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Friday, June 08, 2018

The Vietnam War - A Television History


This PBS series from 1982 goes deeper than anything else I have seen on screen to account for what happened in Vietnam between 1946 and 1975. This is actually episode 6 called America's Enemy 1954 - 1967. It takes a detailed view at the complete American involvement in Vietnam over the period, paying particular attention to the verbal histories of people who were there and involved. The stories of combat and air strikes after 1965 are harrowing and horrific. Many of the images in the film are deeply disturbing, with graphic scenes of extreme carnage.

Under the 1954 Geneva peace accords, reunification elections were to be held in Vietnam within two years. Prime Minister Diem rejected the election promise and took excessive steps to repress any opponents. The strategic hamlets were not welcome by the peasant population and by 1964, supplies were flowing south along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Viet Cong guerrillas supported by the Army of North Vietnam attacked American installations in Saigon. The bombing of the North started in 1965 in reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The Marines that began arriving in 1965 were not seen as liberators by the people. The North launched a major attack in 1965 on the airbase at Da Nang. It was eventually recognized that the bombing campaign, Operation Rolling Thunder, had failed.

The campaign in Vietnam by the US comes across as being vast, expensive (in every respect) and doomed to fail. This was a colonial war fought by people who believed they were in a virtuous struggle, Meanwhile enormous resources were being used to annihilate entire populations. Torture, sabotage, incompetence and corruption supplied the supporting cast for this disaster.

Meanwhile back in the USA;

Anti-war protests began early in the Johnson administration though the vast majority of Americans at the time supported the administration. The initial protests were led by civil rights activists, the old left, women's groups and the clergy. Religious organizations had a difficult time as they were conservative by nature. As well, college students could avoid the draft if they remained in school. Blacks were joining the military but activists decried those who claimed they were trying to save people of color. Passive resistance and draft card burning were increasing. The October 1967 march on the Pentagon was denounced as anti-American as were most protests against the war. However, 55,000 participated and over 600 were arrested. The climate soon began to change. Johnson had to raise taxes and the economy was doing poorly and by December 1967 a poll showed that a majority of Americans now thought the war was a mistake. Senator Eugene McCarthy became popular by proposing an end to the war. He nearly defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary and his success led to Bobby Kennedy's entry into the Presidential race. Martin Luther King spoke out against the war and riots broke out across the US after his assassination. The Chicago protests at the Democratic convention and the police response led to bloodshed on all sides. During the election, Nixon attacked Humphrey based on his support of Johnson's war policies. Every Thursday, the number of Americans killed in Vietnam was released to the media. Nixon won the election by a slim margin and the Vice President Spiro Agnew began attacking the media as biased. Soon however, the public learned of the massacre at My Lai and even Vietnam Veterans began protesting the war.

The entire series is worth watching. 

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