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.