Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War

So I dragged my husband into watching the documentary that I knew by far outdid the million dollar Game of Thrones S7 (by taking his television, so he had no choice but joining me). Kidding, he was into it.

I never really could digest a part of my history lessons much as I actually graduated high school with some sorts of A passing grade. I also studied some English sources for my TOEFL class about some 11 years ago lol, but I barely understood what was written there. For a great long period of my life, I was so convinced that the communist party was full of lies and bullshits that I didn’t bother myself reading any ‘approved’ source. I tried to get some perspective of the ‘enemies’ and so I did some reading about Ngo Dinh Diem and his government, and then Thieu-Ky. So this documentary gave me more understanding of the communists’ perspective of war than that of the opponent(s), for which I sadly blame my poor understanding of ‘textbook’ history.

My stance: post war generation, born in the twilight of communism, in the mid of Doi Moi, raised and educated in North Vietnam. No-one in my family went into the battlefield (except for my dad, who served in Cambodia from 1976 to 1981).

A ‘liberal’ view of the Vietnam war?

If you would watch it, the documentary clearly hates South Vietnam and I totally can’t get over it. The authors portray Ngo Dinh Diem and his family a corrupted, monstrous and insane government but this could have been the best government we’ve ever had if it had lasted a bit longer. I feel sad for the Ngo brothers because the U.S. simply robbed their way out into Vietnam by killing them off and calling it a ‘coup d’état’, just how they bombed the hell out of our country and called it a ‘civil war’ (??). It’s upsetting seeing Diem and Nhu being sandwiched in the glorification of the U.S. army and the communists. Their legacy is literally nothing but scattered documents on the net and books that are off the market.

It was even sadder for the Thieu-Ky era but I don’t really feel sorry for the government because Thieu left no impression on me as I read about him, just very calculative and cunning and full of lies. The sad thing is that they got betrayed by the strong guy America who is now busy glorifying himself  for ‘dropping it (withdrawing army) at the right time’. Lots of people praise the series as a ‘liberal’ view of the Vietnam war, but where’s justice for South Vietnam governments? ( The Thieu-Ky government was totally a puppet government that’s all I don’t raise my voice to get them back ever, but the communist party also welcomes the Chinese people so ok it’s equal:) )

De-glorification of war

I guess all advisors (interviewees) in the documentary and all of us have come to agree that the idea of wars is just terrible. A few veterans from the winning side did take some pride in it, but in the end it’s gone back to a sad reality that millions sacrifice their lives for a much naked aka stupid but glorified cause. Some called it patriotism, some call it bravery, but in the end, everyone was, at least in some or most of the time, admitted standing for their own survival: ‘if I didn’t shoot him, he’d shoot me me so I shot him.’ simple as that. The governments send men to the battle to protect their own political interest, and well it doesn’t matter which side you’re fighting for you’re just one of those poor men. My friend once asked me if I saw any difference going to war for the strong one (U.S) than as the weak one (VC) since they may view it from different angles and I said no. Those that benefit from the wars are generals, as I remember some diplomat advisor in the movie said.

The battlefield became more dreadful day by day along the escalation of war, but what seems scarier to me was men volunteering for war for what they called ‘patriotism’.  How scary is war propaganda.

What was Uncle Ho’s say in the war?

It was somewhat shown in the movie that Le Duan is the sole architect of the whole anti-America war. Well, he died 3 years before I was born so I have no idea if my fathers and mothers mourned for him as much as our generation did when General Giap died a few years ago. Clearly I knew Le Duan before, and I heard stories about him but due to my lack of attention I’d never really seen him as, well, big, as how he was portrayed in the movie. He was named the man behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident (which remains a myth to date?), and all those scary propagandas that brought millions of men and women to the battlefield thinking they were fighting out of patriotism, and well pretty much everything.

Uncle Ho was just the least selfish patriotic, who didn’t do things in his own interest. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t so favoured. If I were ever to meet Uncle Ho, I would ask him what his stand was, about the Vietnam war and the whole thing. Did he even have a say while it happened? My dad never really talked about the war and he tended to keep me away from such curiosity, but I believe men in his generation tend to do the same. No one wants to get into trouble, or see their children get into trouble.

When you tend to generalise the communist party, you tend to include the ones that just happen to be in it. Both my dad and my mom are members of the communist party, but trust me we don’t call ourselves communists.

Chest thumping America?

I don’t know how people in a third country feels watching this movie (like my husband), but I’m curious about the reaction of people growing up in a country that is deemed an American ally. Now that I’m living in peace, I can’t raise my voice about anything, but again I feel sad for Thieu-Ky and the people of South Vietnam for how the U.S government abandoned them and walked away with their promises. Promised so much but failed to deliver; in the end managed to glorify their ‘hand-washing’ by some bullshit called ‘Vietnamization’. U.S. allies, remember, that can happen to you.

The directors were ordered a movie that’ll make America look good. Blame everything on the aggressive Republican presidents. But chest-thumping America? No. The American people should feel ashamed that their governments were full of lies and never took responsibility.

War deserter

I have ambiguous feelings on how they put war deserters in the movie. It’s a tough decision to make, but would you go to a stupid war? No then run away to somewhere else so that you won’t hear people calling you cowards and selfish sons of bitches. Yes then prepare to die for some stupid reasons. Thing is, even some of the smartest, most elite people I know would choose to go, even though they are so aware that wars are stupid. There is always a blurred line between patriotism and political propaganda. That’s a tough decision for me even in my imagination.

When the oil rig of China was set up in our waters a few years ago, lots of my friends (on Facebook) were hyped and swore they’d fight off the Chinese at all costs. I don’t know if these people would keep their spirits up ever when they have to make real decisions, but a few days later when news of the oil rig died down (not naturally of course), they returned to their usual selves of selfies and daily dramas. At that time, maybe due to media coverage and people talking on social media, it felt like a war was really coming. That, and the violent protests following the Formosa spill incident, were times I felt so desperate and I believed lotsss of my friends felt the same. It was proof that our people remained so innocent, quick-tempered, sensitive, fragile, and hence so easily ‘used’. Forget all the delusions we were fed everyday, Vietnam is just that poor third-world country waiting to be ‘used’.

End note: I never see myself as understanding even a bit of war. Not do I see my family a part of it. I realise that both my mom and dad were born into privileged families that managed to stay back from the gunfire. My dad happens to be the only one in the family that was sent to a battlefield. I and my brother and all our friends were born in a middle-class family with full of degrees and certificates to back up our reasons to stay out of any war. What is our say then? We may be wailing for the dead people, but in the end, we never feel their pain.

I still have a lot of reading to do though 🙂


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