Pilger Criticizes Ken Burns’s ‘The Vietnam War’

For decades, the U.S. mainstream media has shied away from a clear-eyed view of the Vietnam War, not wanting to offend the war’s apologists, a residue of which tainted the recent PBS series, as John Pilger told Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Ken Burns’s 18-hour documentary on the Vietnam War, which aired on PBS and BBC, presented extraordinary footage of the war’s grotesque brutality but also soft-pedaled the motivations of U.S. policymakers as well-meaning albeit misguided, or as the prologue put it, a conflict begun in “good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings.”

This glossing over of U.S. neocolonialism and its deadly consequences angered John Pilger, who cut his journalistic teeth covering the Vietnam War for a decade. I spoke to Pilger after he watched the first couple of hours of the highly touted series.

Scene from the Vietnam War

Dennis Bernstein: I was reading your piece called “The Killing of History” and these lines stood out for me: “The revisionism never stops and the blood never dies. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt while ‘searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy’.” What is your initial response to the framework of the film?

John Pilger: That quote, “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” is from Lynn Novick, who is Ken Burns’ collaborator on this series on the Vietnam War. If we don’t understand the meaning of the Vietnam War by now, I don’t know where our brains have been all these years.

Like so many colonial wars, it was an invasion based on a series of deceptions and lies. This is effectively denied in the Burns series. It starts off with the narrator saying that it was all conducted in good faith by decent people. It was all a big misunderstanding that grew out of the Cold War, and so on. That is complete nonsense.

The Vietnam War started specifically with the US arming the French to reclaim their colony in Indochina after the Second World War. It really got underway for the US with the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, following which Congress gave President Johnson the authority to start one of the longest bombing campaigns in the history of warfare, called “Rolling Thunder.” The long litany of official documents say it all.

But these filmmakers put aside all this demonstrable truth and obfuscate what really happened in Vietnam. The word “invasion” was never used by the press during the Vietnam War and it still isn’t being used. Instead that awful word “involved” is used. The United States was “involved” in Vietnam. It must be very difficult for truly decent Americans and especially veterans to watch. But it is very interesting, we get such a supply of special forces officers. Maybe we will see the drafted men later on. They were the truth-tellers, in my experience.

DB: You write in your piece The Killing of History: “The meaning of the Vietnam War is no different than 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 CIA man who served as the model for the character in the Graham Greene story ‘The Quiet American.’ He 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 harbors resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.'”

JP: This is the concept of total war, which the US adopted from Korea. The devastation of the Korean War, the millions killed, the new weapons, including napalm, that were used, the dikes that were bombed, costing countless lives. This was the model and it was during this time that the United States assumed its post-World War II imperial role. This concept of total war has been pursued in every colonial war that the US has been involved in since, either directly by the Americans or indirectly through proxies.

In Vietnam, for instance, they established “free fire zones.” You ringed an enormous area with heavy artillery, then you bombed it from above and then you strafed it, so that it would be a miracle if anyone survived. When I went to the province of Quang Ngai, where the massacre of My Lai took place in the late 1960’s, free fire zones had killed something like 50,000 people.

It happened also in neighboring Laos, the most bombed country in history. In southern Vietnam, since the end of the war, something like 40,000 people have died from unexploded ordnance, a great many of them children. We can go on forever talking in these terrible statistics.

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

You get some sense of that in this PBS series, the archive is really astonishing. But the way it is projected reminds me of the Newsweek cover that described the My Lai massacre as “an American tragedy.” You get a sense of the same thing in the Burns film. Yes, they interview Vietnamese, yes, you see terrible things happening, but the overall sense you are meant to come away with is that it was a great perplexing tragedy, a great blunder.

The whole thing was genocidal. The bombing of Cambodia between 1969 and 1975 was something like five times the equivalent of Hiroshima. According to one study that seemed to have credibility, something like 750,000 Cambodians were killed in that bombing. And that was simply a sideshow to the main event in Vietnam. Total war is a form of industrialized killing. The obsession in Vietnam was with body counts and we get no sense of that from the Burns film.

DB: There is a lot of discussion now of how dangerous Trump is, but if you look back at the Vietnam policy, Trump seems to fit right in.

JP: Trump’s specialty is abusing the world. But you’re right, he is just the latest on the team. In fact, he is a bit of a wimp in comparison with the ones who have come before. Obama was probably one of the most violent presidents in US history. He conducted a record of seven simultaneous wars, not to mention his assassination campaign.

This is not to say that Trump cannot get up in speed to equal this terrible record. But Trump should be understood as a symptom and a caricature of a violent, extremist system. Once you understand that, you can understand how the past has helped create the present. Trump is not an aberration, he is a caricature. Much more interesting is the way the suave Obama went about his violent presidency without due recognition.

DB: Let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran.

JP: She said that when she was running against Obama. Well, Iran has 80 million people.

DB: She and Colonel Lansdale were talking the same language.

JP: Yes, and President Truman was talking the same language when he dropped two atomic bombs for reasons that had nothing to do with making the Japanese surrender. These were the first terrible explosions in the Cold War, aimed at intimidating the Soviet Union.

DB: What responsibility does the corporate media have for the US and world population not knowing the real story?

JP: They are the gatekeepers. People turn to the media for their information, to be able to make some sense of a difficult world. And they don’t get it. You will find that most of the exceptions are on the World Wide Web. That is where my article was published. It would not have been published in The Guardian, where I used to publish.

I don’t agree that everyone is wildly enthusiastic about Burns’ film. I think there has been a lot of critical response to the film as well. This is going to build, and I suppose he has done us a service in opening up the wound so that people who really experienced Vietnam can describe what happened.

DB: Burns also says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family.”

JP: The Bank of America was a corporate prop of the invasion that killed up to 4 million people. That is just corporate speak and it rather demeans a filmmaker to talk like that.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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59 comments for “Pilger Criticizes Ken Burns’s ‘The Vietnam War’

  1. mike k
    October 3, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Is it really a surprise that the most violent and hateful nation on Earth would pretend it is really peaceful and well meaning? It’s all part of the crimes to deny that they happened, or at least it wasn’t our fault. The hypocrisy of the US government is truly sickening. Evil people pretending not just to be good, but posing as EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD. No wonder most citizens get uncomfortable if you try to point out the truth to them. Their conceited image of themselves as Americans must not be challenged. Comfort comes first before morality and decency. It’s the American Way. As long as we are secure in our image as exceptional people, we need not ever apologize for anything – Donald Trump is our perfect model for that.

    • Nancy
      October 4, 2017 at 11:10 am

      I waited in vain for an episode titled “This is America; This is what we do.”
      Yes, this series was intended to comfort Americans and sort of atone for this “terrible tragedy” as Lynn Novick calls it, rather than the heinous crime against humanity that it was.

  2. Brad Owen
    October 3, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Something I ran into earlier today, while perusing articles on EIR (Executive Intelligence Review) via their search box, brings pertinent insight into “some meaning of this terrible tragedy” : type into their search box “Henry Luce” and there you will find the real meaning of this and all other terrible Post-War tragedies. FDR would have warned us of them, had he lived.
    instead we got turned into serving the very thing FDR had fought against.

    • Steve Naidamast
      October 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      FDR was warmonger just like Churchill, Stalin and the rest of the western degenerates that run these nations.

      FDR’s proclivities for war with Germany are well known by scholars today…

  3. Joe Tedesky
    October 3, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    America may consider itself having a ‘free and open press’, but what really harms the American information consumer, is we viewers of the news are only exposed to a ‘privileged press’. A privileged press who has the largest media platform, that outshines any of it’s other media counterparts, is what is really an unequal rival with the loudest voice. This privileged press serves it’s corporate Masters & Mistresses very well by keeping the flock moving along with well propagandize narratives, and with that we all go down.

    I wish that John Pilger were in the ‘60 Minutes’ Sunday time slot. We Americans are poorly represented by not having more exposure of the likes of Pilger, Parry, and Bernstein, that’s for sure. Joe

  4. Susan Sunflower
    October 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Burns’ Civil War was completed in 5 years, The Vietnam War took 10 and a co-director. I’m not sure that “The Vietnam War” ended up being the series Burns thought he was making when he started out. Many punches pulled, many dangling conversations and unfinished sentences — as if we knew how that story ended or the significance of that pregnant pause (Americans today do not have a firm grounding either in history or in civil society). It focused in that oddly trivializing, particularizing fashion on individual soldiers, mostly Marines, almost all white, years of service and/or combat service unclear to me in many cases … a skewed “Delphic chorus” … Forget the why’s and wherefore’s war, let’s hear war stories. if there were conscripts, I missed them. My attention wandered – one firefight rather like another — and I was often distracted by rather predictable editorial choices, especially wrt the music which was out of sequence and imho rather random.

    I don’t think “The Vietnam War” will make Americans appreciably wiser or more cautious when assessing the next “intervention” … The expansion into Laos and Cambodia — which seem intensely relevant in 2017 — were footnotes, “total war” (as mentioned) was just a label, unexplored.

    I’ve suspected that a number of “labor of love” projects that ended up disappointingly in a muddle simply were overcooked and over-thought … that the creators, immersed in their project, came to assume audience knows, cares and is more invested than they are. I thought closing the series with “let it be” demonstrated the rather middle-brow/mediocre editorial mindset … when a gentle admonition becomes a command, an anthem… the Vietnam War gaping wound is still open. I doubt there was anything in “The Vietnam War” that would have offended veterans. With massacres and war crimes daily fare for the last decade, perhaps this would have been better helmed by someone younger, more willing to starkly explain the precedents Vietnam set. someone willing to at least feign outrage if not anger.

    There’s a frustrating “mistakes were made” passivity so common today.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 3, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      I’d like to see a Vietnam documentary filmed by a Vietnamese, and see the war from their perspective. Joe

      • Karl Sanchez
        October 3, 2017 at 9:03 pm

        When managing a restaurant in Honolulu during the 1980s, I had a former VC colonel in my employ–all 95 pounds of sinewy muscle and bone–and we talked a lot about his experiences–I was too young for the Lottery/Draft. I wish I’d thought through the relationship better, took audio notes in order to tell his story, which very much needed to be told given all the garbage Hollywood was producing with Chuck Norris, Stallone, etc. He was very lucky to live through it all. But he didn’t want to remain in Vietnam and its post-war chaos, so he became a boat person refugee. He was amazingly resilient, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s still living.

        • Joe Tedesky
          October 4, 2017 at 11:29 am

          Don’t feel too bad about missing an opportunity, we’ve all done that. Thanks for your input. Joe

      • Fred
        October 3, 2017 at 11:32 pm

        So do I. And I would like to see a documentary without background music and sentimental songs!

        • Joe Tedesky
          October 4, 2017 at 11:33 am

          Fred, if I were to produce such a documentary portrayed by the Vietnamese I would use whatever music, or poetry, that would be indigenous to their Vietnam culture and society. I mean to totally take a look at the Vietnam Conflict from the eyes of a Vietnamese would be my goal. I would only hope that Americans, and including our Vietnam Veterans would at least take stock in the experience from the side of the Vietnamese, if not for to admit how wrong this war was, but to see from the side of the indigenous what pain they went through to avoid our hegemony. Joe

          • October 5, 2017 at 11:27 am

            Joe…I agree with you about needing a Vietnamese perspective about the war. Oliver Stone came close with his third movie in the Vietnam trilogy “Heaven and earth”. Based on a book by a Vietnamese woman titled “When heaven and earth changed places”. It starts out with incredible cinematography of the beauty of the country later juxtaposed with the horrors of war that we and the French before us brought. It’s a bit surreal in places, but also a movie that continuously brings a tear to my eye in spots whenever I watch it. I highly recommend it, especially the deleted scenes on the DVD.

    • Litchfield
      October 3, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      Ken Burns is a technician, basically. He has the technique down for generating certain tyupes of emotions in viewers. Eligiac feelings. Actually, a lot of it is emotional masturbation.

      Burns does not challenge to gain real insight.
      Many documentarians consider him a wimp, a sellout, and a mediocre filmmaker.
      It is a shame that his “brand” has morphed to the extent of becoming almost like “official” history.
      I wonder what is next.
      Maybe Bank of America will fund an 18-part documentary on the history of Islam!!!
      Or, on refugees. Or, on –I’ve got it—on Russia!

      I vote for retiring Burns starting now.

      • Dave P.
        October 3, 2017 at 10:12 pm

        Litchfield – I completely agree with you. They are in the business of revising History now here, and in Western Europe too. He is part of it all.

      • dave
        October 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm

        With the possible exception of his Central Park Five pic, Ken Burns has really just made the same documentary over and over again: “Yay, America!”

  5. David G
    October 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    There have been a bunch of strong pieces on sites like CN and Counterpunch pushing back against this most recent Ken Burns glop, and I’ve appreciated reading them, but I haven’t been aware of any mainstream reaction at all.

    Unfortunately, I’m sure this silence has more to do with the fractured media scene, with PBS inhabiting a particularly inbred and irrelevant corner, than with any principled or informed rejection of the propaganda by the public.

    But it’s sad that people who may want to escape the complete apathy and amnesia that characterize the U.S. will find the path of least resistance to learning anything about the war leading them in the direction of Burns.

    • Susan Sunflower
      October 3, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      I was following on two bulletin boards and responses were few, fairly banal and very very personal (about their family member or friend who …) I don’t mean to be unkind. One board stopped any posting after the first 2 episodes (with most saying they couldn’t bear to watch and wouldn’t), the other board seems (with a few exceptions) to be focused on mistreated vets, a much more complex subject than cold homecomings** and the anti-war movement. I missed discussion of the failures of the VA system and the demonization of long-haired anti-war vets by politicians as significant factors … of course, no one can ever ever mention that angry resentful people (vets and others) rarely evoke a lot of sympathy, even if they deserve it. Civilian guilt and confusion also contributed … “I know I should feel sorry, but mostly I wonder why they don’t pull themselves together” still said every day about today’s homeless.

      ** seems returning soldiers in many wars have been disappointed by friends fairly uninterested in their war stories and disinclined to grant vets “hero” status …. GWI vets also found few interested, see also GWII and Afghanistan …

      • Susan Sunflower
        October 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm

        most recent complaints have been that the documentary didn’t follow up on Vietnamese children fathered by GI’s, the orphan plane crash and that Bob Hope & the USO shows were not mentioned.

  6. Mild-ly Facetious
    October 3, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Tyranny of the Bottom Line
    by Ralph Estes
    (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996)
    Why do corporations make good people do bad things? How did the purpose of the corporation come to be perverted, from serving the public good to serving narrow private interests, and in so doing threatening all those that come within the reach of its substantial power?

    Tyranny of the Bottom Line reveals how the corporate system, developed centuries ago to serve society, came to acquire immense power even as social controls were withering. Largely unconstrained by a regulatory bureaucracy it has come to dominate, Corporate America now exercises an unspoken sovereignty over much of our society. This dominion often produces good, but it can also bring great harm: injury and even death to employees, loss financial and personal to customers, desolation to deserted communities, poisonous pollution and hazardous waste to the nation.
    Like Frankenstein’s monster, the corporate system did not develop through evil intent. Its harmful effects are the product of centuries of seemingly benign activities, undertaken by ordinary people merely doing their job. But their direction comes from a perverse scorekeeping system that has become the soul of the soulless corporation. Today this scorekeeper accounting’s profit and loss statement, the “bottom line” controls all corporate managers, driving them to actions in their corporate jobs they would never consider as private citizens.

    It is a flawed scorekeeper. In its perverse calculus pollution prevention is only a cost; the benefits to society are not recognized. Jobs eliminated reduce internalized corporate costs and so are counted as good; the pain of the newly unemployed is counted not at all. This scorekeeper is concerned only with the private interests of stockholders, and ignores all other stakeholders.

    Tyranny shows how to fix the scorecard. It lays out a practical, specific program for a system that will account for the effects of corporate actions on all stakeholders, and so empower them to hold corporations and their managers fully responsible for their actions.

    The potential consequences of Tyranny’s prescription are profound: less air and water pollution, less toxic waste, fewer workplace injuries, more equitable compensation, more stable and secure jobs, fewer product-related injuries and illnesses, a fairer return to communities on corporate tax breaks, and a better quality of life for all those affected by corporate behavior.

    Corporate accountability will not cure all the ills of the corporate system. But it will encourage -and allow – honorable managers to make honorable choices, choices that balance the interests of all stakeholders. Tyranny of the Bottom Line will help put a human face on capitalism.

    Tyranny of the Bottom Line ( why corporations make good people do bad things )

    • Brad Owen
      October 4, 2017 at 4:33 am

      It is not blind stumbling. There is malice afore thought involved. See Henry Luce (AKA”Baal” in skull and bones list of members) from EIR search box.

    • Steve Naidamast
      October 4, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Well you already made your first mistake with the opening paragraph of Estes’ piece describing the original intent to server society (“from serving the public good “).

      If you were to read Joel Bakan’s excellent sociological study of the modern corporation you would find that the idea that such entities were designed to serve society is a complete fallacy.

      The modern corporation is based upon the original entity created in the 17th century. It was designed specifically to fleece investors of their monies. It was and always has been a development of the classic swindle. The corruption became so bad with these monstrosities that they were banned by England for close to 200 years.

  7. Mild-ly Facetious
    October 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    What series of events in the shooters’ mind led or provoked him to carry out this massive slaughter of innocents?

    In this context, we’ve been struck by serious weather storms reminiscent of Jonah in the Belly of the Beast.

    The Beast is US CORPORATIONS / corporate control of government by “draining” the (proverbial) “swamp”

    What provocation got stuck in his mind and drove him into the plan for mass-murder of his fellow human beings?

  8. Mild-ly Facetious
    October 3, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    ( Don’t ever forget that, the people of SouthEast Asia, were being RUTHLESSLY and BRUTALLY ATTACKED by a superior military force for NO CLEAR REASON except other than HOSTILE TAKEOVER.

    The modus operandi is always hegemonic takeover and rule by force and subjugation.
    (Sorry, but That’s America – landofthefreeandhomeofthebrave.

    • Susan Sunflower
      October 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Amen — it had little to do with Vietnam … it was largely “sending a message” to China and Russia … we really don’t care how many we kill in the service of geopolitical theatrics

  9. Bryan
    October 3, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    To be fair, body counts and the “kill ratio” as principal metric and fundamental strategy is talked about many times, although I guess maybe not in the first few episodes.

    • Susan Sunflower
      October 3, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      yes, they are mentioned as wrong-headed and a results of show-me-some-progress desperation of the generals; however, I don’t think that the mass slaughter of populations (war of attrition against civilian populations) as a military tactic is discussed much, nor how that relates to Geneva proscribed “collective punishment” of same. The “collateral damage” designation thrown around as some sort of mitigation even when basic precautions not taken. These issues are still being ignored.

      Burns couldn’t have known that Korea would become a hot-spot, but I’ve been shocked by how brutal that war was and how barbaric American tactics were … many of them carried over — seemingly seamlessly — to Vietnam.

      These days we just slaughter and bomb and drone without the muss and fuss of actually surveying the damage or doing the body counts (the better to avoid civilian casualties) … I don’t know when it becomes “genocidal” or “ethnic cleansing” or capital punishment for presumed thought crimes (being on the other side).

  10. douglas gray
    October 3, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Anthony Herbert, one of America’s most decorated Korean War soldiers, recalls an incident where a group of about 10 U.S. soldiers apprehended a 12 yr. old Vietnamese girl “for questioning”. They raped, sodomized, and beat her so badly, that, shortly after being returned to her family, she died. One soldier, he reports, was given “a gentle slap on the wrist” in a court martial hearing. The rest went free. Sometimes these sorts of things are left out.

    • Susan Sunflower
      October 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      But they’re only “left out” of some narratives … It’s like Abu Ghraib … after the pictures surfaced many wondered how the Iraqis would react … they didn’t … they had known about the abuse all along, because it was happening to their friends and family members (if not themselves) … Strangely enough, there were people (mostly the interrogators) who knew about the abuse because they complimented the grunts on the good job they were doing softening up the detainees … and then there were all the folks who also had copies of the photos because everyone shared their grossest photos … which was how the young man who got the photos when requesting other photos, and who turned the disk over to the”authorities” happened to gain possession … seems like lots of folks knew about those “bad apples” who were being praised for their efforts until … the young man who turned over the disk had to be placed in protective custody and eventually left the military (Iirc, he had intended a military career) … funny how those things work out.

  11. turk151
    October 3, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    I found it disturbing that the reason Johnson, Kennedy and Nixon escalated Vietnam was that they felt they had to appear strong to the voters to get reelected; this is no different than what we saw of nearly all the Republicans and Clinton in the last election. They are doing it for us.

  12. Karl Sanchez
    October 3, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks again to Mr Pilger for spelling out why it ought to be called the Outlaw US Empire.

  13. turk151
    October 3, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    I also found it intriguing that Kennedy was assassinated 3 weeks after Diem.

    Only on episode 3, but I am sure that Burns will mention soon, how despite being a desperately poor country, Vietnam has the 2nd largest oil fields in Asia.

    • October 4, 2017 at 9:33 am

      A guy called into Thom Hartmann radio show (and I am highly suspicious of Hartmann) but the guy said he did three tours in Vietnam and received paychecks from Royal DUtch Shell, of course a Rothschild company. Remember the CIA overthrow of Iran in the 50s resulted in oil revenues for BP, another Rothschild company. Afghanistan was about the CENTGAS/TAPI pipelines and US and British oil companies ARE operating in Iraq. And let’s not overlook the fact Genie Energy is fracking in the Golan Heights and investors in Genie are Rupert Murdoch, Lord Jacob Rothschild, and Dick Cheney.

      While your at it look up the Honorary Leadership in the US/Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce.

      More on that at youtopia.guru

  14. Alan Millar
    October 3, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Of course the Vietnam War was illegitimate from the USA side, they should have just stayed out and let the Vietnamese kill each other until there was a ‘winner’.

    I dislike his coloured judgements on other wars though. He is obviously completely anti-western/USA, probably influenced by his Vietnam experiences. I don’t think he would find any war in history conducted ‘virtuously’ though by any side.

    He criticises the use of the atomic bomb in Japan. It killed about 70,000 in Hiroshima, however the allies killed over 100,000 in Tokyo in one night by conventional bombs. Was that better somehow? Should the USA not have done it, should they have surrendered perhaps, that would have saved lots of Japanese lives. Don’t know about the Chinese though where the Japanese genocidal occupation killed millions. The longer Japan remained unbeaten the more Chinese would have died.

    Suppose the USA hadn’t dropped the bomb and gone for invasion, how many would have died given the Japanese propensity to fight to the last including suicide by civilians? The allies predicted a minimum of 250,000 deaths on the allied side and untold millions on the Japanese side.

