Tag Archives: Viet Cong

More bombs did not produce ‘victory’ in Vietnam

“The Vietnam War” is coming to a close this week. I refer, of course, to the landmark public television series, not the actual war.

What are the takeaways from this epic production directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on PBS? I have so many of them, but I think I’ll focus briefly here on just one of them.

It is that the Vietnam War required us to redefine victory.

We fought the communists in Vietnam for more than a decade. We killed many more of the enemy than we lost so very tragically. We emerged victorious from many more battlefield encounters than the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese. As we have learned in the Burns-Novick epic, U.S. commanding Gen. William Westmoreland was obsessed with “body count”; he insisted that the media report that the enemy suffered far worse than our side did.

Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who later became Air Force chief of staff, noted correctly in the documentary that the United States dropped more ordnance on the enemy than we did in all the combat theaters of World War II. Think of that for a moment. American air power dropped more explosive tonnage on the Vietnam communists than we did against the Nazis, the Italians and the Japanese.

What we didn’t do and the reason we “lost” the war was because we lost our political will. The Vietnamese were fighting on their turf, defending their homeland, battling an enemy they considered to be “invaders.” They had more to lose — and to gain — than we ever did. Thus, it was their fight to win.

Are there lessons to carry forward as we continue to fight an even more elusive enemy, those terrorist organizations that have declared “death to America!”? Yes, certainly.

One profound lesson should be for U.S. politicians — or one in particular — to cease implying that defeating an enemy is “easy.”

We cannot just keep dropping bombs and sending young Americans into cities, killing enemy fighters and then expect the enemy simply to give up. We tried that in Vietnam. It didn’t work out well for us.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have provided a masterful piece of documentary television. Just as Vietnam was the first war to be fought “in our living rooms,” my hope is that the educational benefit that’s being delivered to us via PBS will assuage some of the pain we felt as the fighting raged.

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Politico has provided a fascinating look at a conversation involving President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. The Burns-Novick documentary doesn’t report on it.

Take a look at the story here.

Get ready for a major history lesson on Vietnam

Oh, how I love public television.

Americans are going to receive, via what looks like a spectacular PBS documentary series, a history lesson for the ages.

The subject: The Vietnam War.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has assembled yet another masterpiece that airs beginning on Sept. 17 on Panhandle PBS. I just watched a 30-minute preview of the multi-part series. I have a few thoughts to share about it … and about the series that I want to urge all Americans to watch.

Burns calls the Vietnam War the nation’s “second civil war,” in that it tore this country apart to a degree not seen since the actual Civil War that was fought from 1861 until 1865. Perhaps just like the Civil War, this nation hasn’t yet come to grips fully with what happened here while young Americans were dying in a foreign land.

My interest in the series, of course, is quite personal. I was one of about 3 million Americans who went to Vietnam. My tiny contribution to that effort as an Army soldier is not worth detailing here. I went there, came home — and was privileged to return to Vietnam two decades later on assignment with a group of journalists.

My major takeaway from the return to Vietnam in 1989 was that I shed some emotional baggage that I never even realized I was lugging around. Perhaps this PBS series will allow other Americans to do the same thing.

Burns and his crew interviewed American veterans, South Vietnamese veterans, Viet Cong fighters, North Vietnamese veterans. One former VC soldier tells how he witnessed American soldiers weeping over their dead comrades. He said he realized then that “those Americans are just like Vietnamese,” in that both sides had a shared sense of humanity.

One of Burns’s producers talked about the music of that era, calling it “the best music in American history.” Yeah! Do you think?

The Kent State riots in Ohio in 1970, according to one of the historians interviewed, symbolized the fracture among Americans. “They were kids on both sides; National Guardsmen and student protesters,” he said.

And, oh yes, how did some of those who protested the war treat those who returned from that battlefield? Not well. One of them expresses profound sadness over calling these warriors “baby killers and worse.” That has changed as Americans today profess profound gratitude for the young men and women we send abroad in defense of our nation.

This Vietnam veteran is filled with gratitude for that change.

Burns believes that PBS is the only network in the nation that could present a series such as the Vietnam special that will air in a few weeks.

Thus, I am grateful beyond measure as well for public television’s willingness to teach us what we need to learn about this important chapter in our nation’s ongoing story.

We 'lost' the war … 40 years ago

In a couple of days, many Americans are going to look back four decades at the end of a chapter that turned terribly tragic, not just for the United States, but also for an ally with whom we fought side by side for seemingly forever.

Saigon fell to North Vietnamese Army troops on April 30, 1975. They rolled into the capital city of South Vietnam, took down the defeated nation’s flag at the presidential palace and raised the flag of North Vietnam.

Twenty-five years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Bui Tin in Hanoi, the man who accepted the surrender of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. He was in the tank that had smashed through the gate at the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of South Vietnamese president Duong Van “Big” Minh.

I was among a group of journalists touring the country and Bui Tin was among the dignitaries we got to meet. He told us his memories of the end of the Vietnam War.

Bui Tin, of course, was on the winning side.

His memory is different from that of some of the journalists who questioned him that day. A handful of us had served in Vietnam during the war. But what a marvelous encounter it was to talk candidly with a key player in that long and tragic struggle.

I wrote a blog for Panhandle PBS, which tonight broadcast a special, “The Last Days in Vietnam.” It tells the story of the end of that war. It was inglorious for our side.

http://www.panhandlepbs.org/blogs/public-view-john-kanelis/last-days-in-vietnam-recalls-true-heroism/

For our former enemy, well, it meant something quite different. The “American war” had ended. The enemy outlasted us, even though military historians have noted for decades that we actually prevailed on the battlefield. We inflicted far more casualties on them than they did on us. We scored military victory after military victory against the NVA and the Viet Cong.

Talk about losing the battles but winning the war.

They had the patience we didn’t have.

I ran across this quote, from North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, who in December 1966 said this to New York Times reporter Harrison E. Salisbury:

“How long do you Americans want to fight? … One year? Two years? Three years? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? We will be glad to accommodate you.”

Yes, they were glad.

It was being fought on their ground, in their homes … and on their terms.

And we haven’t gotten over it yet.