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What Ken Burns Omits From The Vietnam War
providencemag ^ | May 2, 2018 | Mark Moyar

Posted on 05/05/2018 8:52:15 AM PDT by MarvinStinson

Jim Webb, the decorated Vietnam combat veteran, writer, and former US senator, wrote “Heroes of the Vietnam Generation,”which pairs well with an earlier essay, “Peace? Defeat? What Did the Vietnam War Protesters Want?,” published by the American Enterprise Institute, in 1997. Both are very useful, especially for those who didn’t live through the Vietnam era, for understanding some of that generation’s dynamics.

Webb discusses how it was really the first time in US history when a lot of people argued not going into the military was actually a good thing, and this sentiment has guided how a lot of people look at the Vietnam War. In order to justify not serving in the military at that time, many described the war as unjust, unnecessary, and unwinnable. While I can’t read Ken Burns’ mind, if you look at his documentary The Vietnam War, it certainly seems to support this mentality.

We know Burns opposed the war at the time and decided not to go to Vietnam. While producing the documentary, he insisted he would only call balls and strikes to make a neutral, objective production. Anyone familiar with the war should quickly see how Burns overwhelmingly sides with the view that the war was unjust, unnecessary, and unwinnable, and how he omits information that contradicts this interpretation. While there are some factual inaccuracies, the biggest problems with the documentary are with what he doesn’t include.

When Vietnam was divided into two in 1954, the Vietnamese Communists and French agreed the country would unify and hold an election in 1956. When the documentary says the South Vietnamese government did not go along with plan, it repeats the old insinuation that Saigon opposed the Vietnamese people’s will. However, Burns omits that most South Vietnamese—as well as the Americans—were convinced that Ho Chi Minh and his Communists would intimidate the Northern Vietnamese, whom they controlled, into voting unanimously for him. Since the North had a bigger population, such coercion would practically make the country Communist. So, the South did not go along.

Not incidentally, by the way, the Saigon government was not even party to the 1954 agreement. But Burns and his co-producer Lynn Novick heap scorn on the young government that took control of the South in 1954. They, as is the traditional anti-war narrative, insist it was a bankrupt government.

Burns later highlights the Battle of Ap Bac in January 1963, in which the South Vietnamese forces did not perform very well, and then he tries to portray that fight as representative of the South’s abilities under President Ngo Dinh Diem. But, in fact, the South Vietnamese government was victorious in almost every other battle in the year before and after Ap Bac.

The Vietnam War doesn’t talk very much about the strategic rationale for the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, which was the so-called domino theory. There’s little mention of the legitimate concern that if South Vietnam fell then other countries in the region would also fall to Communism. The series mentions it at the beginning, but then the whole issue fades from the scene. However, domino theory does play out during this time. The most critical country in Southeast Asia from the American perspective was not Vietnam. It was Indonesia, a huge, strategically located country with massive natural resources. It also happened to have an anti-Communist coup at the end of 1965, which I think was clearly the result of American intervention in Vietnam. But the Burns production mentions nothing about that.

These types of selective omissions continue as the series progresses. Burns and Novick focus on six battles in the episodes covering 1966-67, and in each they go out of their way to highlight errors that the Americans committed as well as American casualties. They produce the impression that this was simply how the war was in 1966-67. Well, as it happens, when the series aired I was working on chapters covering those years in my book on the war. There were actually hundreds of battles then, and if you wanted to cherry-pick the worst six for the Americans, you would have chosen the same half-dozen selected by Burns. In fact, most of the battles in that period were overwhelming victories for the United States.

The series also leaves out the declining support among the Vietnamese for the Communists. In fact, I think the population never really cared about Marxist-Leninist ideology per se. But the Communists sold them a sort of snake oil and told everybody, for instance, that they would get to keep their land when they wouldn’t. Regardless, as the war turned against the Communists by 1967, Communist recruitment of South Vietnamese declined sharply, and that pace of recruitment continued to fall and never really recovered. Ultimately, about 200,000 supposedly die-hard Communists defected to South Vietnam.

The documentary’s narrator also tells us that 250,000 South Vietnamese troops were killed during the war. But we never hear why so many people were in fact willing to die for a government that was as bad as the documentary suggests. Burns and Novick give lots of information about Ho Chi Minh’s ideology, but we don’t really hear anything about the ideas that compelled these South Vietnamese to fight to the death on behalf of their country. In fact, there was a strong, growing sense of nationalism within South Vietnam.

From the very beginning, The Vietnam War has a sense of impending doom. The music is lugubrious, giving the sense that the outcome is foreordained and nothing could be done about it. This again reinforces the idea that the war was always unwinnable, a total lost cause. However, more and more evidence suggests that the war could have been won. American strategic choices, in some respects, account for our inability to take advantage of those opportunities.

One of those choices concerned America deploying ground forces. The US limited troops to South Vietnam, despite a lot of pressure from the military to go into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. We’ve now heard from the North Vietnamese that General Giáp, one of the People’s Army’s primary leaders, believed that if the Americans had expanded the boundaries of the war, the US could have thwarted him with about 250,000 troops, which is less than half of what we ultimately deployed in the South. We also now know the Chinese were not interested in getting involved. Concern that they would, as they did in Korea, was one of the main arguments for why the US didn’t enter the North. In fact, we know from the Chinese side that the they wanted nothing to do with the war or any other conflict with the United States.

The Kennedy administration’s support for a coup in November 1963 against the Diem government was another catastrophic choice made by the United States. A lot of evidence from the Communist side now suggests this coup sabotaged what in fact had been an effective war effort in the South.

Congress’ decision to slash aid and prohibit American military actions in South Vietnam after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 was another ill-fated choice. The Easter Offensive of 1972 had shown that the South Vietnamese Army could fend off the North Vietnamese if they had American aid and air support. We took that away.

Burns and Novick make a very conscious effort to say they would not malign Vietnam veterans, as so much of the previous anti-war history had done. To some extent they avoid overt disrespect, but I think they still do a disservice to veterans. The Vietnam War interviews a huge number of anti-war veterans. Also, the Gold Star Mother interviewed happens to be one of the few who opposed the war. Likewise, the prisoner of war whom the documentary focused upon happens to be married to one of the only anti-war POW wives. Clearly, this is a selective effort trying to convince viewers that there was much more anti-war sentiment amongst the military and their families than actually existed. Burns presents very little about American soldiers’ camaraderie and pride. I think this is very much a deliberate attempt to undermine veterans’ experiences. The only times the documentary shows this sort of pride or enthusiasm is when it shows the North Vietnamese, who probably had less to be enthusiastic about since they lost so many times. We don’t hear anything about the 259 Americans who received the Medal of Honor, or the tens of thousands who earned other awards, or the countless others who displayed extraordinary valor but did not receive an award for it. Instead, the series leads viewers to believe that Vietnam veterans were victims of the war, that there was not much redeeming about them, and hence, again, that maybe going to Vietnam wasn’t the right thing to do.

The reason I started studying the Vietnam War 25 years ago was due to my belief that the anti-war left unfairly besmirched America’s Vietnam veterans. Although Burns and Novick don’t besmirch veterans as flagrantly, their misrepresentation of the war and its warriors has reopened old wounds. It’s not just Vietnam veterans’ reputations at stake; how we view this war shapes how we view ourselves as Americans. Burns and his interviewees go out of their way to claim that the Vietnam War debunked the notion of American exceptionalism. They seem to want us to believe that the US, the world’s first modern democracy and principal guardian of the world order since 1945, is on a moral par with North Vietnam, a dictatorship that waged several brutal wars in the name of Marxism-Leninism and slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians before deciding that Marxism-Leninism wasn’t such a good idea.

This aversion to American exceptionalism and patriotism has pervaded too much of our society since the Vietnam War. For those of us who think the US is a force for good in the world, that our country is so good that we’d risk our lives for it, the accurate retelling of the Vietnam War is imperative. That’s why I think it’s important to let the country know just how fallacious the Burns series is.

======================================================

Mark Moyar (PhD, Cambridge) is the Director of the Project on Military and Diplomatic History at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. The author of six books and dozens of articles, he has worked in and out of government on national security affairs, international development, foreign aid, and capacity building. His newest book is Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America’s Special Operations Forces (2017). His other books include Aid for Elites: Building Partners and Ending Poverty with Human Capital (2016), Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (2006), and Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam (1997, revised 2007).


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: aidandcomfort; burns; communismkills; electionviolence; leftism; loganact; militantleft; militaryhistory; traitors; treason; vietnam; weatherunderground
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In this article based on remarks given at the Institute of World Politics, Mark Moyar critiques Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary The Vietnam War. This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Providence‘s print edition. In the same issue, Eric Patterson explains how the Christian just war tradition applies to the war in “Just War & National Honor: The Case of Vietnam,” and previously on our website Mac Owens criticizes the documentary in “Mission Failure: Burns & Novick’s The Vietnam War Misses its Target” and “A Failure to Discern: Burns & Novick’s The Vietnam War is Bad History.”
1 posted on 05/05/2018 8:52:15 AM PDT by MarvinStinson
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To: MarvinStinson

I NEVER watch Ken Burns stuff. He’s is supposedly fair, but his bias is really glaring. But Lefties always subscribe to the meme ‘if you say it enough times, it becomes the truth’.


2 posted on 05/05/2018 8:54:38 AM PDT by originalbuckeye ('In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act'- George Orwell.)
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To: MarvinStinson

Bottom line....the American Left labeled the Vietnamese Commies the good guys and us the bad guys.It wasn’t our Armed Forces that lost it...it was Jane Fonda,Abbie Hoffman and many,*many* of their pals who did.


3 posted on 05/05/2018 8:55:05 AM PDT by Gay State Conservative (You Say "White Privilege"...I Say "Protestant Work Ethic")
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To: MarvinStinson

...anything that makes America look good?


4 posted on 05/05/2018 8:56:50 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: MarvinStinson
the truth?
5 posted on 05/05/2018 8:57:20 AM PDT by Chode (You have all of the resources you are going to have. Abandon your illusions and plan accordingly.)
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To: MarvinStinson

BFL


6 posted on 05/05/2018 8:57:31 AM PDT by Skooz (Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us)
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To: originalbuckeye

Ken Burns: Student of History—or Left-Wing Gasbag?

Accuracy in Media ^ | December 16, 2016 | Arne Steinberg
Posted on 12/17/2016, 2:22:41 PM by MarvinStinson
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3505720/posts

Ken Burns claims, “For nearly forty years now, I have diligently practiced a conscious neutrality in my work.” This “neutrality” includes the following: In 2008, the Democratic National Committee chose Burns to produce the introductory video for Senator Edward Kennedy’s Democratic National Convention speech, which, according to Politico, presented Kennedy as “the modern Ulysses bringing his party home to port.” When Burns endorsed Barack Obama for the U.S. presidency in December 2007, he compared Obama to Abraham Lincoln. In 2012, Burns wrote, “Like FDR, Obama has walked us back from the brink. He averted a depression, ended one war and put us on the path ending the other, rescued the auto industry…Obama has deployed the shrewd combination of speaking softly and using a big stick. Ask Bin Laden.”

Burns hammers at left-wing mantras in his documentaries, using standard and easily recognizable left-wing media techniques. He omits the long racist history of Democrat politicians in his documentary “Congress,” presenting the period just before the Civil War to the post-Reconstruction era without ever identifying a single pro-slavery congressman or senator as a Democrat. He omits the strong anti-abortion views of Susan B. Anthony in his suffrage movement documentary “Not For Ourselves Alone,” since that did not fit the left-wing ideology he was pushing. When a white shooter killed black churchgoers in 2015, Burns said, “As most Americans were, I was stunned, shocked, reduced to tears by what had happened in Charleston and felt like all the old ghosts were all still present in American life.” But when a Muslim terrorist killed 50 gays in Orlando, Florida, in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Burns said of Donald Trump’s advocating a temporary halt to Muslim immigration to America: “Do not think that the tragedy in Orlando underscores his points. It does not.”

(Excerpt) Read more at aim.org ...


7 posted on 05/05/2018 8:58:04 AM PDT by MarvinStinson
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To: MarvinStinson

No analysis of Viet Nam is complete that totally omits the fact that it was a war between Catholics and Communists.


8 posted on 05/05/2018 9:07:59 AM PDT by wastoute (Government cannot redistribute wealth. Government can only redistribute poverty.)
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To: MarvinStinson

Great article. It’s a shame most Americans who watch this tripe will never read the rebuttal. Hell, Oliver Stone is considered an historian by the general population. 50 years of indoctrination is hard to overcome—I hear the same “facts” presented by many who should know better.

Most Freepers would be truly astounded by what is taught as fact to their children and grandchildren. History is written by the victors—and sometimes by their subversive allies.


9 posted on 05/05/2018 9:09:09 AM PDT by antidisestablishment ( Xenophobia is the only sane response to multiculturalism’s irrational cultural exuberance)
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To: wastoute

I watched about 10 minutes of the series. Then I wondered how accurate the Civil War series was.


10 posted on 05/05/2018 9:15:34 AM PDT by Spok ("What're you going to believe-me or your own eyes?" -Marx (Groucho))
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To: originalbuckeye

Documentaries on the WWII Pacific theater elide so much information they should be called Dummy guides by anyone familiar with events there. A Vietnam documentary would be no different, even if approached non-politically.

Ken Burns specializes in skipping what doesn’t fit his narrative. I wouldn’t accuse him of outright lying, but he selects what bolsters his leftist viewpoint and is not interested in material that refutes it.


11 posted on 05/05/2018 9:16:00 AM PDT by sparklite2 (See more at Sparklite Times)
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To: Spok

Ken Burns is a Marxist propagandist and a left wing hack. It seeps into everything he does.


12 posted on 05/05/2018 9:18:19 AM PDT by gibsonguy
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To: Spok

His Civil War stuff was almost 100% Commager’s Blue and Grey so it was pretty good.


13 posted on 05/05/2018 9:18:42 AM PDT by wastoute (Government cannot redistribute wealth. Government can only redistribute poverty.)
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To: sparklite2
Ken Burns specializes in skipping what doesn’t fit his narrative. I wouldn’t accuse him of outright lying, but he selects what bolsters his leftist viewpoint and is not interested in material that refutes it.

I watched his Vietnam series and thought it was good. Are you saying the NVA were the bad guys? Now I feel deceived!

14 posted on 05/05/2018 9:21:14 AM PDT by kevao (Biblical Jesus: Give your money to the poor. Socialist Jesus: Give your neighbor's money to the poor)
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To: wastoute

You are off target 100%. This was not one religion vs commies. I had Montagnards and my friends had incense burners. Neither were Catholic. The truth is we had that war won until we quit BOMBING. The north was ready to surrender. In 69-70 the damn pot smokers and druggies were everywhere.

Kerry joined the VC in Paris. He is a POS.


15 posted on 05/05/2018 9:22:37 AM PDT by Lumper20
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To: gibsonguy

And a pretend heterosexual.


16 posted on 05/05/2018 9:22:49 AM PDT by miss marmelstein
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To: Gay State Conservative
Bottom line....the American Left labeled the Vietnamese Commies the good guys and us the bad guys.It wasn’t our Armed Forces that lost it...it was Jane Fonda,Abbie Hoffman and many,*many* of their pals who did.

Perhaps you're right.

However, the problem with the "just war" concept is that mere men have to figure out what "justice" is in order to launch a "just war."

Eisenhower was certainly a good man, and undoubtedly a great man, but the civil war between North and South Vietnam wasn't a good enough reason to sacrifice what turned out to be 58,000+ American lives for.

The problem is that a man sitting behind a big desk in Washington DC can get the idea that he can press a button on his telephone and save the world, and that's just not the case, especially from 12,000 miles away from the facts on the ground.

Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were advised by men who had been taught that Communism would win, that Communism was a more efficient economic system than Capitalism, that Capitalism had to fight an unequal fight to maintain itself against the onslaught of the next level of human evolution, the stupid pseudo-scientific claptrap drivel theory of a loser and con-man named Karl Marx.

In a way, I don't blame them for deciding as they did, in the post-WWII era, that America should carry on against the Communist world by fighting them in every corner of the world, the domino theory and all that.

But in hindsight it's clear, at least to me: we should have said to Vietnam "fine, go communist, knock yourselves out, but remember that we'll still be here when you finally figure out hour mistake, and we'll be ready to help you rebuild when that day comes."

That would have been the correct response, because the enthralled victim of a con-man and a con-ideology can only save his or herself. All the outsider can do is offer aid and comfort when the scales finally fall from their eyes.

If we had taken that approach, we would have got where we are today anyway, and all those daddies and boyfriends and fiancés would have come home and added to America.

17 posted on 05/05/2018 9:28:33 AM PDT by Steely Tom ([Seth Rich] == [the Democrat's John Dean])
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To: MarvinStinson

At first he was pasteing demoncrats as much as Republicans. He even played recordings of telephone conversations from JFK and LBJ, both admitting they were making strategic decisions in Vietnam based on how it would affect the vote. First-hand admissions from the both of them that they were willing to let American soldiers die to improve their chances of re-election.

So I thought he might actually be playing it down the middle. Then about Episode 3 he starts trying to rehabilitate the reputation of Uncle Ho. And that did me in.


18 posted on 05/05/2018 9:29:21 AM PDT by Paal Gulli
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To: MarvinStinson

I shared articles from this site following the weekly airing of episodes of the Burns documentary. Link here:

https://www.vvfh.org/index.php/news-and-events/burns-documentary-commentary


19 posted on 05/05/2018 9:30:27 AM PDT by OttawaFreeper ("The Gardens was founded by men-sportsmen-who fought for their country" Conn Smythe, 1966)
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To: wastoute

Catholics?


20 posted on 05/05/2018 9:48:26 AM PDT by Crucial
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