-controlled Congress would do their Constitutional job once more and cut off funding for the latest U.S. military debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. But no such luck. Once back in power in Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats “took impeachment off the table” and started signing blank rubber checks in the billions for Deputy Dubya and The Dick to squander doing their worst Nixon and Kissinger imitations. As the jaded bar girls on Tu Do (freedom) Street in Saigon used to jeer at the broke and hard-up GIs: “No money, no honey!” A lesson that the U.S. military needs to relearn before it bankrupts the nation, if it hasn’t already.
Mike–If you look at the official US Government Debt figure, and the amount the annual interest on it costs the US taxpayer, can there be the least doubt that we’ve been technically bankrupt (leaving aside moral bankruptcy for the moment!) for a long time? And of course one of Trump’s first acts in office was to demand a 10% increase in the war budget!! And I believe GOP Members of Congress decided to boost the figure beyond that! This is the cost of desiring to be The Only Superpower/Policeman of a Whole Planet. Mandated by God Himself to be so, if you query the most moronic of “our” elected officials!! And Mr. and Mrs. America swallow all this BS in the name of Patriotism, Defending Our Freedoms/Way of Life, and National Security. How much lower in the Annals of Human Stupidity can the USA sink???
Michael Murry, I will add a little bit a clarification to your points about Lam Son 719. I was thoroughly enmeshed in the USAF intel world as a NVN linguist. For months prior to the assault us folks monitoring ground communications in Laos we’d all heard a marked increase in the use of both open air and encoded invectives concerning being watchful and preparing for an attack by the “pirate puppet forces (ARVN)” and “pirate pilots” (USAF). In the brilliant “need to know” intelligence world of towered knowledge, we had no idea of the planned attack until the Stars and Stripes headlines came out. The initial press was all about blitzkrieg brilliance and success of 30,000 invaders plus US air power charging to Tchepone to cut communication land lines (news to us that a ‘vital’ line was severed and communications were disrupted). At first it was all about how effective overwhelming force was in warfare.
I had quite a few conversations with peers at the time, plain old shop talk in the super-secret world. We all knew about the NVN status of forces and their capabilities in Laos; after all, it was our job. I don’t know of anyone who was anything less that stunned and extremely alarmed at what we knew was an inevitable disaster. By the third day, when Tchepone was captured, our guesstimate was that NVN could marshal at least 60,000 and as many as 100,000 NVN regulars a day to the area given at least 500,000 troops within 100 miles and that reinforcement from North Viet Nam could rapidly handle the logistics. It was obvious that the ARVN were headed into a virtual box canyon in the jungle, that a massacre was inevitable when the door was shut. You won’t see official numbers this high, but the enlisted ranks saw the outnumbering virtually doubling by day reaching somewhere between 6 and 10:1 when the blood bath started and wiped out about half of the attacking forces.
In spite of the pictures of ARVN falling from helicopters as they hung on to landing rails, the Nixonian line was that “Vietnamization” was proven at Lam Son 719 in spite of predictable setbacks so the strategy of “peace with honor” could proceed. Fifteen thousand allies sent to die was merely a “setback” in US diplomatic parlance.
Or, as another (insufficiently circulated, in my opinion) contemporary slogan pointed out to clueless Americans: “They may be Viet Cong, but THEY LIVE THERE!” :-)
Walter, as a combat vet, I will reply. I did go, and ended up as a linguist. One single piece of intel I collected got a Buffy carpet bomb strike painted on a target. “At least 1/2 were wiped out” was the BDA assessment.
Oh yes, of what … a field hospital bivouac of at least 3,000 soldiers on Bác Hồ’s trail. Devil is in the detail.
No doubt women, children, water buffalo, dogs, chickens as well as sick and injured. After a lifetime of PTSD-driven alcoholism, my crippy buddy who broke out (decoded) the 4 figure I intercepted in the belly of an RC-135, the Combat Apple, committed suicide over guilt from this “incident.” My Lai was ho-hum as far as numbers from brutal executions go. There were many horrors of all kinds by many over there.
So, I did go, coward that I am, and many DID die because of it.
Walter, I won’t be polite and offer no comment, you are a sanctimonious donkey-hole.
At which point along the continuum does a person become responsible for facilitating and or being complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity in wars based on lies? The US war in Viet Nam was one gigantic war crime based on a lie. Those who refused to join and or fight in such a war were the only honorable ones…
I learned about lying U.S. presidents and their military masters early in life. In the first semester of my senior year of high school (Fall, 1964) incumbent President Lyndon Johnson ran for election in a country that still had bitter memories of President Harry Truman’s “Police Action” in Korea, the supposedly “forgotten war.” News had begun to filter out into the public consciousness of U.S. military “advisers” taking casualties in a far away place called Vietnam, a “country” with which few, if any, Americans had the slightest acquaintance. Knowing full well of this growing public unease at the prospect of yet another bungle in another Asian jungle, candidate Johnson assured us all that he “would not send American boys to fight a war that Asian boys could fight for themselves.” The Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, campaigned on a platform of bombing North Vietnam back into the stone age, even should that mean the use of nuclear weapons. The Johnson campaign deployed one of the most famous and effective television attack adds ever conceived: the image of an innocent little blonde girl looking wide eyed into the camera as it zoomed in on her little blue eyes in which the viewing audience could see an exploding mushroom cloud. The American public chose President Johnson in a landslide. The American people had spoken. “No war in any place called Vietnam.” Or so the American people thought.
Yet, as Stanley Karnow informs us in his book Vietnam, a History: the First Complete Account of Vietnam at War (New York: Viking Press, 1983; Penguin Books, 1984), President Johnson and his military masters had already made other plans. They wanted a war and didn’t give a tinker’s damn what the American people wanted. Even as we potential enlisted casualties breathed a sigh of relief thinking that we had not only dodged a bullet, but most likely tens of thousands of them, our President had already betrayed us. As we found out too late from Stanley Karnow:
[President Lyndon] Johnson subscribed to the adage that “wars are too serious to be entrusted to generals.” He knew, as he once put it, that armed forces “need battles and bombs and bullets in order to be heroic,” and that they would drag him into a military conflict if they could. But he also knew that Pentagon lobbyists, among the best in the business, could persuade conservatives in Congress to sabotage his social legislation unless he satisfied their demands. As he girded himself for the 1964 presidential campaign, he was especially sensitive to the jingoists who might brand him “soft on communism” were he to back away from the challenge in Vietnam. So, politician that he was, he assuaged the brass and the braid with promises he may never have intended to keep. At a White House reception on Christmas Eve 1963, for example, he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Just let me get elected, and you can have your war.”
Sick, lying bastards. But I didn’t have to wait until 1983 to read about what Johnson and his generals had cooked up for me and my cohort of young American men. No sooner had President Johnson won reelection than he started pumping American military “boys” (literally) into Southeast Asia by the thousands to fight the war that he had said — correctly — that Asian boys could fight for themselves. It did not take me long to appreciate that old joke about the Irishman who walks by a pub and sees two drunks brawling in the gutter. He bends over the curb and asks them: “Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in?” Like the Irishman in the joke, the U.S. military cannot abide the thought of anyone else on earth getting into fight without letting American generals and admirals getting a piece of the action. I learned that lesson early in life and never forgot or forgave. It does not surprise me in the least that the U.S. military brass has successfully bullied nearly every post-war American president into fighting someone, somewhere, without ever once having the U.S. Congress or Courts demand either a declaration of war or an immediate cessation of American military hostilities. In other words, the U.S. Constitution has only worked twice in 70+ years: namely, when the U.S. Congress (1) drove Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon from office for actual criminal activity in 1974 and (2) when it cut off all funding for America’s War on Southeast Asia in 1975. A majority of Americans voted the Democrats back into power in Congress hoping for a repeat in 2006, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her corporate Democratic party took a dive right when the country needed them the most. Sick, lying bastards.
The cynical, psychopathic behavior of U.S. Presidents in my lifetime — aided and abetted by their ticket-punching, fuck-up-and-move-up military masters — has left me permanently unmoved, unimpressed, and unconvinced by anything they say. If given a choice between lying and telling the truth, with no adverse consequences either way, they would lie, just to keep in practice, just so they wouldn’t forget how. Yet they continue to recklessly squander our national resources, human and financial, while basking in the sickly neon glow of a perverse Military Idolatry that holds them accountable for nothing and lavishly rewarded for anything. Surely, the last feeble refuge of a drugged and decaying empire lies just around the proverbial corner. At least now I know where all that heroin and opium from the poppies of Afghanistan has gone and why the U.S. military and CIA spend so many billions of dollars annually making sure that no one interrupts the flow of drugs and money. We had a drug epidemic during our War on Southeast Asia, too. I swear, nothing about the U.S. military and its endless, worthless, boondoggle crusades ever changes, except perhaps the location of the crimes against humanity.
I wonder if Ken Burns will discuss any of this in his “Vietnam” documentary?
Mike–Here’s another LBJ anecdote I heard from Andy Stapp, Chairman of the American Servicemen’s Union (of which I was a proud member and agitator for). [This does not appear in Christian Appy’s fairly recent book, “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity.” In that book, which I highly recommend, Appy recounts an episode of Johnson whipping out his “johnson” in front of reporters to display his All-American macho determination to achieve victory in Vietnam!] According to Stapp, LBJ–then a US Senator from the Great State of Texas–during debate over aiding the French war against Vietnam, or picking up where France left off, stated something like “If the Communists are not defeated in Vietnam, any yellow dwarf with a pocket knife will be able to challenge us.” I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this (though I suppose it could be researched online), but does it not sound plausible? Can’t you just hear him pronouncing it “Veet-nam”?
It reflects the cockiness of the times (pun intended). I’ve read several similar quotes by U.S. troops — the gist of them was, We will easily win where the French couldn’t because we are Americans. Simple as that.
And, once the U.S. military machine was frustrated, it started lashing out with all of the weapons at its disposal. Nuclear weapons were considered — but fortunately were not used.
With the caveat that we should reserve judgment until we’ve seen the series, I’d like to state a few things that should be obvious:
1. To Americans, Vietnam is a war. And war is a distorting and limiting lens through which to view a culture and a people.
2. The series talks about hearing voices from all sides. But will the Vietnamese people have as much say as Americans?
3. As I’ve said already, the U.S. suffered nearly 60,000 troops killed. But Vietnamese killed numbered in the millions. And the destruction to SE Asia — the spread of the war to Laos and Cambodia — was on a scale that rivaled or surpassed the destruction to the American South during the U.S. Civil War. Will that destruction be thoroughly documented and explained?
In short, whose point of view will prevail in the documentary? What will be the main thread of the narrative? Will the war be presented as a tragedy? A misunderstanding? A mistake? A crime? Will the “noble cause” and “stabbed in the back” myths be given equal time in the interests of a “fair and balanced” presentation? Will human suffering take a back seat to the machinations of politicians and the machinery of war?
I encourage Greg to write another article in the aftermath of watching the entire series. I’ll do my best to watch it as well.
Bill A.–Yes, I’ve already affirmed the need to reserve judgment until the entire series can actually be seen. Those of us concerned about the philosophical-ideological content of Burns’s massive project, I think, are aware of the impact the series may wield on younger generations who have no direct experience of the ’60s/’70s. Will this be considered “THE Definitive History” of the war? I think that’s what Ken Burns’s ego desires! But wait, isn’t this peculiar? The advance promo materials sort of answered some of your questions in advance. Apparently Burns claims to offer NO ANSWERS (which would entail a definite perspective, a judgment if you will), only a series of questions: What really happened? Who did what to whom? Do we not already have mountains of data on that? And, in answer to another of your concerns, Bill, the promo materials state that we will hear plenty from Vietnamese themselves. Veterans, former officials, ordinary people. Again, only when September arrives (unless someone is granted advance access to the entire work) will we learn what will really appear on our TV screens.
G’day Folks, About 2 years ago I penned a Two parter (see links below) on America’s involvement in Vietnam – the accompanying war one in which my own country’s (Australia) then government saw fit to participate in — so I will be very interested to see what Ken Burns has to say. But of one thing there can be no doubt. The US political, NATSEC and military establishments have learned nothing from that disastrous experience. Anything short of a recognition by Burns and his producers of that one simple reality — along with a condemnation of the very mindset that prevailed to bring it about, one which as we all know still rules the roost today — will short change every one, Americans and non-Americans alike, who was ever affected by it, and who is being affected by it to this day. Greg, thanks for your impassioned post, and the heads up on this impending series. Take care mate. Best, GM.
Editor / Publisher
A minor point: Even when we talk of the American part of the Vietnam War, there were at least four wars. The Army under Westmoreland fought a conventional, search and destroy, war. The Air Force wanted to prove that airpower alone, specifically bombing, could win the war. The Marines were more interested in counterinsurgency and pacification. The CIA and special ops types were engaged in psychological warfare, assassinations, torture, and god-knows-what-else.
I hope Ken Burns’s series recognizes this.
Another point. The American presence was so overwhelming by 1967-68 that the Vietnamese economy was completely distorted. We brought American materialism and profligacy to a nation that was, by comparison, impoverished and “backwards” (from our perspective, of course). Material superiority bred and fed cockiness. How can those little men in pajamas beat the combined might of the U.S. military? Well, they did, and they were helped by the dissonance in the American war effort, which often worked at cross purposes.
Bill A.–And another fine point: the question should have been “How can those little men AND WOMEN in pajamas…”!! I understand that some American units in Vietnam, in zones considered “mostly safe,” were accustomed to steak and eggs for breakfast…DAILY, not for an occasional treat. Imagine how much aviation fuel was expended just to transport the supplies required by a force of more than a half-million (at peak) personnel, halfway around the globe, many flights originating from CONUS!! [That’s Continental US, for you non-veterans out there.] Not just an utter waste (though very profitable to a few, we may be certain!), but having an impact on the planet’s environment, as well. And today’s US military actions, and their wastefulness? Don’t get me started!!
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), it now costs $3.9 million to support a single U.S. soldier or marine in Afghanistan for one year. It costs a whole lot of money to guard the world’s largest heroin producing poppy fields for those boy-buggering Afghan warlords. You’ve got to give our genius generals credit for knowing whom to back in a foreign fight they wouldn’t understand if you explained it to them in third-grade English: “You can’t do a wrong thing the right way.” Oh, well, since the American way of “war” has no other purpose than to squander America’s national treasure to prevent the working-class proles from getting their calloused hands on any of it, I suppose we ought to simplify things for the 140-character-limited Twitter crowd (which includes the current President of the United States) and just paraphrase an old toothpaste advertising jingle: “You’ll wonder where the money went, when you trust war to your government.”
About the legendary corruption in South Vietnam, I could probably write a chapter in a book, if not the whole book, on that subject. I’ve even got pictures and a prospective title, The Misfortune Teller: Memoirs of a Misfit. Daniel Ellsberg had it right. Just take Vietnam and change the names to Iraqi and Afghan ones and you’ll understand immediately. Our Vaunted Visigoths, dogs-of-war-mercenaries, and corporate camp followers have done it again, as anyone could predict who knows the first little thing about them and their parasitic profligacy. But, hey, Senator Bomber-John McCain demands that we give the blundering thieves even more of what little we still have. He always does that. I’ll never forgive the North Vietnamese for releasing him from prison and inflicting him back on us. I recognize that people like him killed a few million Southeast Asians and that the Vietnamese people understandably might want to exact some justifiable revenge upon us, but giving us back John McCain to haunt the weekend pundit talk shows for four decades? I call that mean, man.
Sigh. In spy school the standard intro briefing to us newly minted linguists got into Vietnam’s ancient history with many millennia of resistance to Chinese and other invadors. “What are we doing there?” was my first thought.
At about hour 2, the briefer talked about how we, with President Wilson’s blessing, promised Bác Hồ Vietnam’s independence (from France) for his support in resisting Japanese invaders. Bác Hồ’s proposed constitution was modeled closely after our own. Many American soldiers owe their lives to that resistance. Then Yalta and Potsdam happened. Michelin Tire wanted rubber, so France got Vietnam and the revolutionary war, for the Vietnamese, began then. Given our betrayal, Bác Hồ turned to Russia for help, and the modern era began. My second thought was along the lines of “WTF, WTF are we doing there?”
At hour 3 we heard how Bác Hồ beat the French at Điện Biên Phủ. Missing in most stories was how the Vietnamese carried artillery and shells over impenetrable jungle mountains to put the French under siege. In the final assault, under-armed Vietnamese charged, the first wave threw themselves over barbed wire so that successive waves could pick up their weapons and use their bodies as bridges over the wire obstructions and charge to victory. My third thought was “What makes us think we are going to ever beat those guys, they will never quit?”
Some nine months later, on TDY for missions out of Cam Ranh Bay I could see the war’s logistics play out first hand everywhere. Soldiers arriving, dirty, haunted soldiers leaving, and war supplies of all kinds disgorged from gigantic C5As. I also saw open air movie theaters, air conditioned “hootch bars” where officers could unwind, carouse with cleaning ladies, and drink. Among the supplies were pallets and pallets of beer stacked outside the hootches. My fourth thought about the war cemented more than beliefs raised by the reality of the intel world I was in: “There is no way we will ever win unless we kill them all and the only way we could kill them all would be to nuke it all.”
What a waste. So many lies. And yes, “the horror of it all.”
Nice use of the diacritical and tone marks on the Vietnamese words. I suppose Vietnamese keyboards have them now or computer software can generate them from standard-English keyboard input. At the two duty stations where I served from June of 1970 through January 1972: namely, VNNTC (Vietnamese Naval Training Center) Cam Ranh Bay and ATSB Solid Anchor, “our” Vietnamese had to use American teletype equipment to send and receive their radio messages. To do this, they had to resort to tonal spelling schemes, like typing “oo” to represent a single “o” with the diacritical circumflex (“hat”) mark over it (ô). Stuff like that. Terribly cumbersome and time-consuming. Since I had to translate messages first into recognizable Vietnamese and then into English (and vice versa) the whole process took much longer than it would have had we produced and supplied Vietnamese language keyboards instead of providing “our” Vietnamese with hand-me-down American equipment unsuited to Vietnamese needs and capabilities.
I understand that we still do that sort of thing to our Afghan and Iraqi “trainees.” If we gave them brand-new, first class U.S. equipment, they would just do what the Nationalist Chinese and South Vietnamese did before them: take it home and sell it on the black market for enough money to buy some food and clothing for their families. Chairman Mao had a favorite expression for the U.S. military handing out surplus American weaponry to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist army. He called us: “my quartermaster.” I feel pretty sure that the NLF had a similar expression in Vietnamese and the Taliban have one in Pashto.
I understand, also, that our American “advisers” send Afghans from Kabul who speak Dari to police regions of Afghanistan where the native Taliban speak Pashto. Kind of like sending Japanese to occupy and “pacify” the Philippines. The bovine stupidity of the U.S. military abroad would amaze me if I hadn’t already seen, heard, and read so much of it that it no longer has the power to surprise. Oh, well. A few thousand more U.S. troops who can barely speak English ought to do the trick. Like Bullwinkle Moose used to say each time before he failed to pull a rabbit out of his magic hat: “This time for sure!”
Mike–The prosecution of Sgt. Bergdahl (court-martial still being pursued by the Army, scheduled for October) has revealed tales of military bungling in Afghanistan which won’t really surprise us veterans. I hope to assemble an article on that topic for this website. Of course, Trump went on record that the fellow should be taken out and shot! God bless America!
Michael Murry, Google translator will produce the tone marks easily. I also probably used the same typewriters you are talking about to send literal intercept to Fort Meade … and the same technique. You are talking about the “pokers” with yellow ticker tape, right? Must have been state of the art office machines if us NSA lackeys had to use it.
We overlapped at CRB, we had the A/C flight barrack on Hurkey Hill where we could watch the fireworks as perimeter guns shot tracer rounds to keep the fishing boats to hold their distance to as far as we could shoot or sappers getting the fuel dump to go up at night. The flotsam was occasionally disturbing… cooking tools, water-logged rubber doll heads and the like. The rats the size of short-legged dobermans with the same teeth, and bi-monthly swarms on new insect types made life interesting.
In terms of “The Lessons of Vietnam”–of which the US military absorbed essentially zero, I have argued–my intuition tells me the Burns series may feel compelled to touch on this, but mostly restrict itself to the actual war years. This question has been kicked around for decades–George Herbert Walker Bush, having found the perfect enemy, Saddam Hussein’s Army That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (my personal tag), declared he had kicked the butt of “The Vietnam Syndrome”–and Burns may consider it outside the scope of his study. Likewise, I’ll be very surprised if he addresses the most recent glorious exploits of the US Military Machine. Will he say anything that might offend PBS’s corporate sponsors, which now include the Koch Brothers?!? The suspense is mounting!
I understand your point, Greg, about the U.S. military absorbing zero lessons from our well-deserved defeat in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). But I think you have a different concept of “lesson” than does the U.S. corporate military establishment. You and I and a great many other Americans tend to think that a well-learned lesson from our epic bungle in the jungle would lead the U.S. military never to do such a stupid and self-defeating thing ever again. But we err in that assumption. The U.S. military establishment did indeed learn several lessons from its epic defeat in Southeast Asia, but those lessons concerned precisely how to do it again like, for example, by assigning the public’s learned aversion to bungled quagmires a pejorative name, the “Vietnam Syndrome.” A “syndrome,” by definition, means ” a symptom of a disease,” and so the corporate military oligarchy set out to subliminally convince the American people that wisdom is really something sick, and that they should go back to sleep and let their military “professionals” lead our country back into the bottomless swamps of global militarist profligacy.
As another example of how to do it again, consider how to muzzle an independent press and keep it from taking those awful photographs and otherwise informing the American people about the real situation “on the battlefield.” Can’t have any of that reality or truth stuff. Too factual and “negative.” As Daniel Ellsberg said in his Real News Network interview in November of 2009:
… the media in the last eight years have acted like lap dogs, like scribes or stenographers to the press, with a few honorable exceptions. But that was true in Vietnam as well, except for the Pentagon Papers, and in that case the field reporting was much freer than it’s been allowed to be for a generation now. I think England to some degree led the way with their censorship of what they called the Falklands War, controlling the media in that operation. But we imitated it in Grenada, in Panama, in the first Gulf War, and the embedding process in this war. So the media have allowed themselves to be very much tamed in the field in terms of what they can show. Good doggie. Good doggie.
And what can the Media show? Nothing but what the U.S. military wants them to show, meaning nothing that would really inform the American people of yet another typical military pooch screwing or fucked-up soup sandwich somewhere in yet another never-never land with unrecognizable names. Again, as Daniel Ellsberg said eight years (and yet another U.S. President ago):
[As concerns] the major thing in the minds of the military. It seems as though many of them want to re-fight the Vietnam War and do it right this time and show that they’re not doomed to failure against these ill-armed, ill-uniformed peasants that they’re facing, that surely they can do better. They want to do it better this time. They’re going to. It’s an understandable motive. They’re going to fail.
So, the U.S. military wants to do it again and again and again. They insist that we increasingly impoverished proles give them every opportunity to do it again and again and again. And if we citizens try to prevent them from doing it again and again and again, well, they and their corporate/political allies will see to it that no one in our corporate-owned government will listen to us or otherwise give a shit. You know: that “Democracy” thing.
And so they have done it again and again and again. For sixteen years in Afghanistan, fourteen years in Iraq, and a steadily increasing number of years in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, just to count some of the many off-the-books wars that they’ve managed to get started to date. The U.S. military has learned its lessons, alright. Just not the same lessons that you and I and many other sane Americans would consider worth learning.
I wonder if this up and coming series will get into that lesson-learning thing? Or, did you tell us somewhere that Ken Burns just wants to ask some “questions”?
Of course, the biggest “lesson” of all was getting rid of the draft. An “all-volunteer” military would be much more tractable — and the broader populace could say, “Well — they volunteered for it — so no complaints.”
Not only is the media composed of lapdogs: the media is often owned by corporations involved in “defense” work, and the media relies on retired generals and admirals to explain/sell wars to the American people.
Yes, Mike, they “learned.”
Bill A.–Yes, very good points. The military, with its private “security contractor” backup, is now a mercenary force. Sucked-up-to at every opportunity by Donald J. Trump. Is he pushing for pay raises for the rank and file in his big Pentagon budget increase proposal? I haven’t seen details, but it seems likely. Trump is not the type to immerse himself in study of military strategy/tactics, or anything deeper than which women he finds attractive and which not. I suspect this is why he says ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis should largely be given free rein in deciding where to attack, with how much force, and when.
Greg: Trump is crafty here. Give the old war horses like Mattis free rein, but if they gallop off and come up lame, Trump can then shoot them (I’m speaking metaphorically — I think) and put new horses in the race. Whatever happens, it’s not Trump’s fault …
Bill A.–Indeed, Trump seems to not hesitate about firing people (I never watched “The Apprentice,” but I know episodes ended with his saying “You’re fired!” to perceived losers). And it looks like he’ll be firing any number of associates as these investigations continue. Big question is: will Congress say, on behalf of the American people, “You’re fired!” to The Donald?!? Stay tuned!
Mike–Yes, I fully agree that the media have been thoroughly housebroken. Indeed, all the mainstream outlets have totally signed on to worshipping the US military. Just watch any newscast! Put on the uniform and ZAP! you’re instantly “a hero”!! And the media are preparing Americans to wake up one morning and find that “we” (count me out!!) are in a shooting war with Russia, that “adversary,” “hostile power,” just plain “enemy.” There’s your reward, Russian Establishment, for having ditched “Communism” and lovingly embraced gangster Capitalism!! And nothing is easier to predict than that Mr. and Mrs. America will wave the flag in favor of this “noble” war. And because that “enemy” is so big, the flag-waving will dwarf what erupted in the wake of the attacks on pathetic Iraq. Yes, Mr. Burns promises to “ask questions.” Certainly “Did the US learn anything from the Vietnam experience?” would be a legitimate one to pose.
Ages ago I started a study of documents being released re: the ‘Bo’ Bergdahl prosecution, but I bogged down. Not even sure what his current status is. I should get back on this and offer an article to this website, because what I gleaned initially is proof positive that the US military is still an amazing cluster-f*ck!! But that isn’t a surprise to us, eh, Mike?
Our good friend Peter Van Buren at his own website, WeMeantWell.com (July 15, 2017), has some trenchant thoughts about how the U.S. military has grown exceptionally skillful at seeing to it that the American people see nothing about their off-the-books “wars” — just mindless careerist “fighting” really — lest they put an end to them like they did with America’s War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). Peter calls this the “bloodless narrative.” See: How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy!)
I wonder if Ken Burns will ask any “questions” about what I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification. You know: like that “vow” that the officer cadets take at the service academies when they pledge (with a perfectly straight face): “We will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate among us those who do.” Yeah. Right. OK. Gotcha. Sure thing. If you say so.
Mike–Thanks for the link to P. Van Buren’s blog post, which I finally got around to pursuing moments ago. You and I have had disagreements with that author’s use of language in the past, but this is an excellent article, very perceptive. (It seems to date back to October 2015; perhaps it’s been updated.)
“A book is a machine to think with.” I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924)
I use my books hard. They help me to think and remember. The best of them have a great many dog-eared and book-marked pages; heavily underlined passages; circled words and phrases; question-marks, exclamation-marks, and quotation-marks inserted all over the place; and margins filled with my own running commentary. I have sometimes purchased books (often “used” and, therefore, less expensive) that contained only a single, memorable line in them that I wanted to remember and possibly use later myself. So I knew I had an excellent “machine to think with” when I opened my copy of Stanley Karnow’s book, Vietnam: a History (1983), and discovered it heavily annotated from start to finish. I had even bookmarked one section toward the end of the book with a page of hand-written quotations from George Orwell’s 1984 which even several decades ago had practically become an operations manual for the U.S. government: essentially a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise for the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy fronted by an image of “President” Big Brother instead of “President” Colonel Sanders.
At any rate and for example: on pages 72 and 73, I found the following underlined passages which recounted the early years of the French conquest of Indochina: meaning, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Check it out, fellow Crimestoppers:
In early 1856, after much hesitation Napoleon III [the French emperor] endorsed the proposals [to conquer Vietnam] put forth by Bourboulon and others. The assignment was entrusted to Montigny, the former French consul in Shanghai, and it gave a renewed impetus to the French drive toward Vietnam.
Montigny appeared [off the coast of Vietnam] two months later. But without the warships, he lacked the strength to impose his conditions on Tu Duc [the Vietnamese emperor]. Instead of disenchanting the missionaries and their supporters, the setback fired their enthusiasm to try again. They appealed to French business groups with inflated accounts of Vietnam’s wealth in sliver, gold, coal, and timber. A pair of veteran priests, the Lazarist Father Huc and Biship Pellerin, journeyed from Asia to Paris to lobby. Huc told Napoleon III that the treaty of 1787 gave France an incontestible right to Tourane and claimed that the conquest was “the easiest thing in the world,” since the Vietnamese would greet the French as “liberators and benefactors” [emphasis added]. Pellerin, who narrowly escaped death in Vietnam, preached emotional sermons to Paris congregations on France’s duty to aid Vietnamese Christians, and he even obtained the Vatican’s blessing for the venture.
In the margins next to this underlined passage I see where I have written: “Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney in Iraq 2003.” Who among us does not recall Mr Wolfowitz (number two man in the U.S. “Defense” Department) assuring Congress that the Bush II administration’s proposed invasion of Iraq would take hardly any U.S. troops and would hardly cost the American taxpayer a thing, since “the Iraqis can pay for their own reconstruction out of their oil revenues.” For his part, Vice President Dick Cheney’s blithe reassurances of prospective Iraqi gratitude for us conquering and plundering them — for not having anything to do with the events of 9/11/2001 — will stand as an indictment of cynical American arrogance for as much future history as I can reasonably foresee. We have largely forgotten the cavalier nineteenth-century French greed and arrogance, but few will likely forget Dick Cheney’s twenty-first century rendition of the same.
The consequences of that “exceptional” American hubris continue metastasizing like a malignant cancer today, as refugees by the millions — not “yellow” but “brown” (this time) — pour out of devastated, formerly sovereign countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. As someone said not long ago about Iraq: “The Americans have made the place not just ungovernable, but virtually uninhabitable.” Thousands continue to die in Iraq every month. Not all that long ago, the American military made Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos almost uninhabitable. Millions had no choice but to flee seeking some habitable place where they could survive. Many wealthy Vietnamese found Westminster, California: now called “Little Saigon,” but the United States does not extend the same welcome to the middle-eastern victims of our military blundering. At least for now and at great national effort, the indigenous “yellow” peoples of China and Southeast Asia have made something of a recovery. They now provide lots of low-wage labor for U.S. corporations, so the U.S. military does not want to kill, maim, or dispossess so many of them like we used to. Now we ask them for loans that we never intend to repay because we no longer have an economy productive enough to pay for all the death and destruction that our corporate-military monstrosity — what I prefer to call The Lunatic Leviathan — wishes to go on inflicting on others who cannot — at least for the present — defend themselves.
Anyway, what goes around comes back around — Karma — and as one Vietnamese told the French about to forcibly impose themselves on him and his country: “If you persist in bringing to us your iron and flame, the struggle will be long. But we are guided by the laws of Heaven, and our cause will triumph in the end.” A hundred years later, at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, this man’s prediction came back to boot the French in the ass. We Americans, naturally, decided to try our hand at conquering the Vietnamese, since we had so much more money and so many more helicopters than the French. I’ve got a really good, heavily annotated book that details what happened. Soon now a television production will revisit some of this history. I wonder if the musical accompaniment will feature “Feel like I’m fixin’ to die rag,” by Country Joe and the Fish, or “Fortunate Son,” by Credence Clearwater Revival,” or “Nothing,” by the Fugs, three of my favorites. Of course, if someone makes any reference to John Wayne movies or starts singing “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” I’ll probably vomit. Given the fact that the U.S. military got the idea of wearing berets from the French, many of us unimpressed American enlisted types called our army special forces, “the Green bidets.” Just saying …
Mike–Interestingly (speaking for myself, naturally), I never bothered to read most of the books you cite concerning Southeast Asian conflicts. Since I was involved with all my heart and soul, from 1968 on, in the struggle to end the US’s monstrous undertaking to “bring light” to those allegedly benighted folks who live there, I kept myself informed in contemporary fashion–Felix Greene, Wilfred Burchett, Ho Chi Minh’s own collected works, etc. Here’s a shocker, that ties in to one of your remarks: on the strength of one quote I encountered somewhere, which took my breath away, I bought “City of God,” by ‘Saint’ Augustine!! Wow, a thousand-plus pages…it better be good (despite its fundamental world view)!! No, I haven’t tackled it yet!
Getting back to the Ken Burns Vietnam series, I see that he and co-producer Lynn Novick are holding advance screenings followed by discussions in some locations. Nothing remotely near me, geographically, yet. And so it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut once (repeatedly, actually!) wrote. I think that with 18 hours to be filled, we likely WILL be regaled by John Wayne and Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler in this series. Yeah, that latter dude’s name is well etched in my memory. What stupid, stupid lyrics!!
Last year, on a trip back to the U.S. with my wife, we made our usual pilgrimage to the Goodwill thrift shops and used-book stores looking for bargain reading material and other cast-off artifacts from what passes for “culture” among the working poor in my native land. I found one paperback in excellent shape that contained not a single mark or notation in it. From this I surmised that its previous owner must not have read very far into it or found anything worth remembering for future reference. Then I opened the first pages and read the prologue:
“I dedicate this to all those who did not live to tell it. And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for not having divined all of it.” — Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (1973)
I could identify with these sentiments. Most likely, Sozhenitsyn suffered from some form of “survivor’s guilt.” Many discharged war veterans and paroled prisoners (but I repeat myself) share that psychological affliction, probably the reason I started writing poetry thirteen years ago or why I decided to write this series of semi-autobiographical/polemical essays. At any rate, after reading the prologue and deciding to buy the book on the basis of it, I thumbed through the first chapter: “Arrest,” and found the writing superb, in my estimation. So now I’ve got another big book to read and annotate to my heart’s content.
For some reason — perhaps the yellow fog of Russia-and-Putin bashing coming out of You-Know-Her’s mouth as the Once-And-Always Goldwater Girl campaigned for right-wing votes instead of working-class ones — I remembered a time during my fourteen months of exile at ATSB Solid Anchor* when I actually met a Russian.
[Note* For photos and email recollections from Navy veterans who served at ATSB Solid Anchor see: Solid Anchor Construction 1969-1970, Overhead picture of river and base, Brown Water Navy Historical Accounts of Solid Anchor 1970-71, and More photos from Solid Anchor]
As part of The Brown Water Navy, our remote little riverside support base occupied a tiny patch of the Mekong Delta in IV Corps, approximately two kilometers from the southern-most tip of Vietnam, a former French colonial possession and since 1954 artificially divided by the United States into two “countries,” one “north” and the other “south.” Anyway, as part of our base “defenses,” the United States military had dumped tons of toxic defoliants on the surrounding jungle on the theory that no vegetation meant no place for the local peasant farmers and fishermen to hide should they wish — for some difficult-to-grasp reason — to attack us and send us back to our own country where we could poison the ecology to our heart’s content. One day, a survey team from the National Academy of Sciences showed up to study the environmental effects of this defoliation.
As it happened, one of the team of scientists had emigrated to the United States from Russia and I got a chance to speak with him one night over a couple of beers at our “Enlisted Men’s Club,” a one-room plywood shack with a refrigerator. I told him that I had tried twice to read Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment but always got so depressed that I could never finish it. He laughed and advised me to read Pushkin whom most Russians consider their favorite author. When I got around to asking him about what he had discovered studying the defoliated countryside, he very diplomatically replied: “Well, it all depends upon where you point the camera. If you point it in one direction, you see devastated vegetation. If you point it in another direction, you see that the jungle has begun to recover.” Or words to that effect. It never occurred to me to wonder what prolonged exposure to such toxic chemicals would do to us American sailors and the Vietnamese navy personnel with whom we shared the base. Only time would answer that. .
Just another memory of “Vietnam” dredged up from the deep recesses of an old and addled mind. A book, a passage in a book, or even the name of a book’s author can sometimes cause such recollections to resurface. It seems that they never really went away.
Back to you, Greg.
Thanks Mike. Always good to refresh memory of history.
I wrote a reply to Greg Laxer immediately above but it got flagged as “awaiting moderation,” probably because it included four internet links to The Brown Water Navy website featuring pictures and e-mail comments from U.S. Navy Vietnam veterans who served at that remote river support base from 1969 through January of 1973 when the last of the U.S. naval advisors left. I assume when the editor sees the number of links — all legitimate — that he will restore the comment. If this site’s software has some problem with the number of links, I can rewrite my comment so as to just tell the interested reader where to find the material on the Internet.
At any rate, I found some good history about our bungled intervention in Vietnam at The Brown Water Navy, some of which I knew from my own tour of duty at Solid Anchor and which I will draw upon in later essays. I seldom see the sense in studying history unless I can connect it to my own experiences and conclusions about what my country should do differently than it has done to date. The history of America’s disastrous military intervention in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) has antecedent connections in prior American military relations with China and France as well as subsequent similarities with American military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria: namely, everywhere that the U.S. military has tried to forcibly insert itself into the conduct of American foreign policy since the end of WWII. It ought to seem intuitively obvious by now that getting the U.S. military completely out of any U.S. policy, either domestic or foreign, ought to form the first principle of American government. But I see no sign of this glaring and bloody lesson dawning in The United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal so accurately labelled America, or as The Land That Forgot Time, as I would name that failing and flailing country.
History — ancient and modern — demonstrates that the time has long since passed for demobilizing the standing U.S. military so as to restore the Republic and return the nation’s energies and resources to building modern roads, bridges, airports, health clinics, and high-speed train lines. You know: the kind of modern facilities that so many other countries now build and operate efficiently because they don’t waste their time, money, and resources on fruitless military destruction for its own sake. As the Chinese say: “You don’t use good iron to make a nail, and you don’t use a good man to make a soldier.” That goes against the grain of the prevailing American secular religion: namely, Military Idolatry, where our uniformed killers get punished for nothing and rewarded for anything. Not a pretty picture of the United States at present, but a frank and honest historical ugliness does have its virtues.
Mike–But of course, MILITARY policy is the ONLY Foreign Policy the US has had since it emerged so intact from WW II, compared to the Russkies, Japan, much of Europe, Britain (where rationing of goods continued right into the 1950s, I understand), etc. The architects of policy observed that Fortress America should be THE dominant power on Earth and should, with application of sufficient brute force, be able to have its way. I don’t know if the Dulles brothers spoke much publicly about this, but I suspect they were part of the crowd that, in their warped minds, had convinced themselves–or perhaps hypnotized themselves into believing!–that this was mandated by The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost! (Picture New York’s Cardinal Spellman jumping up and down, shouting “Amen, brothers!”) Mandated, stamped “APPROVED,” regardless of how many “little wogs” had to suffer and die in the wake of their decisions. But that is all pathetic rationalizing for the real, underlying drive for US corporate profits. I’m no psychologist, but I suppose there’s more than a hint of the desire to strut and bully in the mix. And so, the Koreans must not be allowed to govern themselves if they are led by an eminent Socialist theorist (and he was!) and anti-Japanese resistance leader named Kim Il-Sung. (And look how splendidly that intervention has turned out!) Likewise, Viet Nam must be divided and the southern zone occupied, lest Ho Chi Minh be allowed to lead a united nation toward a hoped-for Socialist future. Other unsavory (in eyes of US Ruling Class) actors on the world stage must be removed, or at least stymied and discredited. I won’t name names, because the list is too long, and I’m probably largely preaching to the choir by this point anyway. In summation, regardless of whether the person in the White House is called a Democrat or Republican, this country continues to blunder down the path exactly, diametrically opposite to what we, and genuinely peace-craving people around the globe, would like to see. How bad must things get for the common folk here at home before they wake up and smell the formaldehyde–the formaldehyde being pumped into the corpse of a once pretty good nation? One shudders to think.
Mike.. Thanks for the Brown Water Navy link. I got into it heavy duty and was astounded how hard the Navy worked to get their share of the Vietnam action by having intense operations in so many rivers, canals, etc. This was news to me. The intense warfare along rivers and canals added a new dimension to the scale of violence we brought to that benighted land. Between the army’s land
operations, the air force, and the Navy we succeeded in devastating the entire land. In that site I saw pictures of a major river where people lived entirely defoliated on both sides by agent orange. So in addition to spreading this malignant toxicity to the people themselves it must have entered the water system they needed for survival. The Vietnamese people must be saints to not hate us to eternity.
When I first got to the History Department at the Air Force Academy (c.1990), I recall hearing from an old hand that back in the 1970s there had been violent arguments among the military officers/historians about the wisdom and winnability of the Vietnam War. In short, not only was the country divided over the war, the military was too, including its trained military historians.
While at Oxford, I read a paper, quite critical of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, before an Australian military historian who had served in Vietnam as an Aussie officer. He was not impressed with my arguments.
It’s often very difficult, if not impossible, for someone who served in that war to view the matter objectively or dispassionately. How can they? Perhaps they saw people, close friends, die. Perhaps they committed acts for which they feel great guilt. Perhaps they still have nightmares about the war. And so on. Emotions, intense ones, run deep.
I’ve heard it said that 50 years need to pass before historians can begin to look at an event dispassionately, with minimal bias and maximum objectivity. Roughly 50 years have passed. Will we see, in Ken Burns’s documentary, an account that’s comprehensive, level-headed, and fair to all participants? Perhaps “fair” is the wrong word here — will Burns call the right people to account for such a devastating war, regardless of their side or the uniform they wore?
Bill A.–I don’t doubt that there were debates within military circles about the wisdom of this or that strategy. But as all veterans recognize, the guys with the most stars on their uniforms make the final decisions. If you are that rare person of conscience who passionately disagrees, you might resign your commission. Enlisted persons don’t have that choice. During the Vietnam War we could decline to re-enlist, which means swallowing insufferable amounts of BS in the interim; or, we could split! As you know, I chose the latter route, along with innumerable fellow GIs. But I was something of a special case, since I opposed that damnable war from before enlistment. It was just a matter of waiting to receive the actual orders to go over there. They came, twice; I split, twice! Eventually the Army got the message and I served my remaining time “Under Honorable Conditions.”
The “victors” write history it is said. We will have one version, maybe it will be this movie. The Vietnamese will eventually have it as a footnote in their long, fierce, and proud story that is thousands of years old already. Perhaps that will be the only historical account to survive because they will. I can’t be sure we will, we are rubes at this civilization thing.
Welcome to the conversation (things were feeling awfully “inbred” here for a while!). Mr. Ken Burns and PBS, apparently, believe this forthcoming project WILL end up being “the last word” on this war. Even though Burns himself said he’s not out to provide “answers”!! That is the root of my concern over whose voices will be heard and the impression most viewers will walk away with. Thanks for your comments. [BTW, if news of this post and ensuing comments has reached Mr. Burns, I’ve had no indication thereof.]
Greg: Ken Burns has a Facebook page for the series, and I think he has a Twitter feed. I’m guessing you could bring this to his (or his helpers’) attention. https://www.facebook.com/kenburnspbs/
Thanks, Bill. I guess I need to launch a specific campaign to seek a place on a panel discussion of the series. I will also look into emailing Burns in care of his Florentine Productions. Doubtless messages would be filtered by some admin. assistant, but it’s worth a try.
Update: I posted a link to Contrary Perspective on Burns’s Facebook page for the VN series. I found attempting to email him directly futile, as there are hints online that this can be done but no real-world means provided. Not shocking, given how busy a guy he is.
I was just on the Facebook page for the Burns Vietnam program (see link posted here by wjastore) again, and the slogan is “There is no single truth in war.” (Yes, I’m a stickler for accuracy.) FYI, everyone, there are links there to videos of panel discussions that have already taken place. I intend to pursue some of these when I have the time.
Greg, thanks for the welcome. I was one of the co-editors of an underground paper (WORMS Eye View) that got a cameo interview with four friends in David Zieger’s “Sir, No Sir.” I couldn’t be at the interview when it was shot, but I did get to meet David and heard stories later. Although we haven’t met, there is a touch of inbred at play.
A long time friend, Rik Carlson, edited and published letters from his friend, Loring Bailey. Jr, who didn’t come back. The book is “Calm Frenzy”
The book came out the same time and overlapped a movie by Soren Sorenson called “My Father’s Vietnam, which included Loring in the story. The Calm Frenzy link shares the stage with the movie.
Camillo Mac Bica has a pretty good take on this PBS documentary, posted at antiwar.com on July 20, 2017: Anticipating the Forthcoming PBS Documentary, ‘The Vietnam War’. In my opinion, the following passages get right to the heart of the matter:
In [a] New York Times op-ed, Burns and Novick set the stage for their discussion of the Vietnam War by referencing an address delivered by President Gerald Ford at Tulane University in New Orleans. They write,
“As the president spoke, more than 100,000 North Vietnamese troops were approaching Saigon, having overrun almost all of South Vietnam in just three months. Thirty years after the United States first became involved in Southeast Asia and 10 years after the Marines landed at Danang, the ill-fated country for which more than 58,000 Americans had died was on the verge of defeat.”
Then, in the following two paragraphs, Professor Bica critiques the fundamental flaws in the Burns/Novick presentation:
Referencing the sacrifice of some 58,000 of its own citizens, ignoring completely the deaths of over 3 million Vietnamese, and the description of the US’s involvement in the war as an ill-fated effort to save South Vietnam from invading hordes of North Vietnamese Communists, illustrates a not so tacit American bias and begs the historical question regarding why the war was fought, its legitimacy, and inevitable outcome. Objectivity (or at least neutrality) in documentary requires that we not accept without question, assumptions that are fundamental to what the documentary is alleging to ascertain – the legitimacy of South Vietnam as a nation and US’s claim of justification for its involvement in the war.
In truth, South Vietnam was an illegal construct made possible by the intervention of the United States in violation of the provisions of the Geneva Accords that forbade foreign intervention during the interim period of national reconciliation following the defeat of the American funded French colonialists at Dien Bien Phu and required a democratic election to unite all of Vietnam within two years – an election that was prevented from occurring by Saigon’s puppet regime and its U.S. overlords for fear that Ho Chi Minh would emerge victorious. Consequently, rather than to describe the North Vietnamese as “overrunning” an “ill-fated independent country,” it would be more historically accurate, not merely a different perspective, to describe the end of hostilities as the liberation of the occupied south.
Again, no such “country” as “South Vietnam” ever existed and no American ever died for it. The millions of Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans who died in the awesome, thirty-year interregnum of violence did so, as historian Barbara Tuchman explained, because:
“The American government reacted not to the Chinese upheaval or to Vietnamese nationalism per se, but to intimidation by the rabid right at home and to the public dread of Communism that this played on and reflected. [In the] social and psychological sources of this dread … lie the roots of American policy in Vietnam.” – Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam (New York: Ballatine Books, 1984)
Or, to put the honest truth even more simply and cruelly, in the words of the cynical newspaperman H. L. Menken:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
As a matter of fact not likely to find a place in the forthcoming documentary, the Vietnamese and Cambodians and Laotians and Americans who died in Southeast Asia in great numbers, did so because the rabid right at home in the United States — meaning the Republican Party — needed an imaginary hobgoblin (Monolithic World Communism) with which to menace the American people and fill them with dread so that they would gladly (forgetting John Quincy Adams’ timeless warning) “go abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” leaving the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy at home to loot the Treasury at leisure. And if no such monsters actually existed, which imaginary monsters don’t, then so much the better, for then the “destroying” of them could then go on for generations, as it indeed has. The word-like noise “Vietnam” served only as one name for an endless series of imaginary hobgoblins having nothing whatsoever to do with the actual human persons trying to live independent lives in Southeast Asia. The rabid right at home in the United States — now enthusiastically joined by the Clinton/Obama directorate of the Corporate Democratic Party — has found a new imaginary hobgoblin to replace “Monolithic World Communism”: namely, “Islamic Terrorism,” and even more word-like noises to name it: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, etc. … The human persons living in those countries don’t matter either.
In my estimation, Frances FitzGerald wrote one of the finest books giving the Vietnamese perspective on the First and Second Indochina Wars: Fire in the Lake. She subtitled it, “the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam.” David Halberstam, in my opinion, wrote one the best books about where these two calamitous disasters originated, and why. He called his book: The Best and the Brightest. He didn’t supply a subtitle, but if I could, I would propose one: “the Americans and Vietnam in America”. The opportunistic seekers after wealth and power in the United States conceived and conducted the American War on Southeast Asia. They used the fighting and the dying as a club to beat their hapless political “opposition” — the U.S. Democratic Party — into submission. The Vietnamese and Americans who died in that war died for them, not for any fictitious and hopelessly ephemeral “country” named “South Vietnam.”
Somehow, I think that this forthcoming documentary will steer very wide of the ugly truth: “Follow the Money.” I cannot see how the program’s corporate sponsors would ever allow a full and frank exploration of where all the money went.
Couldn’t agree more. Every country split up or formed after WW2 & Potsdam has come back with intractable problems and bloodshed. The first was Korea …
Mike–As you’ve doubtless noticed, when I write about the war I always bring up the fiction of “south” Viet Nam. But I think it’s only natural, and should be expected, that Burns and Novick use the “standard,” “accepted” language in describing the situation. I noticed the other day that one of the marketing slogans for this upcoming series is now something like “No war provides one single truth.” I have two responses to that: 1.) what about the truth that “In war, the first casualty is always truth”?; 2.) to me, there is this indisputable historical, physical-real-world truth: there was but one aggressor nation in this affair guilty of invading another nation, and that is the USA. If Burns and company can’t reach this conclusion, what is the value of his 18 hours of material and pondering of questions?
No change in the shocking (!) reality that I’ve yet to be invited to participate in a panel discussion of this program. I’ll let everyone know if that changes. Good thing I haven’t been holding my breath waiting!
We were an enabler first … for France, then we became the aggressor without a national self-defense cause. When asked about my war experience, my short answer is that I killed people for control over a dominoes game.
Blabberwocky.. Right on! Most people don’t know or don’t remember that “falling dominoes” were the “WMD” that sold the American people on that bloody mess in Vietnam. If we left Vietnam “fall to the Communists” we would :lose” all of Asia.Of course no one bothered to look back on Korea where in essence were neutralized and Asia was still there. And since when did we own Asia.
You raise a very good point with your mention of the notorious “falling dominoes” argument, traven, but you left out the first and most important domino in the so-called “chain of causation”: namely, post-WWII France. In her masterful study of misgovernment throughout the ages, The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman focused on the “Embryo” period of 1945-46:
The beginning lay in the reversal during the last months of World War II of President Roosevelt’s previous determination not to allow, and certainly not to assist, the restoration of French colonial rule in Indochina. The engine of reversal was the belief, in response to strident French demand and damaged French pride resulting from the German occupation, that it was essential to strengthen France as the linchpin in Western Europe against Soviet expansion, which, as victory approached, had become the dominant concern in Washington. Until this time Roosevelt’s disgust with colonialism and his intention to see it eliminated in Asia had been firm (and a cause of basic dispute with Britain). He believed French misrule of Indochina represented colonialism in its worst form. Indochina “should not go back to France” he told Secretary of State Cordell Hull in January of 1943; “the case is perfectly clear. France has had the country – thirty million inhabitants – for nearly a hundred years and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning. [They] are entitled to something better than that.”
In the struggle of policies, the future of Asians could not weigh against the Soviet shadow looming over Europe. In August of 1944, at the Dunbarton Oaks Conference on post-war organization, the United States proposal for the colonies made no mention of independence and offered only a weak-kneed trusteeship to be arranged with the “voluntary” consent of the former colonial power.”
But what did that “strident French demand and damaged French pride“ have to do with the former French colonies in Southeast Asia now demanding their own independence? Professor Tuchman explains:
… Secretary of State Stettinius told the French at San Fransisco twenty-six days after Roosevelt’s death that the United States did not question French sovereignty over Indochina. He was responding to a tanrtum staged by de Gaulle for the benefit of the American Ambassador in Paris in which the General had said that he had an expeditionary force ready go go to Indochina whose departure was prevented by the American refusal of transport, and that “if you are against us in Indochina” this would cause “terrific disappointment” in France, which could drive her into the Soviet orbit. “We do not want to become communist … but I hope you do not push us into it.” The blackmail was primitive but tailored to suit what the Europeanists of American diplomacy wished to report.
So here we have the first “domino” applying the domino fallacy to itself. To wit: (1) If you Americans don’t assist us in reconquering Vietnam, then (2) we will become all-sad-and-stuff, which (3) will so sap our will to resist that (4) we will have no choice but to become Communists ourselves and (5) you will have only yourselves to blame for (6) the Soviets conquering Europe. “Primitive blackmail,” indeed and an utterly ridiculous sequence of tendentious assertions. But the shabby dialectical gambit worked like a charm on the scared-shitless-of-Soviet-Communism Americans.
Now, one would think that if the Americans truly considered France “the linchpin in Western Europe against Soviet expansion” then they would have insisted that Charles de Gaulle keep his expeditionary forces in Europe where they could help defend his ostensibly “threatened” country. But for some reason, this particular French domino didn’t seem all that worried about getting knocked over by a Soviet Union that had clearly just established a buffer zone in Eastern Europe as a first-line-of-defense against yet another invasion from Western Europe. You know: that Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolph Hitler thing. The Russians had simply and understandably had enough of dying by the millions in their own land, and had determined that the next war against Western European invaders would take place in some country other than theirs. De Gaulle understood this perfectly well but also knew how to make the Americans jump to his own tune. Some “domino,” and, in fact, the only one to fall (backward) in the end.
I raise this issue of the so-called “domino fallacy” in relation to Vietnam for more reasons than just to discredit the French attempt (initially successful) to use it upon the Americans, blackmailing them into assisting the doomed French reconquest of Southeast Asia; but because late in the administration of Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara resigned and Clark Clifford replaced him. Wrote David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest: “Clifford was bothered by the fact that the other Asian nations showed no great interest in sending additional men. Oh, yes, they thought standing in Vietnam was a marvelous idea, and they certainly gave us their blessing, but it just so happened that they had very little in the way of resources. The threatened dominoes, Clifford discovered, did not seem to take the threat as seriously as we did.”
Two lessons, then, about “falling dominoes”: First, beware of a domino blackmailing you by suggesting that if you don’t hold it up, then it will fall and you will bear the responsibility for its failure to stand up all by itself. Second, beware of an American telling some foreign dominoes of their dire peril when the dominoes themselves can clearly see that the American only wants to use them as proxie bullet-catchers in an ideological fight against yet another imaginary hobgoblin constructed in Washington, D.C. by opportunistic greasy-pole climbers for the sole purpose of securing wealth and power for themselves by scaring the living shit (and tax dollars) out of easily terrified Americans.
The historically discredited “domino fallacy” shouldn’t work on logical people, but then, in the United States of Amnesia, who can locate more than a handful of those? I once thought that President Donald Trump had considerations such as these in mind when he castigated the NATO dominoes for not paying up if they truly feared the imaginary hobgoblin “Russian Aggression.” But then I watched — amused but not at all surprised — as he had things explained to him by his genius generals who depend entirely upon the domino fallacy to sell their self-interested garrisoning of the globe. “Power Projection,” or “Full Spectrum Dominance” they call it; but by any other name, the Domino Fallacy would still stink like the Volga River at low tide.
Mike–Thanks for this. See, I’ve never read folks like Tuchman. This is my first exposure to de Gaulle’s “threat” of France “going Red”!! This is too hilarious! If France wanted to be THE bulwark against the Menace, it should have picked its ass up and moved several hundred miles to the east, yes?!? The working class and the petit-bourgeois intellectuals in Western Europe have a long history of sympathy toward Socialism (especially compared to “boobus americanus”–thank you, H.L. Mencken–spoiled by relative consumer comfort). Unfortunately, when WW I broke out, the majority of French “socialists,” as in other of the belligerent nations, rushed to defend their Fatherland. And when German tanks rolled into Paris with almost no resistance in 1940, being a “socialist” became extra risky. (Except for those who embraced Germany’s “national socialism,” that is!) Likewise, you can bet most “socialist” sympathizers in France waved the tri-couleur in support of their own expeditionary forces in Algeria, Indochina, etc., at least at the outset, when things looked encouraging. Those of us who truly, deeply opposed the murderous US activity in Southeast Asia after the French defeat did NOT wait until it became obvious that the US couldn’t achieve victory. Speaking personally, while still in high school–and expecting to spend a full four years in college with a Student Deferment, though things didn’t work out that way–I had no doubt whatsoever my country was dead in the wrong!! Ultimately, I had to turn that conviction into deeds, deeds of active resistance. Because, like Holden Caulfield, I don’t care for hypocrites!
From Reagan’s “noble cause” to Michael Lind’s book, “Vietnam: The Necessary War,” the Vietnam war will continue to be reshaped and molded for American purposes. Recently, a traveling version of the Vietnam War memorial appeared in Boston, and there was a huge ceremony at Fenway Park to honor 1300 veterans before and during a baseball game. All well and good — veterans should be remembered. But there was no mention of the price of war inflicted on the peoples of Southeast Asia. It was a thoroughly American ceremony without any thought given to the conduct of the war or even its purpose.
It’s history as facade, or hollow history, or history in one dimension. And that’s not history; it’s something else. Ceremony. Propaganda. Sham.
Oh, Bill, don’t get me started on the sickening Military Idolatry! We know the Pentagon is “in bed” with the major sports leagues and the media. I don’t invest my valuable time in following any of the pro sports. I only start paying attention when the playoffs start at end of regular season. But when I watch the Super Bowl, I have to deliberately tune in late enough to miss all the pre-game BS, which of course includes the military color guard and the flyover of fighter jets. That is the only way I can avoid hurling some hard object at my TV, which I need in order to watch movies, one of my passions in life!…I wasn’t aware of Michael Lind’s “Vietnam: The Necessary War.” I suppose there’s no intentional irony in that title??
Thanks, Greg, for jumping all over that commercialized, Military Idolatry, Warfare Welfare, and Make-work Militarism crap. Not that I hold you accountable for the way in which I express myself, but I give you credit for inspiring me to compose a little verse, the first that I have written in quite some time.
When I returned home from the occupied (by us) southern part of Vietnam in early 1972, I understood, utterly, what Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce meant when he defined “patriotism” as “combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name,” and “Patriot,” as “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.” Many years later, I came upon another apt definition by the British pragmatist philosopher, F.C.S. Schiller, who wrote that the word “sacred … generally means that the things so denominated cannot bear investigation.” So, with all that impious imagery and vitriolic vocabulary churning around in my muddled mind, out came:
Thank You for Your Servility
The Sacred Symbol Soldier serves to shield
The fans from what transpires upon the field
Of battle, far away in distant lands,
While “patriots” swill beer up in the stands,
And cheer the gladiators down below
Who (for a dollar) put on quite a show
To market war as just another game
Makes money for the ones who have no shame.
To move the mob, they wave the bloody shirt
Concealing blood and bowels in the dirt.
Their crimes they seek to hide behind the troops:
Those tools of conquerors and statesmen’s dupes.
The Taboo Troop shows up at sports events
To bask in brief applause; no malcontents:
Disgusted, wounded, angry, are allowed
To give the middle finger to the crowd
And so the wars, somewhere, go on and on
Sold by the slave; promoted by the pawn
Michael Murry, “The Misfortuneteller,” copyright 2017
How did I do?
Mike–Before reading any other feedback to “Thank You For Your Servility,” I can say: Bravo!! You have NOT lost your touch! “events” and “malcontents”! Nice rhyme!
I meant to add, as Chris Hedges writes in Death of the Liberal Class (2010):
“Public manifestations of gratitude are reserved for veterans who dutifully read from the script handed out to them by the state. The veterans trotted out for viewing are those who are compliant and palatable, those we can stand to look at without horror, those willing to go along with the lie that war is the highest form of patriotism. “Thank you for your service,” we are supposed to say. These soldiers are used to perpetuate the myth. We are used to honor it.”
Personally, I do not wish to dutifully read from any script handed to me by anyone else, especially the U.S. military. Nor do I wish to “honor” what my own government makes poor, desperate men and women do who have no prospects for landing a good job or obtaining a decent education without becoming debt slaves for life. If in order to obtain such “public manifestations of gratitude,” I have to perform on command like a trained seal, then I can do without the thanks.
Mike–I have some choice things to say about “Patriotism” in the Epilogue to my memoir. It’s pretty lengthy as epilogues go but, hey, it’s my book, damn it!!
By coincidence, ran across a reference to a book on consumerism and Vietnam, then I went to Amazon to check it out, where there was an interesting review by a REMF who knew what he was talking about.
The reference: “Meredith Lair’s Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War (2011) examines the non-combat experiences of American troops in Vietnam, arguing that the troops in the rear-echelons (far from the battlefields) relied on ‘consumerism and material abundance’ to maintain morale.”
A book blurb at Amazon: “Meredith Lair’s fascinating analysis of rear-echelon life among American G.I.s dramatically challenges our most common conceptions of U.S. military experiences in Vietnam. From steaks to steambaths, swimming pools to giant PXs, the amenities provided on large bases not only belie conventional images of that war, but also stand as dramatic testimony to the desperate and unsuccessful effort of American officials to bolster flagging troop morale as the war lurched toward its final failure.–Christian G. Appy, author of Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam”
And the comment from Harry the REMF. I recall Mike Murry talking about his own experiences with illegal money exchanges:
“I was a REMF in Vietnam, and this book doesn’t ring true to my experience. One factor that stymies a lot of writers about the war is that conditions varied dramatically from year to year and from region to region throughout the years. It’s hard to pin down a generalized Vietnam War experience among Americans.
By the time I arrived in 1970, command had seriously broken down in parts of the rear, and Americans had divided into gangs. My biggest fear was not the Vietnamese. It was other U.S. soldiers. In my unit, we were all armed with illicit weapons. Mine included a Bowie knife. Fistfights were common, and we had to watch our backs.”
“We now know that this dangerous situation was part of an institutional meltdown throughout the U.S. armed forces that made battle readiness problematic, even in Europe where it really counted. By 1970, soldiers in Vietnam regularly refused orders and negotiated with commanders who had limited control. Despite this disintegration, my medical unit continued to perform at top-notch, but not because of our allegiance to the Overall War Effort. We just did the right thing for sick and injured solders.”
“I’m not sure of what the book’s point is, other than to document that the rear was awash in consumer products and that we had it a lot easier than the grunts. The book fails to address the apparent strategic function of high American consumerism in the rear, a topic covered by many other historical analyses, nor does it do justice to the vibrant blackmarket in the rear. Small fortunes were made, just on illegal money exchanges alone, and we all knew it was going on.”
“Nevertheless, persons interested in the war’s history will find some fascinating points, as long as they do not conclude that this book is the definitive work on the very complex experiences of REMFs and our relationships with the grunts.”
Link at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Armed-Abundance-Consumerism-Soldiering-Vietnam/product-reviews/1469619032
As a side note, I recall my brother-in-law, a Vietnam vet in the artillery, chuckling about steaks being flown in. We saw this recently in Iraq, with lobster and steaks and other luxuries flown or trucked in at enormous cost to the Green Zone. Anything to “support our troops” and keep up morale.
Bill A.–I can’t quite put my finger on the political viewpoint of the commenting “REMF” quoted. [FYI, civilians, the acronym stands for “Rear Echelon Mother-you-know-what.”] He seems to be a believer in the International Communist Menace, since he says US troops were critically needed in Western Europe. This supposed Menace, of course, helped stoke US enthusiasm for military action in Southeast Asia. With “Viet Cong” activity in the occupied south, supposedly there were no truly safe areas for American invaders in the country. But the further south, I imagine (remember, I wasn’t there in person), the less likely–until the final days–would be hazardous duty. US consumerism also infected Thailand, the Philippines (great situation in those countries these days, eh, with military juntas, etc.?), Taiwan and other areas used to support the US war effort against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Where go the soldiers, you will find the “camp followers.” American Values strike again!
Greg: I met enough people in the military, after Vietnam of course, who had a mercenary or contemptuous attitude toward the foreigners they encountered. I was told, for example, that Korean women dreamed “of the land of the big BX” (we say BX in the AF; for the Army, it’s PX); in other words, be careful if you’re assigned there and one tries to latch on to you. An assignment to Korea was seen as a chance to buy hand-tailored suits on the cheap, as well as electronics, watches, and the like.
To understate, when a military consists of mostly young men being assigned to countries that they see as inferior to America, the behavior manifested is not always kindly and helpful. (Consider rapes on Okinawa, to name just one example.)
An aside: One of my uncles assigned to the European Theater in WWII spoke of how U.S. troops exploited European women. One obvious example: the women were hungry, U.S. troops were too — for sex. Food for sex.
I knew several guys who married either Korean or Filipino women while overseas. Two of these marriages were disasters; two had staying power. I wonder how many “foreigners” have been brought to the USA due to these marriages, as well as to America’s wars? The Vietnamese and Laotians, for example …
I don’t have a big point here, except to say U.S. service members tend to see foreign countries and foreigners with a mindset of “How can I profit in the time I’m assigned here.” And how quickly can I get back to the USA? Of course, there are always exceptions to this … but it’s not often a mindset conducive to winning hearts and minds. :-)
Thanks for the link to the book review, Bill. Any study of the demoralization and corruption of both Vietnamese and Americans in Vietnam would take not just one book but several. As an individual, low-level, enlisted nobody of any consequence, I can’t say that I ever saw the bottom of the barrel or the inside of a padded cell, but I came “close enough for government work,” as we used to say of military precision. As I recall, we Americans in Vietnam had a “tooth to tail” ratio of 1 to 9, meaning that for every uniformed combatant in the boondocks we had nine support troops backing him up with supplies and services. Something like that. I never thought of them as REMFs — those mostly resided in Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon and CIA headquarters — although I would classify Saigon Military Police in that derogatory category. I remember two of them in their clean, pressed uniforms sneering at me one night in a Saigon hotel elevator: “We throw people like you in jail.” Pure REMF. Once when I served at ATSB Solid Anchor down in IV Corps, the commanding generals got the bright idea of restricting everyone to their bases for a month in an effort to combat the escalating drug problem. It didn’t work because they didn’t restrict the MPs to base, and so it became obvious who did their fair share of supplying drugs to the demoralized troops on base. Yeah, REMFs. We had our share of those. If you pay anyone enough money, you can get them to do just about anything, and then some. It doesn’t even take much money if the target black-marketeer has never had much of it. Standards of corruption vary, depending upon how much money one has grown accustomed to “setting aside” for one’s own “needs.”
