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Monday, September 18, 2017

Ken Burn's Vietnam Revisited: This was no Civil War!

When I say that the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary epic "The Vietnam War" is no "Civil War," it has a double meaning. First, as a documentary film and a work or art, it doesn't hold a candle to that seminal work by Ken Burns, The Civil War, but most importantly, the American War, as the Vietnamese refer to it, was a war of independence and not a civil war, as Ken Burns seeks to frame it in his most recent piece.

Of course, in every war of independence, without exception, you will find some indigenous people that take the side of the colonial masters, so there is always room to frame the struggle as a civil war in which the great power is merely assisting one side, and the great power can generally be counted on to frame it that way.

That must be behind the documentary's early assertion that US involvement began in good faith. That is put out there without any proof and backing as though it is beyond dispute. Absent is any discussion of the requirement that the United States periodically make war somewhere just to maintain what we call a "healthy economy."

It's no secret to serious students of US capitalism that it was really the arms buildup for World War 2 that finally dragged the economy out of the Great Depression. It started to slump again as soon as the boys came home looking for jobs. Even post war domestic requirements were insufficient to keep things humming and everyone employed, so they hyped the so-called threat of communism and created a new arms race. They also staged two major hot wars, Korea and Vietnam, that were very profitable for the capitalists as a whole, not just the arms merchants, and very good to the US economy. Its no accident that when the Vietnam War ended, the US economy fell into any extended slump that didn't end until Reagan greatly stepped up military spending again. This is an economy addicted to war, which is why it is looking for another one now in Korea or Iran, perhaps Venezuela.

In the case of the Vietnam War, it was the Vietnamese civilians that paid the price. Burns and Novick put the number of civilians that died from the war at two million. They put the number of Vietnamese combatants killed at one million. They feel no need to be more precise - when speaking of Vietnamese deaths - or elaborate on who was doing the bulk of the killing. Who exactly was up to the task of creating such carnage. Who had B52's and the ability to drop napalm, for example,

Somehow it is considered okay to kill combatants, as though anyone who exercises a right to self-defense or rises to defend their homeland is fair game. South Vietnam was a French/American creation and the ARVN was paid by the US government so it could claim it was supporting one side in a civil war. There is good reason to hold the United States responsible for the vast majority of the deaths on both sides after 1962. So roughly three million Vietnamese were killed, overwhelmingly by US military might, and that didn't just include those bombed by B52s, it included children killed for sport by GIs riding around in trucks. We waged a very mean war. A My Lai every week.

The Vietnam War was a very racist war as it was conducted by the Americans. So far, in episode 1, this piece has done a very good job of hiding that fact. The United States didn't see itself as killing more than three million people in Vietnam, it saw itself as killing more than three million "gooks" in Vietnam, and that made it okay. If that word got mentioned even once in episode 1, I missed it. In anycase, the Vietnam War was carried out in a very racist manner in the way the Americans treated the Vietnamese on all sides and this so far hasn't even been hinted at. This may be were this piece performs its greatest disservice, given that we now have a white supremacist president that is picking a fight with another Asian country.

At every turn it seems to let the imperialists off the hook for this thirty year tragedy. The French took revenge by committing atrocities. Revenge for people standing up for their freedom no doubt.

Truman inherited a very different world than Roosevelt left, to explain their different approaches to the Vietnamese liberation struggle. Did that much change overnight?

The communists were every bit as ruthless as the French. Now that the communists have ruled Vietnam for a few decades, we can compare the treatment of the people under the French and under the communists and see the full extend to which Burns and Novick are willing to distort the facts.

US believe Diem would build a just government, but them he started running us. Until we had him killed,

"History will judge whether the war was worth the sacrifice." No, the Vietnamese people have already decided that independence was worth the extreme costs we imposed.

Economic development was designed to win "Hearts and Minds" not imperialist exploitation

And so is went in episode 1, endings with a salute to American bravery - Yes, the American soldiers in Vietnam were brave. So were the French soldiers that fought to keep Vietnam in imperial chains before them, and the Japanese soldiers before them. They were brave when they savaged Vietnam, raped Nanking and bombed Pearl Habor. Bravery is shown on both sides of a civil war, but again this was no Civil War. Ordinary soldiers ordinarily show extraordinary courage for very despicable causes. It is important that we remember that as this film celebrates American bravery in Vietnam.

Vietnam: American Holocaust

Nine years ago I produced a documentary that people might find useful as a counterweight to this current propaganda effort. I started producing it long before the Pentagon announced its current Vietnam War beautification campaign because I became aware of the developing movement to revise this history in a way that supports future wars. It is named Vietnam: American Holocaust. It was narrated by Martin Sheen and been called "The best documentary ever made on the Vietnam War." by Blase Bopane. David Swanson called it "a powerful documentary" and Ron Kovic said "Every American should see this film!" David Slaky of VFP said "It's the best thing I've seen. I've seen Winter Solider, Hearts & Minds, you name it, I've seen it. This is the best thing I've seen." Scott Camil of 1st Marines, Winter Soldier, VVAW and VFP said "I can't wait to get this into the high schools." David Zeiger, director of Sir! No Sir! called it "Very Powerful" and Stuart Chandler of Rotten Tomatoes said “This is the best political video on Vietnam and its historic relevance to our times I have ever seen.”

A Plot Summary
Vietnam: American Holocaust opens in the present day at the Veterans for Peace Arlington West Memorial to the fallen US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in Santa Monica. Here the strong connection between our current wars and the war in Vietnam is first made. The question of what makes a holocaust is also raised. Then the scene shifts to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and while the narration continues it is revealed that the youngest US soldier to die in Vietnam was a Black Marine age 15.

A clip of Vietnam era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in Hanoi in 1995 shows him saying that 3.4 million Vietnamese were killed during the war. Further news clips from the time reveal some of the horrors of that war and show that news commentators referred to it as a holocaust at the time.

This is followed by a brief history of the 19th century French conquest of Indochina and the Vietnamese liberation struggle from 1945 through the defeat of the French in 1954. This is done with archival footage, much of it very rare, and Martin Sheen's excellent narration and the voices of the principals on both sides of the conflict. Since the focus of the documentary is the American War in Vietnam the pace slows as more details are given about this part of the history.

The reasons for opposing the Vietnamese independence struggle are given by President Eisenhower in a clip from one of his speeches. Then the young Ho Chi Minh is introduced, with special attention to his time in Harlem, NY and his relationship with Marcus Garvey. Again very old and rare footage is used to illustrate these years while Mr. Sheen describes the crucial events.

The story of the lead up to the American war is presented with footage that also includes Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Diem, Gerald Ford, Joe McCarthy, Nixon, Senator Morse, and many others. We hear Bobby Kennedy question the NSC plans for a coup in South Vietnam only weeks before President Kennedy is assassinated. In another connection to the present conflicts, we learn of the role the Kennedy administration played in putting Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq.

Since the Tonkin Gulf incident played such a big role in promoting and justifying the war, the film goes into considerable detail about it. Through interviews with the captain of the US ship that was allegedly attacked, the chief gunner, a North Vietnamese general and the recollections of pilots that flew air cover on the fateful night, it shows that this attack never happened. Most significantly, using White House tapes released only a few years ago, it shows that McNamara and LBJ had foreknowledge of this phony attack that never took place. This material has never been used in a documentary before.

The next segment illustrates the incredible damage done to Vietnam by the massive US air war which included bombing, napalm and agent orange. With a particularly potent instrumental from the Mama's Boys blues band that provides the sound track for the film, we hear from LBJ, Curtis LeMay, a Hanoi doctor, Vietnamese victims, and American airmen among others in a way that really brings home the brutality of the air war. The agent orange section will send chills up your spine.

From there the film goes into the horrific ground war that was the real holocaust in Vietnam. This is done through the voices of American and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians that give you a real window into the tragedy of war on a human level. The Vietnam War was a My Lai every week and this point is driven home by recounting some of the many other massacres that took place. Extremely graphic images are used in this segment. You are witness to real deaths happening on the screen. You will understand why so many Vietnam vets came home with a great deal of mental anguish because of what they saw in this war.

Finally we return to Arlington West in the present and the Iraq War. Again the point is made that those that forget their history are doomed to repeat it and a plea is made both by Martin Sheen and the director, Clay Claiborne, to stop this madness. 

You may purchase your very own copy on DVD from the movie website: VietnamAmericanHolocaust.com or alternately, from Amazon. Today I also discovered that it is available for bittorrent download, which kinda makes me feel like I've arrived. [Anything worth stealing is worth something.] But you don't seriously expect me to tell you how to find that. In fact I am now seriously considering dropping my opposition to the Copyright Infringement Bill and reversing everything I have said on that subject. NOT!
Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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