The new year started with a turn of foreign events, as I wrote last week. Capitalism Magazine’s editor and publisher, without whom this blog, site and many articles would not be possible, asked to reprint it. Read my commentary on the day America’s impeached president of the United States ordered a pre-emptive and proper retaliation against Islamic Iran, the first serious strike against this enemy of Western civilization, here.
Iran attacks America, November 1979
Since the strike that killed a general for Iran’s army of Islamic terrorist proxy gangs and regimented soldiers of Allah, Iran has attacked America and a Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 innocents with missiles. The American president pledged this morning that, while showing restraint by declining to hit back for the moment, he will prevent the state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring nuclear weapons. When his predecessor brokered a deal with Iran that returned billions of dollars which were withheld after Iran attacked America and seized our embassy, capturing 66 Americans as prisoners of war in Iran’s jihad (“holy war”) against the West, I called it Obama’s death pact. Horrifically, for the Americans and others, including 63 Canadians on board the Boeing 737 Iran shot down in Teheran, death or its imminent threat became real thanks to Obama’s Iran deal. Barack Obama continued U.S. selflessness in foreign policy which, for decades, appeased Iran.
May appeasement end with military defense ordered and enacted by President Trump.
Thirty-five years after it debuted in theaters, I watched a notorious movie by director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart). Read my new review of a restored version of Mr. Coppola’s 1984 motion picture, The Cotton Club, now available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming for its 35th anniversary, here.
Though I never saw the original in either theatrical or home video release, I was not disappointed in The Cotton Club (encore edition). It isn’t perfect, as I write in the review. But its jazz and tap dance scenes offer rare and exquisite entertainment.
The Harlem-themed epic has an unusual history. This is Mr. Coppola’s first movie after a self-financed 1982 musical, One from the Heart, lost money. The Cotton Club was made and financed by a range of contentious principals, such as the late producer Robert Evans, and others, such as Orion Pictures, now owned by MGM, which Lionsgate purchased, acquiring its library years ago.
The nightclub, where in reality only Negroes were allowed to perform for an exclusively white audience, was a swank joint on Manhattan’s upper end. The film features a score by the late composer John Barry, leading performances by Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Lonette McKee (the 1976 original remade with Whitney Houston in Sparkle) and the late Gregory Hines. Also look for Mario Van Peebles, Gwen Verdon, James Remar, Maurice Hines, who appears in a home video segment with Mr. Coppola, Lawrence Fishburne (Boyz N the Hood) as a thug named Bumpy Rhodes, Jackee Harry (227), Jennifer Grey, Nicolas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne and Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) as a club doorman. Music by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong is fabulous.
“This is the movie I meant you to see”, Mr. Coppola, referring to the additional 20 minutes, tells a New York audience in the Q&A feature in the bonus segments. The panel includes disclosures about lawsuits, attempts to steal the negative and a murder trial surrounding The Cotton Club, which debuted in the fall of 1984. Francis Ford Coppola also remembers reading and being influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel, Childhood’s End, with a black character and Maurice Hines recalling his late brother, Gregory, and their grandmother being an original Cotton Club showgirl.
Read the article
Finally, my editor informed me this morning that my article about Pittsburgh and its connection to Ayn Rand (1905-1982) for the winter edition of the print publication Pittsburgh Quarterly, is featured on the online version’s cover. Read about Rand, who revered the Industrial Revolution, and the city of bridges, steel and progress, here.
President Trump apparently ordered today’s pre-emptive strike on Iran’s top military official for planning to mass murder Americans in Iraq. The Islamic dictatorship of Iran confirmed the death. The New York Times reports confirmation of both assertions.
The historic nature of this excellent act of U.S. self-defense is unmistakable. Donald Trump is the first American president to militarily counterstrike this evil enemy explicitly on the principle of saving American lives. Time and again, from President Carter, who refused to assassinate Iran’s first Islamic dictator, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, before the monster returned to impose a barbaric theocracy, to President Obama, who appeased Iran and brokered a deal which brought Israel’s prime minister and the late Elie Wiesel to plead to a joint session of Congress for U.S. rejection of Obama’s death pact.
“This is devastating for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the [Islamic] regime and Khamenei’s regional ambitions,” Mark Dubowitz, who runs a think tank opposing appeasement of Iran, referring to the Iranian dictatorship’s ayatollah, told the Times, which reported that President Trump ordered the drone strike on Baghdad’s International Airport.
In the 40 years since Iran waged war on America by seizing our embassy in Teheran, capturing Americans as prisoners of war wrongly dubbed “hostages”, beating U.S. Marines, baiting Americans for a race war involving radical leftists including Rev. Jesse Jackson and waging war with mass murder on American Marines in Beirut and across the world, including sponsoring nonstop attacks on America from hijacked passenger jets to countless untold acts of war, not a single American government hit Iran back hard. Carter shrunk in defeat after his folly over Khomeini. Reagan retreated. Bush the pappy appeased Iran, letting the savages threaten a published Western author and bomb American bookstores. Clinton did nothing when Iran bombed the United States Navy. Bush the son ordered the Marines to stand down in Iraq when Iran’s mystics ordered a siege against America. Obama welcomed and appeased Iran over and over. Even when Obama ordered the U.S. military to kill the top Moslem connected to carrying out the attack on Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001, he did so with a sad, morose, somber tone and honored the monster, granting an Islamic ritual at sea. And pleading with the enemy by pledging that he had done so in accordance with the faith that moves the enemy to destroy the West.
On Friday, January 3, 2020, the third American president to be impeached by Congress, Donald Trump, hit Iran by taking out one of its top thugs. It’s even better that he did so on the grounds of saving Americans’ lives, contrary to all of his presidential predecessors combined, who
“General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “General Suleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
Hong Kong’s protest leader Joshua Wong recently Tweeted this image of a painting, which imitates Liberty Leading the People (1830) by French romanticist painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), whose painting is at the Louvre in Paris. This brave young anti-Communist and his fellow rebels in Hong Kong fight as I write this for their freedom, lives and future. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, those supporting and participating in the Hong Kong protests fight for the future by living in it today.
Nothing on earth, based on what I know, matters more to the West’s survival at this moment than Hong Kong. That few think about, let alone grasp the meaning and magnitude of, this assertion is a fact of reality. Those that don’t want to know or do not care about Hong Kong, the West, America, rights and individualism are, ultimately, of no consequence.
Among those who do, it’s additionally discouraging to know that few choose to stand with Hong Kong. Rare friends, who on these issues are more like brothers, such as Andrew, Maryallene, Rohit, Amy and Mark, make a point to take the lead, express support and in clear and explicit terms.
Most do not, even among those who claim to know better, as I recently reaffirmed while skimming social media. After reading a portion of an extended comments thread from a post about a dispute between the author of an innocuous commentary about being gay and an anti-sex critic, this inversion became clear. The thread chiefly consists of aimless speculation about what one might do about this or that in response to (!) an arbitrary assertion. The comments are posted by those who claim (or ought) to know better as Hong Kong hangs in the balance. The frenzy’s not an occasional occurrence. Posting about trivial issues “while Rome burns” is chronic. Today’s best minds are consumed by memes, pictures and nonsense.
Meanwhile, Communist China, which poses a military threat to the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, Australia, South Korea and every pro-Western nation, allied with America’s worst enemies, Iran and North Korea. This comes as Hong Kong’s rebellion spins Communist dictator Xi Jinping and his dictatorship into turmoil. Today’s New York Times reports that
… at a meeting that has not been publicly disclosed, Mr. Xi met with other senior officials to discuss the protests. The range of options discussed is unclear, but the leaders agreed that the central government should not intervene forcefully, at least for now, several people familiar with the issue said in interviews in Hong Kong and Beijing…Now Mr. Xi faces an even bigger trade war, with much higher tariffs and greater tensions. The [dictatorship] appears to be hewing to a strategy of waiting out Mr. Trump, possibly through his 2020 re-election campaign, even as the dispute has become a drag on the economy…[Red China’s puppet in Hong Kong] offered a candid assessment of Beijing’s views, even if one she did not intend to make public. She said Beijing had no plan to send in the People’s Liberation Army to restore order because “they’re just quite scared now.”
“Because they know that the price would be too huge to pay,” she went on. “Maybe they don’t care about Hong Kong, but they care about ‘one country, two systems.’ They care about the country’s international profile. It has taken China a long time to build up to that sort of international profile.”
