A (South) Vietnamese-American Perspective on the Burns/PBS Series
- 1 Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s Message via the 10-episode Film about the Vietnam War
- 2 About the intended audience
- 3 Rebuttal of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s Propositions via the 10-episode Film about the Vietnam War
- 4 Following is a rebuttal of the two foundational premises, the irrationality and immorality of the war.
- 5 Was the Vietnam War immoral?
- 6 Rebuttal of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s propositions vis-à-vis objectives
Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s Message via the 10-episode Film about the Vietnam War
This essay is intended to bring to light the message Ken Burns and Lynn Novick sent to the American audience via the 10-episode film, “The Vietnam War”, premiered on PBS during the last two weeks of September, 2017. The authors have no intention to delve into any argument about the specifics or minutiae of the episodes, but will extend their purview to the underlying semantic structure of the entire film. After the revelation of the message will follow a rebuttal of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s intended propositions.
The 10-episode film shows a tremendously laudable effort in gathering a huge amount of documents about the war, adeptly synthesized and classified under two undergirding premises: the irrationality and immorality of the Vietnam war. These two premises serve as the foundational logic for the following proposed objectives:
- Acknowledge and generate deep empathy for the shame and pain that have been being endured by the American Vietnam veterans and their families;
- Promote the concept that the American people had chosen the wrong side to fight;
- Accuse the United States government of having conducted a wrong policy about the war in Vietnam leading to so much pain and suffering undergone by both the peoples of the United States and Vietnam; and finally
- Argue for a policy of “Forgiveness and Reconciliation” since after so much pain and suffering, both American and Vietnamese people realize that the war was irrational and immoral and that all people, regardless of race and culture, have blood and a heart in their bodies and are capable of love.
The two premises and the four objectives are intended to address the American audience only.
With the purpose of clarifying Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s message, the authors of this article are going to expand the semantic dimensions of those two premises and four objectives as follows:
About the intended audience
More than 90% of the scenes presented in the 10-episode film was intended for the American audience only. Vietnam as a country, the people and the government of South Vietnam, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) were used only as a background. Also, all the points of view expressed therein were intended primarily to address the American audience.
About the two premises, irrationality and immorality, of the war
“The Vietnam war” is an attempt to prove the irrationality of the war for the following reasons:
Vietnam is a distant land, far from the United States by 10,000 miles. The Vietnamese people simply desired to live a peaceful life and minded their own business. They did not hurt any interests whatsoever of the United States. So, why in the world did the United States send boots on the ground in Vietnam and kill Vietnamese people? American soldiers did not understand why they had to fight and fight for what purpose. It was quite incomprehensible for American soldiers to have shed blood for South Vietnam while the government of South Vietnam was corrupt; the ARVN was cowardly, incompetent, unable to confront “a real bang” (Nixon).
While American soldiers died for South Vietnam, their perception was that all Vietnamese people, both from the North and the South, hated Americans.
And above all,since nobody could explain the reason for which Americans had to fight in Vietnam, it would be all the more logical to conclude that the war was irrational, based only on the simple fact that more than 58,000 Americans and approximately 3,000,000 Vietnamese had to perish, not counting the number of people wounded physically and with different post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and the members of their families who had to undergo so much pain and suffering.
The Vietnam war was immoral because:
The government of the United States had lied to the American people about the truth of the war. A few examples would be President Johnson sent troops to Vietnam without informing the American people; President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without asking Congress for permission and the American peopl e were not privy to the incident; President Nixon declared,with the single purpose of being elected, that the battle in Laos had proven the success of his Vietnamization policy while it was factually a disastrous failure; President Nixon officially promised to intervene in the case of Northern invasion, etc…
American generals and other high level military officers were reported to have also lied to the United states government. An example is a high officer witnessed the My Lai massacre and disregarded it. Generals submitted faulty reports about the results of the battles, over-blowing body counts by adding the number of dead civilians.
American soldiers purloined merchandise from Post Exchanges (PXs) for sale in exchange for dope and flooded the market of South Vietnam with American commodities, creating a state of artificial prosperity and pushing Vietnamese girls from the impoverished countryside to swarm into cities as prostitutes.
The war, beside the factual reported slaughtering – presumably without any legitimate reason – of over 58,000 American soldiers and about 3,000,000 Vietnamese soldiers and innocent civilians including women, children, and infants, especially in the so-called “free fire zones” in order to account for the high body counts, was shown with gory graphic pictures of dead Americans in body bags; scenes of dead American bodies with arms, legs amputated; dead bodies of soldiers from North Vietnam disemboweled mixed with maimed bodies of civilians piled up in huge masses like animals. Especially, the horrible scene of the My Lai massacre was shown several times. In addition to the deceased, there still were many other wounded soldiers whose lives have been tainted by pain caused by physical as well as psychological impairments and by the suffering that their families had to undergo.
The immorality of the war, therefore, lies in the fact that all that dishonesty, all that pain, and all that suffering are believed to have no solid basis for justification.
The issues of irrationality and immorality of the war are addressed to buttress the following intended objectives:
Firstly, to generate deep empathy for and acknowledge the pain and suffering that the American Vietnam veterans, who are believed to have vainly sacrificed themselves in Vietnam, have to undergo for decades. The majority of American draftees for the Vietnam war, according to the film, were reported to be either black or belong to poor families. They were said to not understand why they had to fight in Vietnam. They, as human beings, only spontaneously shed tears when their friends, who were eating meals with them, playing and making jokes with them on a daily basis, suddenly got shot down and died. And this story repeated itself every day -- day in, day out -- throughout the 13 months of their service rotation. Their families followed reports about the war on a daily basis, anticipating with fear the possible imminent bearer of the bad news. Among the homecoming soldiers were many who suffered intense pain from wounds, physical and psychological, such as amputated limbs and PSTD that they had to keep to themselves because at that time, the American people did not see the rationale for the war, either. They were against the war and called the Vietnam veterans war criminals and baby killers. Even officers newly graduated from West Point, in spite of the fact that they enthusiastically volunteered to fight in Vietnam because in doing so, they believed they were serving their country, were also believed to not understand the reason for which they fought in Vietnam. A small number of these officers was reported to have lost faith in the government and become anti-war activists because of the war atrocities they had personally witnessed. The graphic pictures of misery and death presented in the film alongside extremely emotional expressions by interviewees generated a tremendously deep empathy for the Vietnam veterans. The goal of the film was to liberate the suffocated pain suffered by the Vietnam veterans via tears of love and understanding.
Secondly, to slide into the American audience’s subconscious the concept that abandonment of South Vietnam was an appropriate, logical, and moral act. There should be absolutely no reason for Americans to embrace a complex of culpability, as some would have thought. Apparently the obvious justification for this subliminal message was the American people had chosen the wrong side to fight. This concept naturally implies that communist North Vietnam should have been the ally of the United States with the corollary that free South Vietnam should have been the enemy of the United States. Generously spread all over the episodes is the idea that the North fought for an ideal, for patriotism: their soldiers were courageous, disciplined, and persistent. The soldiers of the South were reported to be cowardly, incompetent and the government, corrupt.
Thirdly, to prove that the American people including over 2,000,000 soldiers fighting in Vietnam during their 13-month service rotations for 10 years were simply innocent victims and sacrificial lambs of the erroneous and inhuman war policies conducted by the United States government, who had lied to and cheated the American people in order to satisfy the ruling clique’s political and economic interests and privileges. Capitalists enriched themselves by supplying military equipment such as military outfits of all kinds, weaponry, ammunition, cars, tanks, planes, gas, bombs, and other supplemental commodities to support the lives of the American soldiers in a distant land that lacked all modern facilities. Politicians promoted erroneous policies, the purpose of which simply was for them to get elected, an objective that was more important than the lives of the entire population of South Vietnam.
