Watching Notes: Episode 10
March 1973 - Present
3.40 Yet more about the ordeal of Hal Kushner.
On the merits of the war we get two of the three possible views.
6.00 O’Brien says smart people couldn’t make up their minds if the war was right or not.
7.50. Stuart Herrington. Was it worth it? “We answered the call, me and 2.5 million Americans who went over there. It was a cause worth the effort…. sometimes the guys in white hats don't win but that doesn’t take away from the rectitude of the cause.”
The peace campaigners, those who argued that the war was wrong in principle, don’t get to speak.
10.30 Deserter Todd talks of renouncing US citizenship as the stupidest thing he ever did, casting the peace movement in an unfavourable light.
12.10 "Neither N nor S had any intention of observing the peace treaty of 1973". Nor, though Burns doesn’t mention it, did the US which kept far more military advisers in the country than the agreement provided for and, as he mentions in the book, continued to supply military material in breach of the agreement.
SVA attacked NVA enclaves “seized by the NVA.” Hardly “seized”. The treaty allowed them to retain troops already in the South and to retain those areas already under their control. This reference to the NVA also continues Burns' attempt to frame the war as between South and North Vietnam rather than between Saigon and much of the southern population. Even after Tet many of the forces opposing the Hanoi government were local.
On the subject of the end of US support
14.50 Lewis Sorley says “To abandon the South Vietnamese was reprehensible.” And
15.20 “Most Americans would not like to hear it said that the Communists were more faithful allies than the United States.”
Robert Gard regrets pulling the rug out from under the South Vietnamese but says continuing to provide support would probably have cost more lives but made made no difference to the outcome.
Nobody from the peace campaign gets to say this was a brutal, illegitimate regime the US should never have been supporting in the first place.
No one gets to say that this was a war that, by and large, the people of South Vietnam hadn’t asked for.
36.37 "We broke every rule in the book to get people out, the young officers did". In his compelling account of the final years of CIA involvement in Vietnam below John Stockwell paints a very different picture, one of CIA officers regularly abandoning their Vietnamese staff and leaving behind documents which would enable the NVA to identify them.
1.04 Sorely regrets not laying waste to students who disrespected the ambassador and his sorrow at the fall of Vietnam, casting elements of the peace movement in an unfavourable light.
1.05.00 Musgrave doesn’t like his friends drinking to cerebrate the fall of Saigon, casting elements of the peace movement in an unfavourable light.
Musgrave talks about how millions of South Vietnamese “had thrown in their lot with us.” Most of the South Vietnamese didn’t actually get a choice and indeed hundreds of thousands voluntarily fought for the other side.
1.08.50 ARVN cemeteries bulldozed or padlocked. As mentioned before Burns did not mention that Diem did the same thing to Viet Minh cemeteries.
“The Vietnamese have never been as divided as they are now.” This is an extraordinary statement to just leave hanging. What are these divisions?
1.10.20 Washington imposed an economic embargo
1.11.00 Forced collectivisation of agriculture, nationalisation of most industries, central planning, “The result would be economic disaster.” Inflation 700% pa. People starved. Nothing was worse than those 10 years after the war.
The film implies that all these problems are the fault of communism, ignoring the fact that the country had been devastated by decades of US funded wars which had turned the country from a net food exporter to a food importer. (In 1940 South Vietnam had exported 1 million tons of rice, by 1965 it was importing over 100,000 tons and that quantity went up as the war drove peasant farmers into refugee camps), that the US had reneged on a promise to provide aid (mentioned later in the episode) and had imposed a trade embargo. There is a parallel here with the experience of Cambodia where US bombing had devastated the countryside and driven farmers off the land into Phnom Pen. Here they were dependent on US food aid for survival and that aid ceased when the Khmer Rouge took over. A significant portion of the starvation which followed can therefore be attributed to years of US bombing rather than the undoubted awfulness of the Khmer Rouge.
12.30 Vietnam sends troops into Cambodia. Burns says that China backed the Khmer Rouge but omits the embarrassing fact that the US did too.
For a film aimed at bringing America back together after the trauma of the Vietnam War it is, on the face of it, surprising that we hear so little about the experience of returning veterans. John Pilger's film Heroes, which you can find on YouTube addresses the issue in detail. These few clips from the film give a sense of the problems veterans faced.
You sense that this is another aspect of the story Burns doesn't want to dwell on. There is an aunance of sometimes conflicting evidence about suicide rates amongst veterans. Paaul Hendrickson, in The Living and the Dead, says there had been 100,000 premature deaths mongst veterans by 1996.
1.25.00 Anti-war activist crying about how she had called returning vets “baby killers”. This is the only occasion when Burns acknowledges that atrocities (which did include killing babies) drove some of the peace activists and he uses that to make the peace activists look bad. Some of the behaviour of peace activists which Burns highlights was insensitive or misguided but these are the people who, fundamentally, called it right, both politically and morally, and for most of the last two episodes Burns only shows their less attractive side.