Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
It’s your last chance to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch in 2017. Help us gear up to fight the status-quo in 2018! Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Selling a Bill of Goods on PBS about the Vietnam War

by

Burns and Novick want viewers to believe that the Vietnam War was a mistake undertaken by those with noble intentions in the U.S. government. We had good intentions going into Vietnam, but The Vietnam War, which aired on PBS, would like viewers to believe that the grotesque consequences of that war… millions dead and wounded… were never really intended. They were in the vernacular, unintended consequences of men with good intentions.

It’s the same kind of justification and rationalization that then secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, made in The Fog of War and it’s all bullshit plain and simple. These opinion molders want people to believe that we occasionally stumble on the way to the nirvana that is American Exceptionalism and national purity.

But they didn’t stumble and we are most certainly not exceptional. If readers want to gauge how unexceptional our “leaders” are, then look to Trump and Congress and their neoliberal facilitators. The duopoly planned the anti-communist crusade from the beginning of the Cold War until there were so many dead bodies and so much protest that the government had to walk away. It wasn’t a matter of dollars and cents, as some would like readers to believe, as this predatory system leaves lots of spare pocket change to throw away on immoral wars.

Here’s student/civil rights leader Mario Savio, of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, only a few short months before the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave Lyndon Johnson carte blanche in waging his genocidal, anti-communist crusade in Southeast Asia.

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!

Those in power and their talking heads have to sanitize their past wars to make new wars palatable. Mass murder is not the natural or normal state of humankind. George Orwell grasped this concept in 1984 when his character Winston is tortured because of his individualism and humanism, and at the end of the novel he’ll say anything that the government wants him to and that includes rewriting history to agree to whichever foreign enemy the government targets. It’s the same hogwash that the neofascists and neo-Nazis are pumping out from the Trump administration in support of the trillions of dollars being stolen by the military-industrial complex. Trillions of dollars that otherwise could go to unmet human needs.

In relation to how the Vietnam War is portrayed, the left has not been asleep at the wheel. On the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, people like the late protester, politician, and writer, Tom Hayden, spearheaded an attempt to correctly document the Vietnam War in the face of the Pentagon’s propaganda.

The group Veterans for Peace has produced the resource Vietnam: Full Disclosure to tell the truth about what the U.S. carnage was all about in Vietnam. Full Disclosure takes its rightful place in a long line of history like that disseminated by Daniel Ellsberg in the The Pentagon Papers.

This from VFP’s Vietnam Full Disclosure:

Despite the counter-cultural veneer, however, and admirable efforts to provide a Vietnamese perspective, Burns and Novick’s film in its first episode provides conventional analysis about the war’s outbreak and can be understood as a sophisticated exercise in empire denial. (“Ken Burns’s Vietnam Documentary Promotes Misleading History,” Veterans For Peace, September 18, 2017).

Full Disclosure continues: “A voice-over by Peter Coyote subsequently claims that the Vietnam War was ‘started in good faith by decent men.’”

Go to the primary and secondary sources about the war: there are enough volumes to fill a medium-size library on the war. View the 1971 Winter Soldier testimonials of Vietnam veterans in Chicago and their testimony before the U.S. Congress. Read Born on The Fourth Of July by Ron Kovic, A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan, A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, Dispatches by Michael Kerr, Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow, and Four Hours in My Lai by Michael Bilton, among the many illuminating volumes of writing about the carefully planned catastrophe that was the Vietnam War.

These books will illuminate how colonialism by France and anti-communism on the part of the U.S. and its allies led to the thwarting of the Geneva Accords that called for free elections in Vietnam. They will tell how the U.S. backed murderous and unpopular regimes that tore Vietnam apart for 30 years until North Vietnam drove the forces of the South to defeat. The U.S. knew that Ho Chi Minh, leader of the North, would have won the election mandated by the Accords.

Read about the atrocities that took place in My Lai and by the rogue Tiger Force and numerous other examples of war crimes in which the military took part. The latter does not mean that a majority of soldiers took part in atrocities, but enough did to make atrocities the hallmark of the Vietnam War. Military training was fine-tuned to cast the Vietnamese people as “gooks” and “Charlie,” thus dehumanizing them and facilitating their slaughter.

Read to learn how untold numbers of veterans were thrown into the apparatus of the Veterans Administration and how the care many of those veterans received was shameful.

Learn about how tens of thousands of men and women sought refuge and sanctuary from the war in places like Canada and Sweden, where thousands remain today. Learn how the American Veterans of Foreign Wars led a campaign in 2004 to deny the people of Canada the right to erect a monument to the heroic acts of war resistance in their country by war resisters.

Dig into the history of the defoliant Agent Orange to learn how both the Vietnamese people and U.S. veterans were made to suffer the dreadful and deadly consequences of its use during the war.