And fourthly, to promote the universal value of human love and understanding since the nonsensical war has been terminated. The peaceful scenery of Vietnam was shown in the film with children happily playing. People are being positively involved in conducting their businesses for individual prosperity. American Vietnam veterans are coming back to Vietnam for a visit and are meeting with friendly Vietnamese Communist veterans. The film was structured in such a way that they, both Americans and Communist Vietnamese, all appeared to realize that the conduct of the war was irrational and immoral; that all, regardless of whether one is American or Communist Vietnamese, had a heart pumping blood in their body; that everyone sobbed miserably for their friends and loved ones who had died. They embraced one another as a token of profound mutual understanding and empathy. The climax of the underlying argument of the 10-episode film was a call for “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”
Rebuttal of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s Propositions via the 10-episode Film about the Vietnam War
First of all, the authors of this article would like to call the readers’ attention to the fact that throughout the 10 episodes of the film shown for 18 hours on PBS, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick only addressed the American audience while the narrative was exclusively about the Vietnam war. The entire people, the ARVN, the government of South Vietnam were used simply as a background with a very limited amount of time spent on that background. And any time the film referred to the people, the ARVN, and the government of South Vietnam; one could only hear negative narratives and see detestable specticals. Not only does this attitude refute historical truths, but it also insults the people, the ARVN, and the former government of South Vietnam, who had fought shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers against the Communists. It insults more than 1.5 million people of South Vietnam, who, defying death, challenged the rough seas and escaped the cruel, oppressive and dictatorial Vietnamese communist regime. A majority of these people have settled in the United States, contributed significantly to the development and prosperity of this country in all fields:science, medicine, education, economics, politics, and military. In the military field, there currently are many Vietnamese American officers of the colonel rank, ready to be promoted to the rank of general. Luong Xuan Viet is a general. Duong Nguyet Anh is a scientist who created the smart bomb and whose contributions to the United were judged by George Will as more than adequate repay to this country of both capital and interests. There are many Vietnamese American scientists who worked or are working for and contributing their specialized expertise to NASA, among whom Dr. Nguyen Xuan Vinh, Dr. Trinh Huu Chau, Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tien, Dr. Bui Tri Trong, Dr. Dinh Ba Tien, Dr. Nguyen Trong Hien, just to name a few. There are many others who are contributing significantly in other areas of development.
Following is a rebuttal of the two foundational premises, the irrationality and immorality of the war.
The Legitimate Reasons for Which Americans Fought in the Vietnam War
Is it true that the conduct of the war in Vietnam by Americans is irrational because there are no justifiably legitimate reasons for which the war was fought?
The answer is a resounding no. On the official level, the United States after World War II was afraid that international communism under the leadership of the Soviet Union and China after invading and conquering Vietnam would continue to expand hegemony to Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia…and probably even to New Zealand and Australia, in accordance with the domino theory. If history should have taken that turn, international communism would have had the upper hand and defeated the free world, of which the principal player was the United States, who would have lost all geopolitical influences in the entire South-East Asia region and all American economic interests in the Pacific would have been seriously hurt. This reality did not account for the probable theory of the Military-Industrial Complex, of which the aim was to enrich those capitalists who supplied military equipment such as military outfits of all kinds, weaponry, ammunition, cars, tanks, planes, gas, bombs, and other supplemental commodities to support the lives of 2 million American soldiers rotating services in Vietnam. To the question whether these reasons were legitimate or not pertains to the authority of the United States government to respond. In the free world of today, reality teaches us that the United States does not participate in a war simply for the purpose of upholding ideological ideals, but usually for the purpose of defending the country’s practical interests. And the United States’ interests are believed to be legitimate reasons for fighting the war. As a result, the United States, at any price, was determined to involve herself in the Vietnam war. The possible fact that American soldiers and officers might not know the reasons for which they fought in Vietnam was either caused by lack of political education in their military training or by the refusal of the US government to keep them informed. There is also the possibility that they did know the reasons, but the technical structure of the film intentionally turn them into unconscientious actors. There exists no evidence for the conclusion that they did not know the reasons for which they fought in Vietnam. If they had not known the reasons that encouraged them to fight for the defense of freedom for the people of South Vietnam, why do they always carry along with them the emblem of the South Vietnam Republic flag, which should have been a token of shame to them? We, Vietnamese, see no ground for accusing the US government of a probable theory of Military-Industrial Complex. We believe that the US official declaration of prevention of coercive communist hegemony is adequate and legitimate cause for fighting the war. We, Vietnamese, have a crystal clear understanding of the reasons why we fought. We fought because we understood the cruelty and dictatorship exerted by the communists. We fought because we did not wish the communists to impose a barbarous and inhuman regime upon us. More than 1,000,000 people from North Vietnam fled their native land and emigrated to the South in 1954 in order to escape totalitarianism is ample evidence for this point. The second exodus of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s also corroborated the stated fact. And the Vietnamese people of South Vietnam firmly believed that the American people supported them in the defense of this beautiful ideal of liberty. If the American people including those soldiers who fought in Vietnam agree with this point of view and with the fact that they sacrificed themselves for a lofty cause and we don’t see any reason why they don’t, then the conduct of the war in Vietnam by the American people alongside the Vietnamese people in South Vietnam came from a rational decision and did in fact have a justifiably legitimate reason, a just cause.
