Tonight’s Des Moines Register/Cable News Network (CNN) pseudo-debate among 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidates is more of the same egalitarianism, welfare statism and environmentalism.
As has been true for years now, the Des Moines, Iowa event at Drake University was not a debate in any meaningful sense of the term. One of the CNN debate questioners displayed explicit sexism when she sided with a female New England senator who argued with a male New England senator (both of whom seek to abolish capitalism and enact total statism) when she declared to the female: “I want to give you the last word” after framing what the male said as false.
The male is Sen. Sanders. The dispute is over a trivial issue of one’s view of electability. Worse than whatever Sanders, a self-described socialist, had in mind when he spoke is what he has in mind for America’s defense and economics. Sanders came out against U.S. unilateral military action under any circumstances. Instead, he proposed to “bring the world together”, as he put it, resurrect the United Nations and seek pacifism. On domestic policy, Sanders seeks to “end all premiums [sic]” imposed under ObamaCare which is 10 years old. Sanders would replace ObamaCare with totalitarianism in health care; total government control he calls “Medicare for all”. When asked what he would say to those working in what remains of Iowa’s insurance industry, a cartel now controlled by the government, whose lives and careers will be annihilated, Sanders cavalierly dismissed them, muttering about re-education and subsidies for “up to five years”. This is an example of Democrats’ compassion, which is the contempt of a socialist for what glimmers of capitalism remain.
Vice-President Biden said that he would leave troops in the Mideast and aped competitor Sen. Warren, prefacing his plan with her repetitious phrase, “Here’s the deal…” and pledged to “limit what [drug companies] can charge [for drugs]”. For her part, Sen. Warren said she would “pull troops out” of the Mideast though she gives no indication that she grasps the concept of military defense. Domestically, Warren admitted that her plans for government controlled child care “has some people making a small payment” — and she hustled her proposed wealth tax — before plugging “trans women of color”, “black and brown women” “mommas and daddies” and, in a rare moment of honesty which she was quick to amend with her characteristic dishonesty, “billions of dollars in taxes”.
Another Iowa frontrunner stuck in the pack, former Mayor Buttigieg, was asked about his mandatory government health care plan, which forces Americans into ObamaCare’s pseudo-insurance cartel. Buttigieg vowed that his administration will make “sure there’s no such thing as an uninsured person”, which sounds downright ominous, while “making sure there’s freedom of choice”.
His fellow Midwesterner, Sen. Klobuchar, was also contradictory. The Minnesota feminist made an issue about being a woman, invoking statistics about women in elective government while stressing competence and, then, promptly neglecting to remember the name of the female governor she singled out in her stats. On competence, though I did not keep tally, I think Klobuchar exceeded time in answering every question every time.
Activist Steyer looked like a bobbleheaded windup toy, smiling with a blank stare and bobbling his head while driving his arm and fist up and down in a robotic manner while prattling left-wing slogans. It was like watching one of Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives but the automaton was male.
This strikes me as a good end to this commentary on the Democrats’ pseudo-debate (read my roundup of Democrats’ discourse last fall here) because cruel, bureaucratic, total emotional detachment from destroying humanity with what Democrats mean by “diversity and inclusion”, conformity and exclusion, down to Biden’s facially alarming and amusing final remarks, is the 2020 Democrats’ emergent theme.
The Hong Kong protests are proving to be a catalyst in the conflict between Communist China and the United States. This week, Communist China’s dictator buckled and backed down by canceling the extradition law that sparked the current protest. The Communist puppet running Hong Kong is reportedly being purged by the Communist Party for failing to crush Hong Kong’s resistance. The protesters, who wave American flags, openly defy the dictates and sing songs of liberty from a Broadway musical, are gaining — not losing — support from all over the world.
Meanwhile, Communist China cracks down on its American appeasers, such as Apple, Blizzard, Google, Nike and the National Basketball Association (NBA), which punished professional basketball businessman Daryl Morey for exercising his right to free speech in support of Hong Kong’s protests, pressuring him to apologize for aiding Hong Kong.
The severe contrast between Americans appeasing Communist China by sanctioning dictatorship and Americans opposing Communist China by denouncing dictatorship came to a climax this week in professional athletics — specifically between two Los Angeles Lakers.
Superficially, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal share similarities. Both athletes are extremely able, enduring and popular. Both men, who are black, faced serious challenges as boys. Although James is active and O’Neal is not, both sportsmen are Lakers—wealthy, high-profile men of achievement on a historic, dominant team, which originated in Minneapolis decades ago.
I do not follow, patronize or take serious interest in professional basketball. I’ve never been to a Lakers game and have no desire to attend. I’ve been to Staples Center in downtown LA where they play for my work, including covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and Kings hockey games, and I recently conducted research and interviews about basketball history for a book about the Munich 1972 Olympics basketball game that came out last month. So I wouldn’t call myself a sports fan. To the degree I follow professional sports, I prefer baseball. That said, I’ve taken an interest in both of these athletes.
They represent today’s fundamental political choice.
The differences between Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James reflect each man’s character. Following the controversy surrounding Morey’s single expression of free speech simply stating an individual’s choice to stand with Hong Kong against Communist China in favor of free Hong Kong, I think the gulf between James and O’Neal affords a profound contrast in moral virtue.
Simply put, LeBron James came out for Communist China. He did so plainly and without equivocation. He denounced Morey while traveling during Lakers’ competition in China and thus sanctioned the idea that the individual exists to serve the state.
James’s manner was irritable, frustrated and hostile. His statement was delivered at length without any sense of confidence, rationality or contemplation, let alone inner peace. James did not speak and act as if he had studied the issues and reached his own conclusion. He spoke and acted as though he resented the very idea that any individual should think or speak for himself, let alone about philosophy. In alignment with his self-chosen moniker, “King James”, he acted like a monarch — more exactly, and mirroring his sympathy for China, like an emperor without clothes — who believes he ought not to be bothered by his servants and subjects — as if as king he’s entitled to unearned adoration, any one who speaks that he’s wearing no clothes be damned.
Shaquille O’Neal is like the child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. He spoke with confidence in his knowledge that Emperor “King James” wears no clothes. In alignment with his self-chosen moniker, Shaq, he spoke and acted as an accessible, thoughtful and intelligent man who presumes to speak only for himself. Shaq did this when he spoke up in defense of Morey’s exercise of free speech. Shaq neither wavered nor equivocated. He chose his words with purpose. He spoke with clarity and emphasis. Shaq did so in a proper context. Contrary to the annoyed demeanor displayed by James, Shaq spoke and acted with precision, eloquence and with the moral absolutism that he knows he’s right.
Life can be difficult and also wonderful and both Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James have a wealth of experience on both counts. Tragically, Shaquille O’Neal lost his sister, Ayesha, who died of cancer after a three-year struggle at the age of 40 within hours after Shaq’s defense of Americanism. As far as I know, Shaq is in Orlando at this writing in grief with his mother and family.
But the 7-foot basketball star, whose distinguished career is probably best known for the sense of playfulness and joy that he brings to the game and to his perspective on the game, is now also known to be better equipped to cope with life’s greatest challenges. With millions of dollars in deals, opportunities and his job as a sports broadcaster on a network owned by AT&T at stake, when, disgracefully, neither the president nor the speaker of the House chooses to explicitly stand with Hong Kong on the proper principle, individual rights, this moral giant spoke for rights with much at risk to lose.
Shaq spoke as if his words matter — and they do. He exercised his right to free speech, knowing that, at any moment, he could be fired, punished and persecuted and he exercised his First Amendment right anyway. He showed the moral courage that Tim Cook and Apple, Blizzard, Nike, Google and the NBA have not. Shaq spoke like a man who owns himself, his ideas and his expressions.
James, on the other hand, spoke like a man who is owned by Others, the People’s Republic of China, a dictator or any and all of those, any one except himself. There is no single greater contrast I can think of in two men’s moral character than what happened in the last couple of weeks and on the defining political point of the moment — a conflict between what’s on the verge of becoming the most oppressive nation on earth and what remains, as Shaq suggests, the greatest nation on earth. Let there be no doubt that the man, who, as a broadcast journalist, is also an intellectual, who goes by the name Shaq is not merely morally superior to LeBron James.
