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The late Harry G. Summers Jr., colonel of infantry and distinguished faculty member of the Army War College, often called people’s attention to the fact that considerable differences in the treatment of the Vietnam War can be seen in the literature published in academia and that published by the veterans who served during the war. Summers also called attention to the fact that veterans’ perspectives differ considerably according to the time frame of their involvement and their role.
The U.S. involvement in the war began in a counterinsurgency role, but soon after the disastrous overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, foolishly encouraged by the Kennedy administration in November 1963, we were involved in trying to hurl back major North Vietnamese Army offensives. The removal and subsequent murder of Diem by South Vietnamese coup leaders resulted in over two years of political and military instability in South Vietnam.
Both President Johnson and President Nixon called this orchestrated regime change one of the biggest mistakes of the war. North Vietnamese leaders could hardly believe their good fortune and responded with a massive escalation of NVA troops, weapons and supplies. The U.S. responded with steadily increasing troop levels, but President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara pursued a policy of timid “graduated response” and refused the requests of the Pacific Area Commander, Admiral Sharp, and the Joint-Chiefs of Staff to bring the full weight of U.S. air and sea power against North Vietnamese strategic targets.
Starting with Ia Drang in 1965 and ending with the heavily mechanized NVA Easter offensive in 1972, the conflict became a more conventional war, but with the U.S. allowing enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam and holding back from its potential to devastate strategic targets in North Vietnam. Admiral Sharp called the latter policy “powder puff” warfare in a U.S. Senate hearing.
President Nixon finally allowed the Air Force and Navy to devastate North Vietnam’s strategic targets in late December 1972, bringing the North Vietnamese to their knees to sign a peace treaty in early 1973. After U.S. withdrawal, however, North Vietnam refreshed with substantial Soviet arms and financing, broke the treaty and launched a major mechanized invasion of South Vietnam and Cambodia.
Moreover, the U.S. Congress failed to honor its obligation under the peace treaty, which required it to support South Vietnam and Cambodia with adequate arms and supplies to resist any renewal of North Vietnamese aggression, leaving South Vietnam and Cambodia at the mercy of Communist invasion and rule.
The abandonment of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to Communist rule resulted in not only a loss of freedom for those peoples but also the loss of roughly 3.5 million lives by slaughter, starvation, drowning and the brutality and disease of concentration camps. Ken Burns’ PBS Series omits or minimizes these and other Communist atrocities.
Besides academics and soldiers, journalists and politicians have also made their contribution to understanding or misunderstanding the Vietnam War. Michael Lind, though a self-described liberal, has also observed the ideological bias of academic writers, noting academia’s still strong connection to the antiwar mythologies of the 1960s.
According to Lind, “For the most part, the academics, journalists, editors and producers who opposed the Vietnam War came from the core constituencies of the post-sixties Democratic Party. As a result, the consensus story that the liberal left told about the Vietnam War in particular and the Cold War in general combined themes from both the northern Protestant progressive tradition and the radical leftist mythology.”
The modern intellectual straitjacket of political correctness has tended to strengthen the pervasiveness of antiwar folklore in American academia and much of the media.
Though it is largely disinformation, it has unfortunately had considerable impact on conventional wisdom about the Vietnam War. The Ken Burns PBS “documentary’ on the Vietnam War was largely a selective view through the lens of leftist mythology. It omitted enormously important facts about the war and its strategies and skewed its interviews to support popular but uninformed leftist mythology.
I listed 23 common myths about the Vietnam War in my 2009 book “Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You.” None of them have a substantial factual or historical basis, but they are still widely believed. Many of them are ideological preconceptions common in the academic and media world. Some are rationalizations. Some are based on twisted half-truths. Many are outright propaganda designed to deceive the American people and advance the causes of the Marxist Left. The Burns PBS series seems to endorse or be influenced by most of them.
The most pervasive myths in the Burns series are:
• The war had no reasonable, just, or moral cause — all easily refuted by the facts.
• The war was unwinnable — demonstrably disproved by the events of 1972.
• Ho Chi Minh was a popular nationalist — absurd in the light of his murderous record.
• Anti-war activists had no connections to Communist front organizations. See Chapter 19 of my book or read Dr. Louis Fanning’s 1976 book, “Betrayal in Vietnam.”
• A Communist victory in Southeast Asia had no significant consequences on the people of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — also absurd in view of mass murders, slaughter, starvation, brutal concentration camps and losses at sea while trying to escape. Even in the early years, the Communists assassinated more than 30,000 South Vietnamese village leaders, school teachers and government officials.
Burns also strongly implied that the antiwar activists were the real heroes of the Vietnam War. This is a complete separation from reality but fits the left-liberal Marxist worldview and agenda fully embraced by Ken Burns and his boosters.
I have received many emails from fellow Vietnam veterans lamenting Burns’ new propaganda series. I wish everyone could read them. However, you can watch a really great 52-minute YouTube video recorded Oct. 3 that features the testimonies of seven members of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, an active group of more than 300 members.
They give brief accounts of their service in the Vietnam War and their analysis of the Ken Burns PBS TV Series on the Vietnam War. Here is the AVVBA YouTube presentation link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeBC7DQoAbY
The Vietnam War was a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It was also a two-front war: the warzone in Southeast Asia and the home front, where leftist organizers and propaganda targeted college campuses, media and cultural spheres of influence, and ultimately Congress.
Ken Burns is still shoveling out the usual Marxist worldview and deceptive mythology. Yet 93 percent of Vietnam veterans are proud of their service in the war, and a majority of them say they would do it again if called upon.
Please watch the AVVBA YouTube presentation and share it.
Mike Scruggs is the author of two books, “The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths” and “Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You,” along with more than 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam and the Middle East.