Over the past couple of months we've run several articles here on Ken Burns The Vietnam War documentary.
There was no effort to balance the comments, but to regular readers of this blog, you understand muleorations attracts readers of the Duty, Honor and Country persuasion. Who take their patriotism seriously, almost as a religion. Don't make light of Jesus on the cross. Don't in any way disrespect our Flag. And we'll get along.
Among the disciples of my Patriotism religion is Mark Smith aka the Zip. He and I together began collecting reactions on the Burns series from those worthy of our cause to put in the series.
What follows below is the Zipper's final word.
This is long. But there is great meaning in every paragraph. You may want to copy Mark's essay to read it slowly page by page at your leisure.
"So, I sat back to watch The Vietnam War which the media for the most part assured me was a masterpiece. Well folks, with ten years of research to go on the producers missed not only a lot of the truth of the Vietnam (Seems we always forget that this was never, from beginning to end, a one country battlefield) War but in the hour upon hour of footage they missed the true key players in the war. That did not make all they interviewed bad, but the weight went to those who had their loyalties turned from the brethren of war to the anti-war protester.
Every time I hear American bombing in Laos and Cambodia depicted as THE SECRET WAR I want to puke. If that bombing was ever a 'secret' we had some very deaf observers on the scene. I know I rarely agree with the official version of my war, but this was supposed to give us the unvarnished truth.
We were given Frank Snepp the CIA operative who wrote about his experiences and that was fine but where was Infantry/CIA veteran James 'Mule' Parker? He has written extensively and brings to life in his books his transition from a young officer trying to figure it out to someone who went far in figuring it out and shows his observations of those who simply never got it. Mule could have added much to this endeavor, but I fear he would not have followed the assumed story-line that was already set in stone at its inception.
My key question was whether Burns and team would get the true key to winning by asking the question I asked my soldiers from squad to company level as the media and even some of our leadership painted the VC/NVA as jungle supermen;
BACK ON THE BLOCK IF YOU MET A NINETY POUND FIVE-FOOT-TALL ADVERSARY, IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT, WOULD YOU FEAR HIM?
THEN DON'T LET ANYONE PUT FEAR IN YOUR HEART ABOUT THIS MIDGET WITH ONE MONTH OF TRAINING AND FIFTY-FIVE BULLETS TO HIS NAME!!
BURNS NEVER ASKED THE QUESTION AND HE SURE DIDN'T KNOW THE ANSWER.
These are a few of my observations.
During their ten-year research endeavor did it ever dawn on them to interview the fast-dying true warrior class of the war before they were gone? After all, during each year of research more of them died. I have walked my life beside heroes and asked how many of them had been asked to participate and the answer was NONE. Not one of the brethren I served beside came home and then marched against the war. I don't think I was unique in that at all. After all, most of us detested the Hollywood/media elite and college professors/students (much like today) who set themselves up as 'experts' on wars that only the war-fighters can gain any expertise from. Burns even casts 1966-67 as when the 'doubts' about the war surfaced in some facets of the ranks of the military.
Sorry Charlie but that is pure myth on its face, we had no true doubters and for the most part the divisions in those early years, if there were any, came primarily via the racial divides in America not in Vietnam. The documentary, after ten years research, failed to find out that the statement about black soldiers dying at a higher rate than their numbers in society was an outright lie which survives to this day and Burn's does not dispel the myth but reinforces it. The true brotherhood among American soldiers of all races is left unexplored and that this brotherhood survives to this day, wherever veterans gather, gets no coverage from Burns.
Black paratrooper Milton Olive Junior who threw himself on a grenade to save his fellow paratroopers of all races got no coverage in the race relations portion of Burns' 'true history' of our war. Just did not fit the preconceived narrative.
Sergeant Ron 'Remarks' Marks, who played football for Woody Hayes at Ohio State and then went on to star in business is not shown. That he does his daily dialysis while VA denies any chance this may be related to his Vietnam service didn't make Burns' cut even with his Silver Star for gallantry in action. The part where some black soldiers who had fallen for the anti-war line that they should refuse to fight were plotting to kill Sergeant Marks is not in the documentary. Not the right black guy I suppose but a truly heroic story from the war and 'Remarks' was and is one of my own.
When one realizes that the infamous Camp Evans 8, black soldiers who refused to fight, came from our battalion, as did Remarks, what the documentary could have shown, that none other has, was not the divide between blacks and whites or any other races and whites but the divide between the good soldiers and bad soldiers in each ethnic grouping. While the bad soldiers and their complaints about why they would not fight took the limelight the clear majority of good men soldiered on and remain ignored to this day. That is leftist discrimination sir..
For once I wanted someone to say that everything from the racial divide to the dope use in Vietnam were generated straight out of the USA instead of being a symptom of a 'bad war' but this obviously never got through to Burns. After all, dope use in the early years was very ethnic with Hispanic and black soldiers almost exclusively being the users as they were in the USA. It was not until the college campuses became rife with drug use in America did we begin to see dope smoking white boys arrive in Vietnam looking for a cheap high.
I waited for one of the most perfectly executed raids in United States history to be at least mentioned and what the communists thought about Son Tay when American Special Forces appeared in their front yard to take down an empty camp. After all, the claim was they talked to both sides. No such luck with this 'carefully researched' documentary. Captain Dick Meadows the assault element leader on the raid and others involved had been running cross-border operations for years and the marrying up of these experiences to go just outside of Hanoi certainly deserved a piece of the 'well researched' documentary.
We have my fellow Returned POW Ev Alvarez but his participation as one of the earliest POWS and one of the longest held (That undesired distinction belongs to the late Special Forces Colonel Floyd James Thompson) in my view is tainted by the appearance of Colonel(Doctor) Floyd (DOING ANYTHING TO GO HOME EARLY) Kushner. Ten years and you dug up Kushner? Where was tough-nut Sergeant Major Dennis Thompson, US Army Special Forces, whose interactions with his captors are the stuff of legend? Where was Thai Army Special Forces Master Sergeant (Now Colonel Retired) Chicharron Harmane of the Royal Thai Army Special Forces who earned an American Silver Star and Legion of Merit in captivity and then was left for an extra year and a half in jail in North Vietnam. That was until his American brethren realized the man who stole from the communists to help them survive didn't make it out. They raised hell and he and other Thais were released. Call me next time you want some research done because I can do better research than that and I claim no research expertise.
After ten years of research I was waiting for some of the brave American military men and even some civilian women who successfully escaped from the communists. There were 33 successful escapes from communist captivity, most making the point that trying to escape early while still strong is your safest bet. Yet, all did not escape early but still made it out in their debilitated state. Most were those much maligned enlisted-men of the U.S. Army and United States Marine Corps. The myth of the world of Vietnam POWS is that only highly trained pilots did well.
ENDURING TORTURE IS NOT THE TRUE MARK OF THE SUCCESSFUL POW,THOUGH IT SHOULD BE HONORED, BUT HE WHO ESCAPES IS THE TRUE HERO!!
Burns gives us Kushner, but I salute the truly brave who managed to escape not only from the POW camps but many while still on the active battlefield itself. That means while in custody of the premier fighters of the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese. Ike Camacho et al I salute you as the truly heroic few who escaped after long periods of deprivation. I suppose an excuse can be made for Burns because many within our small returned POW community also never knew of these escapes until some of us of the ground fighting forces brought it to their attention.
As for me, I thought of escape with Captain George Want (Distinguished Service Cross) every day of captivity but never got it done. George escaped and evaded for 31 days after the battle of Loc Ninh secretly fed and cared for by Vietnamese villagers. When the enemy finally captured George those young and old villagers paid the ultimate price for helping him. George and I, two captains, couldn't get off our chains and out of our cages/underground dungeon but some from the most junior enlisted ranks accomplished that most pure of POW missions. Doc Kushner and his attempts to get out early would not make a pimple on those brave soul's butts. Their true history demanded to be told but Burns did not get it done.
Where were the names and pictures of those Americans executed in the Viet Cong camps and then bragged about on the communist so-called Voice of Vietnam? Surely all that 'research' turned up these communist war crimes.