I first arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon in June of 1970 and discovered that I had some economic survival lessons to learn right away. Stanley Karnow (in Vietnam: a History) describes the scene:
Saigon at the height of the war had stunk of decay. Its bars were drug centers, its hotels brothels, it boulevards and squares a sprawling black market hawking everything from sanitary napkins to rifles – all of it purloined from American warehouses. Soldiers from Ohio and Georgia and Oregon, black and white, their pockets filled with cash, strolled streets crowded with whores and pimps, beggars, orphans, cripples, and other victims of devastation. South Vietnamese army generals, enriched by silent Chinese partners, possessed gaudy villas not far from putrid slums packed with refugees, and government officials and businessmen connived constantly, shuffling and reshuffling the seemingly limitless flow of dollars. It was a city for sale – obsessed by greed, oblivious to its impending doom.
“No shit, Sherlock,” as we enlisted types used to say when confronted with the undeniable ugliness of reality. “Intuitively casual to the obvious observer.”
Since no one knew what to do with me, I had to hang around a stinking toilet of a transit barracks in Saigon for almost a month while awaiting orders to a duty station. One day a friend of mine in similar circumstances suggested that we go out onto the streets and learn our way around. We had both trained for thirty-two weeks in the Vietnamese language (Southern Dialect) at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, so we figured we could get along well enough, linguistically, in a pinch. As things quickly unravelled, we soon learned what our teachers at DLI meant when they warned us that “No one in Vietnam speaks Monterey Dialect.” Not to worry. The orphans, beggars, pimps, whores, and thieves spoke perfect Pidgin English: “You buy me Saigon Tea, GI?” “No money, no honey!”
But first things first. Right out of the front door we ran into a waiting mob of “Peanut Girls,” those cute little orphans who swarmed around us, begging us to buy their little bags of peanuts. Not understanding the local money yet and not wishing to offend anyone, we regretfully declined to purchase the offered merchandise. The little girls seemed to take the rejection in stride and ran off laughing. A few steps further down the street my friend suddenly realized that his wallet — containing $200 US dollars — had disappeared from his right rear pants pocket. I kept my wallet in a pocket inside my shirt, but I checked, just to make sure. We discovered that all of our pants pockets and outer jacket pockets had razor-blade slices in them. Our newly issued olive-drab dungaree “uniforms” had apparently suffered a deft professional shredding. And we hadn’t felt a thing. Back to the stinking toilet of a transit barracks for a change of “uniforms” and the chance to think things over. “And I’ve got a year full of shit like this ahead of me?” I wondered. As it turned out, I had almost a year-and-a-half of shit like that to get through, but I suppose I’ll get around to that story in another comment posting.
Right now, the time has come to go out onto the streets of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and get me some breakfast. And to think that I would never have found myself here had I not spent that eighteen months in the southern half of Vietnam over forty-five years ago. History does abound in ironies.
“This just in” (in terms of coming to my attention): In an article on the Burns Vietnam War series posted by Veterans For Peace, Dr. Camillo Mac Bica, Professor of Philosophy at School of Visual Arts in NYC and a Vietnam Veteran, quoted chunks of Burns’s promo materials that I hadn’t seen. I take the liberty of reproducing the following segments:
“The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors, and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission. It is a story of Americans from every corner of our Nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm’s way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.
“There is no simple or single truth to be extracted from the Vietnam War. Many questions remain unanswerable. But if, with open minds and open hearts, we can consider this complex event from many perspectives and recognize more than one truth, perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and focus instead on what it can teach us about courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.
“If we are to begin the process of healing, we must first honor the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served and those who died, not just as we do today, on Memorial Day, but every day.”
So, US troops “…came together to complete a daunting mission”!!! “Patriots” and “heroes,” eh?? Now I am forced to suspect this program to be FAR WORSE than I’d dared allow myself to expect!! Wow.
Indeed, Greg. Check out my comment #41967 above:
Greg: there’s a (slim) chance this could be PC boilerplate that’s meant to preempt criticisms of the series as being unpatriotic (assuming the series is critical, which I assume it will be, to a certain extent). With public funding to PBS under dire threat of being cut completely, surely those at the top are doing their best to portray PBS as “fair and balanced.” Ha!
Bill A.–I fear that chance is what we science-minded folks call “astronomically slim”!! It looks to me like Burns and Co. have simply adopted the conventional language and parameters for discussing Vietnam. This should not come as the least bit of a surprise, all things considered. But still, one can feel disappointed in advance! Now I’ve reverted to my original stance that I may not be able to stomach all 18 hours of this monster! I’m questioning its worth more with each passing day.
Another important aspect of the Vietnam War was the breakdown in discipline within the U.S. military, which helped to drive the eventual elimination of the draft. Part of this breakdown was driven by drugs, and I just happened to run across this interview at The Intercept with Alfred McCoy and Jeremy Scahill. Here’s an except and the link.
And in 1970 and ’71, there were rumors that started coming back from Vietnam, particularly 1971, that heroin was spreading rapidly in the ranks of the U.S. forces fighting in South Vietnam. And in later research, done by the White House, [it was] determined that in 1971, 34 percent, one-third of all the American combat troops fighting in South Vietnam were heavy heroin users. There were, if that statistic is accurate, more addicts in the ranks of the U.S. Army in South Vietnam than there were in the United States.
And so what I did was I set out to investigate: Where was the opium coming from? Where was the heroin coming from? Who was trafficking it? How is it getting to the troops in their barracks and bunkers across the length and breadth of South Vietnam? Nobody was asking this question. Everyone was reporting on the high level of abuse, but nobody was figuring out where and who.
So I started interviewing. I went to Paris. I interviewed the head of the French equivalent of the CIA in Indochina, who was then head of a major French helicopter manufacturing company, and he explained to me how during the French Indochina war from 1946 to 1954, they were short of money for covert operations, so the hill tribes in Laos produced the opium, the aircraft picked it up, they turned it over to the netherworld, the gangsters that controlled Saigon and secured it for the French and that paid for their covert operations. And I said, “What about now?” And he said, “Well I don’t think the pattern’s changed. I think it’s still there. You should go and look.”
So I did. I went to Saigon. I got some top sources in the Vietnamese military. I went to Laos. I hiked into the mountains. I was ambushed by CIA mercenaries and what I discovered was that the CIA’s contract airline, Air America, was flying into the villages of the Hmong people in Northern Laos, whose main cash crop was opium and they were picking up the opium and flying it out of the hills and there were heroin labs — one of the heroin labs, the biggest heroin lab in the world, was run by the commander-in-chief of the Royal Laotian Army, a man whose military budget came entirely from the United States. And they were transforming, in those labs, the opium into heroin. It was being smuggled into South Vietnam by three cliques controlled by the president, the vice president, and the premier of South Vietnam, and their military allies and distributed to U.S. forces in South Vietnam.
And the CIA wasn’t directly involved, but they turned a blind eye to the role of their allies’ involvement in the traffic. And so this heroin epidemic swept the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The Defense Department invented mass urine analysis testing, so when those troops left they were tested and given treatment. And what I discovered was the complexities, the complicity, of the CIA in this traffic and that was a pattern that was repeated in Central America when the Contras became involved in the traffic.
[Looks like I didn’t get the automated notice of this comment on heroin having been added to the thread, so I’ll jot down a few thoughts now.] When the Brits forced opium on the Chinese in mid-19th Century, it was a money-making operation. But there was a secondary benefit for the official government pushers: a population prone to being in a drug-induced haze much of the time is handicapped in its ability to organize resistance to the foreigners. Fast-forward a century and we find minority communities in the US being flooded with hard drugs. The Black Panther Party used this slogan: “Capitalism + Dope = Genocide.” Moving to the rice paddies, rainforest and villages of Vietnam, we must ask: Is a soldier nodding off from a fresh hit of heroin an effective soldier? Obviously he is a menace to himself and his unit. Would the high command deliberately look the other way while this epidemic spread? Would they directly supervise distribution of such drugs? Well, if the men under your command were becoming increasingly rebellious against your insane war, and what was demanded of them, to the point of occasionally blowing up the officers who most intimately were making their lives utterly miserable on a daily basis, you might decide it was an acceptable trade-off. Let the troops “mellow out” a bit and release some of the tension via escapism, while still hoping to get enough movement out of them to keep up the appearance of a war being prosecuted. Drop millions of bombs on the countryside and hope that damage will outweigh the shortcomings in trying to “seize and hold” turf. Sound plausible?
BULLETIN: I just (August 10) noticed by accident that SOME public TV stations (check listings for your local PBS affiliate) are airing a one-hour Preview of the Burns-Novick Vietnam series the evening of Friday, August 11. Others are airing a 90-minute worshipful program called “Ken Burns: America’s Storyteller,” to remind us all how awesome the guy is. I’ll be skipping that one, thank you. I have a pretty strong stomach, but…….
I recorded the 60-minute PBS Preview promoting Ken Burns’s upcoming series on the Vietnam War Friday but only got to watch it tonight, August 13. Well, more precisely, I watched until my PBS affiliate went to a fundraising segment, then I bailed. What I saw up to that point was largely members of the Burns-Novick Team gushing praise for one another and Mr. Burns himself promising once again his massive series will “offer no answers”! So I propose a new title for this guy, to replace “America’s Storyteller”: “Ken Burns: He Takes 18 Hours to Offer No Answers.” I will credit Burns with doing very professional work, but to what end with this series? Okay, so he’s assembled some film footage we’ve not seen, and done some original interviews with surviving participants from both sides. But no answers!! Similarly, Burns spent 19 hours telling the story of Jazz. That series included exactly ONE musical selection that wasn’t talked over or truncated, and that selection ran less than 3 minutes!! I am convinced now that I would blow a gasket in my skull if I subjected myself to this entire Vietnam series, so I will likely only watch the episode dealing with the US domestic anti-war movement to see just how he deals with that.
“No answers” — spin for “you (or we) can’t handle the truth.”
As a historian, I learned quickly that you need a clear thesis — you need to take a position. Of course, you defend that position with facts, based on rigorous research in the appropriate sources. But a paper without a position is a muddle. Even worse: it’s boring.
I wonder if this documentary will also be a muddle. I suppose it won’t be a bore due to the subject matter. But if it has no answers, it’s derelict in its duty, to borrow from the title of H.R. McMaster’s book on Vietnam.
Thanks for your input, Bill A. Bank of America’s logo appears extra prominently in the list of corporate underwriters for the Burns series, preceding David Koch’s foundation, etc. So I think Burns’s own thesis must be: “Man, if I wanna do future mammoth programs like this, I better not offend these guys!”
Like you, Greg, I’m growing more skeptical. I suspect we’ll hear a lot about “mistakes” and “miscalculations” and domino theories and the like. All “tragic.”
Greg: Actually, the idea of “no answers” is absurd. Honest men like General Douglas Kinnard studied the war soon after it concluded and provided answers. Forgive me for citing my own writing, but here’s a partial summary: Unclear objectives, compromised integrity, indiscriminate firepower, cultural blindness, “tricky” optimism, concealing the realities of the war from the American people: all of these reasons, and more, contributed to the disaster of Vietnam. The sad truth is that we still haven’t fully learned the lessons of Kinnard’s honest, no-holds-barred, after action report that is “The War Managers.”
At this link: https://bracingviews.com/2013/08/24/in-praise-of-douglas-kinnard-a-truth-telling-general-of-the-vietnam-war/
There are answers — grim ones — and even some military men provided them with harsh honesty. To create a documentary series with “no answers” is, in a strange way, to perpetuate a lie.
Reblogged this on Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter and commented:
Linus Pauling chapter, Corvallis is trying to put together a public forum to discuss the film series. Please stay tuned.
Thanks, VFP in Oregon. I and other VFPers are attending a Burns-Novick public event in Boston Sep. 6 which will have an audience Q&A session with the filmmakers after they show the one-hour preview (already aired on most PBS affiliates by now, I’m sure). I suspect there will be a lot of folks wanting to speak and thus a strict time limit. Organizing a stand-alone discussion, like you seem to be doing, is probably a greatly superior way to deal with this. I’ve been tossing and turning nights for a week now, struggling to assemble a super-concise question to put to the filmmakers…assuming I even get to speak!
Be skeptical of Ken Burns’ documentary: The Vietnam War
by Terry Garlock
Some months ago I and a dozen other local veterans attended a screening at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta – preview of a new documentary on The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The screening was a one hour summation of this 10-part documentary, 18 hours long.
The series began showing on PBS Sunday Sep 17, and with Burns’ renowned talent mixing photos, video clips and compelling mood music in documentary form, the series promises to be compelling to watch. That doesn’t mean it tells the truth.
For many years I have been presenting to high school classes a 90 minute session titled The Myths and Truths of the Vietnam War. One of my opening comments is, “The truth about Vietnam is bad enough without twisting it all out of shape with myths, half-truths and outright lies from the anti-war left.” The overall message to students is advising them to learn to think for themselves, be informed by reading one newspaper that leans left, one that leans right, and be skeptical of TV news.
