More comments, critiques on PBS “The Vietnam War” (IV)
John M. Del Vecchio, best-selling author of The 13th Valley, a novel about the war in Viet Nam, is a Vietnam veteran, who served in the 101st Airborne Division ( Sư đoàn 101 Nhảy dù) as a combat correspondent in Viet Nam from 1970 to 1972. Currently, Mr. Del Vecchio is the secretary for VVFH ( Vietnam Veterans for Factual History). He has these to say about the series.
Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game. By John M. Del Vecchio The Vietnam War, a new 10-episode, 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, will begin airing on PBS stations in less than a week. From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will by omission, not by overt falsehoods. Here’s what to look for in Episode 1: Deja` Vu (1858-1961): If the episode indicates the ancient state of Vietnam was one nation prior to 1858, it’s not history; it’s a set up for skewing the story. Although there were periods (totaling approximately three decades) when North and South were united, what was then North and South included limited coastal and river population centers, and did not include the Mekong Delta, the highlands, or any of the territory that became border lands between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Wars between North and South dominate Vietnamese history, but many of the wars are between the area north of the Red River (Haiphong/Hanoi) and south of the river. The ancient capital city of Hue was established at approximately the same time as the ancient city of Philadelphia.
By John M. Del Vecchio Perhaps I live in an alternate dimension, or perhaps the film makers of this series (and many of those they have chosen to interview) live in the twilight zone. Of the 60 or more events portrayed in episodes 7 and 8, I’ve opted to address three using passages written years ago. I believe they’re pertinent. They also demonstrate the duration of divergence of thoughts on issues and narratives. With all the scholarship that followed the “end of the war,” the repetition and reinforcement of disproven narratives is disturbing. Worse, it opens old wounds. Before we jump into some nit and grit, 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. Surely I was blessed to soldier under such NCOs and officers. Then again, perhaps others, in other units, had experiences like mine. The video at this link (made in 2012 for the 30th Anniversary edition of The 13th Valley) explains my education in this regard:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUxlt_-qEhI . Note, when I first wrote The 13th Valley I was writing strictly about the 101st. I had been appalled by news reports I’d read describing American troop activity in Vietnam, and I was out to set the record straight for the 101st. After publication I received thousands of letters… well, watch the video. It’s about two minutes. Hamburger Hill, The Truong Son Corridor and Ted Kennedy : The below passage is from the Author’s Note to the 1988 edition of The 13th Valley. Please note the last line (emphasized). Burns/Novick have been beating the drum continuously that the war was unwinnable. It is true that some politicians believed this theory, or were at least skeptical about the chances for success. Others were more realistic, and less fatalistic. Success or failure were not predetermined but would hinge upon definitive actions of the various parties. American actions were affected (and finally perverted) by the building false narrative. The strategic importance of the battle at Khe Ta Laou along with all the other battles fought in that expansive area of operation beginning in 1962—Ta Bat, A Shau, Lang Vei, Khe Sanh, Dong Ap Bai (Hamburger Hill), Ripcord, and so many others—lies in blocking and/or cutting the enemy’s logistical lifeline to communist units fighting in South Vietnam. Americans who fought there understand, but politicians of the time had different agendas. In 1969 Senator Ted Kennedy (D, Mass) criticized battles in this region in a speech before Congress: “I feel it is both senseless and irresponsible to continue to send our young men to their deaths to capture hills and positions that have no relationship to ending this conflict.” (my emphasis)
And more comments from Vietnam veterans and others : "We fought for our country with our best," Vo said. "We didn't need the Americans to do our job for us. We didn't need the American GIs to come and fight for us. We needed money, supplies and international support." (my emphasis-LHN)
... After subsequent viewings, Saikus said the series was not balanced, citing its portrayal of the 1967 battle for Hill 875. Saikus said a narrator concluded that the battle essentially gained nothing of strategic value and was a waste of lives. A friend who fought and was wounded in that battle "said his heart was breaking when he heard something like that," Saikus said. "It was disheartening to both of us. They should have sought out somebody who was there -- who fought and crawled up that hill, and saw all his buddies killed." And, for those families who lost a loved one on that hill, "their pain gets resurrected when somebody makes a statement like that," he added. Saikus also said the views of those who fought in the war, believing they were battling the evils of Communism were not adequately represented in the series. "Everywhere we fight evil we weaken it," he said. "We might not look like we're winning on the immediate front, but in the long term we're weakening that evil."
A missing point of view
That point was echoed by Army veteran Joseph Meissner, who authored the book "The Green Berets and their Victories," and has has sent out e-mails following each episode of the series. Meissner wrote, "I still maintain that view that we were right to be there and we should have supported our Vietnamese Allies including in 1974 and 1975 to fight off the Communists. Am I the only one who thinks this way? Is there no other American soldier that holds this same view? Did Burns and Novick encounter anyone who holds this view? If so, why were they not also provided time in the film?" Meissner initially commended the series for "renewing the discussion on one of this past century's most complicated and controversial subjects." However, he found several flaws. Like Saikus, he said the first episode's juxtaposition of information from different eras in Vietnam was like "trying to eat a meal in which the soup, the salad, the rolls, desert, and main dish have all been thrown into the same bowl." He also said there were shortcomings in the portrayal of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. "The first episode almost seems to nominate Ho Chi Minh for sainthood. His words professing friendship toward America are accepted without any real questioning," Meissner wrote. "Can a Communist leader be devious and deceitful? A good historian should at least raise these questions. Furthermore, Ho's probable participation in the 'purges' (killings of people) is overlooked." In subsequent episodes, Meissner also said there was inadequate identification of information sources, deficiencies in attributing material presented, and at times a one-sided tone. He concluded at the end of what he described as a disappointing series: "The overall result is mostly one-sided, unbalanced on many issues, less than comprehensive, often lacking critical analysis of situations, and even naive at times in its presentation of events and personalities."