Truong Huy San

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By Truong Huy Sang

On Sunday, at 8am on a Monday, 18 September, 2017, PBS will launch a 10-part documentary film: “The Vietnam War.” I can not write about this movie as well as Le Hong Lam, Manh Kim, Nguyen Quang Lap ... and especially Hong Anh. As the first Vietnamese to be given the opportunity to see the full set of 10 episodes and drafts, but after reviewing a few complete episodes, I just asked for basic personal remarks.   In 1983, through the 17 inch black and white TV screen at the School of Chemistry, we saw the movie "Vietnam: A Television History". It can be said that that documentary footage at that time haunted the soldier who held the rank of lieutenant and was about to be sent to the Cambodian or Northern Frontier (although most of us had experienced those two battlegrounds before going to school).   Compared to "Vietnam: A Television History," The Vietnam War by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick is "more violent". Not only because of the talent of the directors, going back nearly 40 years with the 10 years spent searching the archives of the world and the ability to "digest" a huge volume of material, helped the Vietnam War reach a milestone, before as well as after, which is an achievement that will be difficult to match.

October 10, 2014, when I first saw the 10 episodes of the movie at Burns' headquarters in Wapole, New Hampshire, I briefly said to him, "Extremely powerful." Now, The Hollywood Reporter uses more adjectives when it comes to headlines: "Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's latest PBS opus is exhausting, powerful, brutal, emotional and occasionally infuriating." Tragically gripping the viewer's emotions through its brutally naked, outrageous scenes.

The film, in my opinion, has accused Washington of nearly every crime, praised the Hanoi military, and despised the (leaders of) the Republic of Vietnam, but will not please either party: Washington probably will not notice; Vietnamese veterans may be outraged; State newspapers may counter-attack, protecting the "legitimacy" of the war.

Even though the film used emotional statements to judge the war -- ”Everyone knows that Ho Chi Minh would win the general election (under the Geneva agreement)”; "If America did not go to Saigon we would have been in Saigon in 1965 ..."; and for an American soldier to say, "We chose the wrong ally, I would be proud to fight for the North,” I think Hanoi will still not want to promote this film.   Not only those who are in power, the majority of those who "grew up under Socialism" from both the North and the South (after 1975) are not very receptive to information different from what they are taught regarding the War.   Not everyone knows that when a half million US troops were in the South, at one point 320 thousand Chinese troops were present in the North. Not everyone is ready to learn the truth about the massacre in Hue or the campaigns that sacrificed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians; not everyone can easily accept the evidence that it was the 1972 Christmas B52 bombing that forced Le Duc Tho to return to the negotiating table, signing the principal deals that were made in October 1972, and not "Dien Bien Phu in the Air " forcing the US to sign the Paris Agreement, as it was said (the B52 bombs of Christmas, 1972 claimed more than 1,600 lives, mostly people in Hanoi).

Americans are featured in the film more often than Vietnamese. But I am very impressed with Bao Ninh's contribution. He speaks little but makes sense. According to Bao Ninh, "Only those who do not really fight talk about who wins, who loses; there was no winning here, only destruction." It was painful to see the Vietnamese bodies piling up, and bitter in 1965 when General Westmoreland said, "The death rate between US troops and the VC is 1-10," and Senator Ernest Hollings stated, “Only the number ‘1’ (US troops) is worth mentioning, Americans do not care about the number ‘10’ (Viet Cong). " America counts their soldiers; the Vietnamese never knew exactly how many of their people died in the war.   Truth is often a multi-faceted block, no one is able to touch every corner, In this movie, Ken Burns & Lynn Novick have accessed the most intricate pieces. That should make anyone who insists on a “single truth” (our own truth) uncomfortable. Although the producers have been very careful in making Vietnamese subtitles, Ken & Lynn acknowledge that the American public remained the most important. The directors have deliberately neutralized comments in that almost all Vietnamese in the film were portrayed only as "North or South Vietnam" rather than as a writer, journalist, general or lieutenant general. [Other important characters in the conflict were not interviewed, including Kissinger.

When I first saw this movie, I told the two directors and the team of “10 advisors” for the film, "This is still about the American war, there is another war that was not spoken of.  Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have dug deeply into the causes in America (which led to the war and defeat), but only touched on the surface of the Vietnamese side, especially the Communist side. There is still the opportunity for another film, the actual “Vietnam War.” Ken Burns & Lynn Novick have pointed out the crimes and misdeeds of Americans especially the government’s wrong doings. When will the Vietnamese be ready to examine their own lessons, lessons that had to be paid by millions of innocent people?

Back to Part VI.