… State television and the party’s newspapers now refer to [Xi] as “the People’s Leader,” an honorific once bestowed only on Mao. “The People’s Leader loves the people,” The People’s Daily wrote after Mr. Xi toured Gansu, a province in western China. Mr. Xi’s calculation might be simply to remain patient, as he has been in the case of Mr. Trump’s erratic shifts in the trade war. In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Xi also gave a possible hint of the government’s pragmatism.
“On matters of principle, not an inch will be yielded,” he said, “but on matters of tactics there can be flexibility.”
Journalist John Stossel once told me during an interview in New York City that real news, i.e., the first draft of history, happens slowly. I think this is true. What happens in Hong Kong matters.
I’ve been writing about Asia, China, Korea, Vietnam and the Orient for decades and it’s impossible for me to ignore that, in this singular act of rebellion led by brave Mr. Wong and his comrades, the East comes to a climax which has the potential to uproot Communist China and pivot to buy time to save the West. The rational individual ought to dispense with the meaningless and instead watch, think, evaluate, judge and exercise free speech to support the rebellion for liberty in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong, who was arrested for crimes against the state and is out on bail, strikes me as savvy enough to know that even the best minds in the West are too easily distracted by pictures and other sensory diversions. So, he’s posted a painting as propaganda to support his noble cause. But in words and deeds, nothing less than his life, and his love of it, is at stake.
My recent post on Communist China, Hong Kong, Trump and the 2020 Democrats was on the cover of Capitalism Magazine. Though I do not endorse tariffs and I explicitly declined to do so or go into detail on trade, military and foreign policy, I credit the American president for ending 50 years of unchecked sanction and appeasement of Communist China. I also contrast the president with the 2020 Democrats in this context.
The impetus for writing my first and only positive Trump post since the pragmatist announced he was running for president four years ago is the realization that, for the first time in recent history, the U.S. government explicitly and actively challenges Communist China’s power, if not with consistency, let alone on principle.
This is thanks to Trump. I think opposing China is a mark of American progress. Read my post about Trump, Democrats and China on Capitalism Magazine here.
Capitalism Magazine also asked to reprint an excerpt from my review of Ken Burns’s PBS miniseries, The Vietnam War. Read the excerpt here. This is part of my recent series of Asian-themed posts, including a review of the Vietnam War-themed Broadway musical now touring, Miss Saigon.
I’ve also written a new movie review. Oscar’s Best Picture winner for 1987, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, has been on my list of movies to watch for many years.
Encouraged and emboldened by the protests for democracy and individual rights in Hong Kong, the pro-Western city now protesting control by Communist China, a cosmopolitan city which once welcomed American whistleblower and hero Edward Snowden, granting him sanctuary from the oppressive Obama administration, I recently watched the movie with China and its rich history in mind. Read my review of The Last Emperor, featured on the cover of The New Romanticist, here.
Hong Kong’s rejection of Communist China’s extradition rule and the governance of Communist China puppet ruler Carrie Lam is an unsurprising recent development. With its British colonial history, Hong Kong has been an outpost of Western civilization in the Orient; an Occidentalist center for trading food, especially seafood, goods and services bridging east and west. Much of the city’s population went along with Britain’s adherence to a pre-Communist agreement to return Hong Kong to China in 1997, which Leonard Peikoff once observed may have been influenced by Reagan’s refusal to back Thatcher’s withdrawal or refusal to recognize the agreement on the grounds that its terms were voided by dictatorship.
Hong Kong’s cosmopolitanism and independence endures. From freedom fighter and activist Joshua Wong to millions waving American flags and uniting to sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the Broadway musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Hong Kong yearns to be free, not ruled by the government that cracks down as I write this.
Privately, I’ve supported China’s liberalization to make progress toward capitalism. But I am proud to have never endorsed, let alone romanticized, the People’s Republic of China. This is true from my newspaper commentary calling for Bush’s secretary of state, the utterly incompetent Colin Powell, who is one of America’s worst military leaders and statesmen, to resign over his appeasement of China’s refusal to return a U.S. military crew and plane to my denunciation of China’s sponsorship of sporting spectacles. I think too many, including businesses such as Apple, artists and Objectivist speakers, and, of course, elected politicians, coddle, appease or ignore Communist China. It is in this sense that I think President Trumpis right to oppose China.
I am not a foreign policy thinker, though I’ve covered China in my writing and journalism. I am not a war, military or other type of historian. I do not study Asian history or military strategy for a living. I am certainly not an economist. I’ve read some books about the relevant topics. I’ve taken some courses. And I study philosophy. So, I recognize the implications of China’s threat to the West. Currently, I follow a range of several thinkers, commentators and scholars, including, in the past, the late John David Lewis, the forementioned philosopher Dr. Peikoff and Gordon Chang, among others. Accordingly, with Trump’s tariffs and trade war and Hong Kong as a potential flashpoint, I think China is in some sort of internal turmoil and poses a serious danger to the West. China recently allied with North Korea, a Stalinist state threatening nuclear attack on the U.S. and invasion of South Korea, which is currently governed by an anti-American who recently reneged on an agreement to share intelligence with Japan.
The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea and not merely to protect that country, which, like Taiwan, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and U.S. Pacific territories and states, is crucial to sustaining America. China’s militarism, coddled by Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, including its advancement on the South China Sea, like its ally Islamic Iran, is dangerous. This is to say nothing of China’s constant attacks on Americans’ property. To his credit, and I am among the first to critique the nation’s president, before he was elected president and before bashing him became an American cultural fixation and leftist dogma, Donald Trump’s is the first American government to stand up to China. Whatever Trump’s motives, mistakes and complete lack of principles, and whatever the ominous signs of what his presidency and its often mindless following means, Trump on China is a step in the right direction.
For the first time in America’s modern history, and this goes to the issue of America’s future and retaining or reconstructing what makes America great, the United States acts primarily in the interest of the United States with regard to China. Mine is not an endorsement of tariffs in general or in specific. I disagree with most of what Trump thinks, including his positions on Snowden, the surveillance state and health care as a right, to name a few. I’ve said so and under my own name. But I think his standing up to China, if and to the degree he does, is important, possibly crucial, and good. If progress means advancement of civilized humankind with living on earth as the standard and I think it does, Trump on China in terms of demanding certain terms and conditions for trade and military policy, is progressive.
This brings me to Trump’s detractors, the so-called ‘progressives’ running for president.
The 2020 Democrats are a band of goons, thugs and loons. Democrats want to rob Americans for slavery reparations. Nearly every Democratic Party presidential candidate seeks to ban, control or dictate property, livelihoods, medicine, exercise of speech and cars. Many endorse socialism, socialized medicine and fascism. The frontrunner says he wants to dictate the automotive industry and force Americans to drive electrical cars. One candidate seeks to impose a national collective income. The same candidate plans to install gigantic mirrors in outer space to fight the sun’s rays in the name of opposing a change in earth’s climate, which Democrats believe is a kind of apocalypse caused by humanity. Every Democrat running for president seeks total government control of the medical profession. Even an otherwise reasonable candidate such as South Bend, Indiana’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg, has come out for slavery reparations.
This fact alone makes Trump’s re-election more plausible and, while I didn’t support Trump in 2016 and actively spoke out against and oppose his protectionism and other anti-capitalism, I am willing to consider voting for the ex-Democrat as against a candidate who supports socialism, opposes pure capitalism and pledges to violate my right to speech, association and life to ban my car and confiscate my property for slavery reparations, a national income and socialized medicine, college tuition and whatever other lunacy they have in mind.
The premise of the Democrats’ totalitarian environmentalism and socialism is altruism. Why would you trust one who explicitly opposes egoism to defend the United States of America? Trump is bad, terribly anti-intellectual, and it’s true that he’s an authoritarian at least in psychological terms. However vulgar, nationalistic and anti-capitalist his presidency, which is marginally better than I forecast, he’s looking better than the alternative, each of whom shares the same moral premise and economic ideal as China.
As the West watches the world’s danger zones — Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, Yemen, Israel, Seoul, Kashmir, Kabul, Taiwan, the Sea of Japan, Straits of Hormuz and South China Sea — especially Hong Kong, which once not long ago granted refuge to an American who defied the Obama administration to challenge the status quo and cripple the surveillance state, whose citizens seek to live in liberty, I think it’s important to stand up to China. For the first time in my life, the American president (an anti-intellectual made possible by his thoroughly anti-American predecessor) does.
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.