James chose a course of action which is low, depraved, predictable, common and rotten — James did what most in his position probably would do under the circumstances of traveling in a dictatorship and working under the auspices of a league shackled by its deal with a dictatorship. Shaq chose the lonelier and more courageous, solitary, rational and enlightened course of action. This makes Shaquille O’Neal the greatest American alive right now — at least in terms of moral leadership — whose singular act of heroism, even as those claiming that their purpose on earth is to defend the rights of the individual remain silent, deserves every American’s standing ovation.
These are dark days for America, darker every day. The president, whatever his record, has no real grasp of rights and capitalism. The opposition is a band of socialists and statists who seek total government control of every one’s life and aim to impeach the president for trivial reasons with neither due process nor just cause for the sole sake of lust for power.
With his historic statement against Communist China for the ideal of free speech and the United States of America, Shaq showed a prime example of the highest moral action. Leonard Peikoff once said that to save the world is the simplest thing — all one has to do is think. Shaquille O’Neal did exactly that.
As Shaq once said:
For all my friends in the media who like quotes, mark this quote down. From this day on I’d like to be known as ‘The Big Aristotle’ because Aristotle once said: ‘Excellence is not a singular act; it’s a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.’”
Shaq’s excellence earns my deepest respect. By proclaiming that Houston Rockets businessman Morey is right to stand with Hong Kong for liberty, the Big Aristotle honors America’s philosophical forefather and lives up to his chosen nickname. Shaq’s is a powerful example of the spirit of 1776 when America needs it fast. Though the press wickedly chose not to cover his pathbreaking act of principle, Shaq’s political speech gave Americans the moral clarity and guidance they urgently need. The few who know it, including the protesters in Hong Kong, have reason to be newly invigorated and inspired not to let it go.
This is my first post on the 2020 presidential election, prompted by the Democrats’ debate last night in Ohio. This is an informal forum for my thoughts on ideas, movies and culture, which includes politics from time to time.
Let me stipulate that my entire political philosophy as an Objectivist can be summed up by saying that I’m for capitalism, the proper social system recognizing individual rights. That said, my reporting and commentating about politics goes back decades — to the 1990s, when I started writing guest columns criticizing, for example, First Lady Barbara Bush and President Clinton — and tapered off as America’s politics worsened.
My last major coverage was an interview series for print media cited on NBC’s Meet the Press of each major candidate for president in 2000. I was the only credentialed freelance writer to cover both national conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles during that campaign. I also wrote my observations about Arianna Huffington — when I first noticed her authoritarianism — for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday edition.
Politics and government in the U.S. is rotten. With this in mind, in no particular sequence, here goes.
Leonard Peikoff once compared him to comic relief. There’s a clownishness about the former vice president. There’s also an affability about him. His congeniality as an elder statesman is one of the reasons Obama chose him as his running mate in 2008. His policy positions, to the extent he holds them, amount to middle of the road pablum, tilting left including slavery reparations — an inhuman idea — and his plan to force Americans to subsidize the manufacture of electrical cars, another awful idea. Biden at his best served on the judiciary committee in the United States Senate during the Robert Bork hearings. Biden at his worst instigated a plagiarism scandal when he stole a speech written by a British Labor Party leader and was caught and, worst of all, he pushed what is arguably America’s worst law in history, ObamaCare. He had started to defend his personal habits until he was attacked by the Puritanical anti-sex Me, Too movement. Since then, he’s been neutralized. I think he’s one of the weakest Democratic Party frontrunners in decades. He’s leaning so far to the left that he makes Trump look almost rational, statesmanlike and pro-capitalist by comparison. If Biden comes back from the whiff of nepotism surrounding Democrats’ attempt to impeach Trump and survives his pandering to leftists, he will be harder to differentiate from Trump which makes it easier for Trump to persuade voters to vote for him because Trump is the pragmatist who “gets stuff done”. Getting stuff done is the new theme of Biden’s post-Ukraine campaign. It might work, though I doubt it. Either way, Biden’s probably going to lose to Trump, if Trump’s the GOP nominee, in the general election; if Biden runs to the left, he’s another leftist loon. If Biden stays in the middle of the road, he’s a tamer version of vulgar, old, white male Trump. Either way, he’s vulnerable to the truth of Trump’s crude claim that Biden was essentially a Yes-Man to Barack Obama.
This candidate comes across as sincere. He expresses the energy and ethos of the modern technology businessman — combining confidence in his knowledge and a flippant bravado that’s not convincing that he’s oriented to reality. It’s important to keep in mind that this is someone who seriously proposes a guaranteed income for every American and a giant solar shield in space based on his belief that global apocalypse is coming due to a change in the earth’s climate. Like most leftists, he combines this dogmatism with traditionalism in his constant citation of his procreative housewife. If returning to the notion of a woman staying at home to raise children is considered progressive and a proper vision of the future, this Democrat’s delusions may go viral.
The radical leftist Democrat who touts his bloodline, including his twin brotherhood and ethnicity, gave one of the better answers to the last question about Ellen DeGeneres attending an athletic event with former President George W. Bush. He stressed the need to differentiate political opposition from amity. But he represents the worst type of politician: one who sees himself primarily based on characteristics beyond his control.
The senator from Minnesota did her best to differentiate herself as a middle of the road politician. She made a point to personalize some of her positions. She held frontrunner Senator Warren accountable, which no one else really did. Yet Klobuchar is clearly neither a serious thinker nor a serious presidential candidate. Her entire value proposition amounts to the fact that she thinks working hard to compromise with others is a virtue. It isn’t. She has no coherent political philosophy. To the extent she does, it’s bad to mixed. To whatever extent she’s decent, she will be annihilated in the Democratic Party primary. To whatever degree she’s awful, she undercuts her own value proposition. Either way, I think she’s likely to lose the election.
This tall politician appeals to cuteness. That’s it, really. His candidacy has no other reason to exist. He’s a former congressman. He ran for the United States Senate in one of the country’s largest states and lost — decisively. No one who likes him seems to be able to articulate what he stands for. He says preposterous things about the government coming to seize guns, which is not going to help him win the state he’s from, where the Second Amendment is popular. He appeals to the worst in American voters; the fact that he’s a cute, tall man who seems like someone you could laugh and have a beer with goes to the worst inclinations and predispositions of the American voter — that they go by the cult of personality, not the substance of a man’s character or policy positions. This candidate is as ridiculous as the sound of his first and last name.
This is a serious candidate who could win the presidency. His political philosophy, to the extent he makes it known, is extremely bad — an amalgamation of the worst bromides of McCain and Obama, especially the notion that one has a moral duty to serve the state and others. His explicit endorsement last night of national service is especially wicked. As president, Buttigieg is likely to do it. He has no-nonsense, Midwestern sensibility, which is engaging. That he downplays the fact that he’s gay while using it as a springboard to discussing how he’s formed his character is savvy. In this sense, he’s like Obama, playing his personal background to the hilt. It will be extremely difficult for President Trump to counter the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Additionally, Mayor Buttigieg is the only major presidential candidate in the Democratic Party to show any regard for the sanctity of the nation’s economic system. He is also the only major presidential candidate, in either party as far as I know, who shows an explicit recognition that the individual ought to be free to choose his own health care, though this is very conditional, mixed and poisoned by his own policy position for government control of medicine. But, as far as Democrats are concerned, he may be the only candidate who can beat Trump. As president, I think he would be a disaster, perhaps less a disaster than others in the field, but that’s not saying much. Make note of his views on religion — he’s walked his comments back, but he says he’s religious and this could mean that he wants more religion in government and bigger government in religion.
The old, white male socialist is running for president again as the adorable curmudgeon who wants the government to control your life. There isn’t much more to say about this horrendous senator from Vermont, who recently had a heart attack, which he concealed. Sanders ignored the role of the doctor in saving his life. Horrifyingly, Sanders exploited the fact that doctors saved his life by explicitly advocating that doctors be stripped — further stripped — of individual rights. The selling of this socialist, who once exercised his free will to honeymoon in Moscow while it was ruled by Soviet Russia, as a kindly old man is a new twist on the Big Lie. Sanders — fittingly known as Bernie to sell his brand of statism as folksy — is a cunning fraud. That he has finagled members of The Squad — a cabal of female totalitarians, including an eco-fascist from New York City and an Islamic congresswoman — for endorsements indicates that he knows exactly who stands to gain from him becoming President of the United States.