    When the Russians decided to take Berlin by storm they lost about 150.000 troops and untold numbers of Germans died. Justified?

    Pilger is all about criticism and gives no answers as to what he would have done and the likely cost. The allies, particularly the RAF, killed more French civilians with their bombs than the Germans ever did!

    • Susan Sunflower
      October 3, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      Wars fought by locals in self-defense (and/or to evict an invader) are totally different sort of conflict than the sort of “elective” and/or proxy wars that the USA has fought for the last century. A war fought when one’s family, hearth, home and nation imperiled very different even than the USA in both World Wars … obviously, ymmv….

    • October 4, 2017 at 11:26 am

      -Alan Miller- actually Alan it is not our job here as commentators to teach you history. Your comments show you have no conception of the history you are referring to outside of the “colored judgements” that MSM has indoctrinated you with. There are many excellent sources of information available. As a starter I’d suggest historian Alfred W. McCoy’s recent work: “In the Shadows of the American Century.”

      • October 5, 2017 at 2:14 am

        Gary I have discussed the aborted invasion of Japan at length with someone that would have been apart of that invasion had we not dropped the bomb. From the accounts of extremely knowledgeable people that were actually there I find little to differ with in Alan Miller’s account.
        Since you challenged his telling of history what would you have done if you had been slated to Captain a landing craft onto the beaches of Japan in WW2?

  15. jean
    October 3, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    This will always be my take on every war
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd9aIamXjQI

    • Gregory Herr
      October 4, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      “You want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me at home.”

  16. Abe
    October 4, 2017 at 2:08 am

    According to Burns, his pan and zoom partnership with Bank of America began with The War (2007).

    https://about.bankofamerica.com/en-us/ken-burns/ken-burns-the-vietnam-war.html

    Bank of America obviously sensed that a “riveting narrative” or two would come in handy.

    Then something “happened” in 2008. Bank of America needed more of the Ken Burns Effect:

    The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009)

    ZOOM: In August 2011, Bank of America was sued for $10 billion by American International Group. Another lawsuit filed in September 2011 pertained to $57.5 billion in mortgage-backed securities Bank of America sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That December, Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to settle a federal government claim that Countrywide Financial had discriminated against Hispanic and African-American homebuyers from 2004 to 2008, prior to being acquired by BofA. In September 2012, BofA settled out of court for $2.4 billion in a class action lawsuit filed by BofA shareholders who felt they were misled about the purchase of Merrill Lynch.

    Prohibition, with Lynn Novick (2011)

    PAN: On February 9, 2012, it was announced that the five largest mortgage servicers (Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) agreed to a historic settlement with the federal government and 49 states. The settlement, known as the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS), required the servicers to provide about $26 billion in relief to distressed homeowners and in direct payments to the states and federal government. This settlement amount makes the NMS the second largest civil settlement in U.S. history, only trailing the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The five banks were also required to comply with 305 new mortgage servicing standards. Oklahoma held out and agreed to settle with the banks separately.

    The Dust Bowl (2012)

    ZOOM: On October 24, 2012, American federal prosecutors filed a $1 billion civil lawsuit against Bank of America for mortgage fraud under the False Claims Act, which provides for possible penalties of triple the damages suffered. The government asserted that Countrywide, which was acquired by Bank of America, rubber-stamped mortgage loans to risky borrowers and forced taxpayers to guarantee billions of bad loans through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The suit was filed by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, the inspector general of FHFA and the special inspector for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In March 2014, Bank of America settled the suit by agreeing to pay $6.3 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to buy back around $3.2 billion worth of mortgage bonds.

    The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (2014)

    PAN: In April 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ordered Bank of America to provide and estimated $727 million in relief to consumers harmed by practices related to credit card add-on products. According to the Bureau, roughly 1.4 million customers were affected by deceptive marketing of add-on products and 1.9 million customers were illegally charged for credit monitoring and reporting services they were not receiving. The deceptive marketing misconduct involved telemarketing scripts containing misstatements and off-script sales pitches made by telemarketers that were misleading and omitted pertinent information. The unfair billing practices involved billing customers for privacy related products without having the authorization necessary to perform the credit monitoring and credit report retrieval services. As a result, the company billed customers for services they did not receive, unfairly charged consumers for interest and fees, illegally charged approximately 1.9 million accounts, and failed to provide the product benefit.

    ZOOM: A $7.5 million settlement was reached in April 2014 with former chief financial officer for Bank of America, Joe L. Price, over allegations that the bank’s management withheld material information related to its 2008 merger with Merrill Lynch. In August 2014, the United States Department of Justice and the bank agreed to a $16.65 billion agreement over the sale of risky, mortgage-backed securities before the Great Recession; the loans behind the securities were transferred to the company when it acquired banks such as Merrill Lynch and Countrywide in 2008. As a whole, the three firms provided $965 billion of mortgage-backed securities from 2004–2008. The settlement was structured to give $7 billion in consumer relief and $9.65 billion in penalty payments to the federal government and state governments; California, for instance, received $300 million to recompense public pension funds. The settlement was the largest in United States history between a single company and the federal government.

    PAN: Real estate economist Jed Kolko said the August 2014 Bank of America settlement is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the $700 billion in damages done to 11 million homeowners. Since the settlement covered such a substantial portion of the market, he said for most consumers “you’re out of luck”.

    ZOOM to The Vietnam War, with Lynn Novick (2017)

    Generously supported by the Ken Burns effect, Bank of America remains “proud to sponsor” Burns’ latest pan and zoom orgy, as long as nobody mentions Bank of America’s role in destroying the lives of “veterans and civilians in communities large and small, across the nation” during the Vietnam War or the decades that followed.

  17. Tom Hall
    October 4, 2017 at 7:59 am

    I’ve seen bits of Burns’ work over the years. He’s always struck me as a smarmy endorser of national myths, an oleaginous compiler of false memories. He speaks in an artificially soft manner conveying just the right tone of saddened innocence. In other words, he’s corporate America’s official historian. Thanks for this brief corrective from John Pilger, a real reporter and honest documentarian.

    • Dave P.
      October 4, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Tom Hall –

      Very good description. Watching Vietnam War Series by Ken Burns and others of this type like the Front Line , it is always pretty obvious that these are all behind the scene maneuvers by “The Ruling Elite” to smooth things over with the public when the problems, cracks or tensions appear in The Empire.

      Who knows, may be Ken Burns may do a series on Russia-Gate in collaboration with Rob Reiner next time.

  18. Christopher Moore
    October 4, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I watched most of the Ken Burns “The Vietnam War” and was dismayed that there was no mention of Lyndon Johnson’s connection to the gross escalation of hostilities. On the day of John Kennedy’s assassination, Time-Life was having an editorial meeting regarding the corruption scandal that would have been a disaster for Vice President LBJ. The third installment of Life magazine’s ongoing story about the Bobby Baker scandal was never published (the first two were). His indictment on corruption charges would have ended his political career, not to mention his dream of winning the White House. The Kennedy brothers wanted to replace him on the upcoming re-election campaign. Kennedy had made speeches outlining his desire to wind down the US involvement in Vietnam, then with his killing Lyndon Johnson was elevated to the presidency. Suddenly, the hawks in the US military were given the green light to escalate the war. This deal with the devil was not in Ken Burn’s film. Also curiously absent was naming Henry Kissinger’s role in the derailment of the Paris Peace Talks until Nixon was in office, the film pointed out that someone did this. No mention of Kissinger, this was a curious omission.

    • Gregory Herr
      October 4, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      Absolutely it was LBJ’s war–at first for his ego–and throughout for his profiteering friends. Kissinger’s role and sabotage should be fully covered.

  19. Otto
    October 4, 2017 at 9:33 am

    I wrote some succinct comments but when clicking ‘Post Comment’ it went to reloading the page so the comment was lost!

    Can’t repeat it.

  20. Otto
    October 4, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Oh I can say read ‘JFK and the Unspeakable’ by James W. Douglass which gives more insights on the early involvement of the US in Vietnam.

  21. Harold
    October 4, 2017 at 10:44 am

    I agree. Viet Nam was an evil disaster made by the leaders of our country. Burns story was too nice. Ieft too much unsaid. LTG McMasters Dereliction of Duty told a lot of the truth. Viet Nam makes me feel bad and sad as a VN Vet. It was a fiasco. A mess. Only the individual military person can be apprecuated as they paticipated honestly for a lyin govt. The Most Dangerous Man says a lot. 58800 troops and millions if others spells out the truth.

  22. John
    October 4, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    No mention of Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers and how they sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954; thus leading the US into this horrific war crime called the Vietnam War. To be more accurate it should be called the American War in Vietnam!

  23. Sr. Gibbonk
    October 4, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    I haven’t seen the documentary Hearts and Minds since it first came out but remember it as being a powerful film. Westmorland’s racist, hateful remarks, juxtaposed with clips of Vietnamese victims of this vicious, brutal imperial war, caused one elderly woman in the audience to gasp and mutter “Oh just shut up”. You can find it here:

    https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/hearts-and-minds/

  24. Susan Sunflower
    October 4, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    It’s amazing how much Burns and Novick “name-check” either in the narration or visually, without actually saying much of anything about it or providing context (past or future) … lots of things mentioned in passing, so no one can claim they were left out or ignored. The more I read about it and think about it, the more deliberately dishonest is seems to either be or have become over the years of its creations. Despite faults, the first two, maybe 3 hours are tighter, more confrontational, more vigorous. The talking head narrations have a “normalizing” effect, as do the unchallenging predictable music which many people “love” (I suspect because they”loved” most of those song long before this documentary was released). Lots of virtue signalling in having watched all 10 episodes as well as having “loved” it … probably soon in having purchased it or given it as a Christmas present. I feel like I should rewatch and I really really do not want to (and resent the feeling that I really really should).

  25. Superman
    October 4, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    I will never forget watching John PIlger’s documentary “Nicaragua: A Nation’s Right to Survive” and a Nicaraguan man in his 30’s proclaiming “American’s how can they be so stupid”. Sadly when it comes to foreign policy this is true. Note: I prefer the word uninformed to stupid.

  26. Michael Morrissey
    October 5, 2017 at 4:57 am

    Pilger’s review of the film is excellent, but see also Patrick Martin’s review at wsws.org:
    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/02/viet-o02.html

  27. Hsiung-Nu
    October 5, 2017 at 7:36 am

    “Obama was probably one of the most violent presidents in US history. He conducted a record of seven simultaneous wars, not to mention his assassination campaign”

    This is a disingenuous metric for ranking US presidential violence. The mere sum total of “simultaneous wars” says nothing about the intent, pervasiveness, intensity of violence, brutality, number of lives lost, etc. Not to mention it ignores the historical revisionism of past wars that group several, often geographically and temporally disparate conflicts under the umbrella of a single war.

    Does Obama’s record of “seven simultaneous wars” put him on par with the violence of Andrew Jackson and his genocide of thousands of Native Americans?

    Are the Presidents of WWII less violent because, despite their being involved in FAR more than seven conflicts worldwide, those conflicts have been grouped into one single war?

    Are the indiscriminate firebombing of civilian population centers throughout the war and atomic bombings of Japanese cities just to send a message to the Soviet Union less indicative of violence simply because they happened within the course of the same, singular war compared to Obama’s “record” seven?

    Are Obama’s seven wars and assassination campaign just as bad or worse than Truman’s wholesale aerial razing of the entirety of North Korea to the point that nearly every single building, military or civilian, in every city was reduced to rubble?

