Scant mention was made in the film of the real heroes of the war. Those who resisted, burnt draft card files, left the country and did what they could to stop the horror of Vietnam.   

By Barry Riesch  November 11, 2017   Also included: Veterans Reflect on the Shattering Effects of U.S. Warmongering (Video)  with Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic, and Robert Sheer.   

Image result for vietnam warImage: IndieWire  

I have noticed little discussion in local papers of late regarding the highly touted Burns/Novick Vietnam War documentary. That is surprising because so many of our lives were deeply affected by that war.

I am a lifelong Minnesota resident with the exception of the 20 months I spent in the US Army, one year (’69-‘70) of which was in Vietnam, where I served with the 82nd Airborne and 199th Light Infantry Brigade.  I was a draftee but I always felt obliged to do my part, as did many of my friends.

The war changed my life and dictated my life’s focus for the past 40 years:  trying to give meaning to the lives of my lost comrades and trying to stop further unnecessary military adventures. Our nation’s unending wars show my labors have not been fruitful.

I was skeptical of the film wondering if the documentary could address hard truths and be acceptable to funders like David Koch and the Bank of America.  I was right to be skeptical. A claim made during the documentary was that the Vietnam war began and was fought “in good faith by decent people…” This story line leads away from accountability, justifies US actions in Vietnam, and colors how the film is viewed.

The narrative of good intentions downplays hard truths that we must learn if we are heal the wounds of this war and understand the motivations and folly of present U.S. wars which kill so many innocent civilians, devour our natural resources, pollute the planet and consume vast quantities of money. A partial list of important truths includes:

  • Following World War II, U.S. leaders chose to support French colonialism rather than a Vietnamese freedom movement that had helped defeat the Japanese and whose declaration of independence was modeled after ours.

  • After efforts to shore up French colonization failed, the U.S. sought to expand its own sphere of influence in Southeast Asia and did so by blocking elections we knew our preferred partners couldn’t win and by imposing a series of unpopular dictatorships in South Vietnam (and throughout much of the so-called third world); This was unmitigated self-interest writ large, not noble intentions undone by forces outside our control.

  • That U.S. leaders lied to the U.S. people about the reasons for the war, about prospects for victory, about the nature of our allies in South Vietnam, and about our enemies in the North and South. Many thousands of U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese died at the hands of presidents and advisors who acknowledged to themselves that the war was unwinnable while lying to the American people about “light at the end of the tunnel.”  They did so to avoid admitting defeat, or to get reelected or to preserve America’s reputation for “effective” military violence, and the myth of “American Exceptionalism” that were necessary for their pursuit of broader imperial ambitions.

With all the damage done the saddest truth of all is that the U.S. was a foreign invader that had absolutely no business interfering in Vietnam, just as today our imperial ambitions lead us to invade and occupy Afghanistan, Iraq, spread our military bases throughout the world, and position special operations forces in more than 120 countries.

The film does a good job of not labeling individual soldiers as bad guys. Most participated because they believed in a government they thought actually cared about them. This caring has been disproved repeatedly with such matters as poisoning from agent orange. David Koch and his allies are currently seeking to destroy the VA health care system prized by almost all veterans and replace it with a system based on, guess what, individual profit-making.

Scant mention was made in the film of the real heroes of the war. Those who resisted, burnt draft card files, left the country and did what they could to stop the horror of Vietnam. Most of the peace movement honored veterans and wanted justice for them. However, Burns/Novick, with a few notable exceptions, characterize the peace movement as uninformed, chaotic, disrespectful, self-absorbed and violent.  Learning lessons from the tragic truths named above could help us transform our nation from a permanent warfare state to a more humble country committed to justice and peace.

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BARRY RIESCH is a Vietnam Veteran and co-founding member of the Minneapolis chapter of Veterans For Peace (Chapter 27) and Veterans of Foreign Wars, living in St. Paul , Minnesota.

To contact the author: Barry Riesch


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  1. WeatherEye November 18, 2017 at 1:37 PM

    Reblogged this on WeatherEye.

  2. WeatherEye November 18, 2017 at 1:35 PM

    Burns/Novick had to accept the false premise of American benevolence in order to please their funders. They are moral cowards at best, part of the elite at worst. Imagine a film calling those arranging the Final Solution decent and well intentioned. Kudos to Barry for posting this critical review. I’ve seen several and I think it’s very important to do so. They’re constantly trying to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War, from Reagan to Clinton, because Vietnam was the turning point in war and US public opinion. In this sense, Noam Chomsky’s characterization of it as a “maximal” success is as reactionary as it is unhelpful.

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