Anti-Vietnam War Activists Comment on Burns’ Sentimental Lies About Vietnam

The current PBS series on the war in Vietnam is stirring discussion throughout the country on the U.S. war in Vietnam; the longest war in Afghanistan; and now Donald Trump’s threat to use nuclear weapons to annihilate the people of North Korea. Portside readers have responded to posts about the series in emails and posts on Facebook. Here are comments by Portside readers on the Burns and Novick series. Reposting by Portside is with permission of the writers.

Burns’s sentimental lies about Vietnam

Burns tugs at our heartstrings on behalf of Americans, not Vietnamese. His fiddles steal our music to skew the balance of sympathies for the American war. When he gets to Tonkin Gulf, he focuses on disputes among VN leadership, pretty much missing what was known of the US lies within three weeks via IF Stone. He misses the fact that Morse and Gruening voted against the resolution – which that great liberal Fulbright shepherded through the senate, and which LBJ then used to justify everything, carrying it around in his pocket. I was arrested at State and Madison in Chicago in March 1965, protesting the air escalation. As the only faculty member in the group of arrestees, I acquired my own Red Squad guy, and the judge singled me out. The U of Chicago fired me a few months later, and I was blacklisted in my profession. I would not trade having been part of the Movement for anything. So much of Burns’s sentimental lies are unrecognizable to those of us who are also in that sense VN veterans. And where are the tears for how many million Vietnamese? He tells us that the US did all these things in good faith.

Jesse Lemisch
Posting on Facebook

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Re: Burns and Novick, Masters of False Balancing

Ken Burns’ attempt at a “balanced” and “healing” account of Vietnam is baloney. The U.S. aggression against Vietnam was an imperialist cold war attempt to control that region of the world that cost three million lives. The U.S. war criminals are still on the loose.

John Gehan
Posted on Portside's Facebook page

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At least Germany has the good grace to be ashamed of their past deeds. But we have this narrative that poor Eisenhower, poor Truman, poor JFK poor LBJ, poor Bushes, poor Obama were all sincerely seeking peace when somehow they made mistakes and misjudgements that have continued the killings for decades. It we do not reject this long line of BS, then how can we ever stop? This current one wants to control Venezuela, Iran and Korea by bully methods of some kind. Let’s be frank. We are a colonial power with great wealth and hubris.

Sonia Collins
Posting on Facebook

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I thought the first episode was fair and the treatment of Ho Chi Minh was generous. We’ll see where it goes from here

David McReynolds
Posting on Facebook

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Many of us are not going to agree with some – or much – of what is presented. But millions will watch and discuss it.

I take David McReynolds’ point above. But it seemed to me the initial argument presented is that U.S. involvement in Vietnam began as a “mis-step” of some kind, which I don’t believe is true. (And I doubt David believes that either.)

But again most important is the discussion the show will provoke, and the responsibility many of us can share to try to set the record straight in whatever ways we can.

Geoff Mirelowitz
Posting on Facebook

This iconic photo from the Vietnam War, taken by AP photographer Nick Ut, depicts the brutal and heart-wrenching aftermath of an allied napalm strike near a native Vietnamese village. The photo shocked the U.S. public, sending waves of horror and discontent rushing through the already disgusted citizens. For those opposing the war on foreign soil, Ut’s photo bolstered the already established animosities toward the U.S. government. However, President Richard Nixon and other government officials doubted the authenticity of the photo: “I’m wondering if that was fixed”, expressed the president to one of his advisers. The photo’s authenticity has been confirmed; the young girl in the photo, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, survived the attack and has advocated her story over the last thirty years.

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Actually Geoff, I do think it was a mis step, and accident- our anti-communism made it easy (inevitable?). I have never believed the US planned to occupy Vietnam and stay there. I do think, among other reasons, the primary one was the nonsense of the domino theory and one problem was that the State Dept. did not have people in it who knew anything about Vietnam.

A kind of ps - last night there was a half hour on how badly veterans were treated. This does NOT seem to have been done by Burns but by some private party. It was deeply dishonest - ask any of us who where “there” when the vets came home. We helped them with “bad papers”, we saw them as David McReynolds victims, we worked closely with them. So that half hour which was not Burns, was dreadful. Otherwise I guess my politics don’t fit the right (or left) framework. I thought both shows I’ve seen were good, fair (I did not expect to see our precise version). It was good to see Saigon and Hanoi, which I remember well, and very good to see the Vietnamese giving their own view of things.

David McReynolds
Posting on Facebook

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Wasn’t it about containment? If so, it was not misguided in the sense that they had an empire to maintain, and the war was both necessary and beneficiary. Losing was a mistake. To a nation of empire breaking rice farmers, winning was simply a matter of time and doing war Viet style.

Ethan Young
Posting on Facebook

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David I agree there were “missteps,” and definitely more than one on Washington’s part. And I also do not disagree that there was no original plan to, “occupy Vietnam and stay there.” At the beginning U.S. imperialism could not really imagine the depth of Vietnamese resistance to foreign domination or the utter corruption of the small capitalist layer the U.S. had to work with in South Vietnam. (Though in retrospect the outcome of the Korean War – which the U.S. also did not win – should have been a clue.)

But I agree with Ethan, the bipartisan agreement to maintain the empire, the idea that the second half of the 20th century would be a “Pax Americana” was very strong. I don’t think we should miss the conscious political strategy that was in place, even as it was carried out with one blunder after another. “Blunders” are inevitable when one completely misjudges one’s enemy and Washington completely misjudged the Vietnamese people’s determination to resist.

Geoff Mirelowitz
Posting on Facebook

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What was heroic about the Vietnam war? In ascending order: (5) Daniel Ellsberg, for The Pentagon Papers. (4) Martin Luther King Jr, for A Time to Break Silence. (3) The American peace movement, whose invention of Vietnam syndrome shook the empire. (2) The American GIs who fragged their officers and threw their medals at the Capitol. (1) The people of Vietnam, north and south.

Ethan Young
Posting on Facebook


This article originally appeared on Portside.org.

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