    Is the president who ordered a mere two fullscale invasions of sovereign countries using lies and deception as a premise for war and with little regard for the loss of innocent lives less violent than the president who inherited said wars and their consequences?

    No. There have been countless FAR more violent Presidents in U.S. History than Barrack Obama.

    I understand we must recognize that Obama is not the dove, Nobel Peace Prize deserving President that may mistake him to be. But to cite “seven simultaneous wars” as though that were a meaningful metric and his drone assassination campaign as a basis to rank his presidency as “one of the most violent” is journalistically dishonest and detracts from what was an otherwise insightful interview.

    • turk 151
      October 5, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Obama did not inherit Libya or Syria, and he really did not inherit Afghanistan. These are lies the left tell themselves so the can feel good about the carnage and maintain their identity politics platform. He did inherit the CIA, a corrupt Wall Street and rampant War profiteers. And, he did nothing to reign in these forces. No arrests were made for corruption during his entire regn.

      • Susan Sunflower
        October 5, 2017 at 12:53 pm

        agree – and if you’ve followed Nick Turse, America’s expansion in Africa has been enormous (no Obama didn’t “start” it, but he did expand it, and it continues to expand “underground” — by what “mandate” were those now-dead 3 special ops working in Niger? The final Benghazi inquiry determined that the attack on 09/11/2012 was likely in revenge/response to an American drone strike on a local militia leader — the nato mission ended October 2011 — why were we acting as partisan combatants?
        Shabab, Boko Haram, Somalia, Camaroon … give a google to find a seemingly one-off strike and find half a dozen other one-off American drone strikes …

  28. EUGNID
    October 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    The essential missing component, which any Vietnamese Communist knows, is that their country went from being a tool of the USSR to a tool of China to a tool of US policy today. The current Viet Communist Party leader come to Wash DC recently and called the US Hanoi’s greatest ally and insisted that the US must give HANOI whatever it wants because it alone holds back still Communist China. This raise questions that Mr. Burns could never ask as his version of history has to stay true to the pivot of Segment 1: good Ho, the nationalist, vs US imperialism. Alas, those who don’t study History are doomed to repeat it….OR, if they make PBS programs handsomely paid, they can only make a schizophrenic version wherein the pieces do not fit. Same old, same old propaganda re-mouthed half a century later, just as Nazis today deny the Holocaust ever happened because they think no one else remembers. The HANOI VERSION tells us that Ho Chi Minh was NOT a Vietnamese patriot, he was a Comintern agent trying to get Stalin’s approval, hence he worked out of China most of his career per the memoirs of his Indochinese Communist Party– it didn’t become Vietnamese Communist Party until 1980s– colleagues (like Le Duan); so he was not in the Viet bush with his fellow Communists until the end of WWII, working out of a Kunming, Maccao or Hong Kong office instead. But that’s only one thing that Burns’s “”The Vietnam War” writers’ dogma misrepresented. Fact is, no matter how stupid in retrospect would seem Ike’s, JFK’s and LBJ’s reasons to sink our blood and treasure into Vietnam, they would not have spent so much of both just to stop “Vietnamese nationalism.” INTERNATIONAL Communist victory by Hanoi over ALL mainland SE Asia was KNOWN to be a danger to world peace in the XXth Century global conflict. Is it really imperialistic maddness which caused all Administrations from Truman Era to when Nixon saved China from a Soviet nuclear attack in 1968 to consider Hanoi victory in SE Asia. What? Burns couldn’t get the text of all the Intellihgence traffic intercepts from 1929 to 1945 that caused so many Presidents to deem Communism in SE Asia dangerous to domocracy? Or was it that it all doesn’t count because it doesn’t come in video footage? Hanoi’s war in SE Asia could only unfold, begining in Laos in 1959, when Khruschev decided that Mao was hopeless and so a Moscow (north arc)/Hanoi (south arc) encirclement of Mao’s China was needed so as to overthrow Mao and replace him with Soviet stalwart Liu Shao-chi. Le Duan used China to come to power, dislodging Ho and Giap, as Burns’s video history said, but it didn’t mention that once in power Le Duan swung back to Moscow, declaring at the USSR’s 50th Anniversary in Moscow: “I declare that I feel myself to be more a Soviet citizen than a Vietnamese.” Who cared that once elected Nixon had to warn Moscow that a nuclear attack on China would be viewed as an attack on the US. Hell, it doesn’t fit the Burns narative! Yey, it is fact that Mao’s embrace of Nixon would never have happened if Mao had not feared Soviet tsakeover of HIS China. Later, after the Vietnam War ended, when Moscow was weak but Hanoi was determined to swallow Cambodia, China attacked Vietnam. Since Moscow could no longer support it, Hanoi pull;ed out of Cambodia. This so impressed Thailand that it kicked out the “unreliable Americans” and bowed to China as its protector against Hanoi. Today, Hanoi totally depends on the US to protect it from China. Hanoi even looks like Saigon did in the 1960s, prostitutes and all! So, should we just abandon this “new” Red Vietnam? Lastly, in 1967, China had cut off Soviet overland supply to the war in South Vietnam. Consequently, all supplies came via a single life-line: a sea shuttle between Vladivostok, USSR, and Haiphong, DRV. Had we destroyed Haiphong, a totally exposed port, as Nixon did during the Christmas bombing that forced Hanoi to sign the Paris Peace Treaty WITHOUT EVEN READING IT (that was in the Burns version) instead of trying to save South Vietnam by destroying it, the war would have ended long before 1975 quite differently with a lot less loss of life. But the lives of American youths seemed far more dispensable to JFK & LBJ. So for a decade our Gov put young Americans and all South Vietnamese through a war of annihilation while the North was actually cashing in economically on an immense Soviet generosity via a single unimpeded life-line. From 1959 on Le Duan would say that he was losing only young men, claiming them to be something overabundant in Central Committee meetings. He insisted that the war, thanks to the Soviets, was an economic plus for the Communists. Of course, Mr. Burns would find no video footage for this, HE’D HAVE TO GO TO THE ex-SOVIET BLOC NATIONS TO READ THEIR ARCHIVES; so he stuck to the Party line instead. Every word I wrote is demonstrable with available PRIMARY sources, but no one cares anymore, not even in Hanoi, as people look ahead, not backwards as there’s nothing bur “saddness” there. However, Burns needed his PBS overpay for a series that NOBODY watched. After paying him is couple of millions for his 10 pats newsreel cut-and-paste, PBS is financially in an even bigger hole than ever; and all those terrific science programs like the ones on Voyagers I & II and Cassini will disappear because the biggest and most overpaying boondogle drained the limited assets of PBS, which has been cut off from Federal funds by a President as imbecilic and superficial as the PBS execs who aired all this 60s anti-Vietnam propaganda dribble thinking it would become a cash cow for the network. What a sad end to a network that all our kids grew up on, of course it’s non-propaganda programming. If Trump/FoxNews and Hilary/PBS as it is now are our only options, we are indeed going the way of the degenerate demise of other great civilizations of History. I am devastated, my kids are devastated and my grandkids are devastated. PBS was always an introduction to hard subjects that would motivate us all to struggle and study sciences and arts. By putting the suffering of Viet Vets– almost 50 years too late– in his series, Burns gives short-shrift voice to a few victimized Vietnamese and US vets, each a few seconds cameo to express their view (badly translated). All Americans vets got to say is that their sacrifices were neither appreciated nor useful. But such blinks embeded in a ten part series rehash of Hanoi and SDS propaganda– Hanoi propaganda dominating most of the 9 prior segments, with long painful video of the agony of vets when they visit the Memorial Wall in the 10th, does not change the propagandistic slime misrepresenting in an endless one sided diatribe that glosses over Communist takeover of South Vietnam (where an estimated 1.9 million South Vietnamese were executed in the HANOI– NOT NLF (it was only a fig leaf) takeover of South Vietnam, without ever mentioning the NLF Sudisters who fought alomng side Hanoi just to discover that they were had by Hanoi, seems indecent and callus as those who later escaped all wrote it up so Burns’ can’t pretend he didn’t know!!!! It is, to quote a lesser American political figure: LIKE PUTTING LIPSTICK ON A PIG. But then Burns was never really an historian, just a newsreel filmclip paster who always overestimated himself and his historic value, hence this his “most ambitious” (sic) project. For anyone wanting to better understand the Vietnam War, read Christopher Gosha, a REAL historian or Bui Tin, and other Vietnamese Communist insiders who fled to Europe after 1989, or a lot of the documents available after the fall of Communism from the COLD WAR INTERNATIONAL HISTORY PROJECT available on the CWIHP website. WHATEVER YOU DO, YOU CANNOT PRETEND :”WOW! I DIDN”T KNOW!” There are so many others who, right or wrong, really wanted to understand why and how the Vietnam Tragedy happened that there’s no shortage of serious Cold War History. This Burns stillbirth was assumed able to get away with old wine in new bottles because everyone supposedly forgot. Well, they did forget, they just didn’t bother…..so much so that they even forgot to watch the series!

