FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Mirror of Vietnam

by

On the Kickstarter page for the remarkable documentary “Same Same but Different”, the film takes note of the ignominious end of the war in Vietnam—at least if you view that ending from the point of view of the White House and the Pentagon: “Long after that last helicopter lifted off from the American Embassy in Saigon, Veterans of that War have quietly returned to their former battlegrounds to clear unexploded ordnance, work with victims of Agent Orange, and build schools and orphanages. Same Same But Different is their story.”

Ignominious is certainly the word that comes to mind when you watch Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” that has been nominated for best documentary for the upcoming Academy Awards. Like “American Sniper”, this is a film that turns history on its head. By portraying the liberation of Vietnam that was captured in memorable photos of the last helicopters lifting off from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon as a disaster for the Vietnamese people, Ms. Kennedy keeps alive the myth of the American military as a force for good. By contrast and in Walt Kelly’s memorable way of putting it, “Same Same but Different” tells the truth, namely that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

“Same Same but Different” was co-directed by Deryle Perryman and Moisés González and can be seen now on Vimeo for free . For those who want to get an idea of what a real American hero is about, this 54-minute documentary is the best place to start. It allows Vietnam War veterans to describe their experiences as foreign invaders committed to Cold War verities and then being transformed into opponents of the war. What gives the film added poignancy are the Deep South origins of most of the subjects who unlike the Texas sniper Chris Kyle were able to break with a racist and militarist culture and become true American heroes.

Co-Director Deryle Perryman fits that description to a tee. As he put it to a fellow antiwar Vietnam veteran on his “Ranger Against War” blog, he went to Vietnam just as gung-ho as Kyle went to Iraq, except with “commies” rather than “jihadis” in his gun sight:

I was born in Alabama. Southerners like to fight. Since everybody’s Daddy was in the Big War, I grew up in a culture that didn’t leave many options when the bugle sounded. So when the time came–just after HS graduation, along with three of my best childhood buddies — I signed up to fight to keep the Commie hoards from taking San Francisco.

It was on a simple tourist visit to Vietnam where Perryman ran into veterans who had started various projects like clearing landmines to heal the scars of the war that the idea for the film began to germinate. With experienced documentary filmmaker Moises A. Gonzalez, who was four years old when Perryman was dodging bullets in Vietnam and I was passing out leaflets to bring him home in one piece, the two toured the country tracking down veterans in 2008 and 2010 to get their stories. Considering the modest budget for the film of $25,000, they succeeded all out of proportion to the money spent.

I found Chuck Searcy’s story particularly emblematic. From Athens, Georgia and with a gentle drawl, he joined the army in 1966 as a Goldwater conservative and the son of a man who—like mine—served in the Battle of the Bulge. Assigned to military intelligence—an oxymoron if there ever was one—he was so jarred by the discrepancy between the war propaganda and the reality on the ground that he began to read up on the origins of the war, including my friend Marvin Gettleman’s “Vietnam: History, Documents and Opinions on a Major World Conflict”, a virtual bible for the antiwar movement. Searcy returned to the USA as a critic of the war, something that practically led to being disowned by his parents. Happily, his father and mother soon found out for themselves that the war was wrong and reconciled with their son, who does them proud as director of PROJECT RENEW, an ordnance-clearing project that has literally saved thousands of lives and limbs.

Another really good old boy is Suel Jones from East Texas who served with the Marines in the DMZ, an area drenched with Agent Orange and that left American GI’s, their Vietnamese “enemies”, and noncombatants exposed to the dioxin that often destroyed their health and that of the children they brought into the world. Jones went back to Vietnam and worked with the Friendship Village that serves the needs of its victims. Jones is the author of “Meeting the Enemy: A Marine Returns Home”, a memoir that deserves to be read more than ever in a time when Chris Kyle’s “American Sniper” prepares the groundwork for the next generation of young Americans fighting to make the world safe for American corporations and unsafe for those who get in their way.

Turning from the sublime to the ridiculous, the men interviewed in Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days of Vietnam” are practically in and of themselves sufficient to indict this film that cost seven times as much as the Perryman/González film to make, not that this would be any great burden on Ms. Kennedy who is the youngest daughter of the late Bobby Kennedy.

The film is structured as a kind of moral drama between Stuart Herrington, like Chuck Searcy assigned to military intelligence, on one side and Graham Martin, the US Ambassador to Vietnam on the other. Martin is depicted as someone in complete denial about the advance of the North Vietnamese army into the south and Searcy as a realist who cared about saving the lives of the men and their families from the advancing hordes whom Ms. Kennedy has scant interest in. For her, they loom pretty much after the fashion of ISIL on the march toward Baghdad, practically creatures from outer space.

Herrington, to his credit, has been a relatively enlightened military figure over the years who took a stand against waterboarding in Vietnam—yes, it happened there as well. But it is really hard to abide with the presence of Richard Armitage throughout the film who was a naval officer at the time and, like Herrington, committed to saving the Vietnamese officer corps. Herrington and Armitage are proud of cutting corners to get them all safe and sound on board American vessels off the coast of Vietnam and spirited off to America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The name Richard Armitage might ring a bell. He is the man who revealed that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent, an act that was consistent with his role as a top adviser to George W. Bush in his 2000 election campaign and deputy to Colin Powell during the war on Iraq. In other words, he was one of the men who made it possible for Chris Kyle to make life a living hell for Iraqis.

Many of these rescued Vietnamese officers are interviewed throughout the film but Ms. Kennedy saw no point in interviewing the men on the other side. In fact, I doubt if she would have shown much interest in that given her take in the closing credits that the fall of Saigon led to a great human disaster of boat people, reeducation camps and the like. Somehow the fact that the USA dropped the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima A-bombs on Vietnam escaped her attention.

On the face of it, there is little in Rory Kennedy’s background that would lead you to believe that she would make such a rancid documentary. She has made films about the dangers of the nuclear reactor at Indian Point, the Homestead Strike, and even one decrying the torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a site upon which Richard Armitage’s fingerprints can be found in abundance.

Maybe the key to understanding her motivation is to be found in the thinking of her father, the renowned “peace candidate” of 1968. Like all other such politicians, they viewed the war as a tragic blunder that we had to extricate ourselves from, as if it were a newly purchased house that had termites unbeknownst at the time of closing. Senator Kennedy could never have conceived of the Vietnamese as having the right to determine their own destiny and to create an economy serving their own needs rather than that of multinational corporations.

Just four months before his assassination and immediately after the Tet offensive, when many on the left saw him as a potential savior of everything that was decent and humane, he made a speech that revealed his true colors:

Our enemy, savagely striking at will across all of South Vietnam, has finally shattered the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. But a short time ago we were serene in our reports and predictions of progress.

The Vietcong will probably withdraw from the cities, as they were forced to withdraw from the American Embassy. Thousands of them will be dead.

In fact the NLF was not “savagely” attacking anything, least of all the American Embassy that was the coordinating center on a war that would eventually cost as much as two million lives. The Vietnamese were patriots defending themselves against an invading army that treated both combatants and noncombatants as subhuman.

It is the need to understand those who become our “enemies” that is paramount today just as it was in 1968 or when Chris Kyle was on the rampage in Iraq. Ultimately we have more in common with them than we do with a White House and Pentagon that is never at a loss for those to make war against, all the while escalating a war on our health, economic security and freedom at home.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

More articles by:

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail