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Public , Reviews Civilians huddle together after an attack by South Vietnamese forces. Dong Xoai, June The same communist-led forces that mobilized one of the greatest anticolonial revolutions in history to defeat the French would soon turn against the Americans who sought, in defiance of the Geneva Accords, to build a permanent, non-communist nation called South Vietnam.
There is not a word about the early Vietnamese history that stretches back more than two millennia and includes a thousand-year struggle to overthrow Chinese rule, an important fact given that many U. The documentary opens with footage of Americans in combat.
The lingering image is of an American casualty, lying on a litter, being winched out of a Vietnamese jungle by helicopter. The first voice we hear is that of Karl Marlantes, an American veteran, saying: Neither man had said a word about that part of their past.
Thus begins the fundamental framing of The Vietnam War—American veterans or their survivors , once silenced and shunned, will introduce and conclude the film as a whole and almost every episode. Although a considerable number of Vietnamese speak in the film, as well as a few American civilians, dozens of veterans like Karl Marlantes are clearly the stars of the show.
The next introductory sequence is also worth noting. We see, for example, Kim Phuc, the young Vietnamese girl who, in , ran naked toward the camera, her arms outstretched in anguishing pain, much of her body seared by napalm.
Now we see her running backward toward the smoking ruins of her village, to a time before the horrible bombing, before the war. Bombs fly skyward back into their planes, troops march backward away from combat. The sequence suggests, I think, that even our most iconic memories of the war may not be well understood; that they need to be brought back to their historical roots to be understood fully.
For example, in the s historian H. But most of the students believed the shooter was a communist officer, rather that General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the South Vietnamese national police, an American ally.
The sequence may also suggest that history is the product of human agency, not blind fate or the inevitable consequence of unavoidable forces. Had different choices been made, the Vietnam War might never have happened, or might not have lasted as long, or might have had a different outcome.
“Déjà Vu” (1858-1961)
In many ways, The Vietnam War is two documentaries interwoven. One is a densely detailed and heavily narrated chronological history and the other is a series of oral histories about personal experiences of the war. Sometimes the two strands are intimately connected and enlarge our understanding of key moments; elsewhere, the personal accounts have little relationship to the historical issues under review.
Nowhere are these two approaches more disjointed than in Episode 1. Every few minutes we jump from black-and-white archival images and accounts of French rule or the creation of South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem in the mids to color footage of the U.
Instead, the American veterans speak about their own wartime experiences and the loss of comrades. In fact, Americans began playing a significant role in Vietnam in The film offers a brief, but riveting, account of the U. However, the film wrongly suggests that, when the French began to reconquer Indochina in , the Truman administration remained neutral until In fact, the United States immediately gave its covert blessing and indirect aid to the French.
By the early s the United States openly financed the French effort to crush the Vietnamese revolution.
Peter Madden - IMDb
With the defeat of the French in , the Eisenhower administration believed other Southeast Asian countries might fall like dominoes to communism. It was a total misreading of a pivotal event. The steps leading to massive war in Vietnam were founded on the deliberate and determined conviction that the maintenance and expansion of American power depended on a policy of global counterrevolution.
The United States did not stumble unwittingly into Vietnam. When the Geneva Accords of temporarily divided Vietnam into two zones at the 17th parallel, the agreement also called for an election in that would reunify the country under one government. Three million lives might have been spared.
Holocaust Memorial Museum - Karl Höcker - Auschwitz _Photographs - The New York Times
This hodgepodge of an episode, ending with the election of President John F. Kennedy, includes many compelling pieces but no clear or coherent explanation of the overriding motives that drove American policy in these crucial years. Appy is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts. His next post, about Episode 2, will appear following its East Coast broadcast on Monday, September He is the author of American Reckoning: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam