Watching the Vietnam film

This is a commentary on War — specifically, on what I learned watching the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick film on the Vietnam War.
I watched the whole film, from episode one on the French occupation and looting of the small southeast Asian country in the mid-19th century through episode ten on the final moments of America’s war in Vietnam, when we abandoned the very people we claimed to have been trying to save.
Every night, I sat glued in front of the TV, stunned, often weeping, as each episode concluded. I was watching because I realized that this war made me who I am, for better and worse, and I felt morally obligated to sit there and learn everything I could.
As much as any other historical phenomena, interwoven with racism and misogyny, the Vietnam War shaped my identity as an American ashamed of my country’s war-making obsession. That war shaped my Christian spirituality becoming increasingly universalist; my political economic views becoming increasingly socialist; and my sense of myself as a white professional lesbian/bisexual woman determined to live and work, preach and teach, values that our nation made a mockery of by waging the war in Vietnam.
This is not to blame the individual soldiers — most of whom did their best. Is this not always the case in war? Most men and women on all sides are doing what they think they should, or must, in order to do what’s right. The Ken Burns-Lynn Novick film makes this clear through the many interviews with soldiers — American, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong– as well as with war protesters, war advocates, families on all sides in Vietnam and here in the United States.
But I did then, and do now, blame the leaders of the nations, for the lies and distorted perceptions and cowardly political decisions upon which War is made. As an American citizen, I blame our leaders in particular for making the wretched war in Vietnam, in which more than 2,000,000 Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans died: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford are the presidents that share the blame for this travesty — especially Johnson, a tragic figure, and Nixon, a scoundrel of the worst kind.
This film made clear that Fake News is nothing new here in America. The Vietnam War was woven out of lies, lies, and more lies out of the mouths of presidents, politicians and generals. A President’s lying is not a new thing in the White House, but Trump’s inability not to lie — his compulsive, ugly, pathological lying and manufacturing of “truth” to suit his interests — strips him of all moral authority and also is moving us close to the brink of war, right now.
Sisters and brothers and all siblings, work and pray, protest and struggle, lobby and vote against any and all efforts to increase our use of military force anywhere in the world.

3 thoughts on “Watching the Vietnam film

  1. Thank you for this, Carter. I’m a little younger than you, and I certainly cannot claim that the Vietnam War shaped my political consciousness or my spirituality. But I did see the effects of the war—in Vietnamese people my church sponsored for resettlement—and in veterans who came home maimed—physically, spiritually, or both. While watching this documentary, I too experienced a profound sense of shame and loss. It occurred to me that it was particularly fitting that such a documentary would be shown at this time in our history.

  2. Exactly Carter! This was “my war” too and certainly shaped me to this day. I also just visited D.C. and spoke with many veterans of several wars and visited the Holocaust museum. Any American who cannot see clearly what is currently going on with 45 and his ilk just are not paying attention!

  3. As always, you are more courageous than me. Recorded some, peeked at some parts, too painful and distressing to sit and watch. I indulged in frustration about what was omitted with way to much emphasis on battle stories. That was the easier part to cover; filmmakers go with the good footage. Script left out so much. Especially about the significance and depth of the peace movement. It was so much more than anti Vietnam war. Completely missed the important contextual details about Kent State (and Jackson State). I lived in Cleveland at the time. The Governor, James Rhodes, was a right wing power hungry fool who hated anyone who opposed the war, especially the student movements. He had called out the National Guard for a labor strike in another part of Ohio and then (on a Trump like power play) sent them to Kent State to kill and maime peaceful students. There would have been no problem if the National Guard had stayed away. I met one of the injured students later while working at a rehab hospital. He was amazing. Returned to KSU and forced them to make accommodations for his wheel chair so he could graduate. Last i knew he was a county commissioner in Ohio. If John Gilligan had been Governor none of this would have happened. Even writing this causes me to be so unhealthily furious I have to stop. And now with 45 being who is is, I fear so deeply for our nation and world. God help Puerto Rico. Non profits can only do so much without govt leadership! More tears more evil more frustration. Another long national nightmare is upon us. Hugs. and Thank you Carter for being YOU and still being a wonderful amazing present with us!

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