Vietnam War Series Ends with Load of Sentimental Claptrap

The Weight of Memory, Episode 10

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

I found the final episode of the Vietnam War series, shown on Maori TV earlier this week, extremely disappointing. The first half contained some good historical detail and valuable commentary by North Vietnam and Vietcong fighters. The last half was a load of sentimental claptrap about the Vietnam War memorial and other efforts to “heal” the Vietnam experience. It was totally devoid of any political analysis, eg the role of banks, oil companies and defense contractors in strong arming three administrations into pursuing an unwinnable war at great cost to the American people. Even more disgusting was the failure to identify obvious parallels with the illegal US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have lasted even longer than Vietnam.

The filmmakers also totally gloss over the reality that for the Vietnamese, the war was purely a war of independence against foreign invaders.

Episode 10 covers March 29, 1973, when the last US troops left Vietnam, through April 30, 1975 when Saigon collapsed. The US evacuation had scarcely ended in 1973 when the Watergate scandal superseded all other national news. It was all over for Nixon once Congress learned that he had tape recorded all his Oval Office conversations. The tapes would provide undeniable proof of his participation in the Watergate burglary and cover up.

On August 9, after the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment, Nixon resigned. On the same day, Congress halved military aid to the (puppet) South Vietnamese government. The result was the virtual economic collapse of South Vietnam. Massive pay cuts would lead South Vietnamese troops to desert at the rate of 20,000 a month.

This episode includes very moving coverage of South Vietnamese who collaborated with the US occupation desperately trying to flee Saigon in front of North Vietnamese troops. Only a few were airlifted via helicopters that evacuated US embassy and security personnel. Many launched themselves into any vessel they could find in the hope of being picked up by US freighters.

Once North Vietnam took control of the south, the blood bath that had been predicted never eventuated. Roughly 1,000 South Vietnamese collaborators were killed in revenge killing and roughly 1.5 million were forced to participate in compulsory re-education.

The Vietnamese economy was a virtual shambles for a good ten years after the war ended. The filmmakers blame this on the privatization of Vietnamese industry and forced collectivization. A better explanation, in my view, is that the US war of aggression totally destroyed the country’s infrastructure and poisoned its farmland with Agent Orange.

Dire economic conditions would lead 1.5 million Vietnamese to flee Vietnam in small and medium-sized boats between 1978 and the early 1990’s. A good number drowned, but most ended up in refugee camps in other Southeast Asian countries. About 400,000 eventually made it to the US.

 

The Vietnam War in 1970: GIs Kill Their Own Officers While Government Slays Student Protestors

A Sea of Fire, Episode 8

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

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.