A Sea of Fire, Episode 8
The Vietnam War
Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick
This week Maori TV showed A Sea of Fire, Episode 8 of the Vietnam War series. It covers the period from April 4, 1969 to May 1970 and the massacre of four students at Kent State and two at Jackson State
By April 1969, there were 543,482 US troops fighting in Vietnam, with thousands more on nearby naval vessels and support bases. By that date, 40,794 GIs had died in Vietnam.
In October Nixon, who privately acknowledged the US couldn’t win, replaced a complicated draft deferment system with a more popular lottery based on draftees date of birth. In December, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced the “Vietnamization” of the war (eg a transfer of responsibility to to South Vietnamese troops) and began drawing down US troop numbers (10,000 by the end of 1970).
The move led many serving GIs to become deeply demoralized about being sent to die in an unwinnable war. Accordingly, 1970 would see a big increase in “fragging,” the deliberate murder of officers by men under them. It would also see a big increase in draftees seeking asylum in Canada (30,000 in total).
I was disappointed this episode failed to cover the role of the CIA and South Vietnamese army setting up a thriving trade selling heroin to US GIs. My former partner served in Vietnam from 1967-1969 and returned to the US addicted to it.
The years 1969-70 would also see a big surge in the US peace movement. The October 15th Vietnam Moratorium was actually a general strike, with hundreds of university campuses closing down and tens of thousands of Americans staying off work in cities around the country. It would be the largest mass protest in US history.
In November, independent journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai Massacre, the brutal murder of 400 South Vietnamese civilians, which had occurred 20 months earlier. It would be only one of many civilians massacres in Vietnam.
In 1970, the peace movement, which had died down in response to Nixon’s gradual troop withdrawal, was reignited following the April 30, 1970 invasion of Cambodia by 30,000 US troops. Four million American students protested the invasion, 448 campuses were shut down and 16 states called out the National Guard.
At Kent State, the National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, killing four, including an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) scholarship student who was merely an onlooker.
On the same day, police shot two peaceful African American antiwar protestors at Jackson State University in Mississippi.