    Alas, distracted from Vietnam by the many repeat stupid tactics by which American soldiers were sent out to die, needlessly repeating discredited tactics since then, Americans never learned, neither their limits nor how dangerous are ignorant politicians given almost absolute power as Commander-and-Chief. Does anyone remember that we are losing our best soldiers still in a tactical Vietnam lesson we could never learn, repeating it for 17 years in Afghanistan?

  29. MPS
    October 7, 2017 at 8:26 am

    I have been waiting for over 50 years for someone to explain to me why 70,000 of my contemporaries had to be slaughtered in VietNam. I’ve never received an answer because there is no excuse. No one wants to believe that their family members died in vain. Nothing has changed. The problem now is that “they” don’t care (you can provide your own definition of “they”). Government and media are so corruptly intertwined that they truly believe they can explain away any atrocity by blaming a false enemy. For the most part, the gullible public buys in, because to believe anything else would be too horrifying. The really scary part is…who is going to stop them? They feel invulnerable and don’t really care if there is a vocal minority who understands what’s really going on.

  30. Jay Davis
    October 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    What seems clear to me Burns should be ashamed . Neither a true historian or intellectual. The issue of course as always in corporate funding and one of its funders is of all people abuser David Koch.
    The truth with most American wars is buried in double speak and ethnic cleaning . The collective karma for the US must be truly staggering. We honor 50,000 US GI and ignore the 3 million Vietnamese. Its ethnic speak in truly a disgusting term , but for US not unusual in the slightest.
    Great country US with just about half its population near or below poverty. That won’t get mentioned either.

  31. October 10, 2017 at 12:20 am

    The failure of documentarian Ken Burns and historian Geoffrey Ward to include the role of the
    Montagnards in their Vietnam War series is an egregious one by any historical standards. These
    people of the Central Highlands in Vietnam provided 40,000 troops and were of critical help to the Green Berets in fighting the Viet Cong especially along the vital Ho Chi Minh trail. They provided invaluable fighting and reconnaissance skills in a jungle environment along with intelligence for the CIA. They suffered 200,000 army and civilian deaths roughly the same as the Americans and genocide after the end of the war. The Green Berets honor them to this day. Not so these filmmakers who through their indifference sadly demonstrate clearly how the Montagnards have been abandoned and forgotten by Americans who freely trade with the Vietnamese Communists who daily violate the human rights of the Montagnards with religious persecution, beatings, imprisonment and economic suppression. The PBS series is a selective failure in telling the complete truth of the Vietnam War.

    http://video.wpt.org/video/1500520973/

    Hugh Giblin

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