Ken Burns’ Vietnam series

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I watched the first installment of this last night.  There is another tonight.  IMO this is an exceptional piece of work that will probably  become the base line of understanding of "what happened."  I, nevertheless reserve the right to argue over their interpretation of events, or yours.  pl

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84 Responses to Ken Burns’ Vietnam series

  1. SR Wood says:

    I watched the first part but don’t know if I will watch the parts from ’65 on. I was in the military during the mid 60’s and it will probably bring back to many bad memories and I was not even in Viet Nam. I can’t imagine watching and having served as a combatant during that time.

  2. LeaNder says:

    Noticed it was broadcast on the French/German channel Arte yesterday. Missed it. But that’s no problem. Will be available for a while. Appreciate your recommendation. Never mind I would I have watched it anyway. 😉

  3. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    I hadn’t been planning to watch it however we had a couple of long-time friends over for dinner last evening and they and SWMBO wanted to see it so . . Anyway, I was more impressed than I expected to be with that first episode. Burn’s take on the back story leading up to the conflict seemed to map pretty closely to the understanding of it I had based on reading a considerable amount of reading about it over the years. I have no pertinent personal experience of the matter, however.

  4. LeaNder says:

    Pat, I understand that the Vietnam War is at the roots of your problems with with us boomers. Burns: Highly decorated and successful and productive anyway.
    On Arte (yesterday) after two installments it was followed by Apocalypse Now Redux, by the way.

  5. turcopolier says:

    It was much more even handed than I had expected. Was it broadcast in the UK and Canada as well? I would not think that this view of the “backstory?” would be popular in France as much of the blame for Vietnam’s travail is placed on French colonialism, and as much of a Francophile as I am, I must agree that although the French built a lot of human and physical infrastructure in the country their insistence on re-occupying the country after WW2 was a terrible mistake, compounded by British facilitation of that re-occupation. BTW, not a good idea to think of the pre-US War history on Indochina as “backstory,” History is a continuum. At that point before 1947 Britain had not really accepted the end of empire and the French were kindred spirits. It seems clear to me that the US missed a massive opportunity to befriend Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh just after WW2, but Truman and what I call the Borg were then caught up in the business of resisting the spread of what they saw as onrushing world Communism. From that focus came the decision to back the French against the Vietnamese revolutionaries. Europe dominated American thinking and Indochina was small potatoes by comparison and the communist character of the Viet Minh was an obstacle to clear thinking although the communist nature of Yugoslavia had not been a problem for the US. The picture thus far given of American policy decision making is that of a series of mistakes,one leading to another. Someone on SST suggested that a desire to contain China was the motivator for US policy. IMO that is incorrect. It was fear of COMMUNIST expansionism that was the motivation in east Asia, Europe and Latin America. pl

  6. turcopolier says:

    “Apocalypse Now” in any of its versions should be thought of as a modernized interpretation of the Joseph Conrad story “The Heart of Darkness” not as history. pl

  7. I followed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu day by day in the Philadelphia Inquirer, much to my eventual dismay.
    I would say that the course, in regard to Indo-China, taken by the makers of American policy from 1945 to Ngo Dinh Diem’s consolidation of power in South Viet Nam was clearly wrong. However, given the situation in Europe and the experience and world -outlook of those men, it was inevitable that they chose the path they did.

  8. LondonBob says:

    It will be on BBC Four on the 25 September here in Britain.
    His civil war one was very good, that said ‘The Old Negro Space Program’ is a very funny satire of his style.

  9. LeaNder says:

    I agree.

  10. 505thPIR says:

    It was broadcast in Canada.

  11. BillWade says:

    My wife and I met a lovely French woman about our ages in Hua Hin, Thailand 2 years ago. She had been to Dien Bien Phu where her father had died. She had hurriedly left Vietnam and finished up her vacation in Thailand. She left there because, in her words, she felt hated, it was palpable. Although I have no desire to go back there (I do spend time in Thailand, Indonesia, etc..) I understand returning American GIs are treated well are considered formidable but decent adversaries.
    I used to know a lot of Laotian Royal AF guys and NorthEast Thailand police/military and thought I got from them was “wherever the French go, things turn to sh&t & they take everything that isn’t nailed down while the Americans were generous”. Personally, I have pleasant memories of every French person I’ve met over the years. On the flip side, nobody hates the Viets more than the Thais. There’s tons of history behind Ho Chi Minh and Sakhon Nakhon Thailand

  12. turcopolier says:

    In the past we have been able to afford to give things away with both hands. France was never in a position to do that. I don’t think the history of France in Indochina has anything to do with the character of the French people. During the war I asked my counterpart VN SOF officer, (A LTC) who he liked better, us or the French. He quickly said “the French.” “You expect too much of us,” he said. “You expect us to be just like you, but we are not like you and will not be. The French treated us as children, but as beloved children.” He had been a paratroop officer in the 5th Vietnamese Paratroop Battalion in the French colonial army. pl

  13. mongo says:

    Hello Sir,
    I’ll have to give it a look… I haven’t sat down to watch a documentary on the subject since The Ten Thousand Day War in my high school years. Any thoughts from the group on how the two compare (at least so far)?
    I think that it’s only on PBS right now, but that’s accessible from Canada as most of us live close enough to the border to get a channel or two. It will also be available via streaming.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Never saw “The Ten Thousand Day War.” pl

  15. kooshy says:

    Colonel, i believe this same anti Communist thinking in US ( which was taken advantage of, by the US’ now protected european colonists/allies ) what shaped the 1953 coup in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to US Saleh (based on his memoir) at the time was directly told so in DOS. Somehow Brits had convinced US communist were going to take over.

