The Vietnam War. The man can make movies. The story was so engrossing that I kept wishing the episode wouldn’t end. The filmmakers got much of the story right. But the story was told through a liberal-progressive – and deeply anticommunist – lens. Perhaps best exemplified by consistent use of “Viet Cong” to describe the NLF forces in the South, a pejorative slapped on them by the South Vietnamese puppets. I also agree with Nick Turse who wrote Kill Everything that Moves in his critique that Burns minimizes civilian casualties: https://theintercept.com/2017/09/28/the-ken-burns-vietnam-war-documentary-glosses-over-devastating-civilian-toll/
But the film makes a strong anti-war statement. I was surprised for example that they explored the wide-spread practice of “fragging” – enlisted men killing their “superior” officers.
For me it provoked memories of sitting in my kitchen in Berkeley, a college student, my ear glued to KPFA, left-wing radio, which would have the gruesome details of the day’s war. Even though I’d been through the Free Speech Movement which punctured my illusions about liberalism, I was shocked that the U. S. would descend so far into barbarism.
I also recalled the sense of movement, the times they are a changing. The people were in motion. Around the world. In 1968 alone, there was the Tet Offensive, the Cultural Revolution in China, King’s assassination and the insurrection it provoked, Chicago, strikes at Harvard, Columbia, and San Francisco State. A worker-student general strike in France. Half a million plus in antiwar marches in the U. S.
We had the capitalists on the run, and watching them callously abandon Saigon was a revolting yet inspiring sight. The U. S. didn’t just lose the war in Vietnam. The U. S. was humiliated. By the international working class, a body of people we need to re-focus our attention on.
What happened? We — the people’s movement — had so much going for us, but with the exception of Vietnam itself, we failed to consolidate our winnings, to secure our territory. We allowed the divisions among us to re-emerge. My first reaction was to think we blew it. But that’s not a helpful perspective. Sometimes we need to calibrate our perspective. The movement ebbs and flows. We are fighting the most powerful – and well-armed system the world has ever known, international capitalism.
And yet, all that power and all those arms couldn’t defeat a largely barefoot enemy with barely enough to eat. The other thing you get from the film is the sense of how brilliant the North Vietnamese military strategists were – and how utterly incompetent the U. S. generals were, resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths.
The collapse of the Soviet Union has left a deep hole in our strategy. Flawed as it was, it played essential roles in supporting our movement in Vietnam, Cuba, Angola, South Aftica, Nicaragua. Now we have Putin. The Communist Party of the US collapsed with it. The CPUSA was for many years the most effective reform organization in the country, leading fights of the 8 hour day, social security, unemployment insurance, building the unions, and sparking the civil rights movement.
We could start to rebuild the international movement by supporting Venezuela.