For too many reasons to mention here, this candidate is an awful American government official. I’m surprised that anyone is fooled by this former Republican, a New England Democratic senator who seeks total government control of people’s lives. Senator Warren displays a frantic, manic energy that to me suggests the character of someone who is nearly unhinged, at least neurotic, possibly unstable — and, in any case, she makes a conscious point of appealing to others purely based on emotionalism. This legislator combines the worst stereotypes of the “hysterical female” with the worst policy positions of the 20th century and she takes them to the extreme. I think this is what stimulates her most vicious supporters. What makes her dangerous is that she names a partial truth about American life; that it’s getting worse, blanking out on the fact that her ideals and premises are the cause of the nation’s demise. If nominated, Warren will make the contest with Trump, if Trump is the Republican nominee, clear and obvious. If elected president, I fear she will finish the destruction of the United States of America that Obama started. Or go down trying. Elizabeth Warren is that tenacious and serious but make no mistake; her primary goal is the government totally controlling your life.
The only candidate during last night’s debate to earn the low distinction of both explicitly praising and denouncing individualism in the same comment is probably the candidate most sincerely concerned with Americans’ welfare. His policy positions and proposals are awful, to be sure. And I don’t think the senator from New Jersey is eminently qualified to be president of the United States. But he does display a sense of purpose and seriousness about governance, if not much else.
Like Castro, her entire candidacy is based on blood. She invoked it again last night in the debate. She takes a kind of perverse pride in being racially mixed, which, in terms of political philosophy, is bad. The fact that she does this to the exclusion of staking out clear, concise policy positions except to the extent she’s explicitly anti-capitalist is alarming. She appears to be going nowhere fast but these are Democrats, so you never know. This is a woman who was elected California’s attorney general and United States senator, without any enthusiasm in the nation’s largest state. She’s proof that the most mediocre politician can rise and rise based on nothing.
The billionaire populist seems exactly that — someone who wants the collective to atone for his guilt in having or making money. He seems to seek redemption in the herd — or, worse, in leading the flock to the Promised Land of primitivism and deprivation.
I like that Gabbard spoke in personal terms about former congressman Trey Gowdy. But there’s much that’s unknown about this Hawaiian legislator. She touts military service, about which I don’t know, and sometimes says things that sound reasonable. I’ve noticed that she’s purposefully vague in some answers and disturbingly specific in other answers. For example, on the issue of abortion last night, she explicitly stated without explaining why that she opposes third trimester abortions. The fact that she would as president outlaw a woman’s right to an abortion at any stage of pregnancy underscores that this mysterious congresswoman has no grasp or regard for individual rights.
Last night’s impending impeachment compounds other recent lessons affirming my contention that America is dwindling, slipping into a culture of faith, not reason. I think it’s an insidious decline because America coasts on the Industrial Revolution’s aftereffects and its progressive byproduct, today’s technology with advancement in medicine, aeronautics, science, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Yet regression is real.
Two recent cases in point come from CBS News, press that I’ve praised (read my post here). The first instance involves two anchors for the CBS News streaming app, Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green, both of whom thoroughly and feverishly endorsed the concept, if it can be called that, of divine intervention after reporting on a child’s brave attempt to survive her father’s suicide and attempted murder.
After the man jumped with his daughter in his arms in front of a New York City subway train, the girl survived, apparently by lying down between tracks. After the deadly leap, someone jumped down and assisted in rescuing the child by guiding her out of danger, instructing her not to look at the dead father and, instead, to “crawl like a puppy”, treating the child as a child, encouraging her to come out from underneath the train. Green and Duthiers raved instead about what Green calls “divine intervention”, trivializing the girl’s intelligence and the heroism. It’s an instance of irrelevant, inappropriate and improper editorializing, really proselytizing for faith, during what should have been a somber report on suicide and an act of heroism.
Also on CBS News, billionaire media titan Oprah and bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates appeared with Gayle King, Tony Dokoupil and Anthony Mason on CBS This Morning to discuss a new novel being promoted by Oprah in partnership with Apple Books via Oprah’s book club. The hosts were interested in knowing whether Oprah’s running for president. There was one line during the entire segment about the novel. The author was reduced to fragments.
Here, faith lies in the cult of a woman’s personality, in this case Oprah. As I’ve written before, the cult of Oprah Winfrey is entirely based on Oprah Winfrey. She is the ultimate narcissist. Everything she does is centered upon herself in crass, vulgar and undignified ways and means. That most of her musings appear in superficial bursts on self-improvement makes her narcissism more insidious.
Consider her appearance on CBS This Morning. Rather than invite the author of a potential new bestseller to appear on the program to answer informed and intelligent questions about the plot, characters and theme, the trio, declining to disclose that one of the hosts maintains an intimate personal relationship with Oprah Winfrey, proceeded to defer to Oprah — strictly on the grounds that she’d bestowed attention upon a new novel, whose author sat silently and obediently by her side. Coates was asked to speak once or twice. Though this is presumably done for the sake of “diversity and inclusion”, note that the intellectual was sidelined and excluded.
The religion for this particular application of faith is multiculturalism. The audience learned next to nothing about the book; not the price, not the publisher, not the publication date, certainly not the characters, plot or meaning — really, nothing was learned in any substantial sense. However, the audience did learn that Oprah read the book twice and that her friend Gayle is in the middle of reading it, too, and that Gayle called Oprah to find out what’s going to happen next.
This is the culture of belief in the superficial; facts and analysis matter less than faith in personalities, small talk, impressions, what others think because others think it and trends.
Greta Thunberg is another example. I call this braided girl the anti-child. The teenaged environmentalist and activist is clearly disturbed. Her faith that the world will end in 12 years based on apocalyptic preachings is apparently encouraged by her environmentalist-activist parents. I can think of few transgressions worse than exploiting a child for religious purposes. The new religionists tout environmentalism, feminism, multiculturalism, statism and total government control or totalitarianism and they are wildly irrational and overzealous. Propagandizing this delusional, hostile, wayward child became a media sensation.
That a child on an internationally sponsored press tour preaching alarmist rhetoric gets more press at the expense of examining the fact that millions of Americans suffer and struggle to pay for unaffordable health care after nearly 10 years of the monstrosity known as ObamaCare, enacted as the preposterously named Affordable Care Act, or that rebels launched a historic protest against Communism in Hong Kong or that the Islamic dictatorship of Iran escalates acts of war against the West is an unmistakable sign of regression.
I’ve encountered everyday signs, too. During a recent airport ride with a Lyft driver, I observed the danger of religious zealotry.
Upon activating the ride, I had pre-designated the destination airline. But the driver asked which airline when she arrived to give me a ride to the airport. I told her the airline. The driver would ask again — and again — which airline. The most disturbing part of the trip involved her explicit proclamations of belief that God is in control of life on earth. As the driver of the vehicle, she was in control of mine. Accordingly, I remained silent. Upon each mention of God, I diverted the conversation from her belief in a supernatural being. At one point, she explained that she believes God controls her every action. In that moment, she struck me as mentally unstable. As we came closer to the airport, and she asked again which airline, she slowed to five miles an hour — a rate of speed she maintained for the trip’s duration — as I sat in silence. She rambled about speed, God and what she called theneed to believe in obedience.
This calls to mind Starbucks’ new Sirens blend, another example of belief without evidence — in feminism.
Starbucks introduced the blend this week in an email professing the company’s commitment to women. I have never heard of a coffee blend being produced on the basis of discriminating on behalf of one’s sex. Starbucks, which claims it’ll donate some of the blend’s revenue to women’s groups, broke the mold by singling out a single sex, excluding the opposite sex, with charity toward women because they’re women. This act sanctions feminism’s premise that identity is based on sex. Early advocates of what was once called women’s liberation promoted feminism as a means of achieving equality with men. Today’s feminists have dropped this pretense. Big business takes this offshoot of egalitarianism, which at once segregates and blurs the two sexes, on faith.
Last night’s announcement that America’s Speaker of the House supports an inquiry into impeaching the American president over a telephone call with a foreign leader is the ultimate profession, however, of faith. She literally declared an inquiry into impeaching the president without evidence.
I was an early Trump critic long before it was considered acceptable, let alone hip or “trending”. I argued against Trump on my blog. I did so repeatedly and on principle. I did so after Trump was elected president. But Trump’s supporters, whatever their faults and errors, are right to dub the Democrats’ delusional opposition as Trump Derangement Syndrome. The opposition to this president is worse in its irrationalism than the opposition to the previous president (which includes mine).
