“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.” And “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.” (April 4, 1967: “Beyond Vietnam”)
Words like this from a respected American are outside the permitted narrative of the B/N project.
EPISODE FOUR: “RESOLVE”
This is the story of 1966, a year that the producers of this film have designated as the time when doubt began to worm its way into the American troops. This doubt sows the breeding ground for what we now call “moral injury.” You begin to realize that your job of killing others, or supporting those who are carrying out the killing, is not divinely ordained. You are not in a just war. In fact, you are being used by others who have much more pedestrian motives — rank, saving face, gaining political favor. This is three years before I even set foot in country, into a war much different than early 1966. In 1969, we trudged into that muck and mire as reluctant cynics. We were intent on surviving. Not attaining some fanciful glorious victory over the demonic communists. But not so for the 173rd Airborne in the Central Highlands in mid-1966. So, let’s assume that Burns and Novick et al are somewhat accurate in setting off 1966 as the “turning point” in our slow awakening to the truth. So what?
First off, this would be a good point for the auteurs to work in the aforementioned concept of moral injury. I understand that term as a means to capture that slow, remorseful process of recognizing one’s complicity in what most religions call “evil.” You realize that there is no excuse for your unwillingness or inability to stop human degradation as it unfolds before you. For breaking deeply held moral codes. And now you must accept the consequences of that debilitating malaise that worked its way into your head. Some of us have deflected that responsibility by attacking the commanders and officers and politicians who told us to follow their orders. But that excuse wears thin over time. Now, in 2017, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Even though the film makers do not overtly acknowledge this concept, its presence begins to cast shadows on their narrative.
As I watched the faces of the soldiers caught up in the moment or moments that will change their lives forever, those acts of quick reflex to survive or to avenge the deaths of buddies, I cringed. Doug Peacock, a medic with the Green Berets for two tours captures “the horror, the horror”of it all in his memoir WALKING IT OFF when he writes about the staggering realization that “everything is permitted.” You are nineteen, and you can end life, make life for another unbearable, and you can do it with virtual impunity. A person does not come back from that world unscathed.
At this juncture of the film, four episodes into a ten episode saga, it is evident to me that we are not watching a true documentary film. In my eyes, documentation is rooted in facts and, if at all possible, immutable truths. The documentarian’s function is to get down to historical truths, to discover cause and effect, and to provide us with a trustworthy scaffolding to rebuild our memories as soundly as possible. No, we are watching instead a series of anecdotes, each one imbued with the earnestness of the teller. Who dares to question the grieving mother or disillusioned sister or duty-bound soldier? We are not being invited into a logical discussion of facts here — we are being asked to bear witness. And that has its merits.
This realization of the film’s mischaracterization as documentary does not totally diminish it in my eyes. Indeed, it enhances its importance when I realize what it is doing to me right now, late at night, here in my house, in my seventieth year. Each episode is eliciting some deeply held beliefs, bringing stuff to light that I can ponder and try to understand. Maybe even finally put to rest or at least into a perspective I can grapple with. I also understand that this film is not a therapeutic tool, but it does force me to explore my own complicity in war’s terrible legacies. So, this is not history we are watching. We are watching theater. And we who lived through that war, whether “in country” or not, must see ourselves as players on a stage. We played roles back then, and we are playing roles right now.
The true value of this exercise in cinema, then, can be found in the telling — as it reaches into our psyches and teases out our own anecdotes for yet another walk through, we hopefully become more aware of others, we deepen our compassion for the “enemy,” and we come closer to some real truths. And then we tell our own narratives to someone we love. Here’s a poem I wrote in the seventies about my year in Vietnam that tries to do just that :
YOU SHOULD WRITE ABOUT IT
write a book
Like that time
or when the stars
burst into flares
Or how about when
the earth flew away
before your eyes?
And how about
Maybe you should write
detailing how to
burn your shit
in diesel fuel
Or maybe you
could write a song
about the 175’s
and the 8-inchers
blowing away your eardrums.
Or perhaps a poem
to the girls
in their wooden faces
making love to the moon
bouncing behind your
Well, how about it?
It’s been awhile.
I know you still got it
god damn you
It won’t kill you, you know.
At least not anymore than
it already has.
I’m starting to watch the Burns/Novick documentary on PBS. I am visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Spokane, Washington, both of whom have health problems. I want to focus on them more, but they wanted to watch the second episode last night. I have read several articles about the PBS series, along with what people are posting on Full Disclosure. I am sure I am no different than most people. I have been somewhat hesitant to watch the Burns film, because I am away from my friends and support group back in Portland, Oregon. When I came back from Vietnam, I was eventually hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for PTSD, once in 1980, and in 1994 after I came back from my first return to Vietnam with three close friends who were also Vietnam veterans. One of those friends was involved in the Phoenix Program, where he was personally pulling the trigger on assassinations. Another friend in our group was involved in radio intercept. Halfway through his tour in Vietnam, he realized he was giving B-52 pilots coordinates in the bombing of civilian targets. When he realized he was involved in mass murder, he walked into the orderly room on his base, and told his company commander that his tour in Vietnam was officially over. Well, they threatened him with a court martial, and even a firing squad, but he stuck to his guns, and told them to go fuck themselves. He was eventually sent back to the US as a psychiatric case, and wound up on a psyche ward at Madigan Army Hospital. His war was over, and he spent the next twenty years drinking heavily, and packing a pistol. He was basically suffering from the LIE of the Vietnam War, and the dismantling of his core belief system. He absolutely hated the US Government, and called the Pentagon a house of goons. He used profound articulate sarcasm to get through his day, as he referred to the American flag as a Nazi symbol riddled with madness. To this day, he is a person I have the utmost respect for, because he walked into his orderly room in Vietnam, and told people that he could no longer morally commit murder for corporate America. Now, run this voice through the 18-hour Burns documentary on The Vietnam War. This is not complicated, except for people who are still looking for a noble cause for America’s involvement in Vietnam. The LIE is the truth of the Vietnam War. That LIE put me in two psychiatric hospitals, and that is why I dearly love my friend, because he validated me to the core.
Before I went to Vietnam, I spent a year in Denver, Colorado at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital attending an advanced 41 week medic course. Fitzsimmons had a lot of amputees from Vietnam, as they were going through various stages of being severely wounded. I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs during the year that I was there. One experience I had, as we were involved in many medical rotations throughout the hospital, was my two week rotation on the psyche ward. Many soldiers coming back from Vietnam were severely wounded psychologically, and the drug of choice was Thorazine. You could tell soldiers were on heavy doses of Thorazine, because they had the Thorazine shuffle. When soldiers did not respond to drugs ( if they ever would ), they often received shock therapy. As a student, I witnessed one of those high voltage treatments. I remember they brought this young American kid into the room on a gurney and we transferred him to the shock table. He was strapped down to the table, a padded tongue blade was put in his mouth. He was already on a sedative, but the nurses were there to give him as much comfort as they could. Electrodes were attached to his head, and the switched was executed. His body became very rigid, and he convulsed with jerking movements that seemed to elevate him off the table. What I saw in that moment, was the utter LIE of the entire Vietnam War in a nutshell. I wish Ken Burns had a clip of that shock therapy session in his 18-hour epic on The Vