PBS’ “The Vietnam War” may show some of the conflict’s horrors but still soft-pedals the horrific war crimes that America inflicted on Vietnam, fitting with a corporate-dependent documentary project, writes John Pilger.
By John Pilger
One of the most hyped “events” of American television, “The Vietnam War,” has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam War in an entirely new way.”
In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism,” Burns’s “entirely new” Vietnam War is presented as an “epic, historic work.” Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.
Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans.” Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.
I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings.”
The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.
There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans – it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences. In the series’ press release in Britain — the BBC will show it — there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans.
“We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern.
All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the Twentieth Century: from “The Green Berets” and “The Deer Hunter” to “Rambo” and, in so doing, has legitimized subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy.” Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”
What ‘Decency’ and ‘Good Faith’?
I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites.”
In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones.” Mass homicide. This was not news.
To the north, in Quang Tri province, more bombs were dropped than in all of Germany during the Second World War. Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has caused more than 40,000 deaths in mostly “South Vietnam,” the country America claimed to “save” and, with France, conceived as a singularly imperial ruse.
The “meaning” of the Vietnam War is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the leveling of every city in North Korea. The aim was described by Colonel Edward Lansdale, the famous CIA man on whom Graham Greene based his central character in The Quiet American.
Quoting Robert Taber’s The War of the Flea, Lansdale said, “There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.”
Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on Sept. 19 – a body established to spare humanity the “scourge of war” – he declared he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual. His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.
Returning to the U.S., I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.
Missing What Trump Means
There is plenty of sound and fury at Trump the odious one, the “fascist,” but almost none at Trump as the symptom and caricature of an enduring system of conquest and extremism. Where are the ghosts of the great anti-war demonstrations that took over Washington in the 1970s? Where is the equivalent of the Freeze Movement that filled the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s, demanding that President Reagan withdraw battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe?
The sheer energy and moral persistence of these great movements largely succeeded; by 1987 Reagan had negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that effectively ended the Cold War.
Today, according to secret NATO documents obtained by the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zetung, this vital treaty is likely to be abandoned as “nuclear targeting planning is increased.” The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned against “repeating the worst mistakes of the Cold War. … All the good treaties on disarmament and arms control from Gorbachev and Reagan are in acute peril. Europe is threatened again with becoming a military training ground for nuclear weapons. We must raise our voice against this.”
But not in America. The thousands who turned out for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s “revolution” in last year’s presidential campaign are collectively mute on these dangers. That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo.
Barack Obama provided the apotheosis, with seven simultaneous wars, a presidential record, including the destruction of Libya as a modern state. Obama’s overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government has had the desired effect: the massing of American-led NATO forces on Russia’s western borderland through which the Nazis invaded in 1941.
Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 signaled the transfer of the majority of America’s naval and air forces to Asia and the Pacific for no purpose other than to confront and provoke China. The Nobel Peace Laureate’s worldwide campaign of assassinations is arguably the most extensive campaign of terrorism since 9/11.
What is known in the U.S. as “the Left” has effectively allied with the darkest recesses of institutional power, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, to prevent a peace deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin and to reinstate Russia as an enemy, on the basis of no evidence of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The true scandal is the insidious assumption of power by sinister war-making vested interests for which no American voted. The rapid ascendancy of the Pentagon and the surveillance agencies under Obama represented an historic shift of power in Washington. Daniel Ellsberg rightly called it a coup. The three generals running Trump are its witness.
All of this fails to penetrate those “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics,” as Luciana Bohne noted memorably. Commodified and market-tested, “diversity” is the new liberal brand, not the class people serve regardless of their gender and skin color: not the responsibility of all to stop a barbaric war to end all wars.
“How did it fucking come to this?” says Michael Moore in his Broadway show, Terms of My Surrender, a vaudeville for the disaffected set against a backdrop of Trump as Big Brother.
I admired Moore’s film, Roger & Me, about the economic and social devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and Sicko, his investigation into the corruption of healthcare in America.
The night I saw his show, his happy-clappy audience cheered his reassurance that “we are the majority!” and calls to “impeach Trump, a liar and a fascist!” His message seemed to be that had you held your nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, life would be predictable again.
He may be right. Instead of merely abusing the world, as Trump does, Clinton, the Great Obliterator, might have attacked Iran and lobbed missiles at Putin, whom she likened to Hitler: a particular profanity given the 27 million Russians who died in Hitler’s invasion.
“Listen up,” said Moore, “putting aside what our governments do, Americans are really loved by the world!”
There was a silence.
John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com. His new film, “The Coming War on China,” is available in the U.S. from www.bullfrogfilms.com
Although I was, at the time, completely opposed to the Vietnam war, for personal – I didn’t want to go – and moral reasons, watching Burns series did open up to me an aspect I had not until now considered. What many of us miss is a sense of the context of the times. Yes, there were evil people in charge: Westmoreland, Lodge, Johnson, but WWII and the Korean War were very recent memories. It wasn’t clear that Communism would not prevail. Hitler had come dangerously close to winning and we didn’t want another totalitarian regime to repeat that. Although I have no love for Ronald Reagan, I believe he was correct to label communism an “evil empire”. The Soviets murdered 35 million of their own citizens; Mao’s failed economic programs and forced labor camps killed 65 million. That doesn’t justify US atrocities in Vietnam, but it does give it some context.
Otherwise I think this article is spot on, especially as regards the hypocrisy of so-called liberals and their fawning obeisance to Obama and Hilary Clinton.
Why can’t everyone just watch the the program, and just see what’s there for themselves. See it for what it is, not for what one thinks he or she is being manipulated into believing. Subtle, but deliberate inferences might very well be hidden within the visuals and linguistics of the documentary. Judging by the comments made concerning this article, it would appear there are some, including the author whom believe the inferences made are meant to persuade an individuals beliefs with regard to the topic of discussion. Despite what they(production, or the ominous “they”) chose to air, as opposed to what they chose not to, one of average intelligence, should be able to use common sense to fill in the blanks with truth and discard the falsehoods from within the contents of the programs sequences. Convolution and paranoia, rather, are some of the truth’s greatest enemies. Not the unknown usurper, who’s never-ending quest for total world domination will ultimately cause a catastrophic humanitarian crisis the wold over if not thwarted at every turn.
Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” takes the form of a dialogue between a parent and a “blue-eyed son”. The form follows that of some of the Child ballads, which provided much of the basis for the folk music that was popular in the US and Canada in the 1950s and 1960s.
It’s about the disillusionment the son feels after leaving a protected place and encountering the beauty and the horrors of the world outside that space. This is an excellent match for the experiences that were narrated on screen by idealistic teenagers who left home for the first time and discovered a reality that differed quite a bit from what they’d been led to expect. The “blue-eyed son” bit must be ironic; I’m sure that Dylan’s own non-blue-eyed appearance cast him as an outsider early in life, and that his own idealistic view of the world faded earlier than did that of the son in the song.
Yes, “The Vietnam War” follows the along with the conventional narrative about the war. That was the only way to have it make sense to the intended audience and that it could have provided context for the interviews of people who spoke about their experiences with reference to that narrative. The series publishes evidence that was revealed after the war was over to provide a more complete and more accurate history, both to subvert what people learned from contemporary reports and to provide a more balanced view for those who are considering Vietnam for the first time.
Great post, very informative
You write, “Hillary Clinton … boasted she was prepared to ‘totally obliterate’ Iran.” You misconstrue and misrepresent her statement. She said (YouTube v=857guwaNbRc) that IF Iran preemptively attacks Israel with nuclear weapons, then the US will retaliate by attacking Iran, and Iran must understand that “we could totally obliterate them.” She did not say we, the US, WOULD obliterate Iran, only that we could. That is a fact. … You also cite Daniel Ellsberg as saying that Obama carried out a coup. Ellsberg did NOT say that. He said that Obama carried on Cheney and George W. Bush’s coup (v=bpBZ4yeCMyM). Not to excuse Obama for what he did or didn’t do, only to demand that you stick to facts, just as you demand that the rest of us do. You need to check your work more carefully in order to earn and hold the high factual and moral ground that you so confidently claim.
I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam (31 May 1967 – 31 May 1968), and I was disappointed from the very beginning when Burns editorialized this false historical narrative of the road to hell so paved with good intentions. I watched the first three episodes in the series, but then I gave up because it was just the usual propaganda. Vietnam was a bullshit war, and all I can say is that because I was stationed at the 12th USAF Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay AFB, I never committed a war crime, since I was in the rear with the gear, but I did serve in a criminal war.
This article is full of important truths. However, like many writers on this great site, the author gets carried forward by his own momentum and attacks anyone and everyone, thereby diminishing the piece’s affect greatly. Promoting diversity is not “the new liberal brand.” It saves lives. Hillary would have been a better president than Trump. And Michael Moore and his “happy-clappy” audience will effect more change than any author’s blizzard of negativity. While reading the first half of this article I thought it would be interesting to send it to my Vietnam vet Trump-supporting cousin. By the end of it I couldn’t think of anyone who I would want to have read this runaway train.
thank god, it’s not just me … from jacobin
** mine …
You know, I think that most “kids” today, could not define “imperialism” much less “anti-imperialism, “under what age?” I’d guess over 50 … have we taught our children well?? I don’t think so. link next comment
“On both sides there was brutality and atrocity and violence.”
That isn’t a statement of false equivalence. That’s a statement of factual equivalence. No matter who says it.
Moreover, the critic is trying to develop a larger argument with that charge- accusing the entire series of being an exercise in false equivalence.
Having viewed all of the eight episodes that have aired thus far, I can attest that’s a baseless accusation. I don’t think any attentive viewer could come away from viewing those episodes with the conclusion that both North Vietnam and the USA had equally justifiable reasons for fighting in South Vietnam. Even given that the documentary does occasionally turn to documenting specific evidence of brutality and atrocities by the North, the weight of the accumulated evidence on that subject falls on the other side, amounting to a massive takedown of the USA. Both the indefensibility of American motives and policy decisions and the terrible cost exacted on the civilian population by American war-fighting tactics and strategy are exposed over and over and over. As of episode 8, practically every American Vietnam combat vet interviewed who started out with an idealistic view that supported the American military commitment in the early 1960s speaks of doing a complete reversal of attitude toward opposing the war by 1970, while it was still going on. And some of their quotes are directly damning.So are some of the factual historical points made by the narration.
The other curious thing I find in that review is that it appears to me to imply a linkage between Buns and Novick’s supposed “whitewash” of the American involvement in Vietnam with the manufacture of consent in regard to later US intervention in Central America, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But this documentary can’t possibly have played a role in any of those involvements- it was only completed this year! In fact, at different points in the Vietnam series, I’ve actually found myself wishing that it had been completed and released in, say, the year 2000, because it does send such a strong message about skepticism of the US government. That skepticism that was sadly lacking when it was needed the most- in 2001 and 2002, when the War on Radical Islamic Terror was originally conjured up to represent a clash of world powers (as opposed to what might be more accurately considered as an attempt to suppress terrorism by a small group of non-state actors, roughly analogous to a Thuggee cult with a global reach enabled by technological modernity.) But that isn’t the fault of Burns and Novick. There’s certainly no way that their documentary works effectively as justification, apology, or hand-wavey explanation for the current presence of American combat units in Afghanistan. I don’t think it’s possible for a sensible person to watch the Burns Vietnam documentary attentively without concluding that Afghanistan is a fool’s mission of the same order.
I like Mr. Pilger’s brutal honesty and remembrance of history. It is refreshing and discouraging at the same time, as the U.S. is a nation of idiots who have been turned into zombies as well by the invention of Mr. Jobs’ company; the “smart phone.” Political thought seems beyond most people’s capacity these days.
The film “Viet Nam” is about Viet Nam. i’m learning a lot about how the history unfolded and who was lying to whom. (By the way, the film says that the Tonkin Gulf incident happened because Johnson heard what he wanted to believe.) It’ s not about Daniel Ellsberg or The Bank of America in Berkeley, or What Happened to John Pilger as a young journalist. Ken Burns wanted to spark discussion, especially about what’s happened since we all leaned that our government lied to us. It seems like he’s been pretty successful, so far…
On some re-watch/re-listen, there is a lot of punch-pulling … as an example (already cited) the Gulf of Tonkin deception/lie/false flag is left as a “reasonable honest people could disagree” / ye-olde “fog of war” excuse … on a re-watch/listen it is clear that Moogy volunteered for service BECAUSE he believed that the Gulf of Tonkin was a “tipping point” … while the proximity of these events exists in the narrative, it took a re-listen to “see” the tragedy by which Moogy “sacrificed” his life”after” (not because of, not because he was lied to) Gult of Tonkin North Vietnam “aggression) (this latter framing of NLF self-determination as “aggression” in response to American imperiialism is suggested but NEVER NAMED.
There is a lot of micro-dissection of particular really-bad-outcome battles/routs , bad-outcome firefights or ambushes when (noble) American troops were decimated … for a (repetitive) litany of missteps, bad intel, etc. — mostly avoiding the “poisoned fruit” aspect of being on the wrong side. … There’s a lot of weeping over individuals without — yet — acknowledgement that they were sacrificed to imperial folly and leaders who refused to acknowledge the obvious to learn form their mistakes.
The website is muddled … the previous miniseries (and its website) appear more focused and coherent, It’s as if this current effort was both aimed at relativistic conflict-averse milennials (more comfortable with a muddle than a confrontation) but also as a projected that was focus-grouped (over 10 years) and/or overworked (like dough) by over-invested creators… I think many perplexingly bad films have similarly been suffocated by dedicated artists overworking and not coming up for a reality check.
The Burns and Novick Vietnam documentary could only be criticized as “American exceptionalist propaganda” by people who would be dissatisfied with anything less than the film equivalent of a burning effigy of Uncle Sam, to the cries of “Death to Yanqui imperialism!” Or by people who have viewed little or none of the series. Or both.
You want to know what a real, present-day, up-to-the-minute American propaganda “documentary” looks like? I just watched one, earlier this morning, on CNN: this episode of the show “Declassified” http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/10/world/afghanistan-war-opium-heroin-facts-declassified/index.html
The problem with wolf-crying hyperbole is that the audience has a way of wearying of it, and they tune out. And then the real thing shows up.
The critic’s comments disrespect those who can think for themselves.
People who exist without food tasters and litmus testers? Unthinkable.
Re: ‘..In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism,”..’ and: ‘..Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on Sept. 19 – a body established to spare humanity the “scourge of war” – he declared he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual. His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now…’,
it is most worthwhile to read ‘A Murderous History of Korea’ by Bruce Cumings in London Review of Books of 18 May 2017:
‘..How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea..’
yes, there will be no Truth and Reconciliation Committee hearings … too triggering … (even if countries like South Africa and Colombia have “somehow” been able to convene successful efforts. We’ll just keep crying into our hankies. Seriously, people wonder why there have been virtually no indictments and again no convictions … That most recent plea agreement over the Gitmo torturers as an example, and all banksters allowed to accept vague impersonal responsibility in exchange for fines …
“Americans are really loved by the world.” That sentence took away all the respect I have long had for Mr. Moore. He’s drunk the Kool-Aid. Instead of being “loved by the world,” we are hated and feared around the globe – except for other terrorist nations like Israel and the Saudis, whom we enable – or maybe it’s the other way round. What must the other nations, sitting at the UN, have thought when they heard the beast roar and threaten annihilation of entire countries that don’t kow-tow to us. I don’t think that was love. It was disbelief and horror. Every single representative should have stood up, denounced Trump – and America – and walked out. I am sickened and deeply saddened by what America has become in my lifetime of 74 years. We are the antithesis of everything we claim to stand for. I had no intention of watching this “epic” even before I read this article.
Some people are obviously watching this series. Perhaps some of them will be kind enough to report if the Burns series ever mentions McNamara’s “Project 100,000”.
They really haven’t gotten into the predatory draft, draft resistance, going to Canda, etc. yet … only half-way through … or Agent Orange exposure in Veterans or post-war Veteran activism and abandonment…. I’m pretty sure they gotten to 1970 — There’s a slightly nonlinear quality to the presentation that I’m finding quite annoying … The Marines are over-represented and do themselves proud.
I should add that for some reason (despite trying various tv picture adjustments) the names of speakers are often truncated … as well as other near the margin graphics/titles so there may be date stamps given to content that I’m missing …
when I was a child, one of my favorite records in my parent’s collection was Noel Coward in Las Vegas … and after Matelot (my much missed much loved brother was a merchant sailor at the time) World Weary was my favorite track …
The fact that The Vietnam War was mostly fought by volunteers will not be pointed out in this lopsided anti war film. It will be portrayed as being fought by draftees who could not dodge it, which of course is ludicrous. American misconduct will be emphasized and the on going atrocities of the VC and NVA will be glossed over. Watch for My Lai to be pounded to death and the butchery in Hue to be reduced to a paragraph at best. The spirit of the American fighting man will be ignored, or just not understood enough to address. How could a Ken Burns know of such a thing. Sadly, this documentary will take its place alongside The Civil War as truth, when half truths are more like it. As a combat vet, I am very disappointed.
actually almost all of the veteran talking heads have been Marine volunteers … oh, and Hue has been covered … are you sure you’ve been watching?
so essentially your beef is that burns and novick don’t sugar coat america’s role to the extent you would prefer.
perhaps you can answer frank joyce’s questions: “Did Vietnamese troops invade the United States? Did the Vietnamese air force spend years spraying millions of tons of Agent Orange onto forests and crops in California and Ohio? Are there pictures of naked girls fried with napalm in Alabama that we haven’t seen? Were hundreds of thousands of civilians in Canada and Mexico killed to pursue Vietnamese military objectives in the U.S? Did Vietnamese troops massacre women, old people and babies and dump their bodies into mass graves in Missouri, Montana and Michigan?… The United States government invaded Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; not the other way around. Before that, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the French war to keep Vietnam a colony. Any suggestion that the U.S. was somehow the victim of the war is not just wrong, it is yet another example of the moral confusion for which our nation pays a far greater price than we are willing to admit.”
It is good that you served but you were tricked and may have tricked yourself that there was something purpose of the US in that war. But others do not have that prior commitment to find a rationale. It is sad that you were tricked; it was certainly not a clear case to most of us back then.
In war there are atrocities on all sides, so those are not part of the evidence as to whether a war is necessary; it is propaganda or personal anger to use enemy acts of war as rationales for war. One must start with the needs and aspirations of peoples, which in this case were anti-colonialism. The US was the first nation to rebel successfully against European colonialism, and the last to defend it, in Vietnam. The US had no cause whatsoever but the creation of foreign monsters by demagogues, serving the purposes of the rich who oppose socialism in the US and will attack it anywhere, lying always about their purposes.
Amazing there are people that have this level of loathing for our nation. I can easily see why this “writer” would laud that fat tub Moore. They are the same spirit. We at are core are horrible people.
Burns didn’t get baseball right, either.
“Burns and Novick’s much-anticipated and highly publicized ‘P’BS (the ‘P’ in ‘PBS’ stands for ‘Pentagon’ and ‘Petroleum’ far more often than ‘Public’ when it comes to this highly corporatized network’s political and ideological content) documentary ‘The Vietnam War.’ […]
“Burns and Novick (all-too predictably) failed to interview the nation’s leading intellectual Noam Chomsky.
“Chomsky, it is worth recalling, made his first political mark on the national political culture with his brilliant writings against what he called Washington’s ‘crucifixion of Southeast Asia’ (COSA).
“The American Imperial War on Southeast Asia
“There’s one thing I can say with 100 percent confidence without watching one frame of the documentary: its title is absurd. It’s not for nothing that the Vietnamese call the COSA ‘the American War.’ A better name for the conflict would be ‘The America Imperial War on Vietnam.’ Chomsky’s phrase – the COSA – is even better. It captures the savage depth of the American destruction and broadens the geographic lens to include Laos and Cambodia in describing a remarkably one-sided war in which world history’s most powerful industrialized state and military empire assaulted a small peasant nation and some of its neighbors with massive force for more than a decade. […]
“The United States lost 58,000 soldiers in an imperial invasion that killed as many as 5 million Southeast Asians between 1962 and 1975. The massive U.S. assault laid waste to vast stretches of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It spread disease and birth defects across the region. The Vietnamese did not kill a single American solider – much less a U.S. civilian – on U.S. soil. Just one joint CIA and U.S. military program alone, Operation Phoenix, killed 40,000 South Vietnamese, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the total U.S. body count in Vietnam! […]
“The ‘public’ network’s news and public affairs departments are de facto outposts of the Pentagon, the military-industrial and Big Carbon complexes, the State Department, and the Council on Foreign Relations. You don’t get privileged broadcast space there, or big filmmaking grants from Bank of America and the Koch brothers – two leading funders of Burns and Novick’s Vietnam series – by exposing the immoral, imperial, and unlawful essence of U.S. foreign policy. […]
“Burns and Novick know this very well and will play along accordingly. There’s no censorship required. Smart historical documentarians know in advance what they can include and what they must delete if they want the good stuff – money, status, a sense of importance and relevance – coming their way. It’s one small but significant part of how the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire rule.”
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “Vietnam War”: Some Predictions
By Paul Street
Burns and Lynn Novick’s fiction is required to “make the world safe” for America’s upcoming crucifixions in Eurasia and East Asia.
It might be interesting to contrast this latest Burns whitewash being released on PBS with the 12 part series PBS released in 1983 on Vietnam: a history. That latter one was very educational. I just saw it this last winter for the first time — it was an amazingly accurate summary of that war. I think a comparison between that series and Bunrs’ will show how PBS has evolved over the last 35 years. Today, it is clear, it has become a propaganda outlet for the US government or now, that Trump runs the government, the deep state.
Thank you, as usual, John Pilger. Always validating to read your work.
I take exception to the description of Clinton and Obama as liberals or that liberals are responsible for these wars. Clinton, Obama, Carter, even Kennedy were conservatives pure and simple, these wars are a direct result of conservative ideology, racism, profiteering, religious persecution and have absolutely nothing to do with liberals…There are no liberals in position of power, decision making, or dominant influence at the controls in America or around the world.
Agreed. The term “neo-liberal” misrepresents the “fake-liberal” product offered by oligarchy to liberals.
Right on, John Pilger. I saw the last few episodes on TV last night and had nightmares. I was being chased by three naked men who wanted to kill me. They were not Vietnamese; they were Americans.
Pilger says — and how true it is:
“The thousands who turned out for Senator Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” in last year’s presidential campaign are collectively mute on these dangers. That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo….
“What is known in the US as “the left” has effectively allied with the darkest recesses of institutional power, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, to see off a peace deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin and to reinstate Russia as an enemy, on the basis of no evidence of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.”
It’s strange how “liberals” seem to have given up on winning heart and minds with “reality has a liberal bias” better arguments and now appear eager to use the state, laws, regulations and law enforcement to eradicate dissent and stifle free-speech they dislike … I’ve gotta bad case of whiplash
Years ago, I said watching Ken Burns was like eating stereotypical Chinese food: https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2015/04/is-watching-ken-burns-like-eating.html
And, since my earlier comment, as I’ve read about the Vietnam series, here’s my own take on just how bad it is, and why it’s that bad, in light of Burns’ entire career arc. https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2017/09/if-youve-been-watching-ken-burns-on.html
why don’t you try actually watching it … and imagine that you — like most Americans under age 60 — know next to nothing about Vietnam (except, apparently, that veterans were badly treated on their return (why, by whom or how is usually unmentioned).
The first 5 episodes will be rebroadcast on Sunday in a marathon, for those who might record rather than ever watch such pablum.
The archival footage and voices from North Vietnam alone are illuminating. There is a lot of (perfectly understandable) confirmation bias being demonstrated particularly by those who have not deigned to watch, however, this series is likely — nevertheless — to become the “Encyclopedia Brittanica” of the Vietnam War for much of this and the next generation … warts and all, irregardless.
The number of people who claim to find the subject matter “too upsetting” after all these years, imho, is not a good sign as to the course of our future or any hopes of a change in direction. Don’t watch. It will still be there if you decide you’re interested or wonder — as I very often do — exactly what are kids are being taught these days …
consider: Quartz: Academic arguments backing white supremacy and colonialism are making an ominous comeback
seriously … I’m still at a loss to explain the fulminant tide of anti-communist (original Marxist Leninist style) sentiments and fears that followed the fall of the Soviet Union … beyond Anne Applebaum’s diligent work on Stalin and his would-be doppelganger (in Applebaum world) Vladimir Putin (I also harbor suspicions wrt Nuland, Kagan and McCain and the other necons of working diligently in this cause for decades as well … just a hunch). .
We have enough miseries of all kinds happening right now. Why look back at this disaster – hoping though, to learn from it…which I doubt.
It’s been in production for over a decade … it had to be rolled-out publically at some time and it will be part of the “public record” going forward. I’m not certain of any “tactical significance” of it’s start date … until a year ago, everyone assumed Clinton would be in the White House, making our new war plans for Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Russia …
But there seems to be large number of declarations that they will not watch …. the “distraction from more immediate matters” is likely insignificant.
Mr Pilger starts out talking about a TV documentary but very quickly shifts to the now classic “Trump is being prevented from keeping his promise to capitulate to Putin in Ukraine” lament. Nothing could better illustrate the centrality of Ukraine to the political situation in the world today. Nobody, whether pro-Putin or anti-Putin, can get away from Ukraine!
If a flying saucer from Betelgeuse lands on the White House lawn tomorrow, I’m confident our troll will remark about it in terms of “Putin” and “Ukraine”.
“History is written by the victors.”
? Walter Benjamin
everybody knows this quote…..and almost all history reflects this. but the quote that sums it up even better is….
“History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”
Another similarity between Viet Nam and Afghanistan caught my eye while watching the film. Both countries endured foreign occupations (by France and Russia respectively) followed by roughly a decade without war, only to be invaded once again, both times by us.
I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t some “Gulf of Tonkin” size secret being hidden about the “almost magical” rise of ISIS from the dissident sunni population of Iraq … we watched scores of Iraqis head to Syria to fight Assad with “the rebels” … very quickly further funded by KSA and augmented by the mobile jihadi army of the Umma. … we have been (paradoxically) fighting alongside various KSA proxies ever since, even as we “try” to stabilize / liberate Iraq from ISIS and undue (to us) Iranian (and of course Russian) influence …
The CIA again “caught with its pants down” elicited no calls for reform or inquiry into incompetence (despite our array of relevant satellite surveillance of the region) …
Afghanistan is the most obvious “new” Vietnam although kept at an easy-to-ignore simmer as we continue to “train” an army that was likely in diapers when we invaded, an bemoan their illiteracy. I believe the Syrian “war” would have ended in early 2013 were it not for massive (proxy) support of a dwindling “insurgency” … many “rebels” have always been in it for whatever best salary was offered (there being no other work in that war torn nation, and mouths to be fed). As that “war” dwindles, we appear poised to demolish Raqqa and try to impede/prevent Syria reclaiming control of her oil fields. Ain’t over ’til it’s over. Funny how there’s no news from Iraq after that great-and-glorious victory of Mosul … The fate of 1500 ISIS women and children held by Baghdad has been uncertain for a few weeks now. Not yet forgotten?
While I have not yet investigated the early phase in detail due to lack of sources, I recall that Afghanistan was not invaded, but rather its pro-communist government was supported by the USSR against the US-led theocratic insurgencies including ALQaeda.
It was Brzezinski’s explicit plan to give the USSR its own Vietnam in Afghanistan.
Likely the USSR-supported government there would have been the best path to democracy, giving the people a non-sectarian economic philosophy of progress. Many feel that it would have failed anyway in the “graveyard of empires.” But the civilized thing to do was to let them try.
Come on people. There will never be a “definitive” Vietnam documentary.Too large and diverse topic. Watch them all and glean what you want from each. They all have their merits, good or bad.
Of course watch :1. Vietnam: A television history (which is only in it’s original broadcast edit on VHS and Laserdisc) 2. Vietnam (The Ten Thousand Day War) 3. Hearts and Minds 4. Vietnam: Year of the Pig 5. Grin without a Cat 6) The Anderson Platoon …those are the “best” but there are many others.
Of course you could actually read about it to…
In my opinion the French should have never been allowed to return to Vietnam after WWII. End of story.
I know what your saying Jeff. I find if you truly love a certain subject that you will need to pursue reading, watching, and even listening too many varieties of interpretations of the said subject. With such a controversial subject as Vietnam a student of that subject will need to endure a lot of poorly produced material, along with the student finding gratification when discovering material which tells the student what is true,and accurate. Even with all of this the student must process all the material in order for that student to fully appreciate what they have learned. Lastly no two students of any subject may see the same thing quite the same way, and with that we have diversity.
All of the docs you recommend are available on YouTube, as are a couple others I suggest- “Winter Soldier”, as well as (not a documentary) a 26 lecture college course from 1999 (you can find it if you search youtube for “Hist 3322”) presented by Robert Buzzanco at the University of Houston.
By the way, with respect to reading, on Professor Buzzanco’s list of references is “The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990” by Marilyn Young, probably the one book I’d recommend to someone only intending to read one.
The Real Reason the Vietnam War Lasted so Long
Plaudits to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and their staff for digging up so much moving/factual film footage detailing one of America’s most indiscriminate wars. All those civilian casultys. All those young innocent American boys that tried to do their “duty” and instead, following the corrupt orders of General Westmoreland and LBJ, to destroy Vietnamese villages, were instead killed or worse yet, crippled for life.
The question that Burns and Novick failed to ask is….why?
Why, did Lyndon Johnson drag this immoral war out so long? The writers failed to bring to their viewers the real
reason the Johnson Crime Family dragged this thing on and on. The Answer: LBJ’s longtime pals and business partners George and Herman Brown ….Brown and Root Construction….were making Billions with their construction projects….Cam Ran Bay port facility….and the big Da Nang Airbase. Furthermore their fellow Texans Bell Helicopter Consortium ….and Texas based General Dynamics jet fighters…and oh, yes, there is Lady Bird’s brother Jack Taylor’s (Southland Corporation) lucrative contracts for foodstuffs and heavy construction eqquipment.
A war that destroyed our military draft, bankrupted the United States, saddled us with perpetual debt and yet Burns and Novik neglected to identify the real Vietnam War Criminals….Johnson, Nixon, Jack Taylor, Lady Bird Johnson, Herman and George Brown, and a host of other war criminals, the names of whom we will never know!
George Meredith MD
Read the Robert Caro biographies of LBJ. They are enlightening to say the least.
Agree with above statement…Would be a much better doc by pointing out the business nature of war.
I’ve done enough reading that I think that the role of military contractors like Brown & Roots and their influence on LBJ and his advisers and cabinet in relation to Vietnam would be a worthy topic for more investigation. Preferably in book form, to present the most information available. I don’t think that a film documentary would work very effectively on this particular topic.
As the Detroit-based writer and activist Frank Joyce notes on AlterNet:
“A very simple truth is buried in millions of dollars of [Burns and Novick’s] filmmaking rubble…Did Vietnamese troops invade the United States? Did the Vietnamese air force spend years spraying millions of tons of Agent Orange onto forests and crops in California and Ohio? Are there pictures of naked girls fried with napalm in Alabama that we haven’t seen? Were hundreds of thousands of civilians in Canada and Mexico killed to pursue Vietnamese military objectives in the U.S? Did Vietnamese troops massacre women, old people and babies and dump their bodies into mass graves in Missouri, Montana and Michigan?… The United States government invaded Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; not the other way around. Before that, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the French war to keep Vietnam a colony. Any suggestion that the U.S. was somehow the victim of the war is not just wrong, it is yet another example of the moral confusion for which our nation pays a far greater price than we are willing to admit.”
Very good point.
Give me a break.. The point is alluded to several different times in the episodes I’ve seen so far, in several different ways. Although the simple weight of the evidence in the documentary suffices to make that point obvious to any viewer attentive enough to pass a basic factual quiz on the content.
Granted, the documentary would undoubtedly look substantially different if it adopted the hectoring tone of Frank Joyce’s overbearing screed. If someone could find a way to turn beating the audience over the head with rhetoric into a workable method for making a film documentary, that is.
” The United States government invaded Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; not the other way around. Before that, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the French war to keep Vietnam a colony.”
Those facts are laid out in well-documented detail by Burns and Novick. None of that is sugarcoated or whitewashed. And the insinuation that the documentary somehow portrays the USA as victimized by the North Vietnamese is utterly unfounded. Americans are portrayed as victimized- both the citizenry at large, by the deceptions of their leaders; and American combat soldiers, both by the practically unfathomable negligence of American superior officers in ordering various missions to nowhere, and the inadvertent horrors of ‘friendly fire’ incidents. And the toll on the Vietnamese civilian population as a result of American decisions is directly stated, repeatedly. Including numerical estimates, often of a damning magnitude.
I keep reading the same excoriations of Burns and Novick over and over, and it’s increasingly becoming clear that the critics have not watched the episodes! Either that, or they’ve selectively edited out the memory of any scrap of content that doesn’t support their pre-ordained conclusions…
I expected nothing less than corporate approved revisionism from anything shown on PBS. Full spectrum dominance means controlling the MSM narrative in which the American public is sheep-dipped. It also means that they will continue to come after sites like CN, and anybody else who dares to speak truth to power.
This article is just another leftist hate America, bashing rag. It completely exonerates the horrors and war crimes perpetrated by the viet cong on the south Vietnamese. It ignores the historic context of communism and the tens of millions murdered by Stalin (Soviet Union) and Moa (China) which for some reason liberals Inexplicitly continue to excuse. The Viet Nam war was a proxy war against these totalrian regimes. On hindsight, America should have pulled out early on and let viet nam to their own miiserable destiny under communism.
So the death of 58,000 American soldiers leaves you totally cold…apparently. France warned the US not to get involved in what was then called Indo-China. But, oh no…Uncle Sam knew better. On hindsight, Vietnam would have been better off if the US had minded it’s own frigging business instead of poisoning those lands, including Laos and Cambodia. No matter where the US goes, feces follows.
JFK was advised by Gen. MacArthur and Gen/Pres Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt not to fight a war on the Asian landmass, and he listened. However, that was not the answer the Imperial Deep State (that the Dulles brothers helped birth immediately after FDR’s death) wanted to hear, so they murdered him…and LBJ got the message loud and clear. This all ties in with Synarchy Internationale (the “boardroom NAZIs”) Plan B, after their spectacular failure of WWII: FIRST, takeover USA; “Mission Accomplished” by the time of President W’s Admin. All that was left was the “Reichstag Fire” of Sept. 11th to get the ball rolling sans protests, demonstrations, riots, critical press coverage, etc…no pushback this time. BTW, the most valuable lesson learned by the Deep State in Vietnam, is the usefulness of CIA operatives, Proxy soldiers, Mercs, and volunteer soldiers (Conscripts are dangerous to the Deep State, and “General Smedley Butlers” must be flagged and weeded out). My info comes from EIR search box.
Oh yeah; and “imbed” those damned presstitutes…lesson learned.
I am married to a Frenchman whose interest is history and who is also rather old. His take on the whole Vietnam War is quite different from what I have learned and remember personally,from the US and Australian point of view.
How does pointing out our war crimes exonerate other’s war crimes? I happen to love America, I just don’t like the warmongers that run our government. As for totalitarian regimes, why is it that no one has been able to stop, or even slow, the war machine of the USA government since JFK was murdered?
Well and briefly put. “Rich Roberton” will likely never see beyond the MSM propaganda.
yeah…because their “destiny” ended up quite rosy as it turned out. perhaps you should stay in the safe confines of breitbart or fox there rich. cheers^
The Vietnam documentary series does not exonerate the Viet Cong of anything. It explicitly states that terrorism, torture, and assassination was used against representatives of the South Vietnam government in hamlets and villages in the countryside. I haven’t seen the episode on the Tet offensive yet, but I’ve read that it will include depictions and narration about roundups and massacres as a “political cleansing” tactic committed by NLF and NVA insurgents.
I’ve also read that a couple of the North Vietnamese interviewed for the documentary have recently gotten themselves in some trouble with the current regime for speaking too candidly about the decisions of their leaders, and the conduct of the NLF and NVA forces in various atrocities during the war in the South.
Not clear what the Vietnam war has to do with the Dylan song “A hard rain is going to fall”.
Might be a good idea to watch it first and then write a review.
‘The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings.” ‘
This was true of the American people, if not our glorious leaders.
Just a note to express my gratitude.
First, to Mr Pilger, for speaking truth to power in this fine takedown of Burns’ latest propaganda.
But also wanted to thank all of the fine, thoughtful commentators. As is often the case, Consortium’s audience is the sharpest on the intertubes…
To the victor goes the spoils of war and the history of the conflict is always told by the victorious, triumphant warmongering country. The majority of films about the Apache red Indians is always told from the brave Yankee soldiers point of view. Ever heard of a film where they told you how the Americans slaughtered and thieved the land of these indigenous people? If you did then it must be a quite unique film. The only good thing about the Vietnam war is that 58,000 American savage troops died, which makes that many less American killers to go and butcher women and children elsewhere in the world. The Americans are parasites and not fit to be considered part of the human race.
The closest to real life violence in a movie I ever saw being produced by an American film company depicting the U.S. Calvary slaughtering Native-American women, and children, would be by my recollection, the movie starring Candice Bergen ‘Soldier Blue’. Supposedly the movie was a big hit in England, but not so much in the U.S.. Possibly the U.S. audiences soured on the flick when the movie came out in 1970 with the news of the My Lai massacre still fresh on every Americans mind. Faced with the hard reality this movie portrayed, people avoided seeing Soldier Blue out of denial, and felt that the movie was too much overkill. I know it threw me back a few aisles in the theater back then, when I saw a U.S. Calvary soldier decapitate a running Native-American woman when the soldier wails his sword taking off her head while riding his horse. Very graphic, and not a good representation of American frontiersman values.
“Ever heard of a film where they told you how the Americans slaughtered and thieved the land of these indigenous people?
When I was in Boot Camp, we were shown a film of the history of the US Army, from its inception to date. While the Calvary was slaughtering Indians, the sound track featured Peter, Paul and Mary’s recording of, “This Land is Your Land”.
What a very sad comment about the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam war. I wonder how you can justify that comment when you could not have known the thoughts of the young men and women who stepped up when their country called. So many did not even know where Vietnam was, what their history was, and the events that led up to our involvement there. There was NO GOOD THING about the Vietnam war.
For one thing those men and women did not step up when their country called. They had no choice but to enlist. It was either that or jail time. But nothing has changed with the all-volunteer military. If anything, it has gotten worse. The one lesson US has learned from Vietnam is not to put feet on the ground to avoid the “58000” causalities. The returning soldiers from the Middle East wars are portrayed as heroes and thanked for their service, while the millions of men, women, and children that they left behind dead, injured, homeless, hungry, sick and suffering from malnutrition are characterized as terrorists for defending their country from the American aggressors.
yes, many of the complaints about the treatment (by civilians) of returning vets seem oblivious to the fact that there was no victory, not ever, not even a celebrated end-of-combat … There was no victory day to celebrate, no reason for parades of convertibles and marching bands … I think this resentment was deliberately fostered … much of the worst treatment came from the VA and the right wing who loudly despised, HATED the long-haired, anti-war veterans. The local VFW (Topanga) refused vietnam vets access because it wasn’t a “war” but a “police action” … there was a small riot.
Many Gulf War I veterans with medical and ptsd issues were also treated as malingerers … and I suspect it still goes on … and every new president promises to reform the VA.
One quibble with the article: The 27 million dead in World War 2 were from all the Soviet nationalities, not just Russians. This includes millions of Ukrainians, who under the current regime are having their history stolen from them, one subtle bit at the time.
Explain why you militarily overthrew democracy. You fool no one with that dominance diatribe.
“listen up” isn’t that what ohblahblah always preambled with before he “oratized” more bullshit to us, like moore, burns and novick are doing.
Even worse, “Listen up” is shorthand for “Listen up, Shitheads”.
It seems a number of commenters have not bothered to see what they are commenting on. I have watched the first five episodes of Burns’ The Vietnam War. It is not perfect, but I don’t see how any such project could be, given the scope of the events and the passions they roused.
I am old enough that I was in danger of being drafted for service in Vietnam, so I have lived through much of the times depicted in the documentary. Regardless, there is much in it that I have not seen before. The opening episode made clear the roots of the Vietnam conflict in French colonialism, and traced the early life and political education of Ho Chi Minh. Subsequent episodes made clear how Ngo Dinh Diem was put in power by the U.S. and how that worked out–which is to say, badly. Burns’ documentary makes clear how the Diem regime was very much a U.S. project, based on the premise that national liberation movements in S.E. Asia were communist inspired and had to be opposed for that reason. There is a whole generation of people born since then who have not had a good opportunity to see this part of our history. For this reason alone, Burns’ putting all these materials together performs a needed service.
The commenter who claimed that Burns white-washed the Gulf of Tonkin incident must not have seen the episode in which it was discussed. Burns laid it out very clearly: first, South Vietnamese gunboats attacked islands off the North Vietnamese coast. These raids caused the North’s navy–such as it was–to come out in defense of their territory. A few North Vietnamese small gunboats approached a U.S. destroyer and got shot at for their trouble. A few days later, there was another “incident” in which miscellaneous sonar echoes were interpreted as more “attacks” by North Vietnamese boats. The Johnson administration used these incidents to claim that North Vietnam was attacking our Navy and introduced a resolution, that they had prepared in advance, to allow use of military force against North Vietnam. As one administration figure is quoted, “it was like a night-shirt; it covered everything.” In short, the cynicism of the whole exercise is made very clear.
Commenters who claim that Burns’ covers up the atrocities committed by U.S. troops also are ignoring what is in the first five episodes–tales of marines cutting off the ears of dead enemy soldiers, the establishment of “free-fire zones” where U.S. troops were instructed to shoot at anything that moved, etc. It’s all there. It is true that Burns does not go on about how bad and awful the U.S. troops were. He just lets the facts depicted tell the story. Anyone who just watches and pays attention will end up revulsed by what U.S. policies in Vietnam led to.
Finally, it should not go unmentioned that this documentary lets us hear, probably for the first time, from the North Vietnamese soldiers, leaders and ordinary people who fought against us. They are not a monolithic bunch at all, and putting a human face on the enemy is one of the great values of what Burns has done here. We should not be mislead by the unctuous sponsorship of Bank of America and the usual PBS trappings–Burns has managed to get a great deal of real history into The Vietnam War. And as for the flaws, where Burns has got it wrong, it would be helpful if those criticizing would actually watch the thing and be specific about what they have found.
Derrick Jensen said it very well when he said that the aim (referring to those in power) is to shoot the premise by you without you noticing. This is the most important point of this entire “debate” here, and Pilger points it out right from the start (which, of course, is how you set the stage for the “presentation”/”propaganda). The false premise that the killing was all based on good intentions. If you skip right past this then EVERYTHING can be made to appear to have some sense of legitimacy.
Yes, the film may show atrocities (I have not watched, nor do I plan on doing so) but, again, when the premise is that you’re fighting based on a noble cause then those atrocities are “collateral damage,” done by a few “rogues.” It’s unfortunate. We’re sad about that. We’ll do better next time!
Just as back then, in Vietnam, today the US is still blowing by the false premise that offensive wars are really defensive wars. Sorry, but you cannot have/be both.
Out of curiosity, is there ANY real mention of what the French had been up to in Vietnam? Again, what precipitated it all IS the most important thing, as this is where the premise is actually tied.
Youve not watched and rely on second hand information to argue with someone who has clearly watched it.
He does not claim to have watched, and stays within that limitation, making valid points.
Exactly, and I agree with Seer that the “premise” of “good intentions” is a big problem and that no “legitimacy” whatsoever should be forwarded either to intentions or conduct when it comes to the war on Vietnam.
“He [Seer] does not claim to have watched, and stays within that limitation, making valid points.”
lol, at the absurdity of the presumption there. On the part of both of you.
Seer’s admiring allusion to the supposed insights of the fatuous Derrick Jensen merely provides a clue to the superficiality of his own observations. The guy is like Poe’s Law, incarnated. I can’t figure out whether Jensen’s a completely unscrupulous charlatan, an agent provocateur deployed by the fossil fuels industry, or merely some ultimate expression of the unexamined contradictions of self-absorbed bourgeois hypocrisy of Americans, circa the early 21st century.
Sorry about that. I had to say it.
DC Reade…the observation which Seer makes (which essentially is intended to highlight an important thrust of Pilger’s thinking) is certainly not superficial and does not require a viewing or full critique of the film to be pertinent. The point is about falsely framing the intentions of the war on Vietnam, a point which can be generalized with many other examples and should be learned from going forward.
A (singular, not plural…as in “insights”) remark by Jensen about the art of propaganda, the art of premise and presentation, is used by Seer to set up his point. The remark, in-and-of-itself, seems a fairly straitforward truism that does not depend on the credibility of anything else Jensen has to say about anything else. Your feelings about Jensen are far from the point.
Gregory, the problem I have with Derrick Jensen’s observation (as quoted by Seer) is that there’s less to it than it portends. It’s too fuzzy to qualify as a point; I read it as more like an admonishment to anticipate a deception that’s so carefully and diabolically disguised that it effectively deflects exposure, and hence must simply be assumed, a priori. That pseudo-profundity is typical of Jensen’s routine as a gimcrack po-mo version of Jean Jacques Rousseau. With his exaltation of eco-terrorism, as long as someone else plans it and carries it out.
There are also some inherent semantic problems in the use of phrases like “good intentions.” That’s a phrase that resists sure definition. But the alternative is to assume a Manichean level of malicious intent, and I find a final conclusion like that more problematic than granting the possibility that leaders of nations and militaries might be convinced of the benevolence of their own intentions, even when they order or commit acts that result in atrocities and terrible suffering. In my view, that’s more often the case than not. Self-deception on that score is commonplace. That self-deception is often prompted or encouraged by petty drives like status preservation and ego insecurities, but it partakes of a different nature than unholy genocidal lust, or “pure evil.” In my experience, the far extremes of both the Left and the Right have the most difficulty with acknowledging the possibility that they’re adversaries might partake of any character other than Pure Evil. And that polarized view of politics and human affairs has been known to lead people to justify injustices and even atrocities of their own.
I think pure evil exists, and it can be summoned and even embraced. But the condition of ambiguity and moral dilemma is much more typically the case. I’m wary of any attempt to put haloes on one side of an event and devil horns on the other, even when reviewing wars and their causes.
It’s like the story I once heard about two guys eating in a restaurant that was known to be frequented by gang members, hit men, killers. One of them glances around, aware that he’s in the presence of people who forcibly intimidate people, breaking their bones and sometimes killing them, and he says to his friend “are you comfortable hanging out here, in the presence of all of these evil people?” And his companion responds “There are no evil people here. Only victims.”
That’s a little bit too easy to be entirely accurate. But there’s more truth than falsehood there. It’s certainly closer to the truth than the rigidity of imagining that the world is made up of people who are either Good or Evil, and assuming a self-flattering conclusion about one’s own position in that regard. That was a big factor in the decision by Americans to become involved in Vietnam, in fact. Not a narrative frame to emulate, no matter what political position someone might happen to hold.
To address your last question, the first two episodes do deal with the policies of French colonial rule and the hatred those policies engendered in the Vietnamese. And, as the series goes on, it becomes very clear that the basic premises underlying U.S. policy were totally wrong and had hideous results. The opening statement about “good intentions” quickly becomes overwhelmed by the mass of material showing what actually happened.
So, in its way, this documentary is rather subversive of the established story–Burns, given who funds him, has to make occasional statements supporting the official story, but meanwhile, the screen is filled with information showing what a huge lie was perpetrated upon the American people in order to pursue and indefensible war. Johnson, McNamara and most of their advisors come off very badly in this documentary. You really should take a look at it.
Johnson, McNamara etc. “come off very badly?”
They were war criminals of the worst kind and should have been labeled as such in any honest history of this heinous crime.
But I guess coming off badly in Kenny Burns’ eyes (and yours) is punishment enough.
Ken Burns was out to make a multifaceted documentary history, Nancy. Not a prosecutorial indictment of American leaders for war crimes.
If you think about it: 1) the targets of your allegations are long-dead; and 2) a documentary focused exclusively on their decisions and motives would have just ended up making it all about US. And many, many other voices and perspectives would have been left out.
That said, anyone interested in pursuing such an indictment as the topic focus of their own documentary would find some awfully compelling leads in Burns and Novick’s work.
I agree completely, R.A..
At last, someone who appears to have watched the same documentary episodes that I watched.
and damn-it-to hell the episode ends on “paint it black” from the Rolling Stone’s Aftermath released in 1966…. …
I walked out of Apocalypse Now ( at the Cinerama dome on Sunset Boulevard) within days of its premiere because it made “war” both seductive but also a test of manhood … love the smell of testosterone in the morning echoing Jimmy Cagney’s “Top of the morning Ma” …
Someone needs to send Burns to the woodshed for his blatant misrepresentation and manipulation via the soundtrack (the artists were likely honestly flattered and too trusting)
fwiw, Apocalypse Now also used popular music and cultural reference to seduce the audience — Coppola said it was an anti-war film, but vietnam vets were lining up to see it again and again and again …. because it was “so real” … so validating, so intoxicating…. I grew up with “war stories” from twelve-steppers … similarly, sending the message that the best (most meaningful) years of our lives were — in fact — then, not now.
Susan once being a musician and a songwriter I love your analytical take down, of how these monkeys use songs so willy nilly for sound-track scores. You should work for a recording company, or better yet the artist. Cool comments. Joe
FWIW – I thought Apocalypse Now was junk, but I found Deer Hunter to be electrifying…
Apocalypse Now is “war porn” … there’s plenty of cinematic triumph to praise, but it became a phantasmagoria with Charlie Sheen as some sort of everyman … I bolted when they killed the puppy, having briefly left when the unmentionable body part appeared in the soup (a feature of some war porn I saw in my 1950’s childhood which was strangely obsessed with torture).
Strange how the Vietnamese torture of our POWs looks now after Gitmo and Abu Graib and Baghram and all the black sites …. Saddam’s surveillance state was modeled on that of the Shah of Iran which was designed, aided and studied by the CIA … we helped various South American dictators in similar “School of the Americas” fashion. Diem’s police hierarchy were trained at Michigan State … We’ve been rotten to the core for a very very long time.
Susan, ‘Country Joe & the Fish’. All this talk about Vietnam and music, and then all of a sudden I got that damn song stuck in my head, “”I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag”. I always thought the song to be corny, and yet I noticed how people got a kick out of it. Sorry, just thought I would mention it, because that song compliments the Vietnam theme here. Joe
Music acts as a “lubricant” … people hear music they like/love and assume good (positive alignment) things about the person responsible (Ken Burns) … but this use of music is not-just-manipulative, it’s also strangely random, like someone consulted back issues of Rolling Stone or Billboard … there’s a bland obviousness to some choices, haven’t been surprised or charmed yet. (may happen) but it’s 10 hours with musical numbers occurring about every 3-5 minutes. People are getting an pavlovian emotional charge or buy-in … there’s been some fairly shallow pandering to other issues. Again, it’s a visual/auditory light show … they might have taken and issue or two deeper and more seriously and even articulated a “moral stance” … rather than vague assumptions of consensus.
See ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ where Sergio Leone uses music, and violence to an extreme. The POW camp scene where beautiful music is being played up against a visual of soldier prisoners getting tortured is brutal. As disturbing as this scene is, the use of the soft music which relaxes the listener, is counter off set by the viewer seeing such sick violence enacted out on the screen, that you the viewer will be glad the scene is over when it’s done, and if your are like me you will come away saying, wow what was that. The movie also had a anti war theme, and was released back during the time of the Vietnam war.
You obviously prefer that the soundtrack music choices be used overtly to make political points, or to underscore or emphasize those points.
I think that doing so would actually detract from the rest of the documentary content that comprises the real heart of the story. It’s a misplaced emphasis.
Susan Sunflower, the songs and movie recollections were, I presume, meant to press a few “emotional” buttons? Perusing through your list of recent statements, I just can’t seem to connect the dots here… The Air Force and Navy are now on Un’s doorstep, there’s always prayer and peace offerings but at this moment, we need some novel suggestions?
I think the 60’s soundtrack (in general, not in this work) has been done-to-death to the point of being hackneyed … something to be used judiciously, particularly using pop music in a “serious” documentary about a 14 year war. “For What It’s Worth” for instance (ironically about the Sunset Strip riot in 1965, my band mate was there).
Aren’t we accustomed to “assuming” that the use of a song has some meaning or significance? Personally, I think this project could have used a bit more old-fashioned workman-like march of history. The music has not matched the period of the war being discussed.
Because the younger generation has apparently only confused vague impressions about what vietnam war was “all about” a less kaleidoscopic “impressionistic” presentation might have given them something to hold onto … dates help … Additionally, I’m not sure if the evolving nature (not just the eventual escalation and endless bombing throughout the “peace process”) is getting across. Like Korea or today’s Afghanistan, the war was generally “popular” because approval of the war was considered “patriotic” … not particularly because the public cared or paid much attention. The anti-war movement (which has the stuff of patriotic citizen activist mythology as well) also evolved, ebbed and flowed, and merged for some into the global 1968 unrest. We haven’t gotten there yet. The personal focus of the families and the veterans’ stories are well and good, but the larger world seems obscured.
Susan, in Anthony Swofford’s book Jarhead- a memoir of his enlistment, basic training, and deployment overseas in Kuwait during the first Gulf War- he writes about him and his Marine buddies devouring every war movie they can find- old, new, jingoistic, antiwar-themed, from any war. Message content was beside the point- it didn’t matter whether the film was Rambo, or All Quiet on the Western Front. They were seeking in out exclusively for the thrills. Swofford recognizes the superficiality and unreality of that, but only in retrospect.
The heavy emphasis on image in films makes it easy to jettison reflective thought and turn the focus toward the enjoyment of watching what “drive-in movie critic” Joe Bob Briggs once called “stuff blowing up real good.” Gaudy violence. Loud fiery explosions. Extremely fast destructive action- which is all violence is, once pain, suffering, and loss is subtracted. And the medium of film itself lends itself to that disassociation. The bottom line of movies is that they’re magic tricks played mostly on the visual sense with the aid of technology. Voyeurism can be as easily induced by “war porn” as with the more traditional sorts of porn, as it were.
Anyone who recognizes film or photography as an artform has to deal with that and take responsibility for it, whether as the artist producing it or the person viewing it. But I’d argue that most of the responsibility resides with the viewer or the audience, just as with other art forms. Art is interactive. The audience can always deny the power of the material being depicted- by turning away, shutting the book, and leaving, if necessary. But an artist can’t do anything about someone in the audience who has a reaction of or inspiration that perverts their intent.
I agree that Coppola made his combat scenes seductive and attractive. But that attraction has been long acknowledged by war combatants. It’s part of the evil and horror of it, that the level of experience is so immediate and intense that that many frontline soldiers will swear that it’s unmatched by any other experience they’ve ever undergone. So for an artist to be true to invoking or evoking the experience, they need to include that factor in the depiction of it. Furthermore, modern war is spectacular. That fact needs to be acknowledged in order to resist its appeal, lest one be caught by surprise. That accounts for most of what made the first Gulf War so popular, a popularity that’s maintained in the minds of many Americans. It ended up tricking many of them into fantasizing that the second war- the invasion of Iraq- would play out the same way as it did on their TV screens in the spring of 1991.
At any rate, I don’t think that Coppola made Apocalypse Now a paean to war. He was trying to depict the scary atavistic heart of it, with its primal drives and the gratifications of its abasement of human consciousness and human potential. He wanted to get to the urges of death and murder that can work the minds of mortal beings. How necessary it can get to abandon all else and succumb to that frenzy. That isn’t a prowar message. That’s merely being honest, the way that William Manchester was just being honest in his memoir of fighting the Japanese in World War Two.
I think the prowar movies are the ones that clean it up, and make it all about the Good Guys overwhelming the Enemy. The Green Berets, with John Wayne…compare that to Apocalypse Now. One is cheap propaganda, crafted to enlist support for the US bringing Total War to Southeast Asia. The other one is about a spiral into nihilism where the entire mission is lost, and nothing remains but the cutthroat mentality of war lords and debased minds who who “love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Also: if you haven’t seen Apocalypse Now Redux- the re-release, with added material- I highly recommend it. The extra scenes make it a very different film, and a much more complete movie. Apocalypse Now Redux is the real masterwork, in my opinion.
Again it strikes me that somebody needs to dissect the misuse of popular music in this documentary … the first episode made it seem that Dylan’s “hard rain” (1962) was all-about Vietnam … it wasn’t …
Tonight, we got both Hendrix “Are you experienced?” (my 1969 class theme song) and Spencer Davis “I’m a man” 1967 ( I thought it was earlier) … to discuss the events prior to the Tet offensive (1968) …
IMHO, there has been a deliberate attempt to create a false thematic pop culture “continuity” … some of the estates/management that allowed this use were likely swayed by Burns’ credentials. I love Peter Coyote and think he’s holding his own ethically … but again IMHO, it’s genuinely tricky … even in episodes I “like” because they provide important documentation of issues, there’s a lot to loathe.
My take on the soundtrack is that Burns is using it mostly for atmospherics, to evoke the Zeitgeist of the era. Not much different than some of the film clips of main street USA. It’s incidental to the narrative, not integral to it. Only occasionally do the lyric snippets carry any particular significance; they’re mostly coincidental. I think Burns is going out of his way to NOT use them toward a didactic end. And I agree with that decision, because I think that employing them that way would be clumsy and heavy-handed.
I thought the choice of popular music was mostly OK but I found it distracting when it drowned out the narration or an interview. The choices for the ending of the series were obvious and sappy. I felt cheated that the music composed for the series was played too softly to be heard.
Leave it to Pilger, one of the heroes of 20th century journalism, to expose the series for the propaganda whitewash that it is. Leave to him also to show how Trump is an outgrowth of the yankee system and that war crimes are truly bipartisan in nature, with the democrats having at least as bad a record as the GOP.
Yes, genocide is the bipartisan consensus of our bought-out loony demagogues, but the Repubs don’t like to pay for it unless they are in the business.
According to Pilger himself, he viewed a total of one episode of the Burns and Novick Vietnam documentary. I don’t get how he managed his extrapolations. At any rate, the majority of his article was not devoted to that topic.
John Pilger, thanks for being John Pilger….Your expose’, The Secret of the Bikini Islands and Marshall Island Peoples, their ongoing exposure to radiation from Atomic testing, was a masterpiece..Now to my point, it was that king of mendacity, that Texas personage, Lucifer’s lieutenant, the Senator from the Pentagon-LBJ, who was solely responsible for garnering senatorial support, with their consent to launch a war against Vietnam. Fast forward to current Asian geopolitics’ we can only assume that our diplomatic corps will negotiate a deal with China that will fairly distribute future profits to Taiwanese, Philippine and Vietnamese peoples (and other regional players) once those anticipated oil revenues begin to flow from drilling in the South China Sea. In 1971 our “grunts” used Zippo lighters to burn down straw roofed huts in Nam. It’s an uncanny, eerie, quirk in history that twenty years later, hot volcanic ash spewed from Mount Pinatubo, burning down our naval base at Subic Bay. This single event altered forever, the U.S. military posture in the Asia Pacific. In any case, we “owe” the Taiwanese, Philippine and Vietnamese peoples and will attempt to cover our sins by negotiating perhaps in secret? a sweet heart deal with Xi…to withdraw our planned attack against a fratricidal, third generation, self appointed, “demigod”, Un. In the likely event that the CCP has decided to take the “winner-takes all” stance, Xi should ponder, and then and remind his party, of the strange, almost cosmic ” vengeance” we suffered at Subic Bay…
Obviously China would make no such deal to give away resources. China will do nothing different about NK under any US pressure because the US policy disregards our infamous history of genocide against NK, the obvious cause of legitimate NK defense concerns. Please try reading, thinking carefully, and offering a cautious view.
anon, China is STAKING a claim for a vast ocean topography, have you seen the gargantuan size of it? In any case, no time left, no use rehashing who killed who, the greater number, or which side of the DMZ is the more amoral or culpable. The diplomatic, corporate and religious leadership(s) both west and east had sixty years to help bring the two Korea’s back together. Don’t bother with justifying a regime who’s leader thinks himself a superior being based on the concept of “bu” the so called Paektu Bloodline. Now, where in recent history have we heard that superiority nonsense before? why are your statements attempting to defend a purely totalitarian society, a social regimentation right out of Orwell’s1984? The North would even make Stalin blush! This argument for war is based on putting a halt to proliferation of atomic bombs, materials and intellectual know how. Again, times-up! Commanders, ready yourselves, allies, cover our backs..Merkel, do your (last minute) Korean negotiating-from afar….
Right wing propaganda that fools no one. Read the history of US post-Korean War genocide. You found no “statements attempting to defend a purely totalitarian society” in my comment because there are none. The South China Sea borders China: refer to the Monroe doctrine for corresponding US claims.
I won’t be seeing the Burns film until it arrives at my local library, and probably not then. I guess that’s mostly because I don’t like his films. When the Civil War series came out, at first glance it was a wonder. As I began to do my own reading about the period, the Burns presentation began to pale. Finally I just gave the DVDs away to somebody or some donation place – can’t even remember which it was.
That this series is sponsored by Bank of America and the Koch brothers bothers me. A lot! They’re simply not going to hand over good money for materials which disturb them in any way.
Before starting this post I made a search for recent articles published about the new Vietnam series. Negative-looking titles were – according to the Google results – darned near non-existent, and that bothers me too, for Google is starting to throw its muscle around and skewing those results.
Finally, it occurred to me to look at Google Scholar and see if there was anything there, and right off I found this:
“Ken Burns and the Coming Crisis of Academic History”
Cut/pasting that title into a duckduckgo search window brought up a PDF version of the article.
Yes, Burns is shaping how US citizens view our history.
After his Civil War, I stopped viewing Burns’ films. I did purchase Prohibition and Dust Bowl for reference purposes – to get a “feel” for what was going on back then. I don’t expect to encounter any really deep history if and when I ever do watch the two shows.
Many of these events are more than 50 years old … meaning that most everyone under 60 years of age has only secondhand (or even less grounded) knowledge … not just of vietnam, but the context in which vietnam occurred (much less the “legacy” since that’s all they’ve ever known … like all the people born after Reagan who have no understand the sea change Reaganism effected in American consciousness and the “social contract” … never knew an America without the homeless and the “undeserving poor” etc.
Good points. The younger folks are going to get a version which will look very nice compared with the dry and limited text in their high school books. Which means the influence of the show will be multiplied with them.
Mr Peabody & Sherman did the same thing for history that Ken Burns did for correctly reporting the historical record. The only difference was Mr Peabody & Sherman were more bad ass funnier that Ken Burns could ever be.
Good post Zachary. Joe
When the Vietnam subject comes up I like to reference this site. Provided is a link to the vvaw.org sites Vietnam history. I found this history narrative to be one of the best Vietnam historical pieces written in brief form. I also recommend you browse this sites other find articles, and events.
I don’t mean to pressure any of you with this, but this little bit from the linked reference above is priceless.
“U.S. involvement in Vietnam did not begin in the 1960’s or even the 1940’s, but in 1845. That’s right — 1845. In that year the people of Da Nang arrested a French missionary bishop for breaking local laws. The U.S. commander of “Old Ironsides” (the U.S.S. Constitution) landed U.S. Navy and Marines in support of French efforts to reclaim their missionary. Mad Jack Percival, the ship’s captain, fired into the city of Da Nang, killing 3 dozen Vietnamese, wounding more, and taking the local mandarins hostage. He then demanded that the Catholic Bishop be freed in exchange for his hostages. The Vietnamese were unimpressed. They refused his demand and waited. “Mad Jack” got tired of waiting, released his hostages, and sailed away leaving the Bishop behind. One hundred and thirty years later, Americans would again become tired of their involvement and leave Vietnam. Unfortunately we would leave behind far more than 3 dozen dead.”
see the link in the above block if you want more.
I’ve cured my disaffection with PBS and NPR by avoiding it completely. I confess to being an avid listener until just before election day, 2016. One good result from that horrendous “election”- not a coronation, thank goodness!”) was that the rotten underbelly of U.S. “democracy” was laid bare, at long last.
The Dust Bowl and his series on Prohibition are both excellent — the latter as a case-study on how a relative small special interest group can actually succeed in getting national legislation passed (eventually). It would be good if someone would chronicle the 50 years of Plessey-Versus-Ferguson to explain why it took 100 years to get something like the civil rights and voting rights act passed (often described as “political bravery” ). I learned a lot about the War in the Pacific from his WWII series (I hadn’t realized that I knew nothing) which was illuminating looking at the successive tactical and more importantly logistical screw-ups in the start of the gulf war in 2003. I thought they were good at the basics, the mechanics and logistics … nope nope nope … Never could stand more than a few episodes of civil war … but then I hate (all) war(s) … Disliked “The West” enough to never finish it … too many sorrowful tears into too many handkerchiefs does not improve the story … nope, I’m not a fan … the Dust Bowl and Prohibition are, imho, well worth the time.
The plain fact is that the film documentary format is inherently limited. The best that even the most well-done and conscientious documentary films can hope to accomplish is an introduction to their subjects. When it comes to acquiring a knowledge base, there’s no substitute for textual sources. Books and articles.
Ken Burns is not to blame for what the essay you’ve excerpted depicts as “the Coming Crisis of Academic History”- that problem has been building for 50 or 60 years, ever since documentaries and newsreels- and, eventually, fiction movies- began to be used in public school classrooms as teaching materials. As I’ve said, I think documentaries are fine as introductions- at least, the well-made ones are. (I remain deeply skeptical of the value of fiction movies as history source materials.) But it seems to me that some time in the 1980s or 1990s, visual media started to get treated by many people- including teachers and other pedagogical authorities, as well as mass media and the viewing public- as if it conveyed the same depth of content as books and print sources, and that’s simply false. It’s objectively wrong.
But it’s terribly off-point to make that the fault of Ken Burns. I happen to think that he’s a skilled filmmaker and an engaging storyteller. Does Burns make choices that I sometimes disagree with? Do I sometimes have issues with his narrative emphasis? Of course. That’s part of the deal. My treatment of the history of jazz would have gone in some entirely different directions, for example. But that presupposes that I’d have some competent understanding of how to construct a documentary history on film. And that isn’t my wheelhouse. It’s his. And it’s the nature of documentary filmmaking to be all about editing choices. Most of the material simply has to be left out. The inherent nature of the medium is to be massively abridged. Any documentary director has to work within that limitation.
To reiterate: if you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of a given subject and the most extensive array of viewpoints on it, resign yourself to tackling the library shelves, book by book. There are no shortcuts. Yet and still, an engaging, watchable documentary can provide suggestions for deeper researches to astute viewers. So I recommend considering the medium in light of what it’s able to do well, instead of focusing on what it’s unable to accomplish. That’s simply asking for disappointment.
Thanks to John Pilger for this piece. I have not watched any of Ken Burns current work nor do I intend to. His documentaries and Beatles haircut have become quite tiresome. As for the narration stating the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”, I say bullshit! The Gulf of Tonkin incident was the false flag pretext for the Vietnam war, not a fateful misunderstanding. It was ginned up by the Johnson Administration, disseminated by a compliant press, and led directly to the deaths of several million people. Here is a link to a 1994 article on the subject:
With regard to Vietnam documentaries I would recommend Pilger’s The Quiet Mutiny and, of course, Hearts and Minds.
Thank you John Pilger for exposing this “documentary” for what it is: a propaganda POS, meant to reinforce the myth of American “exceptionalism,” that the US has learned from its “mistakes” and is again the moral leader of the universe. Sadly, most of the oblivious PBS audience is lapping it up.
excellent companion piece at counterpunch on the sins of omission
Ideology as History: a Critical Commentary on Burns and Novick’s “The Vietnam War”
I’ve found the episodes better than I expected … but the kaleidoscopic format, lends itself to confirmation/reinforcment “bias” and selective attention (we like the parts and factoids that are recognizable and fit into our pre-existing understanding or narrative — that which is foreign to whatever narrative you already hold tends to remain “confusing” or “extraneous”, having little context to embed into)
Great complementary article by Chuck O’Connell, thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this reference. It is a cogent, historically based criticism of the Burns version.
There’s only so much that any information report can do about pre-existing confirmation bias on the part of their audience, Susan.
In my opinion, what you view as a “kaleidoscopic format” that encourages such bias actually represents an attempt to neutralize it. I don’t notice Burns and Novick introducing the wide array of viewpoints found in the series as an exercise in false equivalency (although it’s clear that other comment writers in this forum do; ironically, some of them boast of not watching the series.) What I notice is very different; they’re allowing ample space for the expression of viewpoints and historical perspectives that were entirely absent from the US news media at the time of the Vietnam era. I realize that some posters here are claiming “whitewash”, but that certainly isn’t the impression that I’m getting from what I’ve seen presented. To the contrary, the narrative is often just damning. Some of the more blatant abuses of official power I had never heard about before-the CIA interception of memos sent to President Truman, for example.
As for the contentions in the Counterpunch article that you’ve linked, this one is simply outright false:
“Just as Burns and Novick fail to adequately convey the provenance of the Diem regime as an American apparatus to secure U.S. power in southern Vietnam, they also fail to convey the reality of its brutal and dictatorial character and its class basis – a character and basis producing a sustained rebellion that eventually sucked in a massive American military force to save the Saigon regime.”
Burns and Novick spent at least an hour on that precise topic. And I never heard any minimizing of the brutal dictatorial character of the Diem regime, or its corruption, or its lack of popular support. To the contrary, pointing out the instability of all of the post-partition South Vietnamese government regimes and outlining the reasons for their extreme level of unpopularity- particularly in the rural areas, where 3/4 of the population resided- has been central to the narrative arc.
The episodes also devote a lot of time to explaining the origins of the anti-imperialist movement that fought the Japanese in 1945(with US help), defeated the French in 1954, and assumed power in the North in 1956. I can’t see how anyone could view it and come away with the view promoted by the US at the time, that the Hanoi regime owed its power exclusively to totalitarian brutality imposed on an unwilling population by force. It’s repeatedly made explicitly plain that the reunification and popular elections promised in the 1950s by the Americans- acting in the role as self-ordained stewards of power in Indochina, following the departure of the French- never took place because it was all too clear to US policymakers that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh would have won at the ballot box in a walk. I don’t get how a “pro-American propaganda coverup” allegation might be playing out there.
As for the rest of the criticism found in the Counterpunch article, it consists almost entirely of a complaint that the documentary doesn’t consist of a metrics-laden Marxian economics lecture on the evils of imperialism. Well, as it happens, the filmmakers have a different narrative emphasis. Thankfully. To the extent that the content lends itself to visual media at all, the material that critic Chuck O’Connell would have preferred to be covered lends itself more to a Power Point presentation than a watchable documentary film series.
Yes, few will have the ability to see through scientific propaganda until they are far more experienced, if ever. The US has lost the fundamental tools of democracy, elections and mass media, to the fascism of unregulated economic power. The US now has a tyranny far more strong and primitive than the lowest tribal tyrannies and theocracies in all history. History shows that there is no way back without violence, and this must be repeated for hundreds of years in retracing the history of evolution of governments, until at last democracy is restored with new controls to protect the tools of democracy, elections and mass media, from unregulated economic power.
Trumps approval rating grew as response to his UN speech.
Are we a collective nation of war mongers, – bent on commanded subjugation?
On another post I talked about how disappointed I was hearing people call in to C-Span and a local radio talk show talking that same old evil warring trash, and said the same thing. I’m now starting to take articles about GMO and bottled water more seriously, because I’m too the belief that there is something in the system effecting our collective brains….maybe a corporate run media, huh what ya think? Never the less it is saddening that we have citizens amongst us who cheer on death, and destruction, but there again when in history did not those warmongers in a society exist? Good post Mild-ly. Joe
We are living in the 1984 society Orwell predicted. If the powers that be have their way, the American people will never know anything about the real history of our world. As the communication giants like google and Facebook fall in line with the propaganda narratives of the oligarchy, the brainwashing of the public is nearing perfection. Most Americans now live in the matrix of a Disney world reality with no real values or truths. Those of us with a clue as to what is really going on, find ourselves surrounded by zombies who cannot experience reality outside of their conditioning. They have become programmed to believe that the real is really unreal, and that the unreal world of their programming is the real world. Real news to them is fake news, and fake news is real news.
Yes, economic control of mass media and elections, the tools of democracy, has given the US an even more primitive form of tyranny than fascism. The people cannot see who controls their information and elections, they cannot see or discuss the problem, they cannot know which way to go, to restore democracy. The old form of fascism can be defeated militarily, and runs out of control until that happens, but not the US form of economic fascism, supported by nuclear weapons and controlled by secret economic relationships.
When tyrannies are overthrown, the successor government is usually only marginally better. What we have in the US is a more primitive tyranny than the most barbarous tribal tyrannies of history, more primitive than the most irrational theocracies, and far more difficult to overthrow. So we will now have to repeat over centuries the entire historic evolution of government in much slower and bloodier motion, from military dictators to imperialist monarchies to bloody revolutions. All because we did not see that the tools of democracy must be protected from unregulated economic power to preserve democracy.
Fascism to me remains Mussolini’s ideology which states that under the leadership of a ‘bundle’ or ‘fascio’ in Italian, of the most successful, and strongest citizens, a nation will reach greater heights, because it behooves that ‘fascio’ to raise their nation to great heights. It will benefit the ‘fascio’ most to rule well, and so they will rule well.
Mussolini would be impressed by the system in which Americans elect the leadership from the list of candidates provided by the American ‘fascio’ to manage their affairs of state, and lead the nation.
Unregulated economic power has provided the opportunity for the American ‘fascio’ to create such a system.
This system is generational, and it took an evil genius to realize it.
If you plan for a year, plant rice.
If you plan for ten years, plant trees.
If you plan for a hundred years, educate your children.
Yes, US fascism is gangsterism in government, facilitated by unregulated economic power controlling elections and mass media.
I don’t think it was a matter of ‘oversight” that kept Trump’s long-standing (decades and decades, when he was Roy Cohn’s acolyte) mod ties largely unmentioned … recently there was a breaking story about how Australia refused to allow/permit him to build a hotel because of his underworld, mafia ties …
newsweek: TRUMP’S ALLEGED “MAFIA CONNECTIONS” LOST HIM A BID TO BUILD SYDNEY’S FIRST CASINO
yes, it was in 1987 .. and “secret” but we got “meaningless” (easy to dismiss) stories about him “stiffing’ his contractors … and assurances that without revealing his tax forms, election was ‘impossible”
This article and its subsequent letters are on Facebook. Pick and choose my friend, pick and choose. The truth is out there, one must find it.
Spot on mike.
I counted four CIA talking heads in the first episode. Burns doing his job.
There is also an imbalance of “veterans” from the Marines and/or special forces and/or military legacy families … I’ve missed any unwilling conscripts telling their stories. I think the expectations and commitment (regardless of how bad the disillusionment or bad experience) makes an enormous difference in perspective. The obligation to fullfill a contract entered into voluntarily is utterly different than that of an unwilling conscript who may also take their oath very seriously, but without the “legacy” baggage of high expectations.
I was (thanks to my father’s PSTD from his experiences training in Colorado and fighting in Italy) one of those unwilling conscripts. I am still
Very proud of refusing to participate in the Viet Nam “war.”
At the time, amongst my fellow disidents, the whole damned thing was thought of as an “experimental war,” a testing ground for Amerika’s cool new stuff. Toys for the boys with the filligreed suits.
As for the reason that dissent is scarce, my first comment to a friend on September 11, 2001 was that “This day marks the death if dissent ”
So it has.
As for Donald Trump, my theory is that he was persecuted in the Long Island schoolyard in the early ’50’s for being of German descent. His defense mechanism was to become a “counter bully.” These unfortunate events must be recognized, and Mr. Trump (and his expanding neocon and neoliberal support. -Yes, I believe his rhetoric this week will let him slide into favor with the America First crowd (which is, in truth, most of We the People), so as to gain him some job security. I may well be wrong on this last speculation. I hope so.
Sorry, “the death of dissent.”
Then you missed the stories of unwilling draftees and those who left for Canada. Their stories are there. What? Did you go out to the kitchen for a snack during those parts?
Burns’ whole arc is centrist pablum. That’s why he’s on PBS with his splashy stuff. His “balance” has long been wrong, though, not just here. Two words on that: “Shelby Foote.” https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2017/09/if-youve-been-watching-ken-burns-on.html
I didn’t have to watch it long to see several distortions and whitewashing. What got me the most is the use of “patriotic” music in the background; he did the same in the Civil War series. Schmaltzy nationalistic music like that does not belong when one is trying to portray the catastrophe of war. It functions to massage the medium into a ho um, pleasant,”we can be proud” experience. Burns must have a warped or infinitely insensitive mind portray a war in such a way.
What patriotic music? I found it be mostly 60’s dissent music for the purpose of making a point. I think this series has been politicized for the current left/extreme left who always believe they are always right. A perfect fit for PBS.
Yeah. Patriotic music like The Beatles “Revolution” and Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” plus let us not forget that great patriotic piece “Paint It Black” by the Stones. Yeah. Those overly patriotic songs all were too much for me as well.
Regarding the CIA, it surely is the criminal organization described by Douglas Valentine in this interview and his book, The CIA As Organized Crime, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/22/the-cia-70-years-of-organized-crime/
Well, those were some of the people who were playing important roles there. I’m not sure that the narrative would be as well-served by pretending that isn’t the case. Or by relying exclusively on the recollections of North Vietnamese military officers.
I was frankly surprised by the comments of Donald Gregg- to me, he sounded pointedly critical of American policy motivations and the decisions made at the time. If that was a “limited hangout”, it’s one that granted a lot of ground to the position of the antiwar protesters of the day.
The only CIA guy I recall as striking an unapologetic tone with his recollections was John Negroponte.