Today, President Trump released a transcript of his conversation with the president of the Ukraine — the supposed flashpoint for the Democrats’ grounds for impeachment. If and when the Democrats pursue impeachment on these flimsy grounds, the contrast between a president who takes America and its interests seriously — and, whatever his vulgarity, stupidity and errors, Trump does — and the party that wants the government to control every aspect of every individual’s life will be inescapable to the most disinterested, apathetic and asinine American voter.
“The House must impeach,” 2020’s Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren posted yesterday on Twitter. “It must start today.”
In fact, in accordance with frontrunner Warren’s wishes, impeachment did. Senator Warren is the matriarch of a new Inquisition. With her radical environmentalism and feminism, vehement opposition to capitalism in favor of statism, attempts to rationalize explicitly fraudulent multiculturalism, redounding to her authoritarianism, Sen. Warren is the ideal preacher for today’s faith in the statist — and regressive — status quo. America’s been dwindling from decades of welfare statism. The United States is dimmer after 50 years of Earth Day and poorer after 10 years of ObamaCare. As Americans strive to live better, facing the scowl of an anti-child, the congregation of brash believers gathers, chants and peddles influence, preparing to strike in a grab for power.
The Vietnam War, a 10-part series for PBS which aired in 2017, is flawed, biased and incomplete. It is also a compelling and important examination of the Southeast Asia war America lost.
Written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, with key military guidance from certain war intellectuals and participants, this is a generally honest account of a terrible, impossible war.
I welcome feedback on this long, episodic review, which I’ve composed from my notes after watching the series on Apple TV. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions, so please feel free to let me know if I’ve missed something important or misspelled the name of a soldier, a village or a battle. Know that I especially want to hear from the reader who served in Vietnam.
This war loomed over my childhood and life. It still does. Generations in America suffered irreparable harm and year after year, president after president, election after election, Americans make the same mistakes. I want my post to prompt the reader to think about the Vietnam War … or to think twice.
I’m giving this program the long, deep and detailed analysis I think the topic deserves, especially in an increasingly anti-intellectual culture in which the individual, the press and the government give asinine topics all their attention at the expense of topics that matter. Going to war without purpose and for the sake of helping others and the men who were forced to wage it matters and it matters very much to your daily life. I want you to learn from what I found in this series even if you never watch this series, which I hope you do.
Each episode, produced by Florentine Films for public television and presented without commercial interruption, is approximately 90 minutes.
Buy the DVD
Starting with the sound of a helicopter, the continuing symbol of the Vietnam War from its origins to its end to its aftermath in movies and Broadway musicals, The Vietnam War on PBS commences with its first installment, aptly titled “Deja Vu” marking the years 1858 through 1961.
Here, you will learn why the war was born of misguided conquest. Today, this would be reduced to the vulgar term clusterf**k. Vietnam’s agrarian society was primitive with multiple forces and influences, especially through mysticism and religions, none of which is delved into here.
But there’s enough material here to see that the mid-20th century precedes this major turning point with a worldwide war engulfing Asia, especially mystical, Imperial Japan, which allied the worst evil of the century, Communism, with the West.
This alliance happened under an American president who sought statism in America. The authoritarian war president, Franklin Roosevelt, previously studied by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in his series The Roosevelts, set the course for an exotic jungle war in Vietnam. The Vietnam War does not make these observations. But it documents the evidence for the rational mind to make the connection.
Enter the monstrous Ho Chi Minh, a spindly figure who merges faith, nationalism, collectivism and pieces of civilization into a mongrel mixture that dazzles or sedates nearly everyone. Under dozens of pseudonyms, the charismatic leader travels the world in “Deja Vu”, from New York City and Paris to Boston and London from his native Vietnam. He studies America, writing to President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 pleading for Wilson to support Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism. He plans, goes to Soviet Russia and gains sponsors, returning to Vietnam in 1941.
By the time the sick, dying Ho Chi Minh was saved by the American government with Western medicine in 1945, the year the U.S. ended the war by dropping atomic bombs on Japan after the barbaric state refused to surrender, Minh had — like later Islamic terrorists — been nursed, trained and armed by the United States.
Roosevelt had wanted nations to be free to choose Communism.
This left Ho Chi Minh to look to the U.S. as some sort of egalitarian empire. The Vietnam War makes much of Minh’s quoting Thomas Jefferson, downplaying Minh’s other philosophical sources and influences, such as Josef Stalin, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, which tout Communism, nationalism and socialism. But it is clear that Ho Chi Minh’s interest in America was never based on individualism; it was filtered through his worship of the omnipotent state, a fact which this series evades or ignores,. Minh’s outreach to the U.S. is contingent upon his glorification of race, tribe and a people’s state. Ho Chi Minh was indoctrinated and funded by Soviet Russia.
After World War 2, Minh lived, Novick and Burns report with actor Peter Coyote’s narration, in a cave he named after Marx. He named a nearby stream after Lenin. Ho Chi Minh knew exactly his political philosophy. His brigade of Communists, the Vietnam Minh, killed their first American, a peace-making colonel named Peter Dewey, when they supposedly mistook him for a Frenchman when Col. Dewey was brokering a peace deal between the Communists and France.
So, at least this series lets it be known that the first American to die in Vietnam came in peace. Dewey was an innocent who was gunned down by Hi Chi Minh’s Communists. Soon afterward, Communist Mao Tse-Tung, responsible for mass murdering more innocents than perhaps anyone ever to exist on earth, takes over China. The series reports that Mao and the world’s other bloodiest dictator, Josef Stalin, funded the Communists in Vietnam.
In this sense, the first episode of The Vietnam War illustrates how Communist China and Soviet Russia poisoned this poor, farm country in Southeast Asia through a leader nursed, trained and armed by an American government with a socialist bent.
When Franklin Roosevelt died while in office, his vice-president, Harry Truman, became president. Having been accused of being the guilty party on the question of ‘Who lost China [to Communism]?’, President Truman promptly approved of $23 million in aid to France, which ruled Vietnam and Southeast Asia as a kind of colony.
The context is complicated. As Ho Chi Minh advanced against France in Vietnam, Truman was already drafting American men to fight a proxy war with China on the Korean peninsula after Chinese-backed North Koreans invaded South Korea.
All of this is more or less packed into the first episode of The Vietnam War. These are starting points. There’s more, pardon the advertising cliche, much more.
In the autumn of 1951, the culprit in starting the Vietnam War first appears on scene.
His name is Congressman John Kennedy. The series reports that the young war hero was visiting a rooftop bar when he heard guns across the Saigon River. Kennedy returned to his native Massachusetts and told constituents that, unless the U.S. could persuade the Vietnamese that Americans are as opposed to “inequality” as they are opposed to Communism, Truman’s aid to France would result in “foredoomed failure”.
Rep. Kennedy would continue Roosevelt’s statist legacy when he became President Kennedy. Vietnam would become a quagmire and it would chiefly be his doing. But, during the 1950s, U.S. policy on Vietnam was set by Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, whose vice-president, Richard Nixon, is seen in this first episode going over a map of Vietnam on television.
By 1953, France had gone though six commanders in trying to colonize Vietnam and France had failed at what it termed pacification, which then and now is a euphemism for winning the hearts and minds of the people. The French had also widely used a form of gelatinized petroleum called Napalm in its military efforts. This caused Parisian leftists to oppose the war in Vietnam, shown here and intercut with later footage of 1968 New Left American protests, and riot in the streets.
Then came the debacle between Vietnamese and French forces at Dien Bien Phu on March 13, 1954. As commentator Daniel Gregg puts it: “[Americans] should’ve seen the fall [at Dien Bien Phu] as the end of colonialism…instead we saw it as part of a Communist threat.” The 17th parallel split came after France’s devastating defeat, with French troops forced to retreat into the south, leaving the Vietnam Minh to control the north, separating Vietnam into two countries by a demilitarized zone (DMZ) until an election could be held to reunify north and south.
In the south, the French supported a Saigon crime syndicate which opposed the regime in South Vietnam. This regime was opposed by President Eisenhower, too, but Ike was pressured to support South Vietnam’s corrupt government when the regime was reelected.
President Kennedy, The Vietnam War shows, made support for South Vietnam’s corrupt government explicit — Kennedy was the first American president to do so, really — modeling South Vietnam on Roosevelt’s New Deal and Marshall plan with massive infrastructure rebuilding — after Ike ordered scores of Americans to South Vietnam to rebuild and win hearts and minds.
The moral premise of the Vietnam War had been established: helping others. If Truman and Eisenhower initially aided Vietnam as a hedge against Communism, they did so without a proper study of the people, the culture and the geopolitics of Vietnam. But it would be John Kennedy who would double down on the oversight, turning an error into a blunder.
On July 8, 1959, The Vietnam War shows that six Americans watching a movie in their mess hall in Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon, were attacked by Minh’s guerillas.
The terrorists had silently crept into the U.S. compound to fire their guns through the windows — a New York Times article refers to this act of war as “Communist terrorism” — and two top U.S. soldiers, Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnard, were killed. The men were the first American soldiers to die from enemy fire. Pictures of their names on the Vietnam Memorial — Dale R. Buis and Chester N. Ovnard — appear in this initial episode.
Before it concludes, “Deja Vu” shows a clip of a famous speech by President Kennedy — Kennedy vows that Americans “shall pay any price, bear any burden…” on January 20, 1961 — and it is at once striking that the president who undeservedly gets credit for putting an American on the moon never gets blamed for putting Americans in harm’s way, let alone for doing so with neither purpose nor end. Six weeks after Kennedy was elected president, the murderous Viet Minh became a southern Vietnam subversive terrorist force called the Viet Cong — Cong stands for Communist Traitors to the Vietnamese Nation — the military wing of the north’s National Liberation Front.
The title of The Vietnam War‘s second episode, “Riding the Tiger”, is taken from a line in President Kennedy’s inaugural speech. This covers the Vietnam War Kennedy started in earnest from the year 1961 through 1963.
American John Musgrave, a key military combatant interviewed throughout this extremely educational series, talks of a night light when describing the terror of war in the context of being the son of an Army pilot and a father to children. In doing so, Musgrave captures both the ghastly horror of Vietnam and the Kantian sense in which the American deployed there never possessed the power of knowledge to fight in war.
After this harrowing narrative, Jack Todd speaks of wanting to go to war becausePresident Kennedy was to him like a god.
So begins the deifying of the American president. This became worse with every presidency, from Johnson being adored for enacting his Great Society by force and the iconography of Reagan’s melodramatic bootleg romanticism toBill Clinton as the redeemable hillbilly, the repulsive vilifying or deifying ofBarack Obama for his race and the thick-headed cultishness of red-capping the current presidency. This ugly spectacle began with Theodore Roosevelt and spread to cousin Franklin. But the charismatic leader cult ballooned with the president who was a Kennedy.
The Ken Burns series is guilty of this, too, referencing the Berlin Wall as something Kennedy could not stop — it is now known that, at best, Kennedy, in fact, allowed the wall to be built and, at worst, he negotiated for its construction — and failing to account for Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco. Instead, the series equivocates and rationalizes that Kennedy “had to” act in Vietnam.
Lacking supporting evidence, this is a crucially dubious assertion.
Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, a former Ford Motor Co. systems analyst, is perhaps the first major American military figure to choose foreign policy based on statistics, numbers or “metrics”. It was McNamara who first tried to apply a business model to the most crucial role for government.
The results were a disaster. McNamara’s faith in numbers created the vast, “military-industrial complex” against which President Eisenhower had rightly warned. Watch McNamara for an early example of running the model that the government can be managed like a business; it won’t be hard to connect the dots to the appeal of an anti-capitalist authoritarian like Donald Trump.
Episode two’s lessons detail the faulty war foundation laid by the Kennedy administration. At least it leaves the impression that the men, such as John Musgrave, who were drafted to fight are superior communicators to those in previous generations; Vietnam War veterans who participate in this documentary demonstrate that they have the capacity to think and express themselves. Today’s Americans are the beneficiaries of their ability to communicate with objectivity.
The Vietnam War grants these men ample opportunity.
The 10-part program does so while documenting that President Kennedy, arguably an absent and deficient commander-in-chief, was vacationing when a cable came from South Vietnam regarding a coup — which the administration bungled like it botched everything — and the bloodshed essentially started the Vietnam War. To their credit, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and McNamara argued against what Kennedy chose to do, which is to cede to the State Department, which steered the 20th Century’s worst American foreign policy blunders, especially Islamic dictatorship in Iran.
Kennedy’s fiasco ends on the eve of his assassination as Buddhist monks self-immolate in Saigon’s streets. Self-sacrifice is an ominous sign of the sacrificial holocaust to come.
Audio recording of President Lyndon Johnson expressing doubts (all vindicated) while cleaning up the mess Kennedy created dominates the third episode of The Vietnam War, “The River Styx”, which covers January 1964 through December 1965. Johnson’s self-doubt lead him to keep Kennedy’s team despite the evidence.
Johnson’s interest in the Vietnam War, however, was secondary to his interest in expanding the Kennedy administration’s legacy of plunging the nation deeper into the welfare state. The results, possibly against Johnson’s intentions, were a military, moral and philosophical disaster. Johnson’s ignorance and deceit in foreign and domestic affairs worsened the quagmire, the militarism and the New Left’s militancy.
Johnson’s lies about the Tonkin Gulf resolution fed distrust among the public, which, in turn, fed subversive factions seeking to overthrow the government. This, in turn, fed the government’s tendency to mislead the press and the public on the grounds that every turn of the war ought not to be shared with everyone.
In video footage of Vietnam War commanding Gen. William Westmoreland speaking to his men, he instructs troops that they must avoid hurting women and children and commands them to win Vietnamese hearts and minds. Thus begins the vicious cycle of waging war by public relations causing massive losses, bad optics and so on. While the enemy waged war by terrorism spawned from the Ho Chi Minh trail, infiltrating South Vietnam’s villages, farms and rice paddies, Americans were ordered to fight with disadvantageous rules of engagement.
Gradually, however, an approach of tit for tat by the U.S. military toward North Vietnam complicated the war. It didn’t help that Communist China sent a total of 320,000 troops — pitting American troops against Chinese troops for the second time in the 20th century — and that, with the first war on television in the freest nation on earth, every mistake could be reported in the free press and given absolute expression of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Magnifying American blunders while the New Left mobilized for the enemy, eventually waving enemy flags in U.S. cities, complicated the Vietnam War.
Diplomat George Ball’s ominous warning and prediction loomed large by 1965.
“Resolve”, chronicling the war from January, 1966 to June, 1967, compounds the misery depicted in Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s documentary The Vietnam War.
With wrenching family memories, this film recalls those killed in action and the rippling, shocking impact on Americans back home. The series provides new audio-visual evidence of Lyndon Johnson’s conflicts. Unlike Johnson’s predecessor, he seems terribly frustrated, involved and affected by every facet of the Vietnam War.
This happens as Robert McNamara, the tactician who, like a social media programmer, reassured everyone by citing statistics and calculations to justify what turned out to be wildly off-track projections, is reported to meekly harbor his doubts.
Meanwhile, the government of South Vietnam lies in constant crisis near impending collapse, especially after a Buddhist general is fired. That the war was sanctioned while Johnson schemed what he termed a Great Society — having enacted socialized medicine for people over the age of 65, Medicare, on the false premise that the old were feebly desperate for medical care — is an unexplored abomination.
Gruesome Vietnam War battles are explored in graphic detail. Titles are indispensable in guiding the viewer to better understanding of the war. If ever America was to turn, counter and win this war, which never seems remotely possible during the entire 10-part series, it is in these crucial months. But there is never the will to win because there is never the purpose, drive or clarity, let alone national unity, and this is lacking because Johnson was spun into Kennedy’s quagmire from the start.
In retrospect, all Americans could’ve done in these years was to get out. Yet the moral grayness — war as moral duty for the sake of others; the altruism which infects American war policy to this day — was accepted by the Johnson administration, the American press and, to a large extent, by the American people. The fourth episode shows that altruism was grinding away at the optimistic American sense of life.
A Marine tells the tale of exacting moral duty in practice in a powerful midway installment of The Vietnam War. “This is what we do”, he shrugs with helplessness, pronouncing having to implement emergency ethics under orders from a government which abnegated its primary function. The poor Marine explains this amid opening footage of Johnson and riots in Newark and Detroit.
America was splitting part, this fifth episode reports, while punch card metrics at the Pentagon actually miscalculated that the United States won the Vietnam War in 1965. McNamara and his band of technologists who had been empowered and activated by Kennedy — and retained by Johnson — had executed their “war of attrition” in numbers and statistics with deadly and devastating failure.
Bean-counting bureaucrats were taking over. The surveillance and welfare state was getting its omnipotent place in power. All of this comes through for the discerning audience in The Vietnam War‘s fifth episode, “This Is What We Do”, detailing the bitter, cruel and monumentally unjust acts of war between July and December of 1967.
This is when anarchy seems to break out in both America and Vietnam. The late Sixties, a disgustingly romanticized period of time, begins. Here, one learns the origins of the terms gook, etc., however there is no explanation of their genesis into wider acceptance. One learns, too, that the enemy fired upon Americans from the DMZ — which Americans dubbed the Dead Marine Zone — while Americans were ordered to abide discarded rules of engagement.
Without proper leadership, without basic decency, honesty and functional supplies, is it any wonder they took their lives and missions into their own hands?
Marine Musgrave tells of not wanting to look in the mirror as a 63-year-old and see someone who had not done everything in support of what he believed — he didn’t want to leave the toughest job to other men. This is what leaves Musgrave psychologically crippled and physically delivered as young flesh for slaughter.
For example, he speaks of seeing humans as animals — viewing subjects as objects — to make himself ready to fight for his life. “This is what happens when you send children to fight war [without reason],” he tells The Vietnam War: racism.
His scathing analysis, among the most searing and important insights in the series, reminds me of what the late Nothing Less Than Victory author and Duke University war historianJohn David Lewis told and taught about rational motivation during war, including in the interview he granted before he died (read it here). Musgrave, showing restraint and impeccable powers of self-awareness and objective communication, discloses that his government reduced him and his comrades to raw hatred as a driving motivation for going to war.
“This Is What We Do” reports that 20 percent of U.S. troops, men such as John Musgrave, did most of the combat fighting — 80 percent of U.S. troops were in South Vietnam for support — and that one of the primary weapons, the M-16 rifle, malfunctioned, jammed and failed, killing many Americans. It’s sickening.
Four sectors of a South Vietnamese map offer a good breakdown, though the map should’ve come sooner in the series. Also, rock and folk songs incessantly overlap men’s voices, which is a constant irritant and distraction.
Other audio clips provide rare insights. Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen speaking with the president about the Vietnam quagmire includes a clip of Johnson telling the truth that what the anti-war protestors were demanding — that the U.S. stop bombing North Vietnam —would lead to more dead Americans.
Ho Chi Minh’s chief accomplice, Communist Le Duan, was preparing for the Tet Offensive during this time. So was the U.S. Tiger Force, accused of rape by an Army reporter, engaging in combat. And an antiwar radical named Jerry Rubin was giving a press conference threatening to seize the Pentagon. Look, too, for footage of the late Senator John McCain, captured when his Navy plane was shot down by the North Vietnamese and tortured by the Communists.
Some of these stories — of a Marine left for dead time and again by American medics — may never leave you. This episode features a CBS News report by journalist Walter Cronkite giving a detailed account with a large model re-creating the terrain in South Vietnam, explaining with markers and a pointer the battle of Dak To where U.S. Marines in three companies were pinned down.
Forty-two Americans were killed during the battle — by an American bomber.
The 1968 Tet Offensive, North Vietnam’s assault on South Vietnam named after an Asian new year date, begins with incredible combat footage. Tet marks a turning point in The Vietnam War. This episode, “Things Fell Apart”, ranges from events of January in 1968 to July of the same, awful year.
Memories by a black Marine from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and an American doctor captured by the enemy after his helicopter crashed into a mountain provide further background. The doctor, whose harrowing tale is a stark counterpoint to the New Left’s propaganda claims against America, summons strength in singing patriotic songs while the Communists force him into a brutal 30-day march on his bare feet while refusing to properly treat his severe bullet wound.
These reports and oral histories contextualize one of the worst years in Western history. It’s here; the Los Angeles assassination of Robert Kennedy after winning California’s presidential primary, the Memphis assassination of Martin Luther King, the pacifism of presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, whose candidacy was based on opposition to the war, and President Johnson’s address to the nation announcing that he would not run for re-election. And Tet.
In fact, press coverage of the Tet Offensive is as distorted as Johnson charged, as he expresses in audio shared here. A key foreign adviser’s advice to withdraw troops from the Vietnam War is included, though without the context that he’s the holdover from the Truman administration whose blunder arguably started the Korean War, another American quagmire which was a war America neither declared nor won.
That, too, like Vietnam and today’s quagmires in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, cost lives and treasure and wiped out American resolve. The Vietnam War never makes this historical connection but it presents the evidence from which to draw the conclusion.
Communist butchery during the Tet Offensive was apparently not filmed, or the evidence is unavailable to Novick and Burns. As is always the case, the freedom to express oneself in the press thanks to freedom of speech exhibits some of the most horrifying images. Rightly or wrongly, these pictures contributed to the war’s being opposed at home and arguably exacerbated the perceptual-based culture in which decent Americans now find themselves struggling to communicate complex ideas in words which are concepts, not pictures, looping videos and memes.
So, in this episode you see the famous picture of the South Vietnamese executing an insurrectionist who betrayed South Vietnam. You see that it “got play” and spread in the West where one is free to think, write, take pictures and associate with those who trade to distribute the picture across multiple platforms. However, you do not see evidence of the mass slaughter and suffering at the hands of the other side in war.
And no one asks you to make note of this distinction.
To its credit, the series correctly and repeatedly notes that the United States under Johnson’s leadership and South Vietnam defended against the historic Tet Offensive with success. In fact, Tet was a massive disaster for North Vietnam. The Communists lost. They failed to achieve their goal to spark Communist revolution in the South. They failed miserably and at great cost.
The perception, that America was being challenged and taken aback, was widespread. America lost the upper hand in terms of controlling the optics and public relations. Not without reason, the upshot moved the nation against the Vietnam War.
“The Veneer of Civilization” capably covers the dreadful 11 months from June of 1968 through May of 1969. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, for instance, was so chaotic that it almost made Chicago’s notoriously brutish mayor, Richard J. Daley, referred to as “boss” because he was like a mafia boss due to his authoritarianism, look reasonable.
Mayor Daley was one of many government officials in the horrendous late Sixties to be forced into a corner by New Left and other terrorists, anarchists and radicals. After watching Chicago’s terrorism, anarchism and assaults on TV, President Johnson considered traveling to Chicago to re-enter the 1968 presidential campaign.
The Vietnam War reports that Johnson did not attend because the Secret Service advised the president that his safety could not be assured.
This — a nation on the brink of anarchy, civil war and recklessness fed by Communists, racists and other collectivists amid mass death in an unwinnable war and total government compulsion of young men’s military service — is what the late 1960s meant in daily American life.
Dead soldiers are pictured. One American combatant who wanted to dodge the draft, addressed here as an existential fact, not as a nationwide policy or historical fact, expresses regret that he decided not to dodge the draft. Other soldiers, too, are forced by the moral ambiguity of the Vietnam War into an ethical crisis or dilemma.
Burns and Novick are respectful of the Vietnam War veteran. The American who served in Vietnam is given preferential treatment in interviews, though New Left radicals, such as Bill Zimmerman, are also interviewed and much or some of what they say is totally anti-American. The series rightly focuses on the war from the perspective of the men who were sent to fight it.
U.S. POWs are interviewed, including Maj. Kushner, who shares an absorbing story of bonding with fellow American POWs in Communist captivity, who, while emaciated and starving, conspire to kill a camp commander’s cat so they can consume food. He explains that they were caught by a guard and describes what came next.
Kushner details being united with POW comrades in an I am Spartacus moment when the POWs are forced to divulge who came up with the idea. He remembers one American being beaten to death. He recalls what his captors did to his body. The testament to Kushner being alive adds to the segment’s emotional power. Kushner’s account puts New Left protests, which include waving an enemy flag, in context.
It also clarifies North Vietnam’s brutality, which was not lost on their own soldiers and civilians, who never knew any political system but enslavement. “Saigon was freer,” one of several former North Vietnamese soldiers interviewed recalls, adding that, among families in Hanoi, there was no communication from Ho Chi Minh’s government about the war dead. Of course, there were no press reports — “I don’t recall reading about a lost battle,” someone says, even after Tet — in state-run media.
Among the people, there was no knowledge of the war in Vietnam in North Vietnam.
Accordingly, one gets a sense in these accounts of how Vietnam changed from a simple farm society to dictatorship. The U.S., too, is radically transformed, as presidential candidate Richard Nixon reportedly reached out to Hanoi during the war talks, which Johnson considered treasonous. Illicit drugs take a toll, as stories of the Harrison family — a tale of two brothers, one the draft dodger, the other a soldier — disclose the cost of an overdose in Hong Kong, foreshadowing 1978’s The Deer Hunter.
Savagery ruled. Civilians were killed, often, though this is not explained, partly because of the nature of the fighting; i.e., North Vietnam infiltrating South Vietnam with a stream of sleeper cells. South Vietnam’s corruption is rampant. It’s widespread or overlooked in the U.S. military, too. American contraband, supplies and machinery, from cigarettes to helicopters, sold on Vietnam’s black market via Saigon’s rotting corpse, cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. The U.S. lost $2 billion in a single year.
No one paid attention to those numbers. “All these metrics,” someone recalls, “—[were] a waste of time.”
Some initiatives worked; projects Misty and Phoenix undermined the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh trail, kept going by persistent North Vietnamese truck drivers. Soon after Nixon was inaugurated as president in 1969, he sought to make peace with Communist China, which had implications for South Vietnam. America’s new national security adviser, a pragmatic college professor named Henry Kissinger, geared secretly bombing Cambodia.
When the New York Times reported the bombing, in a preview of the coming surveillance state, the U.S. wiretapped 17 reporters.
Throughout The Vietnam War, titles condensing certain group, faction and agency names — including breaking down certain acronyms — are extremely helpful in understanding military jargon on both sides.
In the eighth episode, “The History of the World,” covering April, 1969 through May, 1970, the audience gets to experience President Nixon’s promised withdrawal from the Vietnam War.
This was not satisfying, however, for a terrorist group called the Weathermen.
Their terrorist attacks shocked the nation. With stoned hippies at Woodstock in upstate New York, the enemy flag flying above antiwar marches (which is downplayed in the series) and anarchy by Black Panthers (also minimized), Nixon delivers his stirring Silent Majority speech.
After telling combat stories, U.S. soldiers returning home explain reactions to their homecoming, including several choosing to become antiwar activists. John Musgrave, who settled in Kansas, is shocked at the hatred for his military service in the Vietnam War. In compelling interviews, Marine Musgrave talks about contemplating suicide.
Other Vietnam War flashpoints, from the My Lai massacre reported by Seymour Hersh to National Guard shootings at Kent State and Jackson State, get partial reporting. For example, while Peter Coyote’s narrative covers that antiwar radicals burned down the ROTC building at Kent State — physically preventing firemen from extinguishing the fire — there’s no apparent attempt to interview guardsmen, historians or those working with Ohio’s governor, James Rhodes, about the tragic events at Kent State.
Other imbalances or incomplete versions include a reference to Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy‘s opposition to the Vietnam War, with no mention of the death he caused, knew about and covered up at Chappaquiddick in the summer of 1969. While the crime may have had no bearing on his opposition to the war, the crime, cover-up and aftermath had direct relevance to Kennedy’s credibility on issues of life and death. In this context, the unmentioned historic event in 1969 is a glaring omission.
The depth of the nation’s division emerges in the time period covered from May, 1970 to March, 1973 in The Vietnam War‘s ninth episode, “A Disrespectful Loyalty”.
As Nixon attempts to apply the policy of what he called Vietnamization, ostensibly letting South Vietnam militarize its own war during a gradual and certain withdrawal of U.S. troops, construction workers in New York City rally to defend themselves against raging antiwar radicals. Vets returning from Vietnam are attacked, having their cars assaulted, rocked and pounded as they arrive home to America.
Soviet and Viet Cong flags fly over American protests — while Nixon, like his predecessor, Johnson, becomes convinced that Communists are actively infiltrating American society and instigating, sustaining and sponsoring the antiwar protests, an assertion which is certainly vindicated by post-Soviet archives and today’s reports of Russian and Chinese spying and propaganda campaigns to influence American life.
The drug culture also took root in the wake of the Vietnam War.
“Heroin was cheap, pure and everywhere”, someone reports, and the Pentagon would eventually admit that 40,000 American troops were addicted to heroin. This episode covers the so-called Pentagon Papers, later depicted in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg in a 1971 article series published in the New York Times. The report, which shows that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson lied and misled the public about the Vietnam War, led to a key free speech ruling by the Supreme Court.
Also look for a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a naked South Vietnamese girl running with Napalm tearing off her skin after having been bombed by South Vietnam. The picture further fortified people’s war opposition with another example of South Vietnamese and U.S. inability to plan, wage and win a war against the aggressor.
South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, too, like the man he sought to replace in the White House, was caught meddling in the peace process, trying to cut a deal with North Vietnam, as POW Kushner‘s wife seconds his nomination at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida.
Miami’s also the site of the 1972 Republican National Convention. This is where Richard Nixon is nominated for his second and final term before winning a landslide victory over McGovern and resigning in August of 1974. The documentary includes nothing substantial, unfortunately, about Nixon eliminating the draft. I find it telling that such a historic act goes unaccounted for during the series. Nixon’s Watergate break-in is covered. But what is arguably his best achievement, abolition of the draft, made possible to abolish during the Vietnam War, is all but ignored.
Instead, the infamous, arguably treasonous, two-week visit to the enemy state by an accomplished if vacuous American actress in 1972 is rationalized. Jane Fonda, reduced to a sexual fantasy, shown nude with no commentary or defense of her actions, nor an attempt to account for whether she was approached for an interview, appears in a short segment consisting of a few minutes showing her collaboration with the enemy.
At least The Vietnam War reports for historical purposes that, in fact, Fonda called for the execution of American soldiers.
Fonda is not alone in collaborating with the enemy, however. Kissinger secretly negotiated with North Vietnam without the knowledge, consent or involvement of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese president, a corrupt official like most South Vietnamese leaders, learned about the Nixon administration’s secret negotiations from a document found in a Communist bunker.
Other parts of this episode include the Christmas bombing of Hanoi after peace talks start in Paris and footage of President Nixon’s televised address to the nation the day after Lyndon Johnson died at his ranch in Texas in 1973.
The ninth episode ends after ABC News journalist Harry Reasonerannounces a climactic homecoming for American prisoners of war.
The Vietnam War comes to an end in the 10th episode, “The Weight of Memory”, which picks up in March of 1973.
To understand the Vietnam War, watch this series and episode. It covers essential facts from the date the last troops leave Vietnam, March 29, 1973, to the same date two years later when South Vietnam’s second largest city, Da Nang, falls to Communists. You will learn about the country where tens of thousands of Americans had been killed, tortured and wounded and glimpse history as Vietnam begins to fall under dictatorship. For this alone, the final episode ought to be seen.
Much of this comes as an afterword. President Nixon welcomes POWs at the White House. There goes John McCain in footage from May 24, 1973, limping in his naval uniform to the ceremony at the White House. Watch interviews with some of the few hundred United States Marines posted to guard American consulates and the embassy in Saigon. See the photograph of a man upside down flying through the air for a snapshot of the deadly frenzy that took place in South Vietnam’s final months. Contemplate the 2.5 million American troops who served in the Vietnam War.
South Vietnam attempted to reclaim itself with an army that had been unsuccessful in eradicating South Vietnam of its enemies even with the help of 600,000 American troops. When U.S. war funds halted on August 15, 1973, and supplies, spare parts and ammunition ceased, conditions in South Vietnam quickly deteriorated.
“Defeat was inevitable,” someone recalls. “Da Nang was not captured,” an American reporter remembered, “it disintegrated in its own terror.“
Remembers one who is South Vietnamese in words that ought to be taken seriously: “You have to lose a nation to feel that humiliation.” On April 27, 1975, rockets were landing in the heart of Saigon. Finally, at 7:53 AM on April 30, 1975, the last helicopter lifted off the U.S. embassy roof in Saigon with the United States Marines who had remained. Master Sergeant Juan Valdez was the last American to climb aboard.
