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.

One thought 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.

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