More comments, critiques on PBS “The Vietnam War” (V)
Historian Mark Moyar, a long time researcher on Viet Nam, author of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (2006 ) reacts to the series.
A Warped Mirror
Omissions and distortions mar Ken Burns’s Vietnam War, a missed opportunity to provide an historically honest look at the conflict. Mark Moyar October 20, 2017 Twenty-seven years ago, Ken Burns mesmerized American audiences with The Civil War, an 11-hour documentary that took five years to produce. Forty million Americans watched the initial airing, and many more watched reruns or read the companion book. The series rekindled popular interest in the Civil War, stimulating a flood of books and battle reenactments that continues to this day. Burns and co-director Lynn Novick spent ten years and $30 million producing The Vietnam War, an 18-hour, ten-episode production. Anyone tuning in to media coverage or attending one of the public panels featuring Burns and Novick is likely to conclude that the new documentary has equaled The Civil Warin historical and artistic virtuosity. But if one listens to American or South Vietnamese veterans of the conflict—more easily heard today, thanks to the Internet—the verdicts are less complimentary.
During the months-long publicity blitz preceding the documentary’s release, Burns and Novick vowed that The Vietnam War would not malign American veterans of Vietnam or blame them for the war, as had happened so often in the past. Instead, the film would portray veterans as patriotic Americans who answered their nation’s call to duty. The documentary would support the troops, without necessarily supporting the war. As for the war itself, the production would not promote a particular viewpoint. “We don’t have an agenda,” Burns told the media. “We’re just umpires calling balls and strikes.” So why aren’t veterans as enthused about The Vietnam War as they should be? The foremost reason is that Burns and Novick are not actually impartial referees, but instead use the documentary to promote an agenda, in ways glaringly obvious to veterans though not readily apparent to those too young to have lived through the war. Burns and Novick wish to show that America fought a war that was unnecessary and unwinnable, and that it did so out of national hubris. With the consistency of a jackhammer, the documentary highlights the events most conducive to a negative interpretation of American involvement, while ignoring those supporting more positive interpretations. During 1962 and 1963, for instance, the Vietnamese Communists lost nearly every battle, yet the only battle from this period that Burns and Novick cover is the Communist victory at Ap Bac. Compounding the distortion, the documentary characterizes Ap Bac as historically representative. During 1966 and 1967, American forces inflicted hundreds of lopsided defeats on the North Vietnamese, but the six battles that Burns and Novick feature in the episodes devoted to those years belong to a small minority of engagements where both the American and North Vietnamese forces suffered heavy losses. In the battles that it covers, the documentary takes little note of the heroism of American veterans, aside from a few fleeting references. Nothing is said of the 259 Americans who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, or the tens of thousands who won other combat awards, or the many more whose valor was recognized only by their comrades. It’s as if a football team won 150 games, tied 10, and lost 2 over seven seasons, but its video chronicler focused only on the ties and losses. The players on that team would hardly be expected to view that videographer as their supporter, no matter how much he professed to be one, and no matter how often he claimed to have no agenda. U.S. Army and Marine Corps officers generally committed more errors in the battles where the Americans sustained the most casualties; Burns and Novick consistently emphasize these errors as evidence that American military leaders were inept. John Del Vecchio, one of the finest novelists of the Vietnam War, blasted Burns and Novick for vilifying American officers in his online rebuttal of the documentary. “I wish here to openly thank leaders and commanders of 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) units from platoons to brigades for their leadership which was so vastly superior to what I’ve seen portrayed by Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick,” Del Vecchio wrote. “Surely I was blessed to soldier under such NCOs and officers.” Burns and Novick restricted their on-camera interviews to individuals who participated in the war, leaving out historians, aside from those who were also veterans. The first-person perspectives are highly valuable, but sole reliance upon them is problematic when it comes to larger issues of military strategy and politics. Most of the senior military and political leaders are now dead, and thus unable to respond to criticisms from the narrator, or from people who observed the war on the ground—where they could see the trees but not necessarily the forest.
The fears that drove Johnson to confine the ground war to South Vietnam proved to be misplaced, according to what we have since learned about Chinese foreign policy and North Vietnamese strategy. The Chinese, it turns out, were not willing to intervene in North Vietnam or Laos, as they had done in North Korea in 1950. General Vo Nguyen Giap reportedly said that if the United States had conducted operations in Laos and North Vietnam, it could have stymied Hanoi’s war effort with 250,000 troops—less than half of what the United States ultimately deployed. It’s one of several instances where poor decisions by U.S. political leaders squandered opportunities to preserve South Vietnam at an acceptable cost. Other errors include the overthrow of Diem in 1963 and the breaking of promises to support and protect South Vietnam after 1972. The war’s outcome was not the inevitable result of superior North Vietnamese dedication or American arrogance, as Burns and Novick would have us believe, but of errant U.S. strategic choices—and, in the last case, the antiwar sentiments of American members of Congress. Veterans also object to the production’s favorable depiction of antiwar activists. Burns and Novick lead the audience to believe that the men who stayed home and protested against the war were as well-intentioned as those who served in Vietnam, and were actually supporting the better cause. Their opposition is presented as principled revulsion at the war, untainted by selfish desires to avoid the dangers of military service. Veteran Charles Krohn, writing about the ninth episode as a guest contributor on Tom Ricks’s Best Defense blog, lamented that the episode “favors those who opposed the war more than those who fought it. Soldiers’ sacrifices seem trivialized, compared to the energy and idealism of the demonstrators.” Burns and Novick give inordinate weight to the words of antiwar veterans, with at least one-third of those appearing onscreen having expressed antiwar views or supported antiwar causes prior to filming. Few of the series’ other veterans express support for the war—at least not in the interview segments that were aired—even though supporters far outnumber opponents among the general population of Vietnam veterans. This distortion rankled the veterans whom reporter Tatiana Sanchez interviewed for a Mercury Newsarticle. “A lot of us have a tremendous sense of pride for what we attempted to do and defend,” said veteran Jim Barker. On the New York Sun website, veteran and author Phil Jennings berates Burns for failing to include the huge numbers of veterans who “wholly supported the war, [were] proud to have appeared in arms, and sickened by the United States’ abandonment of its freedom-seeking ally.”
Comments Jay Hoenemeyer · There is so much bias and so many errors that it would take another 18 hour production to set them right
Vu NguyenOh right, Dr Moyar's only got a PhD and is teaching at the Marines academy, and is a specialist on South East Asia. How can he go toe to toe against you... hmmm who are you again? I mean, his view and facts are also in line with what the Vietnamese community overseas, so I wonder... maybe you have your facts from the Vietnamese government?
Bill Wells · University of South Vietnam School of WarfareVu Nguyen The good doctor may have a phd but I have a dd214 that says after 2 1/2 tours right up to mar 73, I know more about nam than he does. Con Bic. Mark Tellier · University of Central FloridaI watched The Vietnam War series by Ken Burns and came away feeling sad and angry. And very unsettled. I wasn't really sure why, until I just read this article. I served during the Vietnam era, stateside in the US Navy. Still I was very much aware at the time of how veterans were perceived and treated by anti war activists and protestors who, I can tell you, were not the heroes that Burns depicted. The soldiers returning from Nam were the true heroes. "They loved their country but America didn't love them back," wrote Goodbye Vietnam author William Burroughs. That was the message that was miss...See More
Benjamin Harjo Jr.The only heros were those who returned in body bags. A war of politics. Dennis-Penny McNulty · Centre CollegeI, too, am a Vietnam Era vet stationed stateside. I, too, was very troubled by the series, but not for the same reasons. You fail to mention that most of those returning soldiers were draftees and had no desire to be in Vietnam. I believed then and now that at least 2 of our presidents, several of our generals and several cabinet members are war criminals. Our government betrayed this country and 58,000 dead by continuing to send soldiers into battle fully knowing that the war was futile, and we could not win.
Mark Tellier · Correction: William Broyles wrote Goodbye Vietnam, the author quoted in my post below. I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for a well-written memoir about a Marine field officer who served in the Vietnam War and then returned there 10 years after the war to retrace his steps and interview the citizens and soldiers he had lived among and fought against. A positive and provocative story that helps heal the hidden wounds the war left behind... Bill Speer · Milford, KansasWhy wasn't I surprised. The Vietnam War was about people not a historical timeline. They worked hard to produce just another Vietnam chapter for the BBC World At War series.
Rockne R. Waite · Works at RetiredIf you weren’t there, you don’t know enough to talk about it! Jeff PhillipTotal and utter untruth. You're basically discounting any historian's work who wasn't at the event, when in actuality, historians who weren't there often have the best picture of what happened in an historical event. This statement is a slap in the face to a whole profession. Dale Wilson · Temple UniversityJeff Phillip Sorry, Jeff, but I taught military history at West Point for three years in the late '80s until I retired in the summer of '91. I earned a Ph.D. at Temple University, published my dissertation and had an award-winning referred journal publication as well as numerous other scholarly publications to my credit while seeking a tenure-track teaching position. Much to my chagrin, the people who sat on the search committees had all gotten their doctorates during the '60s and '70s. I quickly discovered that I had four strikes against me: I was an enlisted infantryman in Vietnam who volunt...See MoreLike · Reply · 7 · 21w John Gjertsen · Sr. Wealth Advisor at Private Wealth ManagementIntending no disrespect to any who served in Vietnam, they were actually among the least informed as far as our national objectives in South Asia. Historians have a delicate job to do when looking at a war in the rear view mirror, but they have an extraordinarily accurate perspective. Chris DownsThank you for putting into words the sick feelings I got from watching the series. Alex Adam Alexander · California State University, Long BeachI could not believe the audacity of the statements of what the Presidents were thinking, especially Nixon. It is impossible to know another man's mind, unless he wrote it down . They made bold assertations without reference Todd Lowdon · Duke UniversityThis is an excellent review of the Vietnam War documentary. I, too, took note of the depiction in this series of the typical US soldier as lugubrious and cynical towards American exceptionalism. It came across as a stereotypical and contrived portrayal of our efforts there.
Julie Fisher Terrell · Attended University of KentuckyMy father served two Vietnam tours. Mandatory classroom current event segments/discussions during my elementary and junior high school years, '70 through '75, were quite uncomfortable knowing how my father and his buddies were treated and seeing how the news media 'reported' and portrayed the Vietnam War on a daily basis. My husband and I both agreed the program was biased. We turned the channel before the end of the first installment. May consider viewing various episodes at a later time. Jeff Dennis · Louisville, KentuckyAlso, bombing of the North was criticized without end. Not one mention of the benefits can be found. There are multiple topics, in this documentary, for which its editors chose to rely soley on the opinions of anti-war veterans. I'm not interested in Jane Fonda's interpretation of the war fought in the skies over Vietnam. Joe SpoonerJeff Dennis, I had the pleasure of kicking Jane Fonda off my yard years ago when she was campaigning for her leftist husband Tom Haydn saying, “I love your movies but I hate your politics!” I am a VN Vet and now wish I had “mooned” her!! Joe SpoonerI agree completely with this essay. I can confirm much of what is written here as a VN vet during 69-70 in Dong Ha, Hue and Quang Tri with the 3rd Marines, 101st ABN and 1st of the 5th Mech Inf. in psyops seeing both the combat AND civil affairs post Tet 68...and in the company of a native VN army interpreter. Do not believe Burns!!!Neil Newcomb · Reclining at NowhereWatching a promo interview with Burns and Novak some weeks before this mess aired and Burns said something to the effect that his family was an "anti war family". Duh... The cold and heartless, dead eyed Jane Fonda's wish for her countrymen's executions was just another day in the life of those loveable and earnest anti war youngsters. Disappointing effort by Burns. Victor Bozich · Sub. Math & Science Teacher at Campbell County School DistrictGotta love all the open minded responses from those that were not there(sic)! Or, just watched small pieces of the documementary. Real objective? Lol. Especially, vets that never left the comfort of the states, or claimed to have served both with the army and Marines in Nam? If, you weren't there? You have no f...ing clue what you're talking about! G/2/5. 68-69. Phu Bai, Hue, An Hoa, Arizona Territory. 0311. Like · Reply · 1 · 22w
Terrie Blasi · Amarillo High SchoolI am confused...some of the things the author stated were not covered in the Documentary were actually addressed with great detail..? My father served in Vietnam as demolition expert and his experiences were harrowing to hear...but he knew how lucky he was to come home.....even to a country so divided.... Joe SpoonerVictor Bozich the cowboy: just in case you were referring to me above in saying “claimed to serve both with the army and Marines in Nam...”: didn’t see you on Mutters Ridge in Sept 69 with the 3rd Marines, nor the USS Repose hospital ship off the coast of VN, nor in Phu Bai with the 101st in February 1970....are you sure you are a Leatherneck? The ones I knew didn’t fly off the handle at fellow combatants...by the way, I was Army, ATTACHED to Marine then the paratroopers then...get it bro? Aloysius McdonaldInterestingly I came straight from listening to Prof Stephen Hicks' presentation on the development of postmodernism and the way the philosophical relativism of the postmodernist paradigm is used by disingenuous marxists as a cover for their anti western agenda. Then I read about this pair of numpties and their constitutional inability to present anything approaching a balanced view of history and you realise how deeply and pervasively the rot has spread. For anyone still puzzled by the aetiology of sjw psychopathology, I commend Prof Hicks' 10 minute section on Nietzsche and Slave Morality. It explains the irredeemable resentment, the collectivism, the virtue signalling and the willingness to use any demographic of vulnerable people as a cover from which to attack the upstanding and honest Michael James Sherman · Teacher at International School of GenevaHow to make yourself unpopular amongst a group of Americans: say the Vietnam War could have been won.
Al Treska · Wayne State UniversityGrade B plus for the series. Some on the Left and Right may have issues with the series but I found it covered all the histortic bases well. Linda Wallace Schmitt · Fenger Academy High SchoolThank you for this, needed the balance. Bill Walker · Works at Nassau County Police DepartmentI served with the 4th ID from 10/04/67-09/20/68. And as I started to watch what was being presented. I decided not to watch anymore of it. The interviews and attitudes seemed off. And not what I remember of the men I served with. Rockne R. Waite · Works at RetiredI read some of these comments in disbelief! I have read that 75 to 80% of the people who claim to be Vietnam Veterans are not. There were a lot more cooks and clerks than infantry soldiers. So many stories are untrue! I was once introduced to Vietnam Vet who was a door gunner on a dustoff chopper. A lie! I have some hours flying with dustoff and no machine guns, they were not allowed on Med Evac choppers! It was 50 years ago and I still think I would go but I would not let my son go! If we go to war, let the dogs loose!!
Michele Schiesser · Works at Happily RetiredBurn’s Civil War also had deep flaws. He completely ignored sectional divides borne of economic differences. Instead he was wedded to racism and slavery as are most if not all liberals. Artistically it was a beautiful piece featuring original source material and compelling music and interviews. Not enough if you have little understanding of why the war took place. Like · Reply · 21wRobert French · New York, New YorkWant some perspective? It didn't take long for Vietnam to become a popular and relatively safe vacation destination. What a waste of lives on all sides. Bob French Phong Lan · Truong doiFor so many years I've been living in America where my family has chosen as our second home, I've seen PBS had broadcasted propaganda films for Viet Cong to distort Vietnam history and changed black to white, insulting the Army of South Vietnam. I've been silently ignoring them, thinking "well, there will be time they will wake up and see themselves in the mirror and they will be ashamed of themselves and they will stop making those kinds of fake news and deception to the American general public." But this time, I can no longer be silent because ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
I want to tell PBS and those...See MoreLike · Reply · 21w · EditedPhong Lan · In Episode 1, the film showed the photo of Nguyen Tat Thanh (Ho Chi Minh) in Paris and gave credit solely to him for the famous letter " "Revendications du peuple annamite" (The Request of the Vietnamese People) to the Peace Committee in Versailles. However, if the film makers really researched, they should've known the facts that the authors of that letters were three scholars : Phan Van Truong, Nguyen The Truyen, and Phan Chu Trinh (you can look them up in Wikipedia). The signed name "Nguyen Ai Quoc" was just a pen name of the whole group, and Nguyen Tat Thanh was the least educated in the g...See MoreLike · Reply · 21wPhong Lan · Who is Ho Dang Hoa, co-producer of the film "The Vietnam War" ? A Viet Cong ! ""Ho Dang Hoa, one of the students who came to the United States to study as a Fulbright scholar (and work for a while at the Harvard Institute for International Development) when Vallely and colleagues were responsible for running the program, came aboard as the Vietnamese producer for the film. As a veteran of North Vietnam’s military, he was trusted locally and had informal contacts that no outside figure could hope to assemble, making him an invaluable source for tracking down participants in the events covered in the series." https://www.facebook.com/phong.lan.3110/posts/1665219426885881?notif_t=like¬if_id=1505981957606913In the previous photo I posted, 3 Americans and 5 Viet Cong cooperated to produce this propaganda film to distort Vietnam history.
"At the Metropole Hotel, in Hanoi, following a screening of excerpts from the film for interviewees who appear in it. Left to right: Lieutenant General (ret.) Lo Khac Tam, associate producer Ho Dang Hoa, co-director Lynn Novick, Le Minh Khue (writer and former youth volunteer on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and combat correspondent), senior advisor Thomas Vallely, Bao Ninh (veteran and author of The Sorrow of War), consulting producer Ben Wilkinson, and Pham Luc (military painter).
http://harvardmagazine.com/.../harvard-experts-shape-pbs...A balanced film ??? Really ! I dónt think so! Just a plain textbook propaganda for Vietnamese communists! Phong Lan · Truong doiThis very important part of VN war history was not mentioned in the film. I don't need to spend 10 years nor 30 million dollars, let the photos speak for themselves: To all Vietnam Veterans and families, we thank you for your dedication, service and sacrifice for defending for our freedom. "A PICTURE SAYS A THOUSAND WORDS." https://youtu.be/nv_i-AUd7PQPhong Lan · Episode 1, the film makers copied a part of the film "Vietnam" produced by the Soviet Roman Karmen's propaganda for communists about the battle of Dien Bien Phu . This part of the film was not directly captured, it was constructed when Karmen visited Vietnam in 1955 and had a bunch of Vietnamese communists to act to make the film praising Vo Nguyen Giap, Ho Chi Minh and the VC. Take a look at these following links to compare: Karmen's film at minute 15:38 to 17:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gqlLXNZyXQAnd PBS "The Vietnam War", episode1 at minute 53:37 to 54:07 ...See MorePhong Lan · VIETNAM VET TAKES DOWN KEN BURNS’ FALSE DOCUMENTARY "I fought in both Vietnam wars, from the Dien Bien Phu battle in the North to the long war in the South in various capacities. Now as a living Vietnamese witness, I feel compelled to refute the shameless lie by this Vietnam War series when they praised and glorified Ho Chi Minh as a dedicated nationalist patriot." http://www.rockit.news/.../vietnam-vet-takes-ken-burns.../
(Hoi B. Tran is the author of A Vietnamese Fighter Pilot in an American War) Phong Lan · Another Vietnam War veteran spoke up: "...Those of us who answered our country’s call to do our duty in a tough place like Vietnam had to become accustomed to the overt and covert insults from fellow citizens who organized their protests and convinced themselves we had done dishonorable things when, in fact, we were doing the hardest things we have ever done while serving a purpose larger than ourselves. Not even Ken Burns and his masterful film skills can take from us pride in our service." http://thecitizen.com/.../part-2-ken-burns-vietnam.../Phong Lan · Colonel Keith Nightingale said: "I think that the film of Ken Burns ignored the roles of American soldiers and the soldiers of Army of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, it did not even mention about them. I was present during the Mau Than battle and I confirm that the South Vietnam Army soldiers had fought courageously during this battle, they fought as main force almost 90%. Both soldiers of ARVN and US had the high spirit of fighting and for sure, they had performed fully their duty to their most ability during Mau Than battle. The film of Ken Burns ignored this fact." General Le Minh Dao : "The Mau Than (Tet Offensive 1968) Battle was a victorious event of the ARVN. ARVN fought that battle, not the US. Viet Cong was unable to take over any city at all. Viet Cong propaganda personnels called the common people to rebel. The people ran, but no one ran toward Viet Cong's side, they all ran toward the ARVN and then they pointed to ARVN where Viet Cong to fight them back. That was the mistake of Viet Cong, causing Hanoi to think that it was prime time to attack South Vietnam."
Hai TranBurns and co-director Lynn Novick may produce hundreds of Vietnam War films in the future, but they would be the same: The anti war movements are the winner. To tell you the truth, a Vietnamese airborne physician veteran has said in a PBS seminar: "Nobody won the Vietnam War, except the China. Wake up America !" From the bottom of my heart, for those who served for the freedom of South Vietnam, you will never been forgotten. Paul AchitoffThe title of Mr. Moyar's book that's cited at the end tells us everything we need to know about his bias. It was a noble war fought for noble reasons by noble people that we almost won, and would have, if it weren't for all those damn lefties. He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but it's one held by a relatively small minority. Jim N Linda Mullen ·.Vietnam was a proxy war between the US, the USSR and China that epitomize the Cold War. It directly led to the USSR's financial and then political collapse. It even led to some of the financial problems in China that resulted in it's uprising including Tiananmen Square. Unfortunately the Chinese put down that revolution so ruthlessly it didn't succeed. The Vietnam veteran actually helped win the Cold War.