Friday, October 13, 2017

Ken Burns' Vietnam War, Must See Despite Left Attacks

Burns has set himself up as a self-appointed national therapist for interpreting U.S. history. This is hard to take at times, but the subject matter he covers usually rises above his paternalistic liberalism.... Burns' series outlines the deep roots of deception involved in U.S. foreign policy that I imagine a younger generation will find shocking....... there also frustrating limits and omissions to Burns and Novick's series. In the first episode "Déjà vu," narrator Peter Coyote tells us that "America's involvement in Vietnam...was begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings." Yet the whole series proves the opposite at every turn.
.... in the first episode, I saw an extraordinary act of historical censorship. The U.S. plucked Ngo Dinh Diem out of obscurity in the mid-1950s and made him the president of the Republic of Vietnam, or "South Vietnam" as it was referred to. In all of the photos of the era, standing behind him clear as day, is the lanky figure of Edward Lansdale, the CIA's man in Saigon, the man who made Diem. Yet Lansdale is never identified....
Unfortunately, many people on the left in the U.S. seem to have watched only the first 20 minutes of this first episode. Disgusted by claims of "good faith" and "decent people," they didn't watch any further, though they did take to Facebook and Twitter to denounce it.
....... Socialist Worker, Joe Allen, author of Vietnam: The (Last) War the U.S. Lost.
The carping from the left began from the first frames of Ken Burns' documentary which for me exposed the entire lying and manipulative structure of the American power structure. Some if it was fair and some not --the SW review is very balanced:
The Vietnam War is a compelling, beautifully made and revealing documentary series. Burns and Novick have brought back the Vietnam War back to its proper place in our living history. Despite their limited critique of the war and their misplaced hostility toward the antiwar movement, this series should be watched and debated by all.
Burns exposes how history continues to repeat itself in Afghanistan. And it will never end. The dumb strategies in 'Nam and what we see today are similar. Clueless. The minute we are out of Afghanistan we know the script of what happens to puppet type governments. Does that mean we root for the Taliban to win? Hell no. Every alternative is worse than worse.

Also we see how the right wing and the admin went after anti-war protestors and blamed them for the losing war. And also how the soldiers turned against the war, which was the biggest threat to the war wing - which is why they so quickly went to an all volunteer army and killed the draft.

Also we saw how we destabilized an entire area with Cambodia and Laos being essentially undermined and destroyed, leading to the Kmer Rouge. We saw the same in the Middle East and the rise of ISIS due to our actions. (Oh what Saddam would have done to ISIS).

But some elements of the left want purism, as I saw on FB with commentary. Let's be clear that the documentary also exposes some of the brutal acts of the North Vietnamese, which is a no-no in some left circles. No one would pretend that the victory of the North Vietnamese (compare to what happened in Korea in 1950 which has influence over what happened in Nam.)

Allen makes this important point:
Throughout the series, the Vietnamese national struggle is one that Burns and Novick can't make up their minds about. Was it a civil war, a national struggle for independence or an example of Cold War Communist expansion? 
People on the left also have some issues. I imagine Trotskyists would condemn the North Vietnamese as Stalinist variations.

So reading the piece in this very fair assessment in the ISO newspaper is instructive in that it defends Burns while also pointing out the flaws. I won't get into the weeds of whether I agree or disagree at this point since I do want to write more about the series.

Thanks to Mike Schirtzer for pointing me to these articles.

An epic series with an Achilles' heel

Allen's point here is important:
... the real Achilles' heel of The Vietnam War is Burns and Novick's disdain for the antiwar movement.
Veteran civil rights activist Bill Zimmerman is given a fair amount of screen time, but the movement against the draft is called a campaign of "self-interest" because the young men who could be drafted were at the core of it. When tens of thousands of antiwar activists attempt to shut down Washington, D.C., in one protest, Burns and Novick echo Nixon adviser Pat Buchanan in calling them the "crazies."
Barnard College antiwar activist Nancy Biberman makes a tearful apology: "It pains me to think of the things that I said, that we said. And I'm sorry."
What misplaced words could ever compare to the scale of murder, destruction and deception committed by the U.S. government? Yet what is now presented as excesses on the part of the antiwar movement is presented as co-equal. It should be pointed out that no government official ever apologizes for anything during the series.
Worth reading is:

Vietnam War Protesters have NOTHING to Apologize For | By | Common Dreams


  1. So basically, you and others like you dislike this documentary series for not denouncing the USA enough, despite Burns and company wanting to be fair, balanced and non-inflammatory? You guys/gals and the guys/gals of the neocon right are really almost one and the same-a bunch of extremists for whom no satisfaction can ever be granted.

    This make me glad that I'm a pragmatic progressive and not an emoprogressive (

  2. You're no progressive because progressive can read. The title is the doc series is a must see. And a progressive wouldn't say we can't point out things that were wrong with it - which there were -- it's fair and balanced is due to the fact it would not have been funded if it tried to tell the entire truth. There are distortions as expected. I accept that Burns had to do what he had to do to get this done. Now you tell me if there was one thing you saw that could be criticized? Did you like how every president lied again and again and how the military lied again and again? I did.


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