Past all Reason: The Vietnam War

Hits: 531

Well-intentioned and artfully executed, The Vietnam War—Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour-long documentary series on PBS—is not history, but rather story-telling and remembrance. Balanced, exhaustive, and relentlessly solemn, it glides along the surface of things, even when that surface is crowded with arrogance, miscalculation, deceit, and bloodletting on an epic scale.

According to one promotional trailer prepared for the series, “In war there is no single truth.” Embedded within every war (as in other forms of human endeavor) are multiple truths—some of them trivial, others very important indeed. The purpose of history is to unearth and engage with those truths that have something to teach us. This requires a willingness to interpret and render moral judgments. Yet Burns and Novick have an aversion to interpretation and steer clear of judgments.

Notably, among the many subjects interviewed for the project, professional historians—those trained to interpret the past—are all but absent. Whether as soldiers, government officials, reporters, antiwar activists, or mere bystanders, the series’ featured “talking heads” all participated in the events they recount. Their authority derives from what they themselves did or saw several decades ago and from how they have since processed those experiences. As witnesses, none are less than credible. Many are eloquent and offer deeply moving testimony: the Americans mournful, the South Vietnamese bitter, the North Vietnamese and former Vietcong resolute and assured. Yet largely absent from any of their recollections is a sense of distance or detachment. All are, in effect, partisans of one stripe or another.

If The Vietnam War as a whole has a point to make, it would appear to be that war is a great tragedy. Of course, this qualifies as a truism. In this particular tragedy, the participants on all sides—the people of North and South Vietnam no less than the Americans sent to fight against the North on the South’s behalf—suffered more or less equally. On all sides, the combatants exhibited courage and stamina. No side was innocent of grievous atrocities. All are victims; all are guilty. Or so Burns and Novick would have us believe.

I don’t mean to suggest that the series stakes out a position of bland neutrality. But the controversies it does take up tend to be either already resolved or largely peripheral. For example, Burns and Novick briefly examine and summarily reject the claim, cherished by devotees of Camelot, that President John F. Kennedy was planning to pull out of Vietnam once reelected in 1964. They also expose as simply untrue the US military’s claim that despite losing the war, it never “lost a fight.” In recounting the Battle of Hill 1338 in June 1967, for example, they depict in excruciating detail the destruction of an elite American paratroop unit, a tactical defeat that senior US officers subsequently covered up. And on the charges that, in 1968, Richard Nixon’s campaign conspired to derail the peace talks in order to improve his chances of winning the presidency, Burns and Novick find Nixon guilty. In each instance, their evidence is irrefutable. But having delivered their verdicts, they simply move on. So Nixon’s treasonous behavior becomes just one more anecdote.

Throughout The Vietnam War, the production values are of the highest quality. The narrative unfolds seamlessly, cutting from the war zone to the home front (theirs and ours) and back again. The period footage—a surprising amount of it North Vietnamese—is vivid and compelling. GIs wade through rice paddies, trudge up mountainsides, and stumble into ambushes set up by the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. At night, fleets of Russian-built trucks lumber down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, trying to conceal themselves from the ordnance-laden American jets prowling overhead. Flying low and slow over the jungles of South Vietnam, Air Force C-123s dump tons of chemical defoliants, with nary a thought about the second-order consequences. Cruising at altitude over North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, B-52s disgorge their bomb loads onto whatever lies below. And always there are helicopters, mostly Hueys, Cobras, and Chinooks, touching down to unload assault troops, provide suppressive fire, or evacuate casualties. The cumulative effect is both mesmerizing and obscene.

Burns and Novick complement the imagery with a soundtrack consisting of pop songs from the 1960s and ’70s: Dylan, Seeger, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Barry McGuire, Simon & Garfunkel, and so on. With few exceptions, the recordings have a political edge, however oblique—no show tunes, no doo-wop, no lovey-dovey mush. Sgt. Barry Sadler’s mawkish “Ballad of the Green Berets,” a hit in 1966, doesn’t make the cut. The music is clearly intended to convey the sense that the film has something profound to say, even if, to quote a famous Buffalo Springfield lyric, “what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Merrill McPeak, a former fighter pilot interviewed for this series, takes a stab at clarifying one central issue: “We were fighting on the wrong side.” Given that McPeak remained on active duty after the war and, as a four-star general, eventually served as Air Force chief of staff, his verdict is all the more noteworthy. But it is also off the mark. The United States screwed up not because it picked the wrong side in the Vietnam conflict, but because it stuck its nose where it didn’t belong. It simply wasn’t for us to decide who were the good guys and who the bad guys. The fate of Vietnam was an issue of negligible relevance to US national security. Had the United States allowed the Vietnamese to settle their differences on their own terms, everyone would have been better off. Almost certainly, far, far fewer people would have died.

Yet Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently proved so difficult to get out. Their lack of interest in this central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.

The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn’t think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society domestic-reform program. He said as much in taped conversations with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, and his friend Georgia Senator Richard Russell, among others. Despite his reservations, Johnson—ostensibly the most powerful man in the world—somehow felt compelled to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.

Our present situation makes the question all the more salient. The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer. It too has turned out to be a misbegotten enterprise. When running for the presidency, Donald Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. But President Trump—ostensibly the most powerful man in the world—has not turned his skepticism into action, allowing America’s longest war to continue.

In a very real sense, Trump did not so much decide as capitulate. Much the same can be said about LBJ a half-century earlier when he signed off on committing US combat troops to Vietnam. But Burns and Novick barely touch on the factors leading to Johnson’s capitulation, even though, in present-day Washington, those factors persist: a brain-dead national-security establishment unable to conceive of political alternatives to escalation; a fear that admitting military failure will exact unacceptable political costs, whereas the costs of perpetuating an unwinnable war are likely to be tolerable; and, perhaps above all, the iron law of American exceptionalism, centered on the conviction that Providence summons the United States to exercise global leadership always and everywhere, leadership having long since become synonymous with a willingness to use force. As Trump has affirmed, even (or perhaps especially) presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.

According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was “begun in good faith, by decent people.” It comes closer to the truth to say that the war was begun—and then prolonged past all reason—by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage. Those who fought in the war and those who fought against it will certainly want to watch this series. Yet to find the answers that many are still searching for, they will have to look elsewhere.


Originally published on 2017-09-19

Author: Andrew J. Bacevich

Source: The Nation

Note: The period of the author’s own tour of duty in Vietnam corresponds with episode nine of this series.

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

READ MORE!
Zionist Israel Hides its Crimes Behind its Smears of Truth-Tellers
Several years ago two very distinguished American scholars wrote a book, The Israel Lobby. The book made a very understated case that the Israel Lobby has far more power over the US government and media than is good for America or Israel, as it silences constructive critics who are Israel’s friends. The two scholars were demonized by the Israel Lobby as advocating the return of the Holocaust. The Israel Lobby presented itself as just a poor little weak thing unable to stand up to all the Nazis assailing Israel. Meanwhile the US Congress was unanimously passing outrageous resolutions handed to it by ...
READ MORE
A Brief History of Fascism in the United States
“We could become the first country to go fascist through free elections.” — William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Generally, we avoid using the word “fascism” in polite company, and until recently, a person pointing out parallels between Nazi Germany and the current United States would invite elevated eyelids along with the outworn charge of sounding like a “conspiracy theorist“. The current electoral cycle seems to be changing that, so I will trust that now is the right time to convey some ideas I’ve been marinating regarding fascism in my US Homeland. The ruling plutocrats are clearly ferrying the ...
READ MORE
For Decades Russia Has Been Forced to Respond to NATO Expansion
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), established in 1949 on the pretext of “containing Soviet influence”, has almost doubled in size within the past two decades alone. In 1998, NATO comprised 16 member states, but with repeated expansions up to Russia’s very borders, it now contains almost 30 countries. Though seldom mentioned in mainstream discourse, NATO is a US-dominated organization, whose orders are issued from Washington and customarily obeyed. The US is by far the largest contributor to the alliance, spending more than all other member nations put together. One of the critical reasons behind NATO’s formation almost 70 years ago, was ...
READ MORE
General Ratko Mladić and the Pandora’s Box of the Bosnian War (1992-1995)
General Ratko Mladic’s arrest and his extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia satisfied the prerequisites for Serbia’s membership in the European Union. As expected, the western media have tagged the defendant as the “Butcher of Bosnia” and piled on as many charges against him as possible, thereby masking NATO’s role in Yugoslavia. But there can be no reconciliation without truth, which, as Slobodan Despot observes, is far more complex than the Manichean account given. Ratko Mladić did not serve his country well by hiding from justice for all these years, but his late capture may allow a ...
READ MORE
The Simulation of Democracy
One of the most complicated and frustrating aspects of operating a global capitalist empire is maintaining the fiction that it doesn’t exist. Virtually every action you take has to be carefully recontextualized or otherwise spun for public consumption. Every time you want to bomb or invade some country to further your interests, you have to mount a whole PR campaign. You can’t even appoint a sadistic torture freak to run your own coup-fomenting agency, or shoot a few thousand unarmed people you’ve imprisoned in a de facto ghetto, without having to do a big song and dance about “defending democracy” ...
READ MORE
Kosovo: The US “Psyche”, US Culture and US Foreign Policy
Michigan-based filmmaker Michael Moore makes the connection between Kosovo and the Columbine shooting in his Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002). Moore puts Kosovo in the context of a broader U.S. foreign policy agenda and a domestic culture of violence. Moore asks: “Are we a nation of gun nuts or are we just nuts?” In the first scene, Moore walks into the North Country Bank in Michigan to open an account. He saw an ad in the newspaper that the bank would give out free guns to those who open accounts there. Moore walks into the bank and tells the ...
READ MORE
Book by Vladislav B. Sotirovic: “Global Research. Selected articles” (Second Edition), Vilnius, 2016
Book by Vladislav B. Sotirovic: Global Research. Selected articles (second edition), Vilnius: UAB “Mylida”, 2016 ISBN 978-609-408-840-7, UDK 911.3:32 So-121 Text of the printed book The book reviews by: Dr. João Carlos Graça, Lisbon School of Economics & Management, Lisbon University, Lisbon, Portugal Prof. Dr. Krisztina Arató, Vice-director of the Institute of Political Sciences at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Eötvös Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary Dr. Christian Rossi, Department of Social Sciences and Institutions, Cagliari University, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. ...
READ MORE
Israel: The Nuclear Hegemon That Poses a Potential Threat to Europe
It is calculated that in addition to the secret arsenal of up to 400 nuclear warheads, according to American Scientists, the Israeli state also reportedly possesses chemical and/or biological WMD, making it a dangerous nuclear hegemon that poses a potential threat not only to the Middle East but also to Europe.  Neither France nor Britain nor Germany can equal Israeli state nuclear weaponisation on both land and sea. This calculation is based on the fact that the state of Israel is the only WMD state to refuse to be a party to either the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or the Biological ...
READ MORE
“What About Crimea?” – Latest Narrative From Canada’s Foreign Minister
A news compilation on New Cold War.org on March 8, 2017 reported the controversy that has broken out in Canada surrounding the family history of Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Her maternal grandfather edited two pro-German newspapers in Poland and Austria during World War Two. He and his family settled in Canada after the war. The minister told a March 6 press conference in Ottawa that inquiries into her family history constitute a ‘Russia disinformation’ campaign directed at her and the Canadian government. The minister as well as sympathetic journalists state that the ‘disinformation’ has been aided and abetted by ...
READ MORE
‘Humanitarian’ Concerns Increase Wars, Benefit only Arms-Producers
Unlike a regular corporation, the corporations that manufacture and sell weapons to their government are virtually 100% dependent upon their government and its military allies, for their own success; their markets are only those governments, not individuals (such as is the case for normal corporations). Consequently, either their government will control them, and those firms won’t have any effective control over their own markets, or else those firms will, themselves, control their government, and thereby effectively control their markets, via the government’s foreign policies — not only via expanding its military alliances (those firms’ foreign markets), but via its designating ...
READ MORE
“The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?” [Review of John Marciano’s Book]
In classical mythology, the Acheron is one of the rivers of the Underworld. It marks the boundary between the living and the dead. The ferryman Charon ferries the dead across the Acheron to a place where they lose memory. Nothing of what made them human remains—happiness, suffering, love, hatred, guilt, regret, redemption, betrayal, forgiveness. From Gilgamesh to Odysseus to Aeneas, the living heroes of the epic descend into the Underworld at a point of despair in the sense of their quest. Burdened by a fate that requires momentous courage and tragic self-sacrifice for the sake of their people’s survival, they resent ...
READ MORE
NATO’s War on Yugoslavia and the Expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo
In the period before the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) waged a campaign to secede and establish an independent Kosovo dominated by Albanians and purged of every other ethnic group. In October 1998, KLA spokesman Bardhyl Mahmuti spelled the KLA’s vision: “We will never change our position. The independence of Kosovo is the only solution…We cannot live together [with Serbs]. That is excluded.” Once NATO’s war came to an end, the KLA set about driving out of Kosovo every non-Albanian and every pro-Yugoslav Albanian it could lay its hands on. The KLA left in its wake ...
READ MORE
The Birkenstock Bomber: When Bernie did Serbia
The most useful parable about progressives is that offered by Bernard Sanders, self-styled “socialist-progressive-independent” rep from Vermont. Sanders owes his political career to rage against the Vietnam War among radicals, many of whom moved into the state in the early 1970s. They forthwith planned a long-term, carefully organized, assault on Vermont’s two-party structure. Sanders linked his political ambitions to this effort to organize a third force, the Progressive Alliance. He became mayor of Burlington and, later, congressman. At a rapid clip the emphasis moved from party-building to Sanders-building. By 1994, it was apparent that the only movement B. Sanders was interested in ...
READ MORE
President Obama’s Farewell Speech
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
READ MORE
The Myth of Hiroshima
With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles. Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated? But it is not only the history of the ...
READ MORE
The Untold History of U.S. War Crimes
In this exclusive interview, Prof Peter Kuznick speaks of: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki; US crimes and lies behind the Vietnam war, and what was really behind that inhumane invasion; why the US engaged a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and how that war and the mainstream media influences the world today; the interests behind the assassinations of President Kennedy; US imperialism towards Latin America, during the Cold War and today, under the false premise of War on Terror and War on Drugs. Edu Montesanti: Professor Peter Kuznick, thank you so very much for granting me this interview. In ...
READ MORE
Kosovo Albanian “Skanderbeg SS Division”
The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Sqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonia), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers led by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to dismember and to destroy the Serbian Nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the Axiss powers and ...
READ MORE
The Balkan Caliphate: Saudi Power in Kosovo
Greater Albania has been debating deployment in Syria. A Muslim state, a Balkan Caliphate in the heart of Europe, was supported by Internationalists when they created independent Kosovo and Bosnia. Kosovo registered its first Islamist political party in 2013.  UPDATE: An article on NYT on the inroads of Wahabism into Europe from the Saudi foothold in Kosovo is oozing criminal naiveté on the part of postmodern globalist thinkers. Bill Clinton’s nexus with the lobby for Greater Albania created a Islamic state in the heart of Europe. To those with basic knowledge of Islam and its 1400 year old history — not least ...
READ MORE
America’s Allies Against Russia & Iran:  Main U.S. Allies are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Israel, & Nazis
The public has been so brainwashed by Big Brother’s lies so that many people won’t believe this article unless they click onto the link wherever they happen to think that what it is alleging is false. Then, they will see the evidence, for themselves, and will recognize that they’ve been fooled about that matter, and those readers will learn something important that they didn’t know before — including that Big Brother is real, and what it actually is, and how it came to be the way it is. This is about reality, the reality behind the screen of lies. Today's Axis ...
READ MORE
Remembering Edward Herman: Explains the Role of Media Propaganda in Justifying War
On November 11, distinguished scholar, political economist, media analyst/critic, peace champion Ed Herman passed away at age 92. It was fittingly on the 99th anniversary of WW I’s end. Endless wars followed “the war to end all wars” – a legacy of mass slaughter and destruction Herman deplored, championing elusive world peace. Along with his friends and family, I mourn his passing, a valued friend and colleague, a contributor to my 2014 book, titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III.” He and other distinguished contributors made the book successful, published in Russia and France. Ed Herman’s writing ...
READ MORE
Zionist Israel Hides its Crimes Behind its Smears of Truth-Tellers
A Brief History of Fascism in the United States
For Decades Russia Has Been Forced to Respond to NATO Expansion
General Ratko Mladić and the Pandora’s Box of the Bosnian War (1992-1995)
The Simulation of Democracy
Kosovo: The US “Psyche”, US Culture and US Foreign Policy
Book by Vladislav B. Sotirovic: “Global Research. Selected articles” (Second Edition), Vilnius, 2016
Israel: The Nuclear Hegemon That Poses a Potential Threat to Europe
“What About Crimea?” – Latest Narrative From Canada’s Foreign Minister
‘Humanitarian’ Concerns Increase Wars, Benefit only Arms-Producers
“The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?” [Review of John Marciano’s Book]
NATO’s War on Yugoslavia and the Expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo
The Birkenstock Bomber: When Bernie did Serbia
President Obama’s Farewell Speech
The Myth of Hiroshima
The Untold History of U.S. War Crimes
Kosovo Albanian “Skanderbeg SS Division”
The Balkan Caliphate: Saudi Power in Kosovo
America’s Allies Against Russia & Iran: Main U.S. Allies are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Israel, & Nazis
Remembering Edward Herman: Explains the Role of Media Propaganda in Justifying War
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published at this website. The views of the authors presented at this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu

Website: http://www.global-politics.eu