The Daily Escape:
Red Winged Blackbird chasing Red Shouldered Hawk, FL – photo by Lana Duncan
Wrongo and Ms. Right attended a meeting with Lynn Novick, co-producer of The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour video history of the War that aired on PBS. The series was intended to be a shared public event that sparked a national discussion about the Vietnam War and the impact it had on America.
If you haven’t seen The Vietnam War, it is streaming here.
As someone who served in the military from 1966-1969, Wrongo was on orders for Vietnam twice. That he spent his time in Germany during the war was largely good luck. Many of his Officer’s Candidate School buddies died in Vietnam.
Novick showed a short video of the first episode in the series, followed by parts of episode six and seven. The series uses no historians or talking heads. There are no onscreen interviews with polarizing boldfaced names like John Kerry, John McCain, or Jane Fonda. Instead, there are 79 onscreen interviews with ordinary people who fought or lived through the war.
Two things stand out about the series: First, that it presents the perspective of South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese, along with that of the American soldiers, a significant advancement in perception for Wrongo. Second, how little that anyone on the US side, our government, our military or our soldiers, really understood about the Vietnamese. Novick told one story that was not included in the series, about how the North Vietnamese, traveling the Ho Chi Minh trail, would find an impassible rock formation, and without dynamite, they couldn’t work around it. The solution was to expose the area to US jets, who obligingly bombed the trail, making it passable for NVA trucks.
Lynn Novick said that you could divide the War into two phases: First, from the time of Truman through Kennedy, where honorable people were trying to do the right thing, and were simply getting it wrong. Then, phase two, when it became clear that our military thought that there was less than a 30% chance that we would be victorious. Novick said that recent scholarship dates that conclusion as being presented to the White House and the generals in 1965. Yet, the war went on for another 10 years. Clearly, in this phase, the decision-makers were no longer honorable people.
From that time forward, Presidents Johnson and Nixon knew that the war was unwinnable, but like their predecessors, they were unwilling to have the War lost on their watch. Their political calculations were largely responsible for 57,797 of the 58,220 deaths in the War.
And Vietnam remains the gift that keeps on giving. As of 2013, the US is paying Vietnam veterans and their families or survivors more than $22 billion a year in war-related claims.
The war at home pitted college students and clergy against politicians and the National Guard. There were huge demonstrations, and ultimately, the deaths of four Kent State college students at the hands of the Ohio Guard in 1970. That wasn’t all. Eleven people were bayoneted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard, and at Mississippi’s Jackson State University, police opened fire at demonstrators, killing two students and injuring 12.
These shootings of American kids by our own government led to the first nationwide student strike in US history. Over four million students participated.
The Vietnam War is a very complex and difficult topic. Our military’s plan was to win “hearts and minds” but they also bombed villages. We backed incompetent and corrupt in-country leadership. Our military falsified the metrics to show we were having “success” on the ground.
There was inconsistent, and eventually, dishonest direction from the White House.
Novick thinks that Vietnam was the most significant event for America from the Civil War to 9/11. It had a major impact, creating divisions that still persist today. In the Q&A, it was clear that the audience expressed many of the viewpoints that you might have heard 40 years ago. Ideas like the politicians prevented the military from winning, or that there were really no atrocities on the ground.
But, the afternoon’s discussion also opened people to being receptive to a different conversation, to be thoughtful about the meaning and mistakes of the War, and how we might use that experience to inform decisions our political class is making today.
So let’s wake up, America! Watch the series. Give some thought to the carnage that was wrought in our names, both in Vietnam and at home. Now, link all of that to our current endless fight against the Global War on Terror.
See any similarities?
To help you wake up, listen to Neil Young singing “Ohio”:
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