Nowwe have seen the Burns Vietnam epic, or at least some of us have. What are weto think of it?
+The story line is not very complicated:
Americanswho opposed the war: good.
Americanswho fought in it: inept, pitiable.
SouthVietnamese: hardly worth mentioning.
Let’sall make nice.
Probablydidn’t need 18 hours to tell that story. But there was always one moreexplosion to feature, one more bloody body to examine, more anti-war riot to recall.
Hadthere been somewhat greater economy in telling the Burnsversion of the story, there might havebeen room to recall that:
was aggression by the North Vietnamese communiststhat led to all this bloodshed and agony.
communist way of war deliberately featured bombsin schoolyards and pagodas, murder of schoolteachers and village officials,kidnapping and
impressment of civilians,indiscriminate rocketing of cities.
Under communist rule today Vietnam is one of theworld’s most repressive and corrupt societies.
“boat people” and other émigrés now living inAmerica and elsewhere in the free world have with great courage and industrymade new lives for themselves and their families.
list could be extended almost indefinitely.
+What of the filmmaker’s outlook?
Burnsand his associates have appeared at a large number of preview events. At onesuch session at the Newseum here in Washington(billed by them as an “influencer event”) one could not help but be impressedby their self-regard and self-satisfaction. They apparently now view themselvesas the premier historians of the Vietnam War. And they are candid in statingtheir most basic conclusions.
“Youcan find no overtly redeeming qualities of the Vietnam War,” Burns opined. Ihope I may be forgiven for stating my own conviction that he is in thatprofoundly wrong, as he was in referring disparagingly to what he calledAmericans’ “puffed-up sense of exceptionalism.” Clearly Burns does not muchlike America, an outlook that permeates his work.
+What of the research? We are told the Burns team spent ten years on thisproject, and that in the course of it they interviewed more than 80 people. Iknow writers, working alone, who have interviewed several hundred people for asingle book. The Burns team averaged 8 interviews a year, an interview everymonth and a half, over the decade. Not impressive, at least to me, certainlynot comprehensive.
Crucialomissions are a damaging flaw in the Burns opus. The great heroes of the war,in the view of almost all who fought there (on our side), were the Dustoff pilots and the nurses. We don’t see much of them.Instead we see repeatedly poor Mogie Crocker, who weknow right away isdestined to get whacked. We seeover and over again the clueless General Westmoreland, but learn nothing of hisrefusal to provide modern weaponry to the South Vietnamese or disdain forpacification. We see precious little of his able successor, General Abrams. Wesee (and hear) almost nothing of William Colby. And so on. These are seriousfailings in a film that bills itself as “a landmark documentary event.
”Burnsand company are said to have made a decision not to interview former governmentofficials for the film. That’s like going to an opera and listening only to thechorus, and them one at a time, with the diva and the tenor silenced andignored. How does that contribute to an understanding of the war writ large?
Burnsrepeats in all the materials he distributes the mantra “There Is No SingleTruth in War.” But there is such a thing as objective truth, elusive though itmay be. What we have here is preferred “truth” as seen through the Burns prism.
Finally,the idea that this deeply flawed version of the war and those who fought itmight somehow facilitate “recon-ciliation,” asclaimed by Burns, can only be viewed as fatuous. There is no middle ground, andthe Burns film demonstrates, if nothing else, how deep and unbridgeable thedivide remains.