The Vietnam War
Watch this documentary and then read “Hue 1968” by Mark Bowden. We as a nation should never forget.
Facing a deadline, I was only able to watch the first five episodes of Mr. Burns’ 10-part series. Regardless, it is a poignant, historical masterpiece that relives a misguided military adventure that took the lives of over 58,000 young American men in Vietnam.
Given that I graduated from college in 1969, the film retells a tragic story that many of us personally experienced. Though I had a draft deferment based upon my student status, I faced a likely induction if I passed my physical. Though I, like many, adamantly opposed this military conflict, I had a low draft number and I wasn’t about to flee to Canada as many other protesters were doing.
Though I was stunned to pass my physical given the fact that I only had accurate vision in one eye and as a result suffered from a depth perception problem, I am proud to say that I won my appeal which helped determine my application to law school. Unlike President Trump’s ability to use his connections to dodge service based upon non-existent bone spurs, my physical affliction was genuine. Nonetheless, I found little comfort given the fact that 1968 brought us Martin Luther King’s death in April, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in June and the election of Richard Nixon as President that November. To make matters worse, more American soldiers died under Nixon than had perished under Lyndon Johnson.
Beginning with an exploration of how the United States labored under the mistaken belief that we were fighting Communism, Mr. Burns gives the audience a firsthand look at what was taking place in Vietnam and our country. While any fair analysis made it quite clear than Ho Chi Minh simply wanted to unite his country under one government, we opposed him on the principle known as the domino theory. In other words, if we did nothing we would acquiesce to the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia.
Mr. Burns shines a camera to clearly expose that our country was not only wrong, but engaged in a political propaganda program to bolster support at home. Even though the government of South Vietnam was corrupt and lacked support of the populace, we expanded a war to include over 550,000 American troops by 1967. I still remember watching TV each night where our government tried to justify this mindless adventure on the basis that more Vietcong were killed than Americans.
But let me be clear that this film does not take any particular political side. To the contrary, it simply tries to give an accurate account of what happened that allowed our country’s leaders to justify this terrible struggle. While General Westmoreland continually preached that peace was just around the corner, we baked much of the country under a cloud of napalm and Agent Orange while dropping more bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos than were dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.
What brings this film home to all viewers is its interview with soldiers who fought in Vietnam and the families who lost loved ones. Many of these young guys enlisted to nobly serve our country only to find out how they were profoundly misled.
Scene after scene will leave you aghast, none more so than when you watch American bombers wiping out North Vietnamese villages. Houses burned while women and children died, and you can condemn yet understand their harsh treatments of pilots held in custody like Senator John McCain.
In watching this film, I was reminded of the respect shown to most American presidents through John F. Kennedy. While they faced criticism, each one of them went out of their way to make sure that the American people were not misled by their government. That ended with the Vietnam War, and every president since then has been treated like a second-class citizen by a significant percentage of the American public.
Vietnam was the cause because our government lied to its citizens. Mr. Burns’ documentary demonstrates that important fact, and no attempts by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to embrace a mea culpa in a later book will ever excuse the harm he and his cohorts inflicted on our nation.
While the 1960s are still criticized by some pundits as the lost era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, they miss the point. Many of us were college students who faced the real possibility of our government sending us to death in a foreign war having no purpose, and most of us never forgot that experience. Think of the emotional impact emanating from the killing of college students at Kent State in 1970 and you will understand.
Let me close by stating that Monica and I went on a two-week cruise that covered Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia two years ago. Despite still suffering tremendously from the ongoing effects of the bombs and poisonous toxins dropped on their country, Vietnam is making tremendous industrial progress. Surprisingly, despite what Americans did to their families and landscape, they embraced us on friendly terms at every location.
Quite frankly, President Trump should learn that important lesson centering on forgiveness while he tries to ban Muslim and Hispanic immigrants from entering our country.