Comments on Christian Appy 1

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Comments on Christian Appy (1)

We have included Prof. Appy's blog posts because they represent the far left of the [semi-]rational comments that are circulating out there. Ken Burns has endorsed American Reckoning; a book edited by Christian Appy, a leftist history professor at hard-left U. Mass Amherst. Burns' endorsement stated: "Few people understand the centrality of the Vietnam War to our situation as much as Christian Appy." All the more reason for our concern about both Burns and Appy.

Appy's purpose seems to make the Burns program seem balanced by being so extreme himself. Appy personifies the adage that if you are not good for anything else, you are always good as a bad example.

We are hardly impressed with his understanding of the Vietnam War and we are more saddened by the fact that he is teaching impressionable students at UMass. I believe we invited him to debate the issues on a previous occasion and he turned us down (or more precisely he didn't respond.) The occasion was the 50th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (You can watch the video here.) We sent our best and brightest to the National Press Club in August of 2014, where we found not a single opponent to debate. Even Tom Hayden took the time to decline, but few others did. We hereby re-offer our challenge to him to debate with us. He is welcomed to appoint a second, to discuss the ground rules, on his behalf, with us, and we will appoint from our members, an appropriate challenger.

Our experience, however, suggests he will find a way to wriggle out of it.

We will provide more specific commentary on the content of his blogs at a later date.

Charles Keith correctly commented:

First, the “thousand-year struggle to overthrow Chinese rule” is a nationalist myth invented in the twentieth century. In fact, for most of history, “Vietnam” was not a separate nation “invaded” or “colonized” by “China,” but part of (in various capacities in different historical eras) a broader East Asian world with imperial China at its center. Like many other parts of this empire, it experienced periodic tensions and conflicts with the center of political power. But for most of precolonial history, “Vietnamese” did not consider themselves as somehow outside of, let alone opposed to, the cultural and political world of East Asia (which is not at all the same as “China” in a modern sense). The sooner we dispense with that anachronism the better off we will all be.[1]

Second, it is inaccurate to say that South Vietnam was “created” in the mid-1950s. The state that became the Republic of Vietnam dates to the late 1940s, and the political and social visions of Vietnamese modernity that it represented go back much further than that.[2] Moreover, the claim that Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime was “utterly dependent from the outset on U.S. support” has been (utterly) debunked by recent scholarship, which Burns (and the author of this post) regrettably seem not to have read. In my opinion, one of the most serious shortcomings of episode 1 was the utter lack of agency it grants to non-communist Vietnamese, who in fact go unmentioned entirely during the episode’s treatment of not only colonialism but (amazingly) the First Indochina War itself. To properly understand “the Vietnam War” is to conceive of it first and foremost as a Vietnamese civil war. And that, by extension, requires a proper understanding of the various Vietnamese parties involved.

Appy considers "the fundamental framing of The Vietnam War—American veterans (or their survivors), once silenced and shunned, . . . introduce and conclude the film as a whole and almost every episode." However, most of the veterans given this role were part of a minuscule minority of Vietnam veterans and, thus, their experiences may reflect the Burns POV, but not that of the majority of those who served. One commentator said, "Burns claimed only to be calling balls and strikes, but he has, in fact, dictated the lineup for both teams."

Appy tells Franklin's story of college students who thought that BG Loan was a Communist officer. Had there been journalists permitted to practice what should be their trade with the communist forces, I'm sure they would have been able to replicate this picture with other uniforms. What surprises me is that there are still students not sufficiently brainwashed to attribute all evils to our side.

Appy accepts the "party line" "riveting" Ho Chi Minh's relations with the OSS[3], on 1956 elections[4] and against the domino theory,[5] among others.

He rejects "what ifs" when the proposition being weighed is contrary to his prejudices and moral equivalences that portray the Communists negatively.[6]

Back to Part II

Back to Start
  1. See Exceptionalism.
  2. See Legitimacy.
  3. See Ho Chi Minh during and after WWII
  4. See Elections.
  5. See Domino Theory
  6. See Moral Equivalence