Was the Vietnam War immoral?
In reality there is no war that is moral if judged only on the criterion of deaths. The history of the eleven principal crusades had as objectives the recuperation and protection of the Holy Land. However, facts revealed that protection of the Holy Land was only a pretext. A majority of leaders of the crusades were non-heir princes who joined the crusades with the intention to loot, capture slaves and abuse women. At present, jihadists call those who don’t believe in Allah infidels and faithfully believe that killing them is justifiably moral. Let’s just re-assess the morality of the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, and in Syria: millions of innocent people including women, children, and infants have died and did not know the reasons why they had to die. Did they die only because of the competitive struggles for geopolitical influences and for economic interests of the super powers?
There is no doubt consensus on the fact that the Vietnam war cost many American lives and Vietnamese lives including millions of those of Vietnamese soldiers from North and South Vietnam and many innocent civilians including women and children, as any other wars would.
Blatantly graphic depictions of wars very often create extreme emotions and slant judgment. During the Vietnam war, the picture of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Nguyen Van Lem, aka Bay Lop, taken by photojournalist Eddie Adams was probably the one that generated the strongest emotion of horror all over the world. Unfortunately, however, a single picture usually does not tell the whole story.The fact was on the previous night, Bay Lop single-handedly killed a lieutenant colonel police officer and his wife along with her three little children and proclaimed he was very proud of his obnoxious act. Article 4 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 stipulates that if a person does not wear a proper military uniform and/or any other sign indicating that the person is a soldier and who kills civilians; that person is legally eligible for punishment including summary execution. Bay Lop met all the qualifications stipulated by the Article and General Loan’s summary execution of Bay Lop was believed to be legal. Eddie Adams apologized to General Loan and became friends with him in Washington, D.C. until his death on July 14, 1998.
Immorality in case of wars implicates killing innocent people without a justifiable cause. As far as legitimate reasons for the war is concerned, the Vietnamese people of South Vietnam fought for the legitimate and moral ideal of liberty, a justifiably irresistible ideal of a war of self-defense. The people of South Vietnam believed that the American people and the US government had the same moral position regarding the noble cause of the Vietnam war, which was to protect and defend freedom from having authoritarianism and totalitarianism imposed upon the people of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese people of South Vietnam did not have any intention to invade North Vietnam as the government of North Vietnam did in fact invade South Vietnam and did by force take away the freedom and independence of the people of South Vietnam. The people of South Vietnam only desired to live their peaceful lives and defend their freedom. They believed their American ally was supporting them in the defense of this noble ideal. Fighting to defend freedom is fighting to defend the right to life, the most urgent and essential human right.It is logically impossible not to fight because not to fight in this case means deliberate consenting to self-immolation, which – judged by any standards –would be unacceptable. The just cause of the Vietnam war is therefore a moral one.
Rebuttal of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s propositions vis-à-vis objectives
Breaking the logic of the two premises, the irrationality and immorality of the Vietnam war, is to uproot the logical foundation for the four objectives forwarded by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick because their propositions about the objectives are only corollaries of the two premises.
However, in order to clarify such obfuscating issues, the authors of this article would like to pinpoint the fallacies of their propositions.
As far as objective One is concerned, there is as a matter of fact no need for anybody to reiterate the shame that was undergone by the American Vietnam veterans; neither is there any need for creating empathy for their pain and suffering. They don’t need empathy, or worse, sympathy. They are warriors. They need recognition of their courage, heroism, and idealism. Recently, there have been many history books written by cognizant historians and by some American Vietnam veterans themselves revealing the truths about the legitimate war, about valiant American and South Vietnamese warriors in historic battles to defend freedom. These accounts of heroic deeds for a just cause have eradicated all shame labeled upon the American Vietnam veterans and regained their reputation of gallantry, honor and idealism. These accounts have healed their psychological wounds and turned them from war criminals into proud, valiant and honorable heroes.
The objective of training the American people’s thinking processes into accepting the concept that the American people had chosen the wrong side to fight is either a clear indication of lack of power of intellect or an outright intentional refusal to acknowledge the obvious. The apparent reasons attached to this proposition are: (1) the Vietnamese communist soldiers fought the war because of patriotism; they were idealistic, courageous, disciplined, and persistent while the soldiers of South Vietnam were cowardly, incompetent, and unable to engage themselves in a real battle; (2) Ho Chi Minh was a talented person, equipped with idealistic patriotism while the leaders of South Vietnam were corrupt; and (3) all Vietnamese including people in South Vietnam were perceived to have hated Americans. Therefore, the concept forwarded by the film “The Vietnam War” was that the American people had chosen the wrong side to fight. This concept naturally led to the following extrapolations: (a) communist North Vietnam should have been the ally of the United States, and (b) free South Vietnam should have been the enemy of the American people.
This proposition reveals either a lack of power of intellect or an outright refusal to acknowledge the obvious in that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick were somehow not cognizant of the Vietnamese obscurantist propaganda techniques. People in North Vietnam expressed themselves in terms of idealism because they were indoctrinated to behave that way. They were falsely indoctrinated to believe that Ngo Dinh Diem carried with him a guillotine everywhere in the South, that Americans were horrible cannibals who practiced bestialities on Vietnamese women, and that Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam were mercenaries of the Americans. They were indoctrinated that they had to liberate the South.
Reality revealed that when confronted with the American armed forces and the ARVN, the Vietnamese communists, they admitted in the film, were frightened to death; however, assault to them was the only path to life. Secret police investigations revealed they had taken medicine to boost up adrenalin in order to have courage (cf. Lien Thanh). Therefore, they looked heroically courageous in spite of themselves.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick were not privy to the inhuman cruelty of the Vietnamese communists during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Scenes of 4 to 5 youngsters of approximately 14 to 16 years of age had their legs shackled to a machine gun to prevent them from running away when confronting the ARVN. Neither were Ken Burns and Lynn Novick privy to the atrocities committed by Vietnamese communists during that time. Communist youngsters of approximately 16 to 18 years of age executed more than 200 innocent civilians they gathered at an elementary school in Gia Hoi, Hue, by machine gunning them down and then buried them in holes dug up by the victims for themselves. After the incident, the youngsters engaged themselves in a play of shuttlecock as if nothing had happened. Also during the Tet Offensive, after they were defeated in Hue and had to withdraw, they took along with them over 6,000 innocent civilians and killed them with hoes or buried them alive in hastily dug up holes, with their arms tied behind their back; among these victims of atrocities were three German physicians who had taught at Hue University. Exactly 5,327 dead bodies and skeletons were reported by local officials to have been found outside Hue City and this number was lowered to 2,300 by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
