Best Defense

‘Vietnam’ 9: An unfinished tale

Despite striving for nuance, episode 9 favors those who opposed the war more than those who fought it.

WASHINGTON, :  American youths stage a rally 30 November 1965 in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. protesting United States military involvement in the Vietnam war. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : American youths stage a rally 30 November 1965 in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. protesting United States military involvement in the Vietnam war. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Charles A. Krohn
Best Defense war TV critic

What lessons are there to draw from this emotional and highly politicized episode?

Where is it heading, after making the point that Nixon cared more about his political future than the survival of South Vietnam? Live tape recordings show that neither Nixon nor Kissinger thought South Vietnam would survive long after our departure, particularly because of their failure to halt the Easter Offensive without our air intervention. Too bad for them! Vietnamization didn’t work as well as it was supposed to.

While there were demonstrations here displaying the flag of North Vietnam, there were few — if any — corresponding activities on Saigon’s behalf. Some demonstrations supported administration initiatives but few carried the colors of South Vietnam.

I served in Vietnam between 1970 and 1971 and can support General Creighton Abrams’s assessment that our army lost its cutting edge. For one, many stopped looking like soldiers, a reflection of their state of discipline and cooling passions to win a war. Drugs also became a serious problem without a handy remedy.

I’d nearly forgotten about Senator John Kerry’s antiwar activities, and his fabricated congressional testimony, dressed in masquerade, wearing ribbons, some earned in combat. Didn’t he later throw his medals away? It’s too bad Kerry wasn’t invited to be part of the Vietnam series. According to an article in Vanity Fair magazine, Burns says Kerry was “too radioactive” to be put on camera. I share the hope of many comrades that Kerry’s time in purgatory is extended for the duration.

Mentioned earlier, few demonstrators cared about Vietnam, one way or another. They weren’t against the war so much as they objected to American participation and the possibility of being drafted. While not a legal expert, I wonder how they reconcile our being in Iraq, Syria,  and Afghanistan, contrasted to their insistence we withdraw from Vietnam? Except for an all-volunteer force, the issues seem similar. The casualties are fewer, but that makes little difference to the family that loses a son or daughter.

The narrator is correctly dismissive of Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi, and Burns deserves credit for including footage of her manning an anti-aircraft gun. Her call for executing downed American pilots is a bit shocking.

Those who leaked the top-secret Pentagon papers excused themselves for doing what their conscience required. The short version was, we bad, them good.

Overall, this episode favors those who opposed the war more than those who fought it. Soldiers’ sacrifices seem trivialized, compared to the energy and idealism of the demonstrators. The reception of POWs coming home is tastefully handled, however.

Thieu may not have been the perfect democrat, but there was far less political tolerance in the North, the narrator notes. I think the right answer is “none.” Even today, some 42 years after Saigon fell, Human Rights Watch claims “Vietnam’s human rights record remains dire in all areas.” I wonder if this makes some regret fleeing to avoid the draft?

I don’t take issue that our being in Vietnam was more about us than it was about Vietnam. But the issues were far from simple.

LTC Charles A. Krohn, U.S. Army (ret.), is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet, and a former deputy chief of public affairs both of the Army and the American Battle Monuments Commission. He is believed to be in the vicinity of Panama City Beach, Florida.

Photo credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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