Some comments, critiques on PBS “The Vietnam War” (LHNam)
Here are some comments, critiques on PBS The Vietnam War by people, who knew better— with personal and factual histories , concerning South Vietnam and different layers of the people in its former republics.
Nhận định, phê bình về bộ phim The Vietnam War do PBS s/xuất do những người biết về cuộc chiến nhiều hơn trong cả hai mặt kinh nghiệm cá nhân và lịch sử bằng sự kiện thật, có liên quan đến miền Nam và các tầng lớp quần chúng trong 2 nền cộng hòa thời đó.
First, by Prof. Peter Zinoman ( UC Berkeley)
Prof. Zinoman wrote this article in Vietnamese. I am translating it into English. The article appeared on BBC ( in Vietnamese ) on Sept. 19, 2017
Thấy gì từ tập đầu phim The Vietnam War?
What can you relate to in the first episode of The Vietnam War ?
Translated by LHNam:
The Vietnam War is different from all the Ken Burns / Lynn Novicks films up to now. Those films are about a unique and clear story with the view "America above all." Besides Americans, who could be the lead actors/actresses in Burns / Novick's previous films, such as The Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, The Civil War Baseball, The West, Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Jazz, Mark Twain, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.
But with the war in Vietnam, we can argue that the Vietnamese deserve the lead role in the story. After all, between 1 and 3 million Vietnamese died in the war, much larger (20 to 60 times) than the 58,000 Americans killed in the conflict.
The colossal loss in both physical and environmental damages caused by bombs, defoliants, urban warfare, guerrilla warfare and anti-guerrilla warfare in rural areas has severely affected the region in Southeast Asia, as well as the huge problem in which people in the country were forced to evacuate, migrate.
The consequences of the war for the Vietnamese are greater than that of the American people. This is demonstrated by the average time that each party must experience. While the majority of Americans were engaged in the war in Vietnam for about one year between 1965 and 1973, the Vietnamese, born after the Second World War, lived in the war for thirty years between 1945 and 1975.
Considering the prevalence both in terms of the number of Vietnamese people and the extent of the damage they go through, placing the Vietnamese at the center of this dark historical period must be a humble moral command, at least.
However, the unhidden intention of portraying America as the focus in the Vietnam War is clearly shown in the opening scene of the first part of the 10-episode documentary. The first scene depicts American soldiers in combat, the second scene shows an American military parade, and the third scene is the commentary of US veteran Karl Marlantes. Bob Dylan's Hard Rain song as the background music ends the first part, signaling the Americo-centric viewpoint as a reference point. Although in the first volume, the number of Vietnamese and American figures is (rather) similar, the narrative focus is on American minor stories has suspicious historical importance.
For example, the talebearer of Ho Chi Minh's alleged admiration for the United States, as evidenced by his collaborations with US intelligence officers in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and his introduction of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam. In the orthodox history of the war, these familiar circumstances are used to emphasize the dramatic fate that makes the United States and Ho Chi Minh "miss the opportunity" to be friends. But scholarly studies have long shown strong anti-American sentiment in Ho Chi Minh's articles since the 1920s, including writings about indictment of black people and about the 3K party (Ku Klux Klan).
More recently, political scientist Vu Huu Tuong pulled out a series of similar anti-American articles written by Ho Chi Minh between 1951 and 1956. As a member of the Third Communist International and a founder of the French Communist Party loyal to Stalin and strongly opposed to the United States, it is unlikely that Ho Chi Minh would really be willing to receive assistance from the US as the first episode of the series hints. Instead, Ho Chi Minh's interactions with the Americans (including letters to presidents and tea-time discussions with US agents) are most likely due to his perception of American power potential in a pragmatic view and the need to neutralize that power through direct communication.
The view of "the Americentrism" in the first episode of the Vietnam War is also illustrated by the way the Vietnamese story is too elementarily recreated. The first episode is a caricature of Vietnam's history, in which the oppression of the French colonialists was challenged only by the appearance of Ho Chi Minh, the only nationalist figure in this colonial time.
The absence in this narrative is : there was a myriad of forces who opposed Ho Chi Minh in the larger anti-colonial movement, including the nationalists, the constitutionalists, Trotskyists, the republicans, fascists and neo-traditionalists. For many scholars, the bloody conflict between the Communists led by Ho Chi Minh and other anti-Communist forces during the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Second (1954- 1975) can only be understood in the context of the continuation of political conflict from the end of colonial time. Absent of this aspect of the story, the formation of the South Vietnamese government in the south, the most important anti-Ho Chi Minh opposition in the post-colonial era, appears to be only America's exclusive product in the quest for allies in the Cold War era, not a anti-communist nationalism with historical roots dating back to colonial time
A similarly distorted picture, which appears in the first volume, is the fact that it does not mention King Bao Dai. His leadership with the French-backed Vietnam in 1950 received the support of many anti-communist Vietnamese who continued to oppose Communist hegemony after 1954.
The approach embracing "Americentrism" in the Vietnam War is also depicted in the way the film depicts Ngo Dinh Diem. Compared to Ho Chi Minh, who was described in the first volume, at least partially —through the (South) Vietnamese perspective [ which views this presentation on Diem as very simple, and opinionated - added note by me] — Ngo Dinh Diem was introduced only in the words of American officials (he was "arrogant" and " overbearing", “a messiah without message "). Although he ruled for nearly 10 years in extremely precarious circumstances, the first episode shows little interest in what the Vietnamese in southern Vietnam thought of him.
The Americocentric view in the series Vietnam War and the superficial explanation of Vietnamese history has been criticized by many influential Vietnamese writers on Facebook in Vietnamese, which does not fall under the control of Vietnam authority . One rather famous blogger, Nguyen Quang Lap, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, wrote, "The content is purely historical-like, nothing new. The part on the Americans effectuates deep feeling, multi-faceted events- 8/10 (score estimate by NQLap-my note). That which on Vietnam is too superficial and one-sided, best 4/10. This is the product of No 1 documentary director in the United States for 10 years of work ; it does not meet expectations.”
Vietnam War (Chiến tranh Việt Nam) khác tất cả các phim tài liệu mà Ken Burns/Lynn Novicks đã làm xưa nay. Các bộ phim đó đều kể về một câu chuyện đặc trưng và rõ ràng với quan điểm "nước Mỹ trên hết." Ngoài người Mỹ ra thì còn ai có thể là diễn viên chính trong các bộ phim trước đây của Burns/Novick, chẳng hạn như The Brooklyn Bridge (Cây cầu Brooklyn), The Statue of Liberty (Tượng thần Tự do), The Civil War (Nội chiến), Baseball (Bóng chày), The West (Miền Tây), Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark (Lewis và Clark), Jazz (nhạc Jazz), Mark Twain, Prohibition (Luật cấm đồ cồn) and The Dust Bowl (Một vùng cát bụi).
Nhưng với cuộc chiến ở Việt Nam, chúng ta có thể biện luận rằng người Việt xứng đáng đóng vai chính trong câu chuyện. Xét cho cùng, từ 1 đến 3 triệu người Việt đã bỏ mạng trong chiến tranh, lớn hơn rất nhiều (gấp từ 20 đến 60 lần) con số khoảng 58.000 người Mỹ chết trong cuộc xung đột.
Những thiệt hại kinh khủng cả về vật chất và môi trường do bom đạn, chất khai quang, chiến tranh ở các vùng đô thị, chiến tranh du kích và chống du kích ở vùng nông thôn đã ảnh hưởng trầm trọng đến riêng vùng lãnh thổ Đông Nam Á, cũng như vấn nạn khổng lồ của tình trạng người dân trong nước buộc phải tản cư, di cư.
Hệ quả của cuộc chiến đối với người Việt lớn hơn so với người Mỹ cũng được thể hiện rõ qua khoảng thời gian trung bình mà mỗi bên phải trải nghiệm. Trong khi phần lớn người Mỹ tham chiến ở Việt Nam khoảng trên dưới 1 năm trong giai đoạn giữa 1965 và 1973, thì người Việt sinh ra sau Thế chiến thứ Hai phải sống trong thời chiến suốt ba mươi năm ròng rã từ 1945 đến 1975.
Xét sự nổi trội cả về con số người Việt lẫn tầm mức thiệt hại không thể sánh được mà họ là nạn nhân, việc đặt người Việt vào vai trò trung tâm trong thời đoạn lịch sử đen tối này, ít ra, cũng phải là một mệnh lệnh đạo đức khiêm tốn.
Second, from ex-Lieutenant Colonel, author Lewis Sorley, Ph.D
“ The whole cause of all this agony and bloodshed was the aggressive North Vietnamese invasion of the South. If it hadn't been for that, none of this ever would have happened," Lewis Sorley, a Vietnam War veteran, historian, and director at Vietnam Veterans for Factual History (VVFH), told PJ Media in an interview Wednesday. "Burns never seems to find that worth mentioning or condemning and I wonder why."
Sorley alleged that Burns and his fellow filmmakers "had clearly decided that they wanted to tell the standard left-wing narrative of an unwinnable, unjust war." The PBS documentary also obscured the evil of communism throughout the war and afterward. The veteran suggested that presenting the American and South Vietnamese forces as heroic would be "anathema" to the filmmakers.” (1)
Comments from veterans and others:
Robert BonczkowskiARVNs certainly didn't GIVE the victory to the north. They fought to the last round around Da Nang. If 'whiskey' Ted hadn't refused to supply them the ARVNs could have pushed them back across the 17th parallel.............just like they did in '72 Reply · 18w Kent LaughlinRobert Bonczkowski yes and they might just have done a superb job against an offensive that was almost twice a large as 72 with rooooshans and chinkees and tanks and choppers that the north knew would not be reported on ....
Cathrine MartinI would like to thank all Vietnam veterans for their service and I am extremely sorry for the way they were treated when they returned home. I was a teenager during the 60's and to be honest with you, I had no clue what was going on with the Vietnam war. The news came on after my bedtime which was always 9 PM and while my mother got a newspaper, I never got to read one. I really never fully understood anything about it until I got a computer and started reading about it. I read all about Traitor John Kerry, what was called the Swiftboaters, and, of course, Hanoi Jane. I know all about John McCain and his betrayal. I tried to watch a little of that documentary, but soon learned that what I was looking for, the truth, I wasn't going to find in that documentary.
Words cannot express how sorry I am and how disappointed I was in the country, at that time, that you all never got the proper "Welcome Home" that you so deserved and how badly you were treated.
I was returning from leave and wearing my uniform for the cheaper military fares. I flew into Oakland International Airport in California. While walking through the concourse, a young hippy chick screamed at me, called me a 'Baby Killer', then threw a cup full of urine at me. That was in 1969. I was in the USCG.
I am proud that Americans show their patriotism by acknowledging our service men and women today. I'm also a bit jealous of them, having had such a negative experience myself.
To the servicemen and vets out there, I'm proud of what you're doing and I'm grateful for your service. Kathy Quinlan · Works at Comfort KeepersSteve Garrison Can you please post the rules of engagement. If Ken did not lay them out, he did not cover the war. Jim Southerland · Kathy Quinlan By 1969, the rules of engagement filled five large loose leaf binders. Jeff WarnerIn each documentary done by Burns, and I have watched them all, he continues to add his bias openly, never balancing the documentary. I have seen the recent Vietnam story, and witness his glossing over facts, never presenting the whole picture, just that of his left wing liberal agenda. I will not watch, read or listen to his diatribe of bull any longer. I served in combat, in Vietnam, for a total of 38 months. I witnessed both sides, and like many who served, I returned dismayed by the lack of understanding in our country, of what was actually going on in Vietnam, as how poorly our leadership handled the war in Washington DC. Burns is a great disappointment in his one sided story telling, which should not be qualified being called a documentary, rather then a story of fiction. Margaret DeLuca · Thank you for your service! I agree with you 100%. I cannot believe our tax dollars still fund PBS. Kent Laughlinone instance in particular stands out that to me represents their bias...the film segment where the Vietnamese police general pops the vc in the head. the ahole burns then shows the general enjoying adult beverages with his fellow officers as though this was how the ARVN and police functioned with out giving the ahole vc a fair trial...of course little kenny forgot to inform the viewers of just what that vc ahole had been caught doing to a south Vietnamese family..I am confident that kenny would film bo birddog getting his two brain cells smoked for desertion in a combat zone with the same loaded bias... Bob Feldmann · I stop watching pbs several 25 years ago and ken burns in particular. The networks has become so slanted to the left it has become a bad joke.
Bill L. Fike · Too bad Burns didn't have the pleasure of attending a few of the get-to-gethers my platoon had in Vietnam in 1967-68 Played a few rounds with some of the Northern fellows and fortunately we won most of the shot-em ups. Seems that most of the Communist at the time didn't want to play fair so neither did we. We pushed them back but it took all of us weeks to do so. And now we have Burns telling only one side of the story, HIS side. Guess one of my biggest disappointments was when I was returning home on the airplane, all of the soldiers were told that it would be best that we change into civilian clothes as most of the American public did not approve of the war nor the soldiers that were there. Seem the government failed in explaining about how we were fighting Communism at it worst. So Ken, how about telling both sides and get your facts together. God Bless America. Kent Laughlinand what a shame that he and that hore, hanoi jane, and her hore buddy johnny "I was wounded three or four times in my 4 months in Vietnam" kerryinski were not in the villes at night when victor charles visited to rape and murder the village chieftain's family in front of the entire village and then gut the chief...ensuring the cooperation of the rest of the villagers.. Kathy Quinlan · Works at Can you post the rules of engagement. That tells a big time story Robert BonczkowskiKathy Quinlan Hard to post them as they seemed to change on a whim Ernest J. Heassler · The George Washington UniversityThe comments I'm reading reinforce my preconceived ideas about Ken Burns' so called documentary. I expected a leftist anti-USA "spinmentary" which is why I couldn't bring myself to watch it. Whenever I let myself get drawn into discussions & rehashes of our involvement in Viet Nam I always wind up angry with my stomach tied up in knots and my mind raging against politicians and leftwing media. I could go on and on but will spare you all the hot air and bile the subject engenders. Kent Laughlinwe have to talk about it for that very reason...you have to get the poison out and leave it....the truth must prevail... Ellen DeLashmutt · Hard Knocks UniversityYou sound like my husband he gets angry with all the lies they push on especially on PBS! My daughter's husband and his family escaped from war torn Vietnam! Julie Kemp · I always watch PBS. I am a big supporter, however, I did not watch the Vietnam War series because I know Ken Burns is biased and I don't watch reporting of any kind unless I know it is presenting both sides equally and lets me decide. Stephen NoyesI think a fair and balanced view could have been put forth with Steve Doocy and the no spin master, I forgot his name, O'Neill or some Irish name. Robert Norwood · Works at World WideKen is a creature of his generation and the things that influence him. I don't think he has it out for us, he's just isolated and misinformed from other viewpoints perhaps. His series on the Roosevelts was great but then they are, except for Teddy, liberal icons. Teddy's portrayal was honest, heroic, and surprising. I avoid many Vietnam films because it only brings on an overwhelmng sense of loss and sadness. Julee Marshall · Robert Norwood I watched The Roosevelts, and really liked the first few episodes which were mostly about TR. I lost interest when the episodes turned to FDR. The language used seemed to become more "heroic" in the ways FDR was described. It just wasn't as good, as interesting, as compelling to me. Chet Wilson · You have to remember it was sponsored by PBS which is left leaning. The slant is towards the left as always. I spent 1967 and 1968 in what was called Leatherneck Square/I Corps with I Co. 3/26 Marines. I viewed the series and I realize all cannot be covered in that time but they just skimmed across the top and made the U. S. look like a bunch of idiots running around like fools. I am proud of my service and speak freely of my time in Vietnam when asked. Get the truth of what really happened and not the lies. Jim Chambers · Having watched part of Burns take on the civil war I knew what this piece of propaganda was going to be. The fact that Burns couldn't bring himself to call what Sherman did, with the approval of Grant and Lincoln, war crimes cemented my opinion of him. Bob Grace · Part of my duties were to take "fragment orders" and piece them together for an Air Campaign the next day. There was a list of targets (by number) that were to be hit. But in addition there was also a list of targets (about 5000) that we could NOT strike in any manner. A lot of those were in the Hanoi, Haiphong area, and were actual Military targets....but the politicians running the war from their armchairs, decided it would be a political advantage to not strike them. That in part, caused the war to be lenghtened out, and unwinnable.