Best Defense

‘Vietnam’ Ep. 10 and last: A conclusion?

Until the majority of people in this country agree to close ranks when the nation goes to war, the memories of Vietnam will linger.

TO GO WITH STORY: Vietnam-US-war-media, FEATURE by Cat Barton
This picture taken on April 11, 2015 shows a man walking next to propaganda posters displayed at an open-air exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Many US soldiers who fought in Vietnam will remember the dulcet tones of Hanoi Hannah, the silky-voiced communist radio correspondent who urged young American GIs to stop fighting and go home .  AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam        (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH STORY: Vietnam-US-war-media, FEATURE by Cat Barton This picture taken on April 11, 2015 shows a man walking next to propaganda posters displayed at an open-air exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Many US soldiers who fought in Vietnam will remember the dulcet tones of Hanoi Hannah, the silky-voiced communist radio correspondent who urged young American GIs to stop fighting and go home . AFP PHOTO / HOANG DINH Nam (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Charles A. Krohn
Best Defense war TV critic

This episode is interesting and a tear-jerker. It aims to heal the festering wounds of the major combatants, Americans in particular. Although it dwells on how we got out of the war, what’s missing is the context of how we got in. The final days of 1975 are superbly reported, with Ambassador Graham Martin coming across as dedicated but incompetent. That’s the gentle interpretation.

Few remember we didn’t send an army to Vietnam mainly to help the Vietnamese. We intervened to keep communism from overwhelming Asia — the domino theory. In Europe we helped create NATO for about the same reason — resist communist aggression. NATO still exists and is even expanding, so the concept of collective defense is alive and well. SEATO, on the other hand, collapsed.

When our advisors weren’t adequate to stop South Vietnam from collapsing, the war became a contest between North Vietnam and us, including a few regional nations worried about their own independence. We were joined by 30,000 Canadians who crossed the border to enlist, about the same number of American students who fled north.

This episode pits the impotence of the Army of South Vietnam a with a failed American strategy versus a Hanoi dictatorship determined to unite the country at any cost.

The episode ends with Hanoi’s failure to complete Ho’s dream of uniting the country. Apparently after the war, industry and agriculture all but collapsed, so Vietnam had no choice but revisit Ho’s dream. Things have changed over time. Americans, once hated, are now welcomed, even embraced.

Vietnamese students and industrialists long to join the Western World and its free economy. Despite Ho’s ambition, peoples of North and South Vietnam are still not reconciled. According to the narrator, “The Vietnamese people were never more divided than they are now.” Some veterans in the north must wonder if their sacrifice was worth it or if obliterating ARVN graves was the right thing to do.

The narrator says many South Vietnamese died after the Communist victory, mostly in acts of individual revenge. This seems to skirt the truth, because reports suggest that at least 150,000 Vietnamese died later in re-education camps.  It’s estimated 300,000 to 400,000 died at sea. The 400,000 who reached the United States are the lucky ones.

Army deserter Jack Todd, who defected to Canada, says now “it’s the greatest mistake I ever made in my life.” Other activists apologize for their youthful errors.

“To abandon the South Vietnamese when all we were providing them was money was reprehensive and disrespected the sacrifices of all soldiers, ours and the Vietnamese,” says historian Lewis Sorley of President Ford’s final effort to keep provide minimal support to the sinking Thieu government. More telling, “Most Americans I think would not like to hear it said that the communists were more faithful allies than the United States, but that in effect is what the case was.”

Veterans will remember their service in different ways, mostly with pride, some with shame. But until the majority of people in this country agree to close ranks when the nation goes to war, however imperfect the cause or results, the memories of Vietnam will linger.

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 does his residing in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Photo credit: HOANG DINH NAM/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. Twitter: @tomricks1
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