The fighting capabilities of the ARVN were also inappropriately and falsely reported in the film. Almost the entire 10-episode film covered scenes of American GIs fiercely engaged in fighting communists with the implicated understanding that the ARVN did not fight because of cowardice and incompetence. If this were true, why could the ARVN hold on to their defensive positions from 1969 to 1975 when the United States had pulled out of South Vietnam 60% of their armed forces? Why were they able to push back the Easter Offensive of 1972; a total, complete, and overwhelming attack of the entire territories of South Vietnam by the entire conventional army of the North? There was the argument that without the air suppport by Americans, the ARVN would have been defeated. A counter-argument would be during the battles of Ap Bac, Binh Gia, Ia Drang, and Dak To; American air support was no less fierce, but Americans suffered heavy losses of lives and had to retreat at all those battles, while the ARVN was capable of pushing back the historic overwhelming assault on the entire South Vietnam and regained Quang Tri City in 1972. Why all of a sudden there did exist a Vietnamese hero, General Le Van Hung at the fight to the death at An Loc? Why South Vietnam could still hold on until April, 1975 after the United States had pulled out its entire armed forces in 1973 when the ARVN was short of ammunition, spare parts and gas for tanks and planes while the army of the North was fully supplied with modern weaponry by the Soviet Union and supported in the rear by 350,000 Chinese soldiers? Why in the world are we able to attest to the fact that there were still heroic acts like that of the Vietnamese General Le Minh Dao in his fight to the death resistance at Xuan Loc during the last days of April, 1975? If it were true that the ARVN was coward, incompetent, and unable to confront “a real bang”, then why did General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the American hero of the Iraq war and former advisor to Military Tactical Zone I in Vietnam, praise Vietnamese General Ngo Quang Truong by admitting that the general deserved to be his teacher? There does exist absolutely no rationale for explaining the paradoxical phenomenon of a cowardly, incompetent, unable to fight army becoming adept and gallant in battles all of a sudden.
The belief that Ho Chi Minh was firstly an idealistic nationalist, a patriot and secondarily a communist, contradicts facts. Ample historical evidence of today has shown that Ho Chi Minh was a faithful disciple of the Third International with a hypocritical, satanic personality, operating under the order of Russia. Le Duan, the Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party said, “ We fought for the Soviet Union and for China”. These words of his are inscribed on the gate of his tomb. Ho Chi Minh had sexual realionships with several women including at least one very young girl, while propagating the myth that he chose celibacy and asceticism in order to better serve the country. He even had one of these women killed by his underlings by having her run over by a car after they had broken her skull. He was very cruel towards his people, especially during the agrarian reforms of the 50’s: hundreds of thousands of people were either shot to death or buried alive with their heads above the ground in order to finally be cut off by plows. The most horrific and inhuman incident during this agrarian reform campaign was what happened at the denouncement of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nam. Mrs. Nam was a person who had contributed much money and gold to the communists in their fight against the French. She personally fed the communist leaders including Ho Chi Minh at her house during their underground operation days. As a landlord, she was a victim of the denouncement campaign. She was executed and her body was jumped upon by her accusers so that it could fit in a coffin too small for her body. Ho Chi Minh came to the denouncement with his beard covered so that people could not recognize him. Upon his return to his abode, he wrote an article entitled, “How cruel the landlord is,” and signed C.B., which later was deciphered as “Của Bác” meaning “By Uncle” (cf. Tran Đinh).
With regard to the fact that the government of South Vietnam was spoiled and corrupt, a sincere soul searching question would bring to light the reality that, in the world -- throughout history from the Roman Empire time until today -- no government is found innocent of corruption. Let’s take a look at the US government of today, people cannot help but agree on this fact. The key issue is a matter of degree. Granted that the government of South Vietnam was corrupt, but no one ever saw or heard that most of government officials at highest echelons in South Vietnam owned luxury cars, yachts, guilded mansions, and millions of dollars as current communist officials at the lowest administrative levels, at the hamlet and village levels, do as a matter of fact. Officials at the highest levels of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) own billions of dollars by swiping aid monies, taking bribes from foreign contractors, clandestinely and illegally selling crude oil in the middle of the ocean for personal benefits and bringing home backpacks filled with dollars; confiscating peasants’ land with insignificantly worthless compensation and reselling it at cut-throat prices to foreigners, especially to Chinese businessmen. Their children are being sent abroad, especially to the United States, for study. These children own luxury cars, purchase with cash houses worth millions of dollars and they are preparing for their parents to join them in case of impending danger. To top it off, the Vietnamese communist government is carrying out a policy of oppression: Religious leaders, people with different political opinions are constantly arrested, imprisoned without due process, tortured and in some instances beaten to death.
Yet, the 10-episode film directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick incongruously suggested that the American people had chosen the wrong side to fight, which necessarily implicates that the Northern Vietnamese communists should have been ally to the United States and the people of free South Vietnam should have been enemy to the United States. What a mockery!
Furthermore, the perception that all Vietnamese hated Americans was mistakenly conjured up by the fact that several anti-American movements in South Vietnam were infiltrated and organized by northern communists via an intermediary, Monk Tri Quang, a double agent of the VCP and the United States (cf. The Pentagon Papers ), who engineered all the political chaos of the 50’s and the 60’s. These movements continued into the 70’s. The freedom loving people and the government of South Vietnam always cherished and valued the assistance, with which Americans provided them in the defense and protection of their freedom.
The third objective of the film is to accuse the US government of conducting an erroneous, useless, and wasteful policy of war in Vietnam leading to the futile sacrifice of over 58,000 American lives, whose families had to go through so much pain and suffering; of approximately 3 million Vietnamese, whose families also had to undergo no less atrocious experiences. This accusation is a corollary generated by the two premises of irrationality and immorality. And whether the war was legitimate and moral or not, in this case, is logically and responsibly up to the US government to answer. Is it true that the US government sent troops to Vietnam in order to prevent dictatorship and atrocities by the communists from spreading; to support the people of South Vietnam in their self-defense war; to protect liberty and freedom cherished by both the American people and the people of South Vietnam? Only the American people and the US government can answer these questions. However, on the part of the Vietnamese people in South Vietnam, they absolutely believed in the urgent and essential need for such a noble ideal and wholeheartedly believed that the American people, should sensibility exist, also cherished, supported and upheld that ideal.
The fourth and also last objective proposed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is that the American people should come to a consensus that it is time to celebrate human love and understanding through realistic action: Forgive and Reconciliate. Upon serious reflection, one has to admit that this is a slipshod proposition indicating a lack of logical thinking or non-understanding of communnist policies. At the personal and individual level, it is quite possible that Vietnamese communist veterans are capable of expressing authentic human feelings. But considering the encompassing regimentation environment created by the VCP at the national level, every individual, especially individuals that have undergone indoctrination, is but a cog in a wheel of cruel, inhuman, and dictatorial communist ideology.
As a matter of fact, there is no need for promoting reconciliation between the American people and the Vietnamese people because people in every country always want understanding, friendship, peace, and happiness. Neither is there any need for reconciliation between Vietnamese people who live abroad and Vietnamese in Vietnam because the need for mutual understanding, friendship, peace, and happiness already exists and is the same for all. However, we should not mistake reconciliation between the peoples -- which is unnecessarily tautological -- for reconciliation between a people or group of people and the communist government or the VCP. The latter cannot and should not happen.
As the film has indeed accounted for the fact that normalization between Vietnam and the US was requested by the Vietnamese communist government, not by the United States. The VCP recognized that Vietnam needed to join the international community in order to save the Party because of the country’s miserable economic bankruptcy of the 1980s. Even though they succeeded in joining the international community, their cruel and totalitarian nature never changes. They still frequently arrest, imprison, and torture religious leaders who demand true religious freedom and those people who demand true freedom and not conditional freedom and have differing political opinions. They still eliminate by poisoning those people who oppose their policies even though these people belong to the same communist party and ideology as they do. They still oppress peasants, confiscating their land with valueless compensation and reselling it at prices a thousand times higher than the price at which they pay the peasants or renting it out for 99 years to Chinese investors, who develop industries that destroy the entire ecological system of Vietnam because, through bribery, these investors could disregard all environmental protection laws. Current corruption by the Vietnamese communist government/VCP is a thousand times worse than abuses committed by the First and Second Republic of South Vietnam. Rarely did people hear or know about high officials in the government of South Vietnam owning millions of dollars. Nowadays, people know for a fact that high officials in the communist government/VCP owning billions of dollars. On the grounds of human rights, once in a while they release a prisoner of conscience only when they need to exchange the release for something else they need with the United States and re-arrest the person at a later time or expel him/her from Vietnam altogether.
The communist ideology is a totalitarian, arbitrary, and closed system while that of the free world is an open system conducive to interactions, negotiations, exchanges, and consensual validations though logic and legality. Consequently, due to the totalitarian, arbitrary and intransigent nature of the communist ideology, the two systems cannot be reconciled. And should there be any reconciliation at all, it would be on their terms! Economic exchanges with the people of Vietnam will as a matter of fact and primarily result in enriching the leaders of the VCP, who continue to oppress the people for their own selfish interests until they can no longer do it any longer.
The last issue the authors of this article would like to raise is it was not the wish of the Vietnamese people of South Vietnam to have American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. It was an American imposition. From 1954 to 1960, President Diem had, to American surprise, eradicated all rebellious forces supported by the French such as General Nguyen Van Hinh and Binh Xuyen Bay Vien. He had also destroyed most of the Vietnamese communist infrastructure and military outposts left behind by the North. He requested the US government only to assist his administration with economic support and supply of military equipment such as ammunition, weaponry, etc… He refused, against American will, to have American boots on the ground in South Vietnam because in doing so, his government would lose legitimacy and consequently, Russia and China would take the opportunity to strengthen the arm forces of the North. Since President Diem did not comply with the United States’ policy, the US government had the existing conflict between the Buddhists and Catholics blown out of proportion with predicted CIA maneuvering schemes, ultimately leading to the 1963 coup d’état ending in the November 2, 1963 gory assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. After their death, the US government sent troops to Vietnam in 1965 without even asking for consent from the then Prime Minister Phan Huy Quat. As was predicted by President Diem, Russia immediately supplied North Vietnam with abundant ammunition and up-to-date weaponry including missile launchers capable of shooting down sophisticated American fighter jets. China sent 350,000 soldiers to North Vietnam to protect the rear while the conventional North Vietnamese army was moving South for invasion. After ten years of costly and unsuccessful fighting, President Nixon tried to find a way to withdraw the troops from South Vietnam by inventing the so-called Vietnamization of the war program, in other words by selling out South Vietnam. Even cognizant of the sell-out, the ARVN fought valiantly in a condition of extreme shortage of ammunition, weaponry, spare parts and gas for tanks and fighter aircraft and succeeded in holding on from 1969 to April 30, 1975. Had the United States government respected the sovereignty of the Republic of South Vietnam and implemented a Vietnamization policy in 1954 when President Diem requested only economic assistance and supply of military equipment, when the communist infrastructure left behind by the North in South Vietnam was almost completely annihilated, and when the armed forces of the North were still feeble, then there would likely have been no single American death on the soil of Vietnam, nor that many Vietnamese deaths.
This rebuttal is intended to annul the logic of the propositions forwarded by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick either explicitly or subliminally. The propositions -- regardless of whether expressed by whomever because the interviewees had been carefully and intentionally selected to fit Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s logic -- only reflect the dream of two idealistic, however unrealistic and impractical, if not miserably misguided, dated peaceniks.
To conclude this essay, the authors would like to reiterate J. M. Del Vecchio’s warning that the probable, immeasurably negative consequence of the erroneous message forwarded by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is thousands of American school districts and colleges might use this 10-episode film as educational materials in their classes resulting in the perpetuation of unethical twisting of historical truths. Righting this wrong should be the responsibility of all conscientious people, American and Vietnamese alike, especially educators throughout the United States of America.
This article is the result of the exchanges of ideas and collaboration between Nguyen van Thai, former visiting professor at different colleges and universities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and author Lien Thanh, former major in the National Police Force of South Vietnam.
Due to time constraint and the need for timely response, this article includes no bibliographical references. The authors, however, attest to the veracity of the statements of facts herein contained. Should any reader be interested in the sources of the statements, please drop a line at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nguyen van Thai, Ph.D. Nguyen Phuc Lien Thanh, Former Major, NPF, South Vietnam