Why Ken Burns’ “Vietnam” on PBS Matters

VietnamWith monuments falling and history burned, comes renewed foci on America’s faults. Vietnam is exhibit A.

“A good deal of the disunion … we experience today really metastasized in Vietnam,” says filmmaker Ken Burns. A creative genius, Burns is America’s greatest storyteller since Mark Twain. Unlike Twain, Burns does not admit to fictitious works. He has perfected manipulating human emotions. He selected veterans whose war stories bring one to tears, anger and even hate. Ho Chi Minh said America’s policy was “burn all, kill all and destroy all,” using “napalm bombs, poison gas and toxic chemicals to massacre our compatriots and ravage our villages.”[1] Burns fills the screen with the orange fires, bloody slaughter and destroyed hamlets — that do not fit the narrative’s timeline. No matter. An ugly America is repeatedly depicted waging an illegal, immoral, unjust, racist and unwinnable war. You see, America “misreads” the war as fighting communism. Burns quickly passes over Ho’s 20 years as a paid agent of the international communism and his receipt of massive Soviet and Chicom weaponry.

To Burns, America is the real enemy in Vietnam. Episode 1 begins with the sound of helicopter blades and a montage of scenes symbolically running rapidly backwards out of Vietnam.[2] Veteran Karl Marlantes has an unfriendly homecoming – strangely, not spitting or being called a “baby killer.” No one talks about Vietnam. Burns does that definitively. Almost all of Burns’ facts are true as far as they go. The emotional impact of 60’s music, iconic photos and human pain easily pass by contradictory facts.

Many of Burns’ vets are disillusioned antiwar activists. They fear attacks of resolute enemy troops. They grow increasingly cynical about the war, their presidents, and the South Vietnamese and decreasingly patriotic. They say little positive about their service. In truth, 90% of the combat veterans of Vietnam were proud of their service [killing babies?]. Such vets do not fit into Burns tour de force.

Inspired by their enlightened leaders, Ho and Giap, hundreds of thousands of larger-than-life heroic “volunteers” drafted Vietnamese peasants, march hundreds of miles of jungles. Ho revered Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, but deceitfully claims Tom Jefferson, George Washington[3] as his own. Of course, liars, incompetents and cowards in Saigon and Washington led the USA.

Burns’ chosen narrator, Peter Coyote, is a former hippy Diggers and player in the Marxist San Francisco Mime Troupe. He whines on about the futility of an unwinnable war. The war puts “Everything in question … the candor of leaders. … What does it mean to be a patriot? Was it worth it?” Rhetorical questions beg Burns’ answers.

A blizzard of facts and a cacophony of sounds obscure key points and advance falsehoods. Here’s some examples. Ho Chi Minh was an international communist, not a patriotic Vietnamese nationalist. “Reuniting” Vietnam is a fraud. There was no Vietnam whole to reunite. There was French colonial Indochina[4] targeted in 1932 by Ho’s Communist Party of Indochina. On March 6, 1946, Ho Chi Minh and French General Sainteny signed a deal returning Vietnam to the French Union, inviting 15,000 French troops to re-enter Indochina. The deal enabled the removal of anticommunists, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists troops and the elimination of  “reactionary” nationalists. In 1954, the U.S. and Saigon Vietnam did not sign the Geneva Accords. They had no obligations to an unsigned “agreement.” The allies did not “promise” unsupervised communist controlled elections.[5] Burns admits “thousands” killed in Ho’s 1954-5 land reform. The actual “thousands” murdered was 50,000.

The main antagonists in Burns’ morality play, other than lying presidents, were corrupt Saigon leaders and their cowardly troops.  In fact, President Ngo Dinh Diem formed a democracy, the Republic of Vietnam; drove communists and gangsters out of Saigon; began land reforms and hamlet security; and appointed Buddhists to his cabinet. Today Vietnamese hold Diem in the highest esteem.[6] In 1959, Hanoi, not the U.S., secretly started the war in South Vietnam when the Poliburo ordered Unit 559 to build the Ho Chi Minh Trail. For refusing to march into a death trap at Ap Bac in 1963, the Saigon press, (Neil Sheehan, David Halberstam, and Malcomb Brown) aided by an English speaking Hanoi spy, Pham Xuan An, created the storyline Vietnam’s troops were always cowardly. Yet in 1968 and 1972 the gallant ARVN, and local villagers, taking heavy casualties, thoroughly whipped two massive invasions. The press asserted Diem was persecuting 70-90% of the population, Buddhists. Actually, they were about 30%. Investigative reporter Margarite Higgins and the U.N. proved Diem did not persecute Buddhists.

Hanoi was thrilled when JFK approved a coup that murdered Diem plunging Saigon into years of political chaos. Diem had been winning the war and some hearts and minds.

From 1954-1975, millions fled into the arms of Americans and anticommunists. Today millions of Americans run toward the lights and sounds of peace, social justice, progressivism, socialism and communism. Thank Burns and like propagandists.

Dr. Roger Canfield’s work on Vietnam, China and California can be found at his http:/americong.com $20 for three ebook volumes on Vietnam peace movement’s collaboration with the enemy. Also http:/vvfh.org, Military magazine and in annual volumes of the war at Radix Press in Houston, Texas.

The Left Is Partying Like It’s 1969

Once upon a time there was a Republican candidate for president who was reviled and distrusted by a fairly large segment of the public. The media barely concealed its dislike and contempt for the candidate. After winning the GOP nomination, this candidate chose as his running mate a governor unknown on the national stage.

The Democrats nominated their heir apparent but not with the ease that conventional wisdom assumed. A candidate from the far-left fringe of the party emerged, said candidate giving the Democrat warhorse a much tougher battle for delegates than anyone thought was possible. This caused the Democrat establishment to go to “DefCon 1” to smack down the insurgent. The heir apparent was nominated at a contentious convention marked by protests from leftist Democrats and chose as a running mate an unknown U.S. Senator.

The fall campaign was an unpleasant one, highlighted by continuous press attacks on the character and mental stability of the Republican and left wing sniping at the Democrat. Election night was a cliff-hanger, with the Republican candidate being assured of victory only after a mid-western state that had been trending Democrat fell into the GOP column. He won with far less than a majority of the popular vote.

Extra credit and a tip o’ the hat to any who realized that the above describes the 1968 election. The Republican candidate was Richard Nixon. His running mate was Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew. The Democrat candidate was Hubert Humphrey, who defeated leftist Senator Eugene McCarthy at the now-infamous Chicago convention.  Humphrey chose Maine Senator Ed Muskie as his running mate.

The general election campaign seemed to be a contest between the Nixon-hating media and the Humphrey-hating left to see who could set new lows for public discourse. Alabama Gov. George Wallace was the wildcard in the race. On election night the decision came down to Illinois – a previously reliable GOP state that had voted Democrat for president the last two elections. When all the votes were counted, Nixon received 43.4 percent of the popular vote,  Humphrey 42.7 percent, while Wallace drew 13.5 percent.

And the Left went wild.

Flag burningThey had been protesting against the Vietnam War for a couple of years, but really didn’t ramp up the venom and violence until Richard Nixon, longtime anti-communist and therefore object of hatred to the Left and much of the media, became president on January 20, 1969. Hundreds of thousands of people marched, burned American flags, spit on police, overturned and burned police cruisers, broke windows in businesses during their marches, etc. et. al. Hatred of the president was always front and center in their frequent demonstrations and riots. The protesters made a specific effort to push into the spotlight all the hideous, bizarre, offensive-to-middle-America counter-cultural mutations and freaks of their movement. The media, almost unanimously in sympathy with the anti-Nixon mobs gushed and fawned over the demonstrations, covering any gathering of two or more protesters as the second storming of the Bastille and a great day for America.

Any of this beginning to sound familiar? I hope so, as that’s the point.

The Left had their moment in the spotlight for four years, and paid a heavy price for it in the alienation of non-radical voters of both parties. After losing the ’68 election to Nixon, the Democrats engaged in months of navel gazing and soul searching about a path back to power. Their answer, becoming more liberal and counter-cultural, was exactly the wrong one. Non-liberal Democrats were driven from the party. Internal party reforms insured the nomination of the Liz “Pocahontas” Warren of the day, radical “peace candidate” Senator George McGovern to oppose Nixon in 1972.

The judgment of the American people on four years of non-stop protest, vulgarity and violence was swift and harsh.  Richard Nixon, the object of hatred and hysteria from the Left and the press (redundant, I know) turned his narrow 1968 win into a landslide of historic proportions. He carried 49 states, received 61 percent of the popular vote and 520 electoral votes to 17 for McGovern.

The Left and the media had over-reacted and over-reached. The American people reacted by reaching for the Republican Party and its president.

I remember this vividly, as it happened during my formative political years. My first political activity was in 1964 for Barry Goldwater. In the ’64 election the eight “sub-units” of my close family – my mother, father and his seven siblings – were 6 to 2 in favor of Lyndon Johnson (my mom and dad were strong Goldwater fans). In 1968 the family units voted 5 to 3 in favor of Humphrey.

These were all first generation Americans, culturally conservative, respectful of FDR and deeply patriotic. The Left’s vehemence and violent protests against Nixon had a dramatic effect on my family. By 1972 there was not a Democrat vote among them. They were part of Nixon’s “silent majority” and their votes were unanimous for Nixon and the Republicans, and stayed that way permanently.

Trump hugs flagAnd so we have Yogi Berra’s “deja-vu all over again” in 2017. The Left and the media are unhinged, in some cases literally deranged. There are open calls for assassination, military coups and other extra-constitutional means to remove President Trump. As disgusting and disturbing as these things are, they should also bring a smile – at least subliminally. Realize that the excesses and over-reach of today’s Left will very likely have the same effect on typical American voters as did their predecessors of 1969 – 1972.

Flag burning, police hatred, window smashing and unthinking vitriol toward a duly elected president has, thankfully, never been a path to power in America. Angry, purple haired, “F” bomb spewing women dressed as giant vaginas are not the way to the hearts and minds of middle America. And lest we forget,  it was precisely “middle America” – both politically and demographically – that elected Trump.

While the Left parties like it is 1969, it happily appears they are so overcome by Trump Derangement Syndrome that they have forgotten the American people’s verdict of 1972. They have also forgotten George Santayana’s famous admonition, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Party on Lefties … please oh please party on. Wear those pussy hats. Burn those flags. Throw those “F” bombs. Keep those vagina suits handy. It may seem like 1969 now, but 1972 and 2020 are just around the corner. It’s going to be “yuge.”

Bill Saracino is a member of the Editorial Board of CA Political Review.