Dan Kellum 1

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Dan Kellum - Episode 1

Sunday's documentary on the Vietnam War looking through Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick’s eyes: It looked to me like Burns/Novick were cherry-picking stories to fit their personal view of the Vietnam War. Their looking back at the brutal French colonial occupation of Vietnam then jumping forward in history to the 1960s showing America's soldiers/Marines fighting in Vietnam and painting us in the same colonial tapestry. On the contrary we were there to answer the call of John F. Kennedy to stop Communism in its tracks and try to keep the remainder of Asia from falling into the black hole of Communism. I'm sure there will be revelations from taped or written excerpts from our Presidents and their advisors in future episodes that will taint our noble honorable reasons for joining the military and fighting in Vietnam. I think all of us Marines and Navy Corpsmen who served in Vietnam don't need to have someone like Burns or Novick to explain to us why we served in Vietnam and the pride we experienced fighting alongside our compadres and the deep sense of loss we felt for those who did not make it home. 

Already Burns/Novick have shocked their audience with the horrible flashed on our TV screens of the summary execution by Vietnamese Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan of a bound prisoner, Viet Cong Capt. Nguyen Van Lem, by blowing his brains out with a pistol during the Tet Offensive. So that brutal, savage image is planted in our brains until the next episode and a normal person having never been exposed to combat would feel overwhelming sympathy towards the 'coldblooded murdered' enemy soldier. Let me take away that sympathy for Capt. Lem....and the supposedly several more times we will be exposed to that 'atrocity' image. (This is like a prosecutor's trick to plant an image in the jury's mind to sway them into voting a guilty verdict to convict a murderer.) Why did Loan feel no hesitation to end Capt. Lem's life in front of the news media documenting the vicious event? According to Google during the Tet Offensive February 1, 1968, Capt. Lem and his sabotage/revenge unit overran a South Vietnamese armored unit and captured Lt.Col. Nguyen Tuan in Go Vap. Capt. Lem tried to force the ARVN commander to show him how to operate the tanks in his camp so he could wreak more destruction on the Vietnamese troops nearby. Lt.Col. Tuan bravely refused to cooperate probably saving scores of lives of his fellow RVN soldiers.  Lem killed Lt.Col. Tuan, his wife, 6 children and Tuan's 80-year-old mother by cutting their throats. Only a seriously injured 10-year-old boy survived the attack. Lem was captured near a mass grave containing 34 civilian bodies. The VC Captain admitted that he was proud to carry out his unit leader's orders to kill these people. Children and grandma? Seriously? Put yourself in Loan's boots...perhaps he knew the people Capt. Lem was 'proud' to have killed....or he didn't know them and just dispensed his justice on Capt. Lem after hearing of his killing unarmed civilians that included children.  What would you have done differently than what Loan did? I hope we will get in future episodes an explanation behind the almost subliminal visual message flashed on the screen shots of Loan shooting Lem in the head.

Otherwise Burns/Novick will taint their so-called documentary with their pre-disposed feelings about the Vietnam War. Still I think if they continue to degrade the 2.1 million or so Americans who participated in the Vietnam War with negative images and war stories that are the exception rather than the rule, they will be doing this nation a terrible disservice should they leave out the extenuating circumstances in some cases to stories. And should they cherry-pick only the war stories that paint us all in the same bad light (such as My Lai) then they will continue the past media depiction of us Vietnam veterans as tainted by the war. Of course, sensational stories make better TV and Burns/Novick have to hold their audience's attention for nine more episodes and roughly 16 1/2 hours. To sum up, Episode 1 of Burns/Novick’s Vietnam War left me, as well as my mild-mannered wife, angry and disappointed.

Semper Fi, Dan Kellum

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