Being 'even-handed' should not the ample pictures/film in the archives showing the uncovering of the mass-graves of thousands of Vietnamese civilians murdered in Hue in 1968 been at least given as much coverage as BG Loan whacking that one Viet Cong terrorist? One thing you have to say for the communist executioners, they gave equal opportunity for brutal death to the local village chief and the school mark and her kids.
Burns promised something new but as others have done before he tries to compare the fear filled draft protesters as the moral equivalent to those who did not march for 'peace' or set fire to the university ROTC building but were drafted or volunteered and then fought their butts off. Trying to find moral equivalency there is to insult every fighting son or daughter who ever took up arms to fight under our flag. The same flag a bunch of overpaid football players see no need to get off their butts and pay homage to (Documentary making these scum heroes by Burns is sure to follow).
Nixon of course was the easiest target of all even though from the perspective of myself and many other RPW we owe our freedom and very survival to this man who refused to go the route advocated by some presidential candidates and 'crawl to Hanoi to beg for(our) release.' Nixon just bombed the crap out of them until they quit and no behind the scenes dickering by Henry Kissinger got me home, Nixon did. I for one do not care what Nixon told the South Vietnamese during the two election cycles he participated in if it kept Humphrey and McGovern out of the White House. Had they not have gotten him out of the Oval Office Hanoi would not have mounted any serious threat to The Republic of Vietnam in 1974-75. I was in the enemy camp 1972-73 and Dick Nixon scared Ole Nguyen The NVA to death. Must have missed that part of the documentary and one would not expect some of the peace and love veterans interviewed to mention it. The communists had just as much fear as any American or ARVN ever had but their greatest fears were of any American leader who was determined to kill them without equivocation. The simple words SCREW YOU from an American leader scares foe of our nation more than any super weapon we ever possessed and that includes THE BOMB.
THE MUCH-MALIGNED TRUMP SEEMS TO GET THAT.
America's most highly decorated fighting-man of the Vietnam War was Colonel Robert Lewis Howard of the United States Army. He died in 2009 well within Burns' window of research but he, who one would believe would have topped their list, passed to the other side without being interviewed. Lieutenant Harold 'Pinky' Durham Jr was not available to be interviewed because he died on 17 October 1967 continuing to call fire as our forward observer, though blinded, until he died. Not even an honorable mention in this 'history' but a first team All American to those of us who fought beside him.
WE HAD THEM IN SPADES PAL, BUT THEY AND THEIR GALLANTRY DIDN'T MAKE YOUR 'CUT.'
John Kerry and John McCain are hailed by Burns as heroic for not wishing to be center stage in this documentary. Yet, if the truth were told and the back story revealed it would have shown no universal feelings of respect for either within great portions of the veteran community. Putting aside the issue of those still missing and his actions/lack of action, Senator McCain gained more enemies for not distancing himself from John Kerry than for anything he did or did not do during the war. This same scenario seems to continue being played out as recently as today on CNN.
As I watched I waited for Distinguished Service Cross Recipient Major General Eldon Barge well’s rise from battlefield sergeant to general officer after the war. I waited for insight provided by SGM Billy Waugh about how he flew covey over Eldon as he laid down fire on hundreds of NVA with a communist RPD machine gun as he successfully got his Recon Team out of the Lao border area. Eldon going on to command Delta Force and Billy going on to track down the infamous 'Jackal' were nothing because they did not return and march against the war with John Kerry, I suppose.
'History' as created by the media and those same college professors who sent their students from the classroom to the streets to protest, was not exposed for the many lies it tells until today but simply reinforces those myths in Burn's 'research.' In all this work it never became evident that many lauded as combat soldiers in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War were pretenders and had not actually fought if they were in the military at all? For every veteran that came back whining there were thousands who went again and fought or simply got out, went to work and seethed every-time they saw those camouflaged pretenders on the TV news. Burns gave them the opportunity to seethe again.
Burns comes in for high praise for his feel for history in his documentaries but true students of the genres he portrays look on his so-called 'even-handedness' as little more than a veil to shroud his true intent to portray his own leftist version of events by creating his own 'heroes' while continuing the highly touted leftist myths about EVERYTHING and that includes his 'true history' The Vietnam War.
Sure, he puts in a backhanded homage to a handful of heroes, but he never loses sight of his opinion that the true heroes were a misguided America's enemies. 'Uncle Ho' the venal old communist comes off as not only smart but a true nationalist merely using communists because he needed allies when American presidents did not honor his 'true dedication' to our own values.
Ho had studied communism and worked for worldwide revolution before he even left his privileged upbringing and used nationalism as his venal stalking horse. In other words, Ho perpetrated the myth of pure patriotic nationalist and Burns enhances it to the max instead of exposing it as the lie it always was. After all Ho became a communist in 1919 and surely somewhere in the ten years of research this should have become evident. Ho wanted free elections? He killed and jailed 500,000 of his non-communist allies and adversaries simply to keep them from opposing a one-party state.
That systematic torture of Americans in Hanoi prisons, for the most part, stopped the day the cruel and inhumane Ho died was not mentioned. Life remained terrible in the camps and there was still some torture but most POWS thank God for the day he sent the godless 'Uncle Ho' to hell. I was waiting for a mention and perhaps an interview with the Cubans who tortured and even killed Americans in the North Vietnamese prisons. Then again, that would not have even been a consideration as our last leader did everything to make the Cuban communists appear human. How could a few war criminals be allowed to derail that leftist train?
The mythology of American troops systematically murdering and raping civilians while pillaging and burning their homes was a long-held myth where aberrations became general behavior, as depicted in the press, was not dispelled by Burns but reinforced. When cornered for facts and reminded that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes 'I saw' suddenly becomes 'I heard' but believe me Burn's draws out no such distinctions and allows the 'war stories' and myths to prevail.
Neither General Westmoreland nor General Abrams were tolerant of such actions. The American military punished the virtual handful of soldiers who were known to have committed crimes and atrocities against the Vietnamese people, but Burns tries to 'evenhandedly' equate our actions and reactions to the communists. There are very big differences in that our leadership specifically ordered that no such crimes would be tolerated while the NVA/VC leadership directly ordered these crimes be committed.
Refusal to dig deeper and find out what it took to move entire villages from their native soil into strategic hamlets is never truly explored by Burns. Good enough to show a burning village and an assumption is left hanging that we then murdered the inhabitants. Nothing could be further from the truth. No populated village or town was a 'Free Fire Zone' as too many have claimed. Many Americans and South Vietnamese soldiers died because we were so careful while fighting in urban areas, it was the NVA that shelled every town with rockets and mortars, including Saigon itself. To state otherwise is to simply lie.
In the jungle and deserted villages where only the enemy could lurk?
Be it with napalm or a Zippo lighter, BURN BABY BURN, and that is no crime in any international law book. If rural inhabitants were moved from contested areas to Strategic Hamlets of course we left nothing there for the enemy to inhabit or use. One famous footage of a fighter dropping napalm on houses, shown again and again, was one such village after the people left. The desecration of graves, especially those of relatives related to South Vietnamese soldiers or graves of Vietnamese soldiers themselves, was routinely carried out by the communists during and certainly after the war.
American and Vietnamese successful work to kill, capture or turn to our side the Viet Cong infrastructure in every town and village is depicted as assassination/murder project? Look up spy in any international legal book and it is evident their rights to live are extremely limited.
The infrastructure was the backbone of the insurgency and the terrorist link to the Vietnamese people whom in most cases did not support them but merely feared them. It was not the failure of this program the political left in America hated but the unbridled success it enjoyed. The average farmer loved it because he, above all others, knew they were the clandestine 'draft board' that would come for his sons and daughters to be marched into the jungle never to be seen again.
Where was Bu Dope and the historical documents of how the VC/NVA mortared the Montagnard’s and then came in with Chinese flamethrowers and burned them to death in the bunkers beneath their homes? Senator Percy even flew in to visit them before he went squishy on the war. Maybe that file was lost in the historical shuffle. Our enemy was a mentally captured individual willing to not merely engage us on the battlefield but to murder his own people young and old.
