Episode 2 Reflections:
Tarak Kauff:

May I say for the record, it was not just that the people in high places knew the war was “unwinnable” – that was secondary, it was much worse than that, they also knew (from the beginning) that they were committing massive crimes that would result in the death and destruction of Vietnamese farmers, peasants and villagers (who they didn’t give a damn about)  and also of French and then U.S. troops (who they also didn’t give a damn about) all for political reasons, empire and power, and yes egos.

One may be in a fight that seems for all intents and purposes “unwinnable” and keep fighting if the cause is just (as the Vietnamese did) against all odds, but these (our U.S.) bastards must have come eventually to know their cause was not just. By that time they were just trying to cover their asses and Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are continuing that tradition, but more so for the pride and peace of mind of the U.S. public so as Mike Hastie says, they will not have to feel the shame and remorse.
As far as the shame and remorse, if the public had the moral integrity and courage, which qualities have been practically surgically removed by consumerism and slick propaganda from the American soul, if they had the courage to look at and face the naked bloody truth, then there could be real healing, but not the way this documentary is presenting it.
And no, so far I don’t think it could be worse. It is American propaganda at it’s best. What could be worse than that? The good thing is that it also gives us an opportunity to expose it for what it is.
Also for the record, yes, I have found both episodes to be incredibly flawed. Of course there is some truth in them, you can find some truth if you look hard enough even in the Idiot in Charge’s rants, but the underlying untruths color all of it and that is why I called it a sham.
Doug Rawlings:

Lots of people have written about Episode 2, which was more like a history lesson (albeit a flawed one) than the gut-wrenching first episode.  I had read Sheehan’s A BRIGHT SHINING LIE a few months ago and found this section pretty much a videocast of the book. I agreed with Sheehan’s analysis of the immoral calculations of our government and then Diem’s.  He captured the lies spun to entice Catholics down from the north, the completely insidious evil of General Harkins, and the stunning idiocy of trusting an army made up of lying generals and disinterested conscripts (the ARVN, he means, but wait! That sounds like another army over there). In any event, I did appreciate the demythologizing of JFK (he couldn’t expect to get out of Vietnam and win re-election) as well as the gut-wrenching video of the self-immolating Buddhist monks and then the courageous resistance to the war building up on American and Vietnamese campuses.  Here’s a poem I wrote over fifteen years ago that tries to capture my disillusionment with JFK and his “best and brightest,” as well as my plea to namvets to carry on….



“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to 

this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — 

and the glow from that fire can truly light the world” 

                                          —from JFK’s Inaugural Address 

                                               (20 January 1961) 


Late September. 

It has been three decades 

of oak, maple, ash  

the dreaded birch  

and elm 




and stacked again 



over at Togus* 

my thorazine brothers 

tend to their own fall chores  

shuffling through twenty years  

of smoke and mirrors: 


the smoke from JFK’s 


nothing more than 

sawed off barrels of burning 


the mirrors 



to slit a wrist 

Late September again.

Full moon.

Back to the woodpile

to work up a sweat

to clear my head

(fires are burning within fires)

to hold out against

the coming of another

winter’s long night

*Togus is Maine’s VA hospital

——Doug Rawlings


Howie Mächtinger

Episode 2:

I was left wondering why Kennedy’s advisers were considered so extraordinary? I know a lot of them went to Harvard.  Who had fresh eyes for understanding the conflict?  Who grasped the power and appeal of third world nationalism? They just brought a Cold War perspective.  Why do all these brilliant counter-insurgents with” limited, flexible” war not succeed?  There is no suggestion that motives beyond protecting Vietnamese from Communist dictatorship–no mention of long-held US desires for a foothold in Asia, or any material motivation?
Why isn’t a lesson from World War II an anti-racist one rather than a Cold War view?  Didn’t WW II pose the dangers of extreme racism?  And so when people talk about the handed down notion of American exceptionalism, the blinders around race are evident: founded on genocide and slavery and still a Jim Crow (legally and/or traditionally) nation in the 1960s, why a limited understanding Hitlerism as a dictatorship. Race pops up almost unnoticed when Scanlon after the debacle at Ap Bac won’t allow his Vietnamese allies to touch any American bodies.  How revealing is that about both Scanlon and the nature of the war?
The contradictions of the American strategy are apparent; there is no reliable ally; how can a true nationalist be under an American thumb; but the analysis devolves into how stubborn, blunt, corrupt  and arrogant Diem was.  And the Nhu family is definitely a treasure.  So then with a wink and a nod overthrow him and then be appalled when he’s brutally murdered.  So why is Peter Coyote acting like this is a solvable problem if only… ???
And why would anyone think that strategic hamlets would win over anyone?  What blinders keeps the extraordinary Americans from recognizing this?
We also see the initial advantages to the Americans of tech escalation (helicopters and APCs) ad how the other side was able to adapt, for instance at Ap Bac.
A USAID bureaucrat is interviewed to speak about about efforts to in Vietnamese hearts and minds. The sordid history of USAID is not noted:

USAID trained police and ran civilian jails. USAID also participated in the “soft” side of the Phoenix Program. in Vietnam  By 1967, President Lyndon Johnson sought to improve counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam by officially coordinating many of thecivilian assistance programs with military operations under an unprecedented interagency organization known as CORDS, or “Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support.” President Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) subsequently continued the interagency effort, referring to the acronym as “Civil Operations and Rural Development Support.”

And in Laos: In 1967, USAID Co-funded with the CIA a suspected private opium airliner, Xieng Khouang Air Transport. Later, as the CIA-backed Hmong were under attack from Lao Marxist rebels and North Vietnamese forces, USAID forcibly resettled Hmong families in the line of their advance to protect the pro-US government in Vientaine. According to Albert McCoy’s classic investigative book, “The Politics of Heroin,”

“Knowing that the Hmong fought better when their families were threatened, USAID … seemed intent on keeping them in the area for a final, bloody stand against the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao…Since USAID decided where the rice was dropped, the Hmong had no choice but to stand and fight.”

There is no serious discussion about why the other side is more committed,except to imply that they were brainwashed and coerced or some kind of robot; a serious blindspot for a documentary purporting to have multiple truths.
Is Vann’s fantasy of a precise counter-insurgency that would only target enemy combatants really possible?  This has never occurred, not in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan
And how can Coyote assert that the opposition in South Vietnam had nothing to do with the VC as it was about nationalism?

Did Ho really grow a beard so he would look older, in 1960 he was already 70.  Surely that was the basis of his popularity. 

Where are today’s honest establishment media people like Sheehan and Halberstam?  And  if the situation was obvious to them why not to others with power?

I caught a brief mention of Edward Lansdale; why is this prototype of the ‘ugly American’ largely missing from this multiple truths story?