Pay attention to how the Trump administration’s militarists have expanded contemporary warfare (“‘Blank Check to Kill With Impunity’: Trump to Quietly Slap Drone Restrictions,” Common Dreams, September 22, 2017). Then pay close attention when documentary makers try to sell the public a bill of goods and pass off mass atrocities and immorality as simply being careless mistakes that were carried out by well-intentioned leaders. Those “good” intentions took place during the Vietnam War and they’re taking place today. They threaten the life of every living being on Earth.

The antiwar movement has been largely inactive in the first months of the Trump administration despite the fact that this is the most bellicose administration, with the exception of the administration of George W. Bush, since the Vietnam War. Although Senator Bernie Sanders gave a speech that addressed war and the military-industrial complex at Westminster College on September 21, 2017, it wandered into assertions about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, an issue that only serves to further deteriorate relations between Russia and the U.S., and in fact feeds the very military-industrial complex that Sanders criticized in his speech.

The antiwar movement suffered self-inflicted wounds when it caught the faux hope and change rhetoric of the Obama administration and largely left the expansion of drone warfare, including targeting U.S. citizens for death without due process of the law, while expanding war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Perhaps it was narrow self-interest, ignorance, and the effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks that were at play here, but society-wide malaise may be another factor for this inaction. Perhaps war is so prevalent and unreported that it became an excepted part of life in the U.S. Only a small segment of the population fight U.S. wars and it is almost never the man or woman next door or in a community as it was during the Vietnam War.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party leader Jamil Abdullah Al- Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown) said “violence is as American as cherry pie.” It is also as American as apple pie. Now, we face the prospect of the very real threat of Armageddon because the far right has placed a bellicose moron in the White House.

More articles by:

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

Weekend Edition
December 15, 2017
Friday - Sunday
M. Shadee Malaklou
Jay-Z’s 4:44 Moves Black Radical Thought Through and Beyond the Classroom
Michael Dickinson
What About Our Debts, Pope Francis?
Phil Rockstroh
What Was Verifiably Great About America: Fragments of a Memoir Set to a Musical Soundtrack
Edward Curtin
A Man Turns
December 14, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Surveillance That Never Sleeps
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Roy Moore’s Loss: a Victory for the Young Girls of America
Eric Toussaint
Debt is a Determining Factor in History
Liaquat Ali Khan
Appropriation of Jerusalem
Kenneth Surin
Selective Impressions of the New Zealand-Aotearoa Conjuncture
Jack Rasmus
Is the Bitcoin Bubble the New ‘Subprime Mortgage’ Bomb?
William Sanjour
How the Once Tiny Waste Management Industry Captured the EPA and Became Very BIG
Devin Currens
Hey Mainstream Environmentalists: If You’re Not Embarrassed, You’re Not Paying Attention
Courtney Myers
“Me Too” Movement Gives Twitter Fuel to Trump’s Fire
Mel Gurtov
Momentum for Talks with North Korea?
Julian Vigo
Student Loans, The Indentured Servitude of the 21st Century
John Carroll Md
Do Jimmy Kimmel and Haiti Have Anything in Common?
Brian Foley
How to Stop Trump
December 13, 2017
Gabriel Rockhill
The U.S. is Not a Democracy, It Never Was
Jim Kavanagh
Zionism in the Light of Jerusalem
John Davis
The Epic of Our Awakening
Linn Washington Jr.
The Shadow of Smuts on Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration
Timothy M. Gill
The Global Retreat From Human Rights in the Trump Administration
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Shameful Decision on Jerusalem
Lance Olsen
Natural Variability isn’t the Final Word on Climate Science
Robert Jensen
In Patriarchy, Sexual “Misconduct” Not Surprising
Mike Bader
Grizzly Bear Goal Not Yet Achieved
Steve Horn
India May Ban Petcoke, One of Dirtiest Fossil Fuels Exported by Koch Brothers
December 12, 2017
John Pilger
Why the Documentary Must Not Be Allowed to Die
David Rosen
Politics Trumps Religion: The Immorality of Republican “Christian” Morality
Ken Levy
Apparently, Child Rapists Deserve the Death Penalty, But a Child Molester Deserves a U.S. Senate Seat
John Wight
Trump’s Jerusalem Ploy
David Swanson
Sun Tzu: The Ass of War
Ramzy Baroud
The ‘Last Martyr’: Who Killed Kamal Al-Assar?
Doug Johnson
Are Polls Showing a Win for Accused Molester Roy Moore Accurate?
Andrew Bacevich
A Harvey Weinstein Moment for America’s Wars?
Robert Dodge
Saving Humanity From Itself
Binoy Kampmark
Pakistan, US Drones and Idle Threats
Tom H. Hastings
Leave it on The Table Again?
Cesar Chelala
Living in New York. Missing Home
December 11, 2017
Oscar Oliver-Didier 
The Invisibility of Poverty in Puerto Rico
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Risks Uniting the Entire Arab World Against the US
Uri Avnery
From Barak to Trump
Robert Hunziker
Dying Ecosystems
Paul Tritschler
The Year Without Summer
Ramzy Baroud
What Trump Has Done: The Entire US-Middle East Political Framework Just Collapsed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail