Commentary By NY Sun On Ken Burns’ Vietnam War Documentary


October 11, 2017 - San Francisco, CA - – Today’s edition of the NY Sun contains a thought provoking review of Ken Burns recently released documentary, The Vietnam War, Justifying Betrayal of Vietnam Emerges as the Raison d’être Of Ken Burns’ Film on the War .

Not having seen the work [we are entirely too familiar with Burns’ skillful polemic view of film-making to waste our time] our commentary is restricted to Phillip Jennings critique, which is scathing.

Actually we will limit ourselves to a single bullet point [one of five] within the essay, that characterizing the conduct of the war itself, subtitled, “President Johnson and General Westmoreland accomplished nothing” - all five of which are characterized under the heading, “The Burns documentary accepts without question five pillars of the liberal view of the war.”

Regarding the war, where to start?

1. With the French effort to maintain a colony at the most far-flung eastern most perimeter of South East Asia?

2. The decision by President Eisenhower not to provide the level of aid that was requested by the French in the mid-1950s.

3. The quick-sand-like nature of President Kennedy’s half-hearted commitment of U.S. advisors to the South Vietnamese?

4. President Johnson’s decision to enormously expand Kennedy’s policy, thereby committing the United States to a full-on war of attrition that was doomed to failure?

5. President Nixon’s decision to conclude the American participation in a way that undercut the incalculable expenditure of blood and treasure [58,000 KIA] that had been the price of the U.S. gambit?

For the purpose of this writing we will deal with the last three items as one, because they really are inseparable.

Johnson inherited a commitment. It was not his decision to become involved in the first place but absent the subsequent massive expansion, most likely Vietnam would be a footnote in history, another of many examples of Communist aggression resulting in a tyrannical regime dominating a rather strategic land mass, not to mention the subjugation of millions of poor souls who continue to suffer under Marxist rule.

It might be argued with more than a little certitude that Kennedy’s incredibly ill-conceived, CIA perpetrated 1963 assassination of South Vietnam strongman Ngo Diem broke the South’s will, making it impossible for such an expeditionary endeavor to ever possibly succeed.

That aside, it was Johnson who was really must be blamed for the ensuing carnage and subsequent defeat.

Yes we said defeat. Putting aside the quite correct claim that the North and its guerilla allies in the South had never won a significant battle, the outcome was disastrous. We lost, leaving the fractured country in a shameful full-rout spectacle that is still seared into the mind of this writer, with a desperate few still clinging to the skids of fleeing United States helicopters, before the country headed into the abyss of the coming Apocalypse.

How did this happen?

It’s the way Democrats started fighting wars commencing with Korea, which was outrageously called a “police action,” albeit one that led to the loss of over 50 thousand American lives and a divided country that remains one of the globe’s most dangerous flash points.

From the outset, Johnson along with his cohort Secty Defense McNamara made the fateful decision to personally run the conflict, directly over-ruling the recommendations of the entirety of America’s military leadership.

Neither Johnson nor McNamara had military backgrounds. Johnson was a life-long politician elevated to the office by the assassination of President Kennedy, also in 1963 and McNamara and his cohorts were technocrats many of whom had just come from the management of Ford Motor Company.

Calling themselves the whizz-kids because of their proffered brilliance, they brought to the Department of Defense zero understanding of military matters combined with a degree of arrogance that is still stunning.

Perhaps McNamara would have succeeded as quartermaster, given his talent for organization but as a Sec Def, he was in many leagues over his head.

It was common for Johnson and McNamara to actually choose bombing targets each morning, presented on white boards, as if the decisions involved moving widgets from here to there and not living breathing patriotic human beings who had dedicated their lives to the defense of the country.

To say that the conflict was tragic understates the case, in reality it was horror incarnate.

The truth is that neither of these politicians had the slightest idea of how to prosecute a war, assuming the intention was ever to utterly defeat the enemy, a point which remains much in doubt.

From the start of Johnson’s military buildup, justified by the still controversial Gulf of Tonkin “incident” which remains the subject of great perplexity, to its bitter end, the United States was never committed to pursuing the effort in a manner that justified the almost unfathomable loss of live on both sides, especially considering that all of this death and destruction took place in a relatively small country, that few had ever heard of previous to Johnson’s massive ramp up.

During Johnson’s war, lies were the coin of the realm, the most obvious of which was the habit [dictated policy] of inflated body counts which were designed to reassure the American public that we were winning, when the opposite was the case. Here one might be assisted in understanding the depth to which this policy was flawed by going back to the Nazi’s Second World War Operation Barbarossa, the invasion [over 100 divisions including 18 Panzer armies] Russia. Though the Germans were killing Ivan in unbelievable numbers, Stalin placed zero value on human life, so as one Red fell one, maybe two took his [or her] place. In a battle of attrition, Western moral precepts prevented America from realizing that to the North Vietnamese-Red Chinese-Soviet, troika, human lives were Leggos, interchangeable and utterly devoid of worth.

Strategically, Johnson mistakes were myriad starting with him appointing himself as the theater military commander, overriding the generals on the ground and in the Pentagon who knew better. This folly combined with his inability to understand that given the rise in communication technology [which of course was dominated by the left] he had two wars to manage, one the kinetic conflict itself, the other the information war, the battle for as was the common phrase then the “hearts and minds” of the public which quickly soured on the enterprise as it became obvious that we had no desire to brutally prosecute the war to a successful conclusion, thus wasting an increasingly alarming number of America’s finest.

It turned out that in 5 short years Johnson and his cohorts turned a very limited strategy of military assistance [the Kennedy plan] into one of the country’s most costly and expensive failures.

Nixon, seeing the folly of the entire matter quickly concluded a “peace” playing a losing hand as skillfully as possible seeing that he had no choice but to conclude the venture as quickly as possible. It was Nixon who understood that the war was already lost and it was time to exit post haste, which is exactly what Henry Kissinger [peace is at hand] “negotiated.”

As one can see, though we take issue with only certain aspects of Mr. Jennings’s critique, they really rise to the level of a rejection of the author’s obviously heartfelt effort to preserve some shred of honor regarding the affair.

In that Mr. Jennings cannot be faulted, after all he was a United States Marine Corps pilot in Vietnam and Air America [CIA] pilot in Laos, during the conflict and thus an honored patriot. But it’s really impossible to spin the facts regarding Vietnam in a way to deflect the critique that the effort was doomed from its meager start under Kennedy until its conclusion under the much-maligned President Nixon.

Unfortunately Vietnam has become totemic in leftist circles, it’s how they “prosecute” wars, starting with half-hearted commitments, unreasonable restraints placed upon the military’s general staff and then running at the first sign of a snag in the battle-plan, something which is an unavoidable aspect of human conflict.

To make this matter worse, the GOP has adopted and actually perfected the kabuki of the pretend war, state’s exhibit “A” being the 16 year-old war in Afghanistan.

What can we learn from this examination?

The premiere lesson, which must be taken to heart, is that though we have the military might to defeat any foe, absent the will to kill and break things in way that is really unimaginable to probably most of the population, we had best keep our powder dry and desist from engaging in what are essentially PR events whose bi-product are dead human beings with nothing gained in the exchange.

©2017, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.