  16. kao_hsien_chih says:

    That is an interesting perspective on “imperialism,” what to expect and what not to expect from “colonial subjects.” Although, to be fair, plenty of our “colonial subjects” did in fact want to be “just like us,” as my own family and countless others can attest to. Still, it is too much to expect that it would apply to everyone, however.
    An odd reaction that I had to the VN officer’s characterization is that that might explain why Japanese made such lousy imperialists: they expected Koreans to be just like Japanese on matters where their worldviews were radically different, while they treated Koreans as completely different where they would have been very much alike. I do wonder if we are making the same mistake in today’s “multiculturalism” infected age.

  17. turcopolier says:

    In my experience most of the 3rd world “partners” did not want to be like us. pl

  18. Oilman2 says:

    I’ll try and watch this one, as I enjoyed Foote and Burns Civil War a lot. I missed the draft by a mere 6 months, so Viet Nam was what I grew up with – many of my friends older brothers went and several never came back.
    I agree that most 3rd world folks don’t want to be like us, but they would all like to have the standard of living we have enjoyed for so very long. That, if anything, is what seems to turn others towards emulating anything American. Yet this emulation is declining across the world from where I sit.

  19. BillWade says:

    My opinion of the French is quite high, especially after visiting an orphanage in Lyon that mainly cared for orphaned Laotian kids, it’s an experience I’ll always cherish. I can’t say I have the same opinion of the Vietnamese.

  20. rjh says:

    Recent diplomatic document disclosures indicate that you are correct about the strategic fear, and the particular fear was that loss of Indochina would destabilize the rather fragile French government and lead to internal problems in France that could lead to loss of control of Germany, and thus communist expansion in Europe. The French diplomats pushed this story very hard to anyone that would listen in the US.

  21. The Porkchop Express says:

    I saw it last night as well. Wasn’t alive during the conflict, but I felt the same. Was expecting something more ideological and instead was pleasantly surprised. The failure to understand HCM’s nationalist side consumed him far more than his adherence to ideological communism was a massive mistake on our part. I’m glad they mentioned his recitation of Jefferson, too.
    In other news, the SAA has started crossing the Euphrates.

  22. turcopolier says:

    I visited a creche in Bethlehem run by French nuns for little kids most of whom had been born to Muslims and then abandoned in dumpsters, on the steps of the creche, or on the street.. Their parents typically did not want girls or children with birth defects. There were little classes of two year olds, three year olds, etc. The nuns asked me to sit on the floor and hold them which I was glad to do. Vive la France. The nuns were not seeking adoption for the kids. They wanted them to grow up in their own country. pl

  23. Ramojus says:

    I’m wondering your opinion regarding how the Burns / Novick series compares to “Vietnam: A Television History” from 2004 (PBS “American Experience”?).
    Perhaps a worthy subject post when the ten episodes conclude.

  24. turcopolier says:

    Apparently you have not been reading this post. pl

  25. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    I fully agree that history is a continuum. Or perhaps as Churchill once put it, “History is one damned thing after another.”
    When I used the term “backstory” in my previous comment I was doing so in the context of the assumption that the main thrust of Burns’s narrative will be on the period of intensive involvement of larger size USA combat units. Anyone who seeks to tell a history-based story has to decide where to start, and how much he or she needs to tell about what went on prior to the “main event.” For an American public that barely knows its own history nor pays much attention to current world events the undeclared war began in earnest in 1965 when President Johnson began sending combat units of battalion size and larger. There were less than one thousand war-related deaths of USA military personnel in Vietnam through the end of 1964 and, tragic as those losses were for the individuals and families involved were, if Johnson or one of his predecessors had decided not to commit major forces to the country there would have been no Vietnam war as we in the USA know it, and thus no Ken Burns documentary series.
    I also agree that the USA’s failure to respond positively to Ho Chi Minh’s reach-out at the end of World War II was a tragic miscue. However given the Zeitgeist of the time and the recently sworn in President Truman’s inexperience it’s hard to see how the decision could have gone otherwise, unless President Roosevelt had lived out most of his fourth term. He was far more foresightful in seeing that overt colonialism had reached its sell-by date than his successor was, and if he had lived and retained the level of health he’d had through most of 1943 he might have been able to pull it off. Another of history’s What Might Have Beens.

  26. dilbert dogbert says:

    An old friend, who was a air force pilot at the end of WW2, helped fly in French troops back into Vietnam. A friend long gone, who after the war flew for Pan Am.
    As I have noted before, I spent a short time in Vietnam (May/June 1967) viewing battle damaged M113s. The team was to document the types of damage and report back to the Army.
    I posted my photos of Saigon on my facebook page as a public album. A bit of hunting may find them.
    All of my photos of battle damaged vehicles were given to the company I worked for.
    M113s were not designed for Vietnam. They were part of our response to the cold war. The design criteria was for resistance to 50cal and 35mm frag simulators. They sure as hell were not resistant to RPGs. The gas powered early versions were flamers. The diesel M113A1 helped a bit.
    They were not designed to be mine resistant. That was very evident from what I saw in the damaged vehicles.

  27. rjj says:

    there is a choice of several versions (broadcast, explicit language, and two foreign languages) at
    may be restricted to viewers with US IP addresses. There is a way around these restrictions for the bold and the reckless. Google can help with that.
    Also … for a v. fuzzy version of Ten Thousand Day War

  28. howard nyc says:

    I’m looking forward to the Burns treatment of the history of the war. Now I am looking forward even more, at the prospect of reading more reactions to the series from you guys who were there. I just missed being draftable/old enough (turned 60 this year), but otherwise grew up with the war, with friends older brothers going, like Oilman2 above.

  29. kao_hsien_chih says:

    No disagreement here. Most people who do want to be like “us” become “us,” while those who do not become “us” don’t because they don’t want to be us, and that accounts for most people who are still there, wherever “there” is, as I see it.

  30. turcopolier says:

    Baloney. The unwillingness to be “us” fights us every day in these wars. pl

  31. ked says:

    Agreed, though I was quite alive & paying attention at the time. And a perspective informed by experience of a military brat whose Dad made it through WWII, Korea & the Cuban Revolution in Havana (alternative posting: Saigon!). How do we reconcile our pragmatism vs Exceptionalism ideology? I guess I’m going to have to read the recent treatments of the Dulles Bros as a lens into the transition from our Depression to Victory to Suppression (first of others, now of ourselves). Maybe I’ll just watch The Ugly American again. Damn… Imperialism is a burden.
    I liked Gelb’s pov (& a bit surprised by it … does old age unleash candor?). I noted that informed, insightful (& on-site!) experts back in the day were mostly ignored, while power-players back here were gaming their way to (more) power (& riches?). Nahhhh … that doesn’t happen much. A nice feature of the first episode I was attention paid to NVN politics, soldiers & their home-front. As to the inhuman behavior of one side and the other… seems there’s enough guilt for everyone (though not necessarily symmetrical). After all, badness is in humans.

  32. The Porkchop Express says:

    David Talbot’s “The Devil’s Chessboard” was a neat little history/autobiography with respect to the Dulles’ impact on our FP post WWII. Good book, if you have the free time to read it.
    One of the marines in the doc did say that or something to the effect that joining the military isn’t what turns you into a mindless killer, it’s just finishing school for it. Human nature writ large.

  33. turcopolier says:

    The second episode was equally satisfying. It strikes me that the French effort to re-occupy Vietnam resulted in something very like what would have happened if the US had reneged on its promise to the Filipinos to grant independence in 1947. We left on the 4th of July. that was a very good move because a communist led revolution was brewing in the wings in the form of the Huks, It took several years for the new Phillippine government to suppress that revolt. The best line IMO in last night’s episode was someone who sad ruefully that “we were an exception to history.” meaning that people would understand how good our intentions were because we were so special and that people should accept our breaking of crockery in a good cause. That was clearly the underlying attitude in VN and for many Americans it still is. pl

  34. turcopolier says:

    Anothre interesting moment in the episode last night was the reading of an excerpt from JFK’s journal. In the month he was murdered he wrote that 47 US servicemen had been killed in VN and that he could not withdraw because the American people would not accept the meaningless loss of life and would not re-elect him. Within a few years we were losing over 200 killed a week. pl

  35. turcopolier says:

    Some years ago Mike and I had an intense exchange as to whether or not the Philippines Campaign of 1944-45 had been necessary. He argued that the essentially naval campaign route through the central Pacific Ocean would have led (as it did in the event) to the Marianas bases from which Japan was bombed into submission with conventional and nuclear weapons and that the at least half million deaths in the Philippines could have been avoided thereby. I have come around to his point of view especially considering that the US did not intend to retain the Philippines post war and that the decision to allow MacArthur to invade the islands was made by FDR under an implicit threat made by MacArthur and his supporters to run the general for president against FDR in 1944. Some things never change. FDR – 1944, JFK – 1963 pl

  36. Fred says:

    “…and thus no Ken Burns documentary series.”
    No anti-war marches, no Tom Hayden, no Jane Fonda, probably no Bill Clinton either. Lots of things would have been different. Perhaps there would even still be a democratic South Vietnam.

  37. Eric Newhill says:

    Skipping the invasion of the Philippines would have also meant skipping the campaign in the Palaus; meaning the Pelelieu battle would not have happened. A good turn of events for the 1st Marine Div.
    That said, the Japanese were rather infamously homicidal. As the home islands were bombed and defeat looked more inevitable, I can imagine the Japanese murdering all allied military and civilian prisoners on the Philippines; as well most likely becoming more brutal to the non-POW Philippinos. The loss of life may have ultimately been equal to what occurred. IMO, the POWs alone were worth sparing if there was a risk of Japanese retribution. They were dying at a high rate from abuse even without full on retribution.

  38. turcopolier says:

    Eric Newhill
    In fact, US PWs in Japan were not massacred as defeat aproached. I remeber one former American PW in Japan who told me that he had the odd experience of having the sergeant in charge of the guard detail guarding him and his comrades surrender to him after learning of the emperor’s surrender. In SE Asia and Korea Japanese troops meekly surrendered to allied troops after Japan’s acceptance of defeat. Col Aaron Bank (then with OSS) received the surrender of a Japanese infantry regiment near Danang. The colonel of the regiment asked that he accept his sword so as to safeguard it. It was a family heirloom. pl

  39. Eric Newhill says:

    Yes Sir, in retrospect, the Japanese did not massacre prisoners upon defeat.
    McArthur’s promise to “return” no doubt did influence his drive to do so. I don’t doubt the scuttlebutt regarding his threat to FDR either. He seems like the kind of ego that would do that. I’m merely suggesting that there were also some very valid reasons to invade the Philippines that happened to coincide with McArthur’s personal desires.
    I would argue that Japanese behavior up to that point certainly left the potential for mass killings of POWs and civilians to appear to be a very real potential that had to be considered seriously. They were, in fact, quite vicious to the Filppinos when the invasion of the islands took place. I think it is said that 130,000 + died due to war crimes committed by the Japanese. We all know what they did to the Chinese and, of course, the Bataan Death March. POWS were executed and starved to death during the war.

  40. Walrus says:

    The japanese did murder internees and POWs when they became inconvenient. At Kavieng in New Britain in 1944 they murdered some twenty three internees, priests and planters right down to a twelve year old boy when it appeared that the japanese would have to retreat.
    My father tracked the bastards who did it down and ensured one was hanged and others received long prison sentences just before Allied war crimes investigations were scaled back in 1948 in favor of our rehabilitating Japan as a bulwark against communism. Many japanese war crimes are still unavenged.

  41. turcopolier says:

    I don’t disagree with any of that, but the question is one of what the greater good would have been. pl

  42. Hood Canal Gardner says:

    FWIW all above ..In 60/61 I was posted to the Ed Center @ Ft MacArthur in San Pedro trying/helping cadre to get “ed papered-up.” More that one US/RA talked openly about being posted to Vietnam in “civvies” NOT in uniform re their duty there. I asked if they were outliers the answer was uniformly “no.” I left it at that.

  43. Larry Mitchell says:

    C-4-9 lost 48 kia on 3/02/68 in an ambush near Tan Son Nhut. In last night’s installment, Johnson’s comments were similar with regard to the inability to accept losses and get out. I was pleased to hear some comments of recognition that US servicemen were sacrificing their lives in hope of a better government for the Vietnamese people. That was refreshing. Also glad that this presentation is not insinuating that US service men were simply fools for being there. Not surprised to hear that, noble cause or not, we were viewed as invaders. I think too few in our government understood the culture and history in VN and didn’t want to listen to those who did – much like today in the middle east. Good show so far. I wasn’t planning to watch until I heard good reviews here.

  44. Cape Cod Skeptic says:

    Burns claims in the documentary that De Gaulle told US govt that if the US didn’t help them in Viet Nam, France might fall into USSR’s sphere of influence. A threat the US took seriously. I don’t recall this being covered in my history books (and this period got short shrift anyway), but it clearly made an impression on US govt at the time. Just one of many bad decisions.

  45. Cape Cod Skeptic says:

    Colonel, I am glad to read your comments. My family are fans of Ken Burns’ work (his documentary on Jack Johnson is outstanding, BTW) and have eagerly awaited this series. I was born in ’65 and grew up in the South, and history teachers in HS and university never seemed to have enough time to adequately cover this period. My own readings are nonexistent, so I was hoping this series would present the events in a non-partisan way. We have found it to be very informative, particularly the relaying of events prior to US involvement. Like others, we wish our leaders would have been able to think about the issues differently, so the many tragic errors could have been avoided. What a waste. Thanks very much for your perspective.

  46. turcopolier says:

    Probably enlisted intelligence people. pl

  47. turcopolier says:

    Larry Mitchell
    C-4-9. Ah, this would be C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, the Manchus, so known for their service in China in the Boxer Rebellion. Motto – “Keep up the fire” pl

  48. LondonBob says:

    Undoubtedly though JFK would not have escalated the way LBJ did, not unlike those who criticise Trump for keeping a meagre contribution in Afghanistan when the likely alternative was a ‘surge’.
    The armed forces do have a real problem with the concept of sunk costs though.

  49. LondonBob says:

    The Japs certainly treated their POWs in an abysmal manner, much ill feeling amongst that generation towards them here in Britain.

  50. Larry Mitchell says:

    Tragic day for the Manchus indeed. Reunion with them, including C Co. survivors, last week in San Antonio. KUTF

  51. turcopolier says:

    The army chaplain who baptized me was executed with the sword in PI for having the temerity to preach to his fellow PWs in Camp O’Donnell. he should not have been a prisoner of war at allsince the Geneva Conventions exempt chaplains and medical personnel from being prisoners. According to international law they should be retained in prison camps in sufficient numbers to care for the PWs. pl

  52. mike says:

    Colonel –
    I did not watch it. Did Burns mention anything of Major Thomas’s OSS ‘Deer’ Team? The picture linked to below shows Thomas standing between Ho and Giap in July 45. Plus other members of his crew.
    Regarding the Philippines: I have come around (partially) to your point of view. I believe that although we could have won the war without the landings, we were duty bound to liberate the islands. They were an associated state of the US, and a protectorate.

  53. b says:

    Yesterday I saw the first three parts of the “documentary” on Arte TV in Germany. A huge disappointment.
    Some of the most obvious points:
    It calls the Vietnam war a “civil war” which it certainly wasn’t. It was an anti-colonial war beginning with the very first strike against the French.
    Diem somehow falls from heaven instead of being installed by the CIA.
    Burns covers up the Tonkin Incident by calling the following U.S. attacks “retaliation” for something that we know did not happen. He calls McNamara “brilliant” when the man was a good bean-counter but without knowledge of the human factor. He also lied to get the Tonkin resolution (written two month earlier) through Congress for an ever escalating campaign.
    The escalations of the war under Kennedy , Johnson and Nixon were all done for mostly domestic policy reasons. All three men knew that the war was not reasonably winnable. They lied to the public about it. But
    Burns depicts them as largely benevolent men who really wanted to bring “freedom” and “democracy” and fight “communism” in Asia. That was their marketing bullshit and Burns repeats it instead of digging deeper into the politics of that time.
    Burns fails to check through Soviet and Chinese archives and to understand why they supported the Viet-minh. It had much little to do with “communism” that one would assume. But saying that would diminish the “anti-communism” campaign the U.S. politicians were (and are again) running to justify the war and which Burns still sells.
    I noted down several other points that were inaccurate enough to be called lies and coverups. There is also a lack of other viewpoints, national as well as international.
    The movie is well made. But it is not a documentary. It is feel-good fiction for the American public.
    (Yes Pat. I know you will dislike the above comment and find it anti-American. That will not change the Burns picture and the fact that it is in large important parts an a-historic tale.)

  54. turcopolier says:

    Thanks for not disappointing. Yes it is further demonstration of your blinding hatred of the US. If an anti-American interpretation of the facts is possible, you will state it. Are you sure some GIs did not rape your grandmother? I am curious who you think all those hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who fought the communists really were. We forced them to fight? Hirelings of the imperialist Americans? Dupes? And why did millions of Vietnamese flee communist rule? If it was not fear of communism that motivated the US in the war, what was it? We wanted the French owned rubber plantations? We wished to corner the world market in fish sauce? Montagnard loincloths and crossbows? pl

  55. mike says:

    I for one miss the nước mắm. I always get a fix when I make it up to Seattle’s ittle Saigon. That and the phở gà.

  56. turcopolier says:

    Well, pilgrim, if we had cornered the fish sauce supply you could have been the nuoc mam king of Washington State. I hate the stuff. My Chinese guards (Cholon Chinese) cooked Cantonese for me in Song Be the first year. pl

  57. LeaNder says:

    you managed to drew me into this article, outthere. Down to the author.
    I sure was interested in MAC-SOC at the time it surfaced here in the comment section. And to some minor extend I can understand Williamson’s excitement about angles of it. Based on that.
    so Wayne Morse and I F Stone were right
    quote from article:

    Yes, no doubt interesting as a side note.
    But what exactly is the author’s “meta-narrative, if I may”?
    The event he alludes to:

  58. raven says:

    I do’t understand why Burns did not mention Project 100,000 when he covered the inequity of the draft?

  59. b,
    I watched the same episodes and, from my perspective, your observations and conclusions are not correct. The documentary (it is a documentary) was specific in noting that the resolution was drawn up in advance of the events in the Gulf of Tonkin and was held awaiting an event which would enable Johnson to present it to congress. Also, presented quite specifically, was the dubious nature of the first incident involving the Maddox and the almost certainly non-existent attack in the second. The American attacks in response and the passage of the resolution were in retaliation. The fact that there was nothing to retaliate for doesn’t alter that and Burns made the whole sequence of events quite clear.
    The wars in Indo-China were civil as well as anti-colonial,as the documentary also made quite clear.
    As to points of view, the documentary is most specifically concerned with the war and its effects on American society and on Viet Nam and the opinions are those of people at the time and their thoughts in retrospect.
    I don’t think you’re views on Burns’ effort are anti-American but, to me, reflect a need to pay closer attention and to put the events of those days in the context of the times in which they occurred.
    WPFIII .

  60. optimax says:

    There has been much complaining that the Vietnam documentary did not mention the truth about US provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. It didn’t go into depth about CIA and US military planning and support for the South Vietnamese navy bombing of the North’s coast or sabotage by SNM infiltrators. What these people fail to mention is that the doc explains that President Johnson authorized SVN’s shooting up NVN’s coast in the beginning of 1964 and that the SVN navy bombed the coast the day before the attack on the Maddox. Also was heard the tape of Johnson telling Mcnemara after the second attack (unproven) that the SVN should use its covert operation to blow up some bridges. The doc explicitly says these actions provoked the GoTI. To fully explore the GoTI would take a documentary of its own.
    Being a fairly even-handed treatment the documentary will not please those with strong views on either side. The US and both SVN and NVN political history is excellent, corresponds to what I’ve read in THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST and FIRE IN THE LAKE. I wish Trump understood it, but he doesn’t read or watch PBS. It sounds like foreigners do not understand America’s visceral reaction to communism and how that made us appear colonialist.
    The most important part of The Vietnam War is the interviews of the men who fought there–on both sides.

  61. turcopolier says:

    A good point. The 100,000 programs was “sold” by LBJ/McNamara as an opportunity for the poor who could not pass tests at above the category 4 level. As you imply it was just vacuuming up the cannon fodder. Nobody wanted these men. The army certainly did not want them. pl

  62. turcopolier says:

    Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG). This was a cover name. The actual name was Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force SE Asia (JUWTF) I was assigned to this group in 1972.,_Vietnam_%E2%80%93_Studies_and_Observations_Group

  63. LeaNder says:

    I remember, Pat.
    Sorry I misspelled. Yes, I recall your comments and TTG’s responses. TTG met one of your former MACVSOG colleagues, if I recall correctly. Respected him a lot.
    The article outthere linked above made me really, really mad. I had to force myself to read it to the end, by then I had a distinct feeling what the author must be like. Thus I had to check.
    I had seen the Tonkin passage in the Vietnam series shortly before, and the sequences immediately reminded me of MACVSOC. Meaning: I had the impression it was part of it.
    Burns/Novick/Ward did a very, very good job. They made perfectly clear that it was a secret program, via Washington and pilot shot down and war prisoner in NV. Do you remember? You can’t be a prisoner of war, since the US hasn’t declared war against us.
    Burns/Novick/Ward did a very, very good job. Great work. I was surprised when the late Horst Faas, AP, photographer was mentioned. I didn’t know he was involved in that. I liked his “Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina”. Horst was a great man. He did a good Vietnam war photography exhibition nearby. After his last visit to Vietnam he had to spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair. Great man, he was. May he rest in piece.

  64. Chris says:

    Hi outthere,
    I couldn’t seem to get a torrent off that site. It kept asking me to install Flash. I did find two other options. Ones that may be easier for those that aren’t familiar with torrents.
    One is at
    Here you can either download the torrent or any of the other 5-6 options. I grabbed the torrent and it’s downloading the movie fairly quickly even with only one seeder. The other option I’m downloading the movie directly by clicking on the link that says, “5 Original” and it’s on the right side of the page.
    I am a little puzzled because the direct download is 439MB and the torrent download is 932MB. I kinda thought this was something like 8-9 hours long or thereabout. Would be able to clear that up?
    In the meantime is a great site with an incredible amount of free movies, documentaries, Library of Congress photographs, books etc. It’s quite amazing what you can find there and I bet they might have other film footage covering the war, including news footage.
    The second option is much simpler. Just click this link on youtube and you can watch the entire thing in 13 parts.
    Hope this helps someone.

  65. optimax says:

    Don’t know why Burns regurgitated the canard that blacks were over represented in the Vietnam War. Here’s the percentages based on ethnicity.
    RACE AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND… 88.4% of the men who actually served in Vietnam were Caucasian; 10.6% (275,000) were black; 1% belonged to other races. 86.3% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasian (includes Hispanics); 12.5% (7,241) were black; 1.2% belonged to other races.

  66. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Isn’t the British Worcestershire Sauce also fish based? They got it from the Romans.
    You missed out by having those Cholon guys cooking. Vietnamese cuisine is tops imho. Ever have the Vietnamese pork meatballs grilled on a skewer, a la Singapore satay? Or roasted waterboo stuffed with lemon grass? And their thousands of varieties of noodle soups are much better than the Cantonese version.
    However I did come down with amoebic dysentery one time, probably from a spring roll from a roadside vendor.

  67. turcopolier says:

    I have eaten a great many VN meals and I agree with the Chinese that the Vietnamese are garbage eaters. As an SF and intelligence type I have eaten local chow all over the world and have use for VN food. pl

  68. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Strange for the Chinese to say that since Vietnamese cuisine was originally based on Chinese cuisine. The only difference being the later influences of French and Champa cooking on the Vietnamese.

  69. turcopolier says:

    You can have my share. pl

  70. Keith Harbaugh says:

    There has been concentrated effort, for many years, by some
    to connect the Vietnam War to, yes, American racism.
    As a clear-cut example, consider the following WaPo article:
    ‘The American War’:
    Why you need to understand American racism
    to understand what happened in Vietnam

    By Alyssa Rosenberg, 2017-09-22
    The article begins:

    When Americans went to Vietnam,
    we thought we were the good guys.
    We were fighting for freedom!
    We were going to stop communism in its tracks!
    There were a lot of problems with that idea.
    One of the big ones? American racism.
    American policymakers thought that, in general,
    Asian people didn’t value individual human lives as much as Westerners did.
    [Not just “American policymakers”.
    Anyone who has read about the Korean War has read about “the human wave tactics” the PLA used against the U.S. Eighth Army.]
    They told each other and themselves that the South Vietnamese were too weak and lazy to be good soldiers.
    And to help get themselves through the horrors of war,
    American soldiers taught themselves to think about North Vietnamese soldiers as if they were less than human.

    After some more commentary of this nature,
    Alyssa Rosenberg reports asking her first question of filmmaker Ken Burns:

    Q: Ken, as I watched the documentary over and over —
    and I’ve watched it a lot —
    one moment I keep coming back to
    is former Marine John Musgrave’s explanation of
    how racism helped him deal with
    the brutality of the war in Vietnam
    by obscuring the humanity of the people he was killing.
    It’s so uncompromising and clear in a way that I think
    explanations of that kind of sentiment rarely are.
    What was it like to hear that part of his interview for the first time?

    Notice how Rosenberg is choosing what to emphasize.
    Burns responds with:

    So you end up with a very wide selection of [former Marine] John Musgrave and you get to that.

    And you begin to realize the war business,
    but also the very, very essential ingredient, as he says, is
    Racism 101, which is what you need in order to keep your young people sane going about their business, right?
    Fighting your wars.
    It is one of the most profound statements in the film

    Again, notice how one part of what Marine Musgrave said is being emphasized.
    Okay, enough with me quoting from the Rosenberg/Burns interview.
    Let me switch to my [Keith Harbaugh]’s own thoughts on this matter.
    While I have no personal knowledge of what went on in Vietnam,
    I do have very good knowledge of
    how the war was portrayed to Middle America in the 1960s
    (I lived in St. Louis and Houston up until 1967).
    As I wrote in this blog almost exactly a year ago
    (BTW, the comment feature in the URL never works for me.
    Clicking on the URL just gives the start of the post.
    Does it work for others?)

    At Rice the USA was good, the establishment was good, and
    the US Army was fighting a war against Communist aggression in SE Asia to save the Vietnamese from Communist tyranny and godlessness.

    And that view of the VN War also holds for the milieu in Missouri of my high school years.
    I think it was how MOST Americans viewed the war.
    Why did I capitalize “most” in the above sentence?
    Because in September 1967 I entered a totally different cultural milieu.
    Brandeis University seemed to be crawling with people who were, de facto,
    disciples of Brandeis professor Herbert Marcuse.
    Denigrating mainstream values seemed to be commonplace there.
    The campus seemed alive with what I took to be anti-American activism.
    Posters attacking America used the spelling “Amerika“,
    “intending to portray the country as fascist and oppressive and culturally inferior.”
    I had never seen America spelled in that way before.
    Nor why anyone would want to spell it that way.
    Other commentators, who are Jewish, have described the attitudes so common there better, and with a deeper knowledge, than I.
    In the article linked to by that last URL, David Gelernter writes:

    There is scant love lost in either group for organized religion, the military, social constraints on sexual behavior, traditional sex roles and family structures, formality or fancy dress or good manners, authority in general.
    Intellectuals have had these tendencies throughout the 20th century, and back to the 19th and into the 18th.

    Today’s elite is intellectualized, the old elite was not. Why should that matter? What differences does it make?
    The difference is this: the old elite used to get on fairly well with the country it was set over. Members of the old social upper-crust elite were richer and better educated than the public at large, but approached life on basically the same terms. The public went to church and so did they. The public went into the army and so did they. The public staged simpler weddings and the elite put on fancier ones, but they mostly all used the same dignified words and no one self-expressed. They agreed (this being America) that art was a waste, scientists were questionable, engineering and machines and progress and nature were good. Some of the old-time attitudes made sense, some did not; but the staff and their bosses basically concurred. (George Bush [that would be the first George Bush] was elected in part, Brookhiser suggests, because of public interest in restoring these arrangements.)
    Relations between the elite and the nation are very different today. The enmity between Intellectual and Bourgeois is sheepman against cattleman, farm against city, Army versus Navy: a cliché but real. Ever since there was a middle class, intellectuals have despised it. When intellectuals were outsiders, their loves and hates never mattered much. Today they are the bosses and their tastes matter greatly.

    During the 1960’s and early 70’s, the intelligentsia’s hatred for middle-class society was something fierce.
    [That is precisely the attitude that I encountered at Brandeis.
    Where “bourgeois” was an epithet, an insult, something to be despised.
    The Bourgeois had many enemies at Brandeis, and so far as I could tell, no defenders.
    I am glad that Gelernter has described the situation I encountered.]
    The ferocity could partly be explained, Podhoretz wrote, by the fact that “despite all the concessions” the middle class had made, “it still refused to be ruled by the intellectuals.”
    Today the intelligentsia runs the show, and its hatred for class enemies has been toned down—exactly as Podhoretz would have predicted.
    But the hatred is still there, and comes through loud and clear on special occasions. Moreover, it has undergone a portentous change of focus.
    It used to be aimed at least partly upward, at the “establishment.”
    Now that intellectuals are the establishment,
    it is aimed entirely downward, at the public at large.

    [Again, that describes what I encountered at Brandeis.
    “Smash the establishment”, or sometimes more specifically, “Smash the WASP establishment”
    was a goal frequently stated in the various campus posters and fliers.
    And today, the goals of the anti-fa movement seem not different at all
    from the goals of the Brandeis SDS.
    Indeed, photos of the posters carried by the anti-fa demonstrators
    often mention, the Revolutionary Communist Party,
    a direct descendent of the SDS.]
    Today’s elite loathes the nation it rules.
    Nothing personal, just a fundamental difference in world view, but the feeling is unmistakable.

    It is worth comparing Gelernter’s observations to
    those of Paul Gottfried, who is also Jewish, in the two earlier URLs.
    Anyhow, back to the commentary on the VN War.
    From what I have read, it has been commonplace of people fighting wars
    to view their adversaries in negative terms.
    If not, why fight them?
    In WWI, the Germans were “the Huns”, echoing early European barbarians,
    rather than representatives of the culture which produced J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Goethe, and, one might add, Martin Luther.
    Would a good WASP really want to kill a descendent of Martin Luther?
    For a description of the history of demonizing your enemy, see
    “Demonizing the Enemy a Hallmark of War”
    So why demonize the American soldiers in VN for doing what has always been done?
    On opposition to the VN war, I have read in SST Colonel Lang, correctly,
    describing the media and campus radicals as being a key part the campaign to force U.S. withdrawal from VN.
    Which brings up, or should bring up, the question:
    How typical of general American society were those who opposed the war in VN?
    As to who the campus radicals were,
    we can consult the writing of someone who knows something about that subject,
    Mark Rudd, who wrote:

    [T]he numbers on Jews in SDS are clear. The author Paul Berman, himself a Jewish veteran of Columbia SDS, in his excellent book, “A Tale of Two Utopias,” gives the following data from reliable sources:
    two-thirds of the white Freedom Riders who traveled to Mississippi were Jewish;
    a majority of the steering committee of the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement were Jewish;
    the SDS chapters at Columbia and the University of Michigan were more than half Jewish;
    at Kent State in Ohio, where only 5 percent of the student body was Jewish,
    Jews constituted 19 percent of the chapter.
    I might add a strange statistic which I became aware of in the course of two trips to Kent State to commemorate the events of May, 1970:
    three of the four students shot by the National Guard at Kent State were Jewish.
    This, of course, defies all odds.

  71. Keith Harbaugh says:

    “As an SF and intelligence type I have eaten local chow all over the world”
    Just a question:
    Have you tried the Balkan restaurant “Ambar” in Clarendon?
    (I’d give its URL but that might be interpreted as commercial advertising.)
    If you have, I’d be interested in your opinion of,
    both the food and any other aspect you might have an opinion on.
    It’s just three blocks from the Clarendon Metro station.

  72. turcopolier says:

    I’ll try it. Seems heavily influenced by Turkish food. pl

  73. LeaNder says:

    William, haven’t noticed your name around for a long time.
    Thanks for your response to b.

  74. turcopolier says:

    Very long winded. You have had this on your mind for a long time. I will abstain from comment on your argument that American Jews are involved in extremist movements in numbers disproportionate to their actual percentage in the population. I have no idea if that is true. Does that carry over for you in the Giraldi article’s assertions? I thought Musgrave sounded more than a little deranged. The night light thing was so whacko that I thought at first that it was a joke. IMO the former marine enlisted men seemed to be more extreme in their statements about the Vietnamese than the former army enlisteds. I suppose someone will want to sound off about the wonderfulness of USMC, but the bullets the enemy fired at you weere equally pointed whoever you were. In two years in the field and for a time in a staff job in MACVSOG and STDAT-158 I neve rheard anyone refer to the Vietnames as “gooks.” But, what difference did it make what the troops called them? did US soldiers think the communist enemy were less than human? I never heard that either. pl

  75. JJackson says:

    Too many leaves for my taste, and too much coriander. What was in the leaves was was usually nice. As a teenage I liked to cook and my step mother was part of an international group of women who demonstrated cooking meals from their homelands for each other. On our turn I did the egg hoppers – my step mother was Sri Lankan. As I result I got invited to the next meeting, very surreal to be a male teenager having a Cantonese meal prepared by the Japanese ambassador’s wife in their Saigon embassy with lots of women. The food was excellent but I forget why it was not Japanese cuisine.

  76. Sam Peralta says:

    Col. Lang
    What was the military strategy and objectives that Gen. Westmoreland believed would achieve victory which I believe was defined as the destruction of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces and causing the North Vietnamese leadership to sue for peace by acceding to two separate countries in Vietnam?
    In watching the episodes so far, it seems the focus was on hitting kill targets and not securing South Vietnam from enemy intrusion.
    In hindsight, would there have been a better military strategy?
    I agree with you the big strategic error was Truman not responding to Ho Chi Minh and treating it as a war of independence from colonial rule then. In your opinion were there other off-ramps policymakers could have taken early in the conflict? It seems that once the train left the station President Johnson and his advisors could not admit a mistake and could only escalate.

  77. turcopolier says:

    Sam Peralta
    Westy believed that with sufficient attrition a “crossover point” would be reached at which the communist inability to replace men we killed would force them to negotiate a peace without victors. Our presidents could have ordered a withdrawal as Nixon did. pl

  78. Sam Peralta says:

    Col. Lang
    In your opinion what are the most important political and military lessons learned that we should takeaway from our nearly 30 year involvement in Vietnam?
    I realize in hindsight everything is 20/20, but it seems if Truman had considered Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh as a liberation movement first and communists second he may not have aided the French in their re-establishment of colonial rule in Indochina. Although considering Stalin’s move in eastern Europe and Mao’s ascendancy in China, combined with deGaulle’s threat to align with the Soviets it was a difficult decision for Truman, especially in light of the domestic anti-communist hysteria.
    Once we were in, it looks like we could not find the political courage to get out and escalation happened by default. It seems that if Kennedy was not assassinated he may have had the strength of conviction to not escalate as Johnson did. Kennedy demonstrated during the Cuban Missile crisis that he could resist the advise of the generals. It is interesting that both these presidents privately harbored the opinion that the South Vietnamese just did not have the ability to defeat the North Vietnamese.

  79. turcopolier says:

    Sam Peralta
    !- We are easily manipulated into taking up policies not in our interest. De Gaulle’s statement just after WW2 that France might go communist if we did not help them in their empire is an example as was the ease with which American public opinion was manipulated after 9/11. 2- As a people we have the failing of an inability to understand foreign cultures as actually foreign rather than incipient extensions of American culture. This makes it impossible for us understand the foreigners in depth. pl

  80. Sam Peralta says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you!
    I believe you have distilled it down to the essence. I concur with your assessment.
    Unfortunately, this leads to a conclusion that there is no recourse and that we are fated to dissipation of our strength in useless interventions that are inimical to our interests.

  81. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Col. and SP,
    I also concur that the ability of the small powers, or, even factions within the small powers, to manipulate the great powers in their petty games is at the heart of many historical tragedies: people forget the role played by Serbian nationalist conspirators, for example, in sparking off World War I. In a sense, the same might even be said about Colonel Beck’s (the Polish foreign minister in 1939) “two flicks of cigarette” over which the Anglo-French commitment to go to war over Danzig were sealed. The responsibility of leaders in charge of Great Powers, I think, is to keep their countries from getting entangled in these petty matters and have the situation spiral out of control beyond whatever that began the mess. This seems to be a dangerously thankless task, though: Chamberlain is remembered mainly for not committing to war prematurely over Czechoslovakia, but not for committing to war over Danzig, over which neither UK nor France had any interest. The evils of the Nazi regime, which, in all honesty, had nothing to do with the Polish-German disputes that began in 1918, are used to paper over whether Danzig was “worth it” for the English and the French.

  82. LeaNder says:

    are you aware, more randomly, of this curious bit of WWI history and its relation to WWII?

  83. LondonBob says:

    An important, but oft over looked, distinction between JFK and LBJ is their different outlook on the Cold War. After Cuba, and as signaled in his American University Commencement Address, JFK was determined to pursue a policy of detente. Given the Soviet Union’s openness to detente it is likely a diplomatic solution would have been found in regards to Vietnam before the war really escalated.

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