Darkness fell. Mass executions, torture and worse followed. South Vietnam soon ceased to exist. The Americans and their press, cameras and attention were gone. Then, came the Communists’ re-education camps.
“Some believed they were going for a short time,” one South Vietnamese man remembers. With a deep sense of weary knowing and bitterness, he adds: “But not me.”
He goes on: “I was detained in a re-education camp for 17 and a half years. I was among the last 100 people to be released.” Today, one Communist North Vietnamese man admits, “the nation is more divided than ever.”
After the fall of Saigon, Le Duan sought to make Vietnam “an impregnable outpost of the socialist system”. Capitalism was abolished. Inflation rose 700 percent a year. People starved. Some 400,000 of the boat people made it to the United States and settled in America, many in Orange County and other areas of Southern California. Many among the boat people died. Refugees often drowned.
The Vietnam War leaves the ensuing mayhem, disorder and panic to one’s imagination. You can almost hear the screams. You may be haunted by the faces of those left behind.
What was ahead for departing Americans? What used to be called combat fatigue, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One Vietnam War veteran, Jan Scruggs, created a private charity in 1981 called the Vietnam War Memorial Fund.
His charity earned more than $8 million from voluntary, private gifts or donations from 650,000 Americans who sought to have a memorial. Though writer Tom Wolfe commented that he thought the memorial was a tribute to Jane Fonda, most of those interviewed who visit the two black walls of granite embedded into the ground in Washington, DC, are left sobbing, relieved or more understanding of the war in Vietnam. One antiwar radical apologizes to the Vietnam War veteran.
Pictures appear of President Clinton becoming the first American president to visit Vietnam in 2000. Barack Obama is also pictured visiting Communist Vietnam.
Major Kushner, whose valiant resistance to the enemy’s monstrosity is chronicled in earlier episodes, gets a postscript, too. The doctor remarried and became an ophthalmologist in Florida. The series closes with the Beatles song, “Let It Be”, which fits the documentary’s somber tone.
Despite the incompleteness, The Vietnam War skillfully reports part of an American experience that sheds light on a long war we lost through which America continues to divide, remain ignorant, lose confidence and evade reality. Over 40 years after Saigon fell, with innocents “yearning to breathe free” clinging to U.S. helicopters, Americans remain mired in unwinnable wars that never end.
America still sacrifices thousands of Americans. We remain plagued by doubt, shame and guilt. Ho Chi Minh’s political philosophy is taking root here, too, with nationalism, collectivism and socialism on the rise.
The Vietnam War does not document why we lost the Vietnam War. The series capably reports only that we withdrew from the mid-century war with everything less than victory. These ten parts are a shocking testimony which proves the hard and bleak truth that waging aimless war for the sake of others makes Americans stop wanting to win.
Several intellectuals in the Objectivist movement have been called upon to a contribute to a new compendium of essays attempting to apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy to politics. The result is what its editor, hedge fund manager, author and TV analyst Jonathan Hoenig (The Pit), titles A New Textbook of Americanism. The paperback edition, which includes newly published writing by Ayn Rand, is a useful resource for sorting through today’s complicated and deeply confused political debates.
By picking up on what Rand (1905-1982) started in association with a motion picture organization in Hollywood before writing Atlas Shrugged, Hoenig’s idea to continue her effort to answer certain questions she formulated and intended to eventually answer with new essays is an interesting and inviting proposition. Each reader, whether he’s an Objectivist or not, can read these essays and make a judgment.
That Hoenig adopts Rand’s take on the term Americanism is itself a departure from today’s loud, vacant discourse. So, the book, best read in bits according to one’s unique political confusions, interests and passions, challenges the left-right status quo.
By this, I mean that, in total, it’s easily distinguishable from either a conservative or a leftist manifesto. Each contributor, most of whom are academic intellectuals, and many of whom I know or am acquainted with, speaks for himself, not for Ayn Rand. To varying degrees their pieces are thought-provoking cases, essays and arguments about pressing political issues that relate to daily life.
For example, Hoenig writes:
If you give someone a wristwatch, does he become its rightful owner? Of course he does. He did not earn the money to buy the watch himself, but, upon you giving him the watch, it becomes his property. When a person who rightfully owns something gives it to someone else, that thing becomes the property of the recipient by virtue of the right of the giver to assign his property as he sees fit. An individual’s right to property, whether it is a wristwatch or an estate, includes the right to dispose of it.
The American founders identified life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as man’s inalienable rights because they are a requirement of life. As Ayn Rand clarified, “just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s ideas into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right to property.”
This example is an illustrative counterpoint to the prevailing opposition to property rights from leftists — including the swarm of leftist legislators such as Ocasio-Cortez or Warren — and from the new block of authoritarians on the right such as the first explicitly pro-eminent domain president Donald Trump. Many examples in the book challenge today’s false, toxic right-left alternative while clarifying or at the very least making a case for the Objectivist political ideal.
One scholar depicts America’s frontier history to provide proof that “Americanism heralded the natural aristocracy of ability, inventiveness, daring, and hard work.” Another points out that “a fortune made is always a fortune caused.” A philosopher writes that, contrary to the dog-eat-dog descriptions of capitalism as a ‘survival of the fittest’, literature’s Robinson Crusoe offers the more honest capitalist ideal because the stranded islander “…has to build shelter, learn to hunt, and make his own clothing. If he does not succeed in creating wealth, he will die. It is produce or perish.”
The author’s conclusion that the Industrial Revolution brought Americans unparalleled progress with “… the steamboat, the railroad, electricity, the telegraph, the telephone, the light bulb, refined oil, antiseptics, vaccines, the phonograph, the camera, the automobile, the radio” is undeniable.
Not that Hoenig’s A New Textbook of Americanism is a history lesson. Instead, the collection of essays generally weaves historical and other data points into specific political thought. Author Don Watkins takes on charity as a right, concluding that “to establish capitalism will depend on [Americans’] willingness to confidently and unapologetically reject the notion that a person’s need entitles him to the property of others.” Economist Richard Salsman correctly observes that when the government “imposes tariffs on imported steel, and thereby restricts supply and raises the price of steel domestically, it does so to give domestic steel companies a profit they did not produce and do not deserve.“
The net effect of reading the book is a challenge to the reader to think for himself. Some of the essays are better than others, of course, in terms of the quality of writing and persuasiveness. Depending on one’s preference for and exposure to various media in today’s sensory-driven culture, some, perhaps many, of these arguments have been made better and/or often before. Other intellectuals, including those who are not in academia, might make more compelling cases.
But Hoenig’s reach for general American audiences and those who strive for understanding Americanism is laudable; as the thinker’s self-defense, A New Textbook of Americanism is on the right track.
And in what other new book will today’s discouraged, confused or disoriented American individualist, looking for guidance toward achieving the nation of the enlightenment, find Ayn Rand differentiating patriotism from nationalism in her 1974 talk to U.S. military cadets at West Point and this excellent excerpt from the third and most recent book by Leonard Peikoff: “All the key features of a capitalist state — its validation, its powers and limits, the prerogatives and interrelationships of its citizens — are unified, because all are derived from a single principle: the worldly self preservation of the individual.”
Recently, an article in the Atlantic divulged the depth of reflexive anti-Americanism in Germany, another nation which Dr. Peikoff has brilliantly studied and examined. It turns out that a reporter for Germany’s leading publication, Der Spiegel, a magazine featured as having an admirable goal in The Lives of Others (2006), “fabricated information in more than a dozen articles—most of which were meant to reveal America’s brutality.”
As one of those “ominous parallels” which Hoenig’s book points out, our own American president snidely condemns this nation with the question: “you think our country’s so innocent?”
Jonathan Hoenig’s compendium dispels both leftist contempt for America while answering the ignorant, anti-American president with an informed, intelligent reply: Yes…because it is—and this is why.
Whether you’re an activist, an influencer or an Objectivist, or any, all or none of these, you may gain knowledge in these pages. For example, that the estate tax was not fixed as a permanent part of American law until 1916 and that, “before that, any attempt to impose a tax on estates was treated as an aberration to help the government [weather] a temporary emergency.”
You may also be inspired, as I am, by Americans in their Americanism. As one intellectual observes in this volume, “Steve Jobs [once] said: “[W]e think the Mac will sell zillions, but we did not build a Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do the market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”