The communists started the myth that Ho and Giap did not support the 1968 Tet Offensive and thus absolved them of any guilt for the massive battlefield defeat they suffered. The venal Ho is depicted by communist propaganda 'history' as a mere figurehead after 1960 even as his direct participation in operational planning and certainly the torture of American and allied POWS continued until he died. Not to worry because even if the communists had not done that Burns and his ilk would have done it for them. After all, go to any college campus today and find out that Ho and Giap were geniuses and American presidents and our generals were either incompetent or just dupes. Except for JFK of course and they will find the one tape of him expressing doubts about Vietnam instead of his being in love with the shadowy dark arts required to combat any insurgency. Special Forces and counter-insurgency would have remained a disdained backwater of war without JFK. Not a detractor or 'Doubting Thomas' but the foremost supporter of the idea. It was not named John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School for nothing. Yom Jack, thanks for making the Green Beret legal--End of story.
During all the laudatory stuff about the NVA I waited for our allies to be presented in an honorable light. They were there fighting before we arrived and when we were down to only a handful of Americans plus air support the Vietnamese fought and died in major battles and held in most cases. Loc Ninh/An Loc was classic tank/infantry warfare the likes of which had not been seen since at least the Chinese intervention in Korea and probably World War Two. No mention of how in 1975 two of the Vietnamese commanders there chose suicide rather than surrender in the Mekong Delta. Not enough of a gotcha moment for Burns I guess.
The true story of the Vietnam War was that for too long we tried to fight an insurgency as a conventional war instead of using the tools we had acquired since our own Revolutionary War to get down and dirty with them and defeat them in their very own brutal and dirty ways. Initially our very best officers and sergeants served in American combat units and not until 1969 was there a wholesale movement of our very best into the advisory ranks. Burns once again moves us to a place that says even a 'united America' cannot defeat some enemies. He ignores the slavery that truly is communist/socialist thought and finds a middle ground of cowardice which preserves the myth that these systems somehow assist the little man who is being enslaved.
Burn's included BG Loan blowing the communist terrorist's, who had just been murdering the office workers in National Police Headquarters, brains out but did he interview any of the surviving staff who wanted the terrorist dead more than Loan did? Did he make the point that the terrorist (not even a guerrilla) had no rights under established rules and protocols of war? Of course, he didn't. That would not fit the 'bad war' narrative.
Sure, Burns puts some truth in his documentary but rather than praise him may we never forget that the venalest of propaganda cannot succeed without kernels of truth spread conveniently among the lies. 2,700,000+ Americans served in country in the military during the Vietnam War. Burns interviewed only a couple hundred during his ten years of research and only one hundred were even filmed with fifty-nine making his final cut (That selection process should be studied by every so-called scholar). All the heroism and brotherhood we saw daily does not make the cut in Burns' depiction of our war. That we do not call 'history' but simply a carefully shaped propaganda piece.
I served in Vietnam as an NCO and as an officer during every year of direct United States Army participation in the war and the bent of what Burns' depicted, overall, was not the war I fought.
I recall the great amazement I had as I progressed up through the ranks at how my assumptions, in many cases, changed simply because I had more direct access to simple data and fewer of my decisions and the thinking process itself were based on speculation rather than hard facts.
For most of this I place the blame on the officer corps playing 'I know a secret and can't tell you' for creating a schoolyard attitude which many times had no place in adult company. In other words, the user (in most cases the junior officer and enlisted fighting-man) could literally die as cabals of different breeds of officer played brinkmanship with brother officers outside the select grouping. What this does to the researcher is to give him a tendency to cherry-pick his sources based on group acceptability rather than simply on the cold hard facts of combat. Burns takes advantage of this problem by feeding his own personal agenda versus true history. This gives the soldiers of today and future soldiers few true historical examples to hang their hat on. It is not being 'even-handed' if you allow to stand long proven lies even if you give an opposing argument some air time. That in no way blows the myths of war into smithereens but simply perpetuates them.
Some with built-in desires to be the 'experts' on war appear again and again in every documentary or made for TV movie about the Vietnam War and seem to feel a need to defend what they have previously said or wrote in the very face of brightly burning truths. Researchers tend to go to after-action-reports as the gospel. Many either do not realize or simply don't care that taking as the gospel official after-action-reports sometimes is a minefield because only the most honorable ever write 'Lord I screwed that one up.' A real unprejudiced researcher bent on truth no matter where that truth falls will look further than the official version.
The role the media played was not honestly depicted as how it was then any more than it is honestly depicted today. Burns gives Cronkite et al a level of expertise none of them have ever possessed. One good parallel could be drawn to today had Burns cared to go there. The Vietnam War and the allied participants fell victim to an American media desire to call the tune and when they tired of telling the same winning stories they made up their own if nothing bad was available. For Uncle Walter Cronkite to make the unlearned statements he made in 1968 during and after Tet did not show his expertise but simply his ignorance of the war we were fighting. You know, the one you couldn't see from the terrace bar at the Caravels Hotel in Saigon.
Freelance journalists were the true old school 'war correspondents' during Vietnam and how their stories and even their photos/film were too many times misrepresented will remain one of the untold bits of 'history' Burns neglects to tell.' This most recent election and its ongoing aftermath continue to show how indignant the Main Stream Media(MSM) can become when the chosen 'cover story' does not play out as they planned. This didn't start yesterday they just got used to their bull being believed all during the Vietnam War and Burns' documentary is nothing more than a symptom they have not given up what is described today as 'Fake News' which originated back then. After all, HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE THE MEDIA WHORE SCORNED FOR PORTRAYING ITSELF A VIRGIN.
A test easy to make on veracity of RPW would be to simply read the book Survivors: The Vietnam POWS (P.o.w.s) Tell Their Stories by Zalin Grant. This book singles out Marine Private Garwood (Who became our entity who was virtually crucified and paid for all our sins) as our only truly 'bad guy.' Others could commit various violations of the Code of Conduct and the UCMJ but 'Not like Garwood' became the refrain for all other sinners of the genre. After reading the book then read the nuances of speech adapted by Doc Kushner and some others as the years rolled on and America came to love the true warriors again and they 'came in from the cold.'. Few today justify their collaboration in that terrible place and later in Hanoi by simply stating 'I was anti-war' because frankly you are not allowed to be 'anti-war (Read Anti-American Government)' in the enemy camp. Thus, Burns treats us to Doc Kushner droning on about his captivity and the retired colonel doctor is never called to task for his own failures of leadership and just self-thinking in the enemy camp. After all, he was a doctor so who cares? I care that CAPTAIN Kushner of the UNITED STATES ARMY did not live up to the oath he took as a commissioned officer. Command in his camp was given up to the strongest enlisted man and that was a failure of leadership rarely ever seen in American military history. A true 'History of The Vietnam War' may someday take an honest and hard look at this case but Burns does not. This is not written to defend any actions Garwood took but to simply point out that some of the other 'POW History' is contrived and has been since 1973.
GARWOOD, THE PRIVATE, IS OUR CRUCIFIED HISTORICAL PERSON, AND ALL OTHERS GET A PASS FOR WEAKNESS AND COLLABORATION REGARDLESS OF THEIR RANK.
This allowed the regular officer and enlisted propaganda readers and writers to get a pass and be 'heroes.' Burns does not care to cover in detail how we went after some of the worst in 1973-74 but the government sanctified all except Garwood, of course. Oops, a couple of senior officers got a letter put in their file for working with our enemy against orders and our government. Yep, if you rolled that paper up and stuck it in their eye was the only way you could really have harmed them with it. What the heck, memorizing their names gave me something to do while in my underground dungeon in Cambodia and I could think of attending their hanging after we returned for some humor for myself. Where was the part in Burns' 'history' where other POWS asked to stay in Vietnam to 'work for peace' but the communists sent them home anyway? Guess all that research missed that one.
I am a Returned American Prisoner of War(RPW) from the jungle and I am not Floyd Kushner and I despise he represented my United States Army and our shared POW experience in Burns' flick. He suffered and that can be said for most all, but most did not read propaganda to others and military law specifically makes seeking 'parole or special favors' a crime. That law applies to all, even doctors.
Mostly, as a soldier, I hate the fact that my fellow Americans and our allies in battle, who were the true heroes of that endeavor, were virtually ignored. They deserved more in any TRUE HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR.
MISTER BURNS, ANOTHER SHODDY PERFORMANCE!!"