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Sorley described the idea that the documentary might lead to reconciliation as ‘fatuous’, adding: ‘There is no middle ground, and the Burns film demonstrates … how deep and unbridgeable the divide remains’.18 Another leading revisionist, Mark Moyar, alleges that the documentary amounts to a ‘partisan harangue that is certain to keep Americans divided’.19, Response from the other side of the debate has also been critical. In the words of Guenter Grass, the USA ‘lost in Vietnam its right to appeal to morals’.3, Burns and Novick have stepped right into the centre of this debate. This matters because these myths and misconceptions remain alive and well, not least in revisionist scholarship on the Vietnam War. And for someone who enjoys learning about history, but didn't really know anything about the subject, the series did an amazing job of educating viewers in every aspect. Hanoi lays plans for a massive surprise offensive, and the Johnson administration reassures the American public that victory is in sight. Their focus on the suffering of those experiencing the war and its consequences at the grassroots can sometimes make the conflict seem like an act of God rather than an event brought about by politicians and policymakers, whose actions receive much less attention in the film. 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. The quest for a ‘shared story’ which can prove instructive for the nation – to ‘include the diverse tributaries of our experience into something that might nourish the whole’, as Burns has put it – can only be achieved at the cost of leaving unexamined strategic, moral and ideological questions which in fact sharply divided Americans during the war, and continue to divide historians today.11 The failure of the documentary to address these questions is a severe limitation, not only because the particular answers that policymakers provided during the Vietnam War led to the deaths of millions, but also because we have a stake in the answers that will be given in the future. It has resonated particularly strongly with me since I had a long-term former medic friend who lived in northern Minnesota. In not so different words, he does though. While I can’t read Ken Burns’ mind, if you look at his documentary The Vietnam War, it certainly seems to support this mentality. The first of these is a misplaced faith in what American ‘can-do-ism’ can accomplish. The Vietnam War interviews a huge number of anti-war veterans. 35 Pierre Asselin, Vietnam’s American War: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018), 111. 28 Podhoretz, Why We Were in Vietnam, 13, 210. Historians are more and more aware of the need to also take alternative, non-Communist forms of Vietnamese nationalism seriously – as Christopher Goscha’s new history of modern Vietnam does convincingly.41 There were indeed competing nationalisms in twentieth century Vietnam – one form was just stronger than the rest, a situation for which non-Communist nationalists often had themselves to blame. In contrast to the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative of a noble America riding to the rescue of those threatened by Communism, Bacevich argues that the USA was wrong to involve itself in what was essentially a Vietnamese conflict. 27 Norman Podhoretz, Why We Were in Vietnam (New York: Simon and Schuster 1982); Michael Lind, Vietnam: The Necessary War (New York: Free Press 1999). When North Vietnamese troops pour into the South, Saigon collapses. 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. I’ve long considered this story O’Brien’s best. The Vietnam War has been a casual study focus for me since the 1980's. American casualties mount as they face deadly North Vietnamese ambushes and artillery. Moyar complains that Burns and Novick do not discuss ‘the bitter disputes in Washington over the use of U.S. ground forces in Laos or North Vietnam’, or ‘revelations from North Vietnamese officials acknowledging that such measures would have thwarted Hanoi’s strategy’.45. I wish that he had done it before. This recognition that truth is multiple should result in a shared story which tolerates different points of view and serves the primary function of helping the American people come to terms with an event in their history, hence anchoring them securely for the future. 42 Classic works from these perspectives are, respectively, Harry G. Summers, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (New York: Presidio 1995); Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore MD: John Hopkins University Press 1998). 2 Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988), 445. However, more and more evidence suggests that the war could have been won. Clocking in at eighteen hours of air time spread over ten episodes, the film has touched off a national conversation in the USA about the Vietnam War and its legacies. To receive future issues as soon as they are published, become a subscriber today. 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. 15 Lewis Sorley comments during a panel at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, 29 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HfLCMEkrz8. This has not been the result. He is most famous for his involvement in the defeat of the Hukbalahap insurgency and political rise of President Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines. While I can’t read Ken Burns’ mind, if you look at his documentary The Vietnam War, it certainly seems to support this mentality. While acknowledging that the latter may have been impossible, Boot hedges by adding that it is ‘no exaggeration to suggest that the whole conflict, the worst military defeat in American history, might have taken a very different course – one that was less costly and potentially more successful’ if the counsel of Lansdale, a ‘singular visionary’, had been followed.51. Source: National Archives. Yet by refusing to tackle these issues head-on, the documentary misses an opportunity to dispel fallacious arguments which were both instrumental to the USA getting into the war and are – as Kort’s book shows – still widespread. Some will derisively call it an anti-war piece, and thus, by extension 'anti-American'. Also, the Gold Star Mother interviewed happens to be one of the few who opposed the war. (260) IMDb 9.1 2017 TV-MA. On the Tet holiday, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launch attacks on cities and military bases throughout the South, suffering devastating losses but casting doubt on Johnson’s promise that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”. Mark Tooley & Andrew RobertsOctober 12, 2020, Michael Sobolik & Mark MeltonJuly 16, 2020, Institute on Religion and Democracy1023 15th Street NW, Suite 200Washington, DC 20005. American prisoners of war will finally come home—to a bitterly divided country. 37 Lian-Hang Nguyen, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press 2012); Pierre Asselin, Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (Berkeley CA: University of California Press 2013); Asselin, Vietnam’s American War; Vu, Vietnam’s Communist Revolution. See also Phillip Jennings, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing 2010). 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. This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Providence‘s print edition. Registered in England & Wales No. Featuring interviews with the filmmakers, behind-the-scenes footage, and exclusive clips from the series, this program will give viewers an advance look at this Fall's most anticipated film. This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged. Critics on the left assign blame to the aggressive and imperialistic policies of the USA itself, which had no business attempting to quash the legitimate nationalist demands of the Vietnamese. All rights reserved. These types of selective omissions continue as the series progresses. 46 Jeffrey P. Kimball, ‘The Stab-in-the-Back Legend and the Vietnam War’, Armed Forces & Society 14/3 (1988), 433–58. More useful on this matter are recent works by Daddis and Kadura which have subtly explored the relationship between domestic politics, developments on the ground in Vietnam, and the options available to both local actors such as Westmoreland and Abrams and to policymakers in Washington.49, Burns and Novick’s documentary does less to dispel the alternative counterfactual argument, which states that the U.S. could have won if it had adopted a more sophisticated counterinsurgency strategy in the South.
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