Part of my presentation is showing them four iconic photos from Vietnam, aired publicly around the world countless times to portray America’s evil involvement in Vietnam. I tell the students “the rest of the story” excluded by the news media about each photo, then ask, “Wouldn’t you want the whole story before you decide for yourself what to think?”
One of those photos is the summary execution of a Viet Cong soldier in Saigon, capital city of South Vietnam, during the battles of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Our dishonorable enemy negotiated a cease-fire for that holiday then on that holiday attacked in about 100 places all over the country. Here’s what I tell students about the execution in the photo.
Enemy execution by South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police, 1968
“Before you decide what to think, here’s what the news media never told us. This enemy soldier had just been caught after he murdered a Saigon police officer, the officer’s wife, and the officer’s six children. The man pulling the trigger was Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police. His actions were supported by South Vietnamese law, and by the Geneva Convention since he was an un-uniformed illegal combatant. Now, you might still be disgusted by the summary execution, but wouldn’t you want all the facts before you decide what to think?”
The other one-sided stories about iconic photos I use are a nine year old girl named Kim Phuc, running down a road after her clothes were burned off by a napalm bomb, a lady kneeling by the body of a student at Kent State University, and a helicopter on top of a building with too many evacuees trying to climb aboard. Each one had only the half of the story told by news media during the war, the half that supported the anti-war narrative.
Our group of vets left the Ken Burns documentary screening . . . disappointed. As one example, all four of the photos I use were shown, with only the anti-war narrative. Will the whole truth be told in the full 18 hours? I have my doubts but we’ll see.
On the drive home with Mike King, Bob Grove and Terry Ernst, Ernst asked the other three of us who had been in Vietnam, “How does it make you feel seeing those photos and videos?” I answered, “I just wish for once they would get it right.”
Will the full documentary show John Kerry’s covert meeting in Paris with the leadership of the Viet Cong while he was still an officer in the US Naval Reserve and a leader in the anti-war movement? Will it show how Watergate crippled the Republicans and swept Democrats into Congress in 1974, and their rapid defunding of South Vietnamese promised support after Americans had been gone from Vietnam two years? Will it show Congress violating America’s pledge to defend South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese ever broke their pledge to never attack the south? Will it portray America’s shame in letting our ally fall, the tens of thousands executed for working with Americans, the hundreds of thousands who perished fleeing in overpacked, rickety boats, the million or so sent to brutal re-education camps? Will it show the North Vietnamese victors bringing an influx from the north to take over South Vietnam’s businesses, the best jobs, farms, all the good housing, or committing the culturally ruthless sin of bulldozing grave monuments of the South Vietnamese?
Will Burns show how the North Vietnamese took the city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, bringing lists of names of political leaders, business owners, doctors, nurses, teachers and other “enemies of the people,” and how they went from street to street, dragging people out of their homes, and that in the aftermath of the Battle of Hue, only when thousands of people were missing and the search began did they find the mass graves where they had been tied together and buried alive?
Will Burns show how America, after finally withdrawing from Vietnam and shamefully standing by while our ally was brutalized, did nothing while next door in Cambodia the Communists murdered two million of their own people as they tried to mimic Mao’s “worker paradise” in China?
Will Burns show how American troops conducted themselves with honor, skill and courage, never lost a major battle, and helped the South Vietnamese people in many ways like building roads and schools, digging wells, teaching improved farming methods and bringing medical care where it had never been seen before? Will he show that American war crimes, exaggerated by the left, were even more rare in Vietnam than in WWII? Will he show how a naïve young Jane Fonda betrayed her country with multiple radio broadcasts from North Vietnam, pleading with American troops to refuse their orders to fight, and calling American pilots and our President war criminals?
Color me doubtful about these and many other questions.
Being in a war doesn’t make anyone an expert on the geopolitical issues, it’s a bit like seeing history through a straw with your limited view. But my perspective has come from many years of reflection and absorbing a multitude of facts and opinions, because I was interested. My belief is that America’s involvement in Vietnam was a noble cause trying to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, while it had spread its miserable oppression in Eastern Europe and was gaining traction in Central America, Africa and other places around the world. This noble cause was, indeed, screwed up to a fare-thee-well by the Pentagon and White House, which multiplied American casualties.
The tone of the screening was altogether different, that our part in the war was a sad mistake. It seemed like Burns and Novick took photos, video clips, artifacts and interviews from involved Americans, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, civilians from south and north, reporters and others, threw it all in a blender to puree into a new form of moral equivalence. Good for spreading a thin layer of blame and innocence, not so good for finding the truth.
John M. Del Vecchio, author of The 13th Valley, a book considered by many Vietnam vets to be the literary touchstone of how they served and suffered in the jungles of Vietnam, has this to say about Burns’ documentary. “Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game . . . From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will be by omission, not by overt falsehoods.”
I expect to see American virtue minimized, American missteps emphasized, to fit the left-leaning narrative about the Vietnam War that, to this day, prevents our country from learning the real lessons from that war.
When we came home from Vietnam, we thought the country had lost its mind. Wearing the uniform was for fools too dimwitted to escape service. Burning draft cards, protesting the war in ways that insulted our own troops was cool, as was fleeing to Canada.
America’s current turmoil reminds me of those days, since so many of American traditional values are being turned upside down. Even saying words defending free speech on a university campus feels completely absurd, but here we are.
So Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War promises to solidify him as the documentary king, breathes new life into the anti-war message, and fits perfectly into the current practice of revising history to make us feel good.
Perhaps you will prove me wrong. Watch carefully, but I would advise a heavy dose of skepticism.
Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, GA. He was a Cobra helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War.
This may be an op-ed piece from an Atlanta newspaper, since its author is a Georgian, but the person posting it here didn’t bother to fill us in on that. I will dispense with this as concisely as possible. We must recognize that a rightwing response to the Burns-Novick series was totally predictable, and here’s an opening salvo. (David Koch, a major funder of the series, must be somewhat alarmed!) I have no way of knowing if the article’s author is really a combat veteran of Vietnam or just one of many pretenders. But if he really sat thru the official Preview, and it was the same version I saw in Boston, he would KNOW that Burns most assuredly DOES go into a lot of detail about the killings in Hue in 1968. He also seems to have somehow missed the fact that the PBS series makes no pretense of offering an overall moral judgment on the war, which is precisely the basis for my own objection to it. So much for rightwing handwringing over “the liberal bias of the media.” And did Mr. Garlock also somehow miss the big heartwarming flag-waving production concerning American POWs returning home, accompanied by Ray Charles singing “America The Beautiful”?
Did he really attend a Preview screening at all?? The author fails to tell what he purports to be “the other side of the story” for the young girl victim of napalm (though I seem to recall assertions that her wounds resulted from some other cause), among other shortcomings in his narrative. Perhaps he should meet the adult that girl became and examine her lasting scars in person. But, I promised to be concise, so I’m not going to answer the author’s other assertions point by point. I will say in closing that I sincerely hope his rightwing lectures to high school students do NOT persuade a single solitary individual to voluntarily join the US military. That would be karma at work!
Well, the VFP people and most of the above writers are absolutely correct about this Ken Burns propaganda piece. Getting the US frothed up for further endless war, telling poignant stories about individual US military personnel, naming the early American dead by name(but not the Vietnamese, of course), and emphasizing every few minutes–so far– that Communists are evil and the US “had” to intervene in the Vietnamese “civil war”. Burns asserted in the first minutes of the program, that the atrocities of the war, and the war itself, was “accidental”, with absolutely no conspiracy was involved,ever. merely mistakes made “on both sides”.
Though there is some rare mention of how the US was involved in lots of illegal machinations, these brief mentions are bordered by louder, longer discussion of the misdoings of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
Disappointing. Was hoping this program would be more like the PBS series on World War 1, which was essentially an expose of the propagation of ingenious US propaganda techniques.
Thanks for your comments, Sue. Mr. Burns is a very professional filmmaker, but he has said it himself repeatedly: he’s in the business of “telling stories.” But he’s not going to jeopardize his future funding options by offending Bank of America, David Koch, the Rockefeller Foundation (you can bet the Rockefellers made plenty of profits from US involvement in SE Asia!), etc. That’s just the reality.
While 2017’s neo-pacifist TV hand wringing over Vietnam again sells to the lazy lib masses, as only more myopic street fodder (because the hated South Vietnamese were once committed to those most heinous acts being capitalism and Catholicism, despite JFK’s assassination of Diem and McGovern’s foaming racism), some of us see in the not too distant future North Korean nukes aimed at and beyond Japan, aided & abetted by Red China and the usual suspect Russians — yet the taxpayer subsidized PBS academics are unable to make the connection between liberal political immolations in DC and the blossoming threats globally, that their sycophantic Greens and other dumb grunge guaranteed as over, per total Beatle-loving neglect?
News flash: North Vietnam was never multi-party Ohio (it was instead a Stalinist state, and the new improved Vietnam isn’t much better if you don’t toe the line) — and jolly Uncle Ho was a mass murderer, along with his smiling cadres. Ask any boat person that escaped from re-education camp. Even vapid Doonesbury’s step-dad finally figured out that one.
Freedom does not grow on cheap Hanoi imports alone, nor the responsibility it requires, even for intellectual cowards in the leftist press. Too many have given too much to ignore those basic facts.
The lesson then of Vietnam, at least on PBS? Never trust history to a rich white guy with a bad haircut.
Dear “non-ingrate”: Your information is a bit out of date! The Burns-Novick Vietnam program is funded by Bank of America, the David Koch Foundation, etc., not (to a statistically significant extent, to apply scientific principles) the American taxpayer. Next!
Seems to me that it would have been way more beneficial to share your thoughts after seeing the film than just assuming Mr. Burns would get it wrong.
Russell–You are free to post your ongoing comments on the series as (I assume) you continue to watch it. I have explained why I am personally boycotting it as a waste of 18 valuable hours. Call me selfish, but I didn’t want my head to explode as I heard more and more about how this was a “civil war,” comments from ex-CIA personnel, etc. In case no one’s noticed, truth telling is NOT what that agency has EVER been in business for.
I lied my way out of the draft, in 1967. Am I proud? Maybe. It was one of the better decisions in my life! I had no interest in this foray into darkness. This proxy war with Russia and China. This immoral moment of greed and ego.
Would I fight if we were attacked? Or in a real war? Yes. We all would, to save our country. But at that time, America was at war with itself. The old guard fighting the new. As a hippie, there were many places I couldn’t go, for fear of being beat up. 40 years later, they again have the upper hand, and a boot on our necks. I won’t live to see it, but the tide will surely turn. The old guard will be replaced by another new guard – of non-whites.
Lying my own way out was not an option. I am the world’s worst liar!! (Ruled out a career in politics, that’s for sure.) I respect your choice of action. But I reject the notion that the people of Vietnam, who made sacrifices to regain independence that Americans are simply incapable of grasping, were some kind of pawn in a “proxy war.” This is just one of the distortions, or flat-out untruths, that I believe the Burns-Novick series is perpetuating. But that’s what happens when you accept so much input from CIA types, I guess.
I have not seen much about the military veterans who protested the war. We had a substantial and active group in Buffalo. During 1967 I met a fellow vet, who had been to Nam as an advisor. He was appalled by what he had seen. I had only served stateside, but that was enough to make me highly suspect of the the military industrial complex. At one point we had gathered the medals and draft cards, since we still had a reserve obligation, from around two hundred vets and threw them over the White House fence.
Robert–When you write “I have not seen much about…” are you indicating you are watching the entire Burns-Novick series? My understanding is that they do show the medals-returning “ceremony,” but this footage has appeared in earlier documentaries. To the extent that Burns is allowing voices of vets who turned against the war, I know he also has vets proclaiming they are “proud” of their service in Vietnam. If you watch the entire 10-part series, I encourage you to share your overall impressions of it here.
Ken Burns uses Joe Lee Galloway, when Joe Lee Galloway in real life did not like the Vietnam Veteran, but did use them to make money.
We Were Soldier Once and Young is FICTION and We Are Soldiers Still.
Joe Lee Galloway’s stories about his time in Vietnam is FICTION.
Joe Lee Galloway drives the KNIFE deeper into the Vietnam Veterans Back, while hugging them.
JOE LEE GALLOWAY’S TRUE FEELING ABOUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN.” Damed if I’d want to go for a
walk in the sun with them.””Black GI’s going thru long involved black power identification rituals.””THE REST
ARE JUST COMMITTING SUICIDE.”
+Joe Lee Galloway did not rescue Jimmy Nakayama! Joe Lee Galloway did help load a burned trooper into
+But only after Joe Lee Galloway, was ask to help, by a Medic.
No crushed ankle,torn skin! Joe Lee Galloway was one of 4 persons to carry a burned troop to the Huey.
Jimmy D. Nakayama’s casualty report no crushed ankles!
Joe Lee Galloway was not at Plei Me from the 20- 24 Oct.1965, but did fly Plei Me camp on the 24 Oct 1965.
Page 139, Ken Burns tell’s how many enemy troops 634, were killed at LZ X-Ray Nov 14-16 1965,
and how many American’s , 79 KIA, wounded 121.
At LZ X-Ray Nov 14-14 1965, 20% of the enemy troops were killed by Rifle, machine-gun fire, 80% by artillery
and ARA and Tac Air.
Page 140, But only the American KIA and wounded at Landing Zone Albany Nov 17,1965, 155 KIA,,124
no enemy KIA count.
FACT: over 503 enemy troops were killed at Landing Zone Albany, a 18 hour battle, 90% the enemy were
killed with Rifle, machine-gun and bayonet.
10% with artillery, and ARA and Tac Air.
Page 140, Ken burns said that Landing Zone Albany Nov 17-18 1965 was an AMBUSH.
FACT: From the enemy after action report, it was a meeting engagement in triple canopy.
LZ X-Ray Nov 14-16,1965, His orders were to take his UNDERSTRENGTH unit – 29 Officers and just 411
Landing Zone Albany 17-18 Nov 1965 But out of some 425 men involved.
Fiction in Ken burns Vietnam
Pages 124, Joe Lee Galloway’s story.
Page 132, Joe Lee Galloway at Plei Me Camp on Oct 20,1965.
Page 135, Their Commander Lt. Col Hal ( G. ) Moore, a Korean War Veteran. A 14 month tour in Korea.
Missed WW 2.
Korean War Combat experience 16 Days in an infantry unit K company, Hal G. Moore, sat in a bunker for
those days, 12 Days in command of the regiments heavy mortars, 4.2, 106 mm ,2.800 yards behind the
6 months in regiment S-3, desk job.
6 months in Division as the assistant G-3 for the 7 th Division
Lt General Hal Moore
August 10, 2014 ·
Posted by Steve
I recently found 364 pages of letters our father (Hal Moore) wrote to his wife, Julie, during his service in
the Korean War. Interesting reading.
For any veterans who have chafed with desk duty, you will see the humor in Dad’s reassurance to Mom ++ that he was in no danger as the Assistant G3 for the 7th Division
Page 135, An over eager second Lieutenant led his platoon of twenty eight men to far away from the rest of
his company and found himself surrounded.
Page 136, Col Moore ( Hal G.) radioed out a coded message,”broken arrow ” which meant an American unit
was in danger of being overwhelmed.
Page 137, (Joe Lee Galloway) I just got up and ran in that direction.
(Joe Lee Galloway) I go on over into this burning grass and someone yells “Get this man’s feet.”
(Joe Lee Galloway) And I reach down and the boots crumble and the flesh is cooked off of his ankles.
(Joe Lee Galloway) And I feel the bones in the palms of my hands.
Page 137- 139
(Joe Lee Galloway) we picked him up and we brought him to aid station.
(Joe Lee Galloway) And the DOC shot him up with all the morphine he had.
Unable finally to pierce the cavalry’s perimeter.
Hal ( G.) Moore refused to leave until every single man in his command had been accounted for. He had been
the first of his men to step on onto Landing Zone Zone X-Ray, and he made sure he was the last man to
Page 140 Nov 1-18 1965 Landing Zone Albany, Just as they reached it,scores of communist snipers tied into
the tree top branches of tree opened fire,so did machine-gunners perched atop termite mounds and mortar
crews hidden in the tall grass.
LZ X-Ray 3 day battle Total Enemy dead 1,849 .
Landing Zone ALBANY 18 hour battle total enemy dead 553
total includes estimated enemy dead.
From Pleiku by J.D. Coleman
Pleiku page 249
Unlike LZ X-Ray, 25% where the enemy were killed by rifle and machine-gun fire, 75% Artillery,Rockets,and
At Landing Zone ALBANY, 90% of the enemy killed was killed by bayonet, rifle and machine-gun fire,
10%Artillery and Tac Air.
( Quote: from the enemy commander grab them by their belt. ) so the can’t use Tac Air and Artillery.
The enemy’s tactic failed, at Landing Zone Albany Nov 17 1965.
Lt. Col. Robert A. McDade’s Battalion the 2/7th beat the PAVN Troops, quoted to be the best light infantry, and
jungle fighters in the world.
At Landing Zone ALBANY, unlike LZ X-Ray.
Pleiku page 249
LZ X-Ray, A defensive battle. C company 1/7 was over run, many American’s weapons were taken by the
Landing Zone ALBANY, A Meeting engagement head on. C company hit the hardest.
LZ X-Ray, Hal G. Moore, 1st battalion 7th Cavalry, 14th -16 Nov 1965, an Air Assault on LZ X-Ray, a 3 day 2
night battle, from a defensive position, A 180% perimeter, from We Are Soldiers Still page 170, Hal G. Moore
” I paid little attention to my wide-open rear and it was the right decision.”
+( This left the Landing Zone, Hal G. Moore’s REAR, undefended and secure, this let the enemy control
the 360 degree area around Hal G. Moore Battalion!)
Jon mills was the pilot and flew the Assault group to LZ X-Ray,not Bruce Crandall!
page 58-59 bottom of page
Hal G. Moore ( Bruce ) Crandall, in the left seat ( Co Pilots seat )
Bruce Crandall could not have started the Huey from the co-pilots side of the Huey!there is no starter on that
side, the starter is only on the pilots collective, the co-pilots collective only has a hi -lo rpm switch!
Bruce Crandall ” I touched down at the forward part of the LZ, looked out to “my left ” and saw a North
Vietnamese firing at my ship from a point just outside the length of my rotor blades.
Another enemy soldier was firing from the “other side.” ( from this statement Bruce Crandall is still the Co-
Pilot!) Everybody and his brother seemed to shooting either at us or at them.
( The Pilot of a Huey, sits on the right side of the Huey, as you are sitting in the Huey, if the Huey is flying
toward you the pilot will be on you left. )
?? looked out to “my left ” as the pilot, Bruce Crandall should have said “I saw 2 enemy troops!”
?? Another enemy soldier was firing from the “other side = the RIGHT SIDE? of the Huey.( this statement by
Bruce Crandall means he is in the Co-Pilots seat!!
Hal G. Moore never left his objective, LZ X-Ray.
On the 1st day of the battle, reinforced by 1 company 2/7, Robert A. McDade’s Battalion.
LZ X-Ray Reinforced by 3 Battalions.
None of the reinforcements, At LZ X-Ray, Get credit for the enemy they killed.
Hal G. Moore is told 10 minutes before lift off for LZ X-Ray, he was facing 1,500 enemy troops.
Hal G. Moore didn’t tell any one, his company commanders,or Bruce Crandall ( Commander of the lift
page 199 We Were Soldiers Once and Young by Hal Moore.
LZ X-Ray: 1st version enemy dead ,weapons captured.
enemy dead 834 by body count
estimated enemy killed, wounded 1,215
total enemy dead 2,049
captured enemy weapons 239
missing enemy weapons 1,810
LZ X-Ray Nov 14th 16th 1965: 2nd version enemy dead, weapons captured.
Hal G. Moore on my own, I later cut back enemy dead to 634
estimated enemy killed wounded 1,215
TOTAL Enemy dead 1,849
TOTAL captured enemy weapons 239 mixture of whole and part of damaged weapons.
634 enemy dead 239= 395 missing enemy weapons
estimated missing enemy weapons 1,610.
25% enemy killed by was killed by rifle and machine-gun fire.
75% of the enemy killed was by Artillery, ARA Rockets,and Tac Air.
page 199 We Were Soldiers Once and Young
captured enemy weapons, LZ X-Ray.
17 auto rifles
4 heavy machine-guns
5 RPG rocket launchers
2 Mortar tubes
139 total undamaged weapons.
100 rifles and machine-guns, Engineers, picked up pieces of damaged weapons.
Engineers destroyed the weapons. Why? Hal G. Moore would want all of the weapons to show what he had
239 total weapons captured at LZ X-Ray.
Missing American weapons estimate 75 rifles 12 pistols, enemy was seen picking up American weapons, after
One of Hal G. Moore’s company’s, C company was overran. they saw the enemy coming from 75 yards away.
Pleiku page 248
LT. Col. Robert A. McDade 2 Battalion 7th Cavalry.
LZ ALBANY, an 18 hour battle. 1200 hrs to 0600 hrs, Nov. 17, 1965. To the morning of Nov,18, 1965
LT.Col. Robert McDade
The enemy was 1 klm away, and was headed for another engagement.
A Meeting engagement, enemy and American’s troops meet head on, in heavy foliage, a running gun battle
through the jungle.
75% of the enemy killed was killed by bayonet, rifle and machine-gun fire.
25% Artillery, Rockets,and Tac Air.
None of the reinforcements, at LZ X-Ray, Get credit for the enemy they killed.
But at Landing Zone ALBANY Lt. Col. Robert A. McDade gives the reinforcements, credit for the enemy
killed in their sector of battle.
Landing Zone ALBANY Lt. Col. Robert A. McDade’s after action report enemy killed 303.
Attached units Get credit for the enemy they killed.
George Forrest, an attached unit, get credit for their enemy killed,100, bringing the enemy dead to 403
by body count. estimated 100, total enemy dead Landing Zone ALBANY 504
And, unlike Landing Zone X-Ray, where so much of the damage was done by Artillery, Rockets,and Tac Air,
many of the NVA corpses found by search parties met their doom by bayonet, Rifle and Machine-gun fire.
page 317 We Were Soldiers Once and Young by Hal Moore
captured enemy weapons at Landing Zone ALBANY.
112 rifles no AK47? I took apart 1 of the AK 47s, there was a lot of them in the pile.
33 light machine-guns
4 mortar tubes
3 heavy machine-guns
154 total enemy weapons
enemy dead Landing Zone ALBANY 403
Estimated enemy dead ,wounded, 150.
total enemy dead 553
missing enemy weapons 339
Landing Zone ALBANY, captured enemy weapons.
From Pleiku page 248
212 AK 47 and SKS”s
39 light machine-guns
3 heavy machine-guns
268 total captured enemy weapons.
Missing enemy weapons 236
Missing American weapons, 0. the enemy left the battle field before morning.
Hal G. Moore SHORTS Landing Zone ALBANY 114 captured enemy weapons.
Hal G. Moore tacks on 50 estimated dead,wounded.
weapons from Pleiku by J.D. Coleman page 248-249
Hal G. Moore,Joe Lee Galloway’s , We Were Soldiers Once and Young. page 317
Joe Lee Galloway ” I got to Plei Me on the 20 Oct 1965.
Ken Burns Vietnam Joe Lee Galloway ” I got to Plei Me on the 20 Oct 1965.”
Ken Burns Vietnam The River Styx, Joe Lee Galloway ” I got to Plei Me on the 23 Oct 1965.”
Joe Lee Galloway was not at Plei Me, but did fly over the camp on the 24 Oct.1965
IF YOU WANT A GOOD FIGHT… UPI Combat Correspondent Joins the Cavalry Text & Photos by Joe Galloway
FALSE;I pulled him up his boots crumbled and the skin over his ankle bones sloughed off. I could
feel those bones in the palms of my hands. [The soldier, Jim Nakayama, died two days
later.] For years I was haunted.
“For years, I was haunted.”
Joe Galloway, UPI Reporter, Vietnam: The War That Changed Everything
U.S. NAVY/COURTESY JOE GALLOWAY
“A U.S. Air Force plane dropped two cans of napalm on us.
I felt the fire on my face immediately. I looked and there were two guys dancing in the fire, screaming.
FICTION: I don’t know what got into me, but I ran into the fire.
I grabbed the feet of this kid, and as I pulled him up his boots crumbled and the skin over
his ankle bones sloughed off.
I could feel those bones in the palms of my hands.
[The soldier, Jim Nakayama, died two days later.] For years I was haunted. How can I explain it to somebody who hasn’t been there? You live with it. You carry so many ghosts. I thought for a while they’d drive me crazy.”
— UPI war reporter Joe Galloway witnessed the four-day Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965. Galloway was awarded a Bronze Star for valor as a civilian. He’s also the coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.
The Troops who did help Jimmy D. Nakayama and James Clark, Not Joe Lee Galloway!
Arturo Villarreal · Sidney Lanier High School
Sp4 James Clark was not given any morphine by the medics. He came running towards my foxhole with
his clothes on fire. I helped putting the fire out and I just gave him some saline solution. I took him to the
CP and ask the doctor to give him something for the terrible pain, but the doctor told that they didn’t have
anything to give him and he just told me to just keep giving him the saline solution.
++After some time pass, some helicopters landed and I put him aboard one of them.
Nov. 14-18, 1965< this would be LZ X-Ray's battle
Robert Saucedo should have been leaving the war. Instead, he was riding in the 16th helicopter in a formation high above the jungle on its way to the Ia Drang Valley.
Jimmy Nakayma died in flight,3 degree burns no other injuries. ie Crushed ankle.
"On the second day, they dropped a couple of napalms in the (landing zone), and a couple of guys bringing in choppers – the engineers – they got burned," he said with eyes distant.
++"They ran to our foxholes. We treated them for burns."
++"We treated him for burns. His face was on fire. His weapon was on fire," he said. "It was bad.
Jimmy D. Nakayama's casualty report no crushed ankles!
Joe Lee Galloway
FICTION: "I don’t know what got into me, but I ran into the fire.
I grabbed the feet of this kid, and as I pulled him up his boots crumbled and the skin over
his ankle bones sloughed off.
I could feel those bones in the palms of my hands."
Jimmy D. Nakayama's casualty report no Crushed ankles
Hal G. Moore total combat experience, 16 days, before LZ X-Ray Nov 14-16 1965, In Korea in command of K company,no action going on at that time,12 months in Command staff jobs Regimental S-3, Division Assistant G-3.
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Moore has done everything,he said not to do!