Ken Burns returns to take on Vietnam – 'a war we have consciously ignored'
The war in south-east Asia is now the subject of an epic 10-part, 18-hour series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
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The origins of the conflict are now somewhat foggy in collective memory.
A 1954 ceasefire agreement partitioned Vietnam into a communist north and anti-communist south.
Trapped in the logic of the cold war, the US backed a series of corrupt regimes against the communist-led Vietcong in the south and their allies in the north who sought to reunite the country.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson sent in thousands of air and ground forces in what was initially a popular move.
But as the draft expanded and casualties mounted, public opinion turned against him and anti-war protests erupted against a backdrop of social unrest, racial discord and assassinations.
Bill Zimmerman, an anti-war activist, tells the documentary: “People who supported the war were fond of saying, ‘My country, right or wrong,’ [but protesters didn’t] want to live in a country that we’re going to support whether it’s right or wrong. So we began an era where two groups of Americans, both thinking that they were acting patriotically, went to war with each other.”
I thought then and think now that, for the Vietnamese themselves, better a corrupt regime than a red one.
Come to that, the Vietnamese were better off under the French than under the reds.
And Zimmerman is as delusional now as the organizers of the anti-war movement were at the time.
The hundreds of thousands who marched against the war were far from pro-communist or even anti-war.
They - we - were anti-draft, as became clear when the movement dried up and blew away as soon as the US government stopped using draftees.
They - we - were like Dick Cheney and most of the draft dodgers of the day.
We had other priorities.
As it happened, I ended up serving with the least bold of the draft dodgers with the Army Security Agency for three years.
And as I have written before, I think the US leadership, plutocrats and capitalists dominated by arrogance, terror, and hate in the van, drew our Cold War perimeter way further out than necessary with their "bear any burden, pay any price" nonsense and their blatant lie, all the more shocking for that, that there was nowhere so far away and insignificant that it was not of vital importance - "existential importance" as the liars and fools say now - to America that it not be communist.
It was totally unconvincing from the start that the US would be imperiled in the least way by Ho Chi Minh's successful unification of Vietnam under his communist rule.
The falling dominoes were not even going to include, much less get beyond, all of Southeast Asia.
True, it was also quite clear a communist victory would not be the best outcome for the Vietnamese of the South, any more than Ho's victory over the French had been best for those of the North.
But that was a war that, just as LBJ said early on, should have been fought by Asian boys and not Americans.
Too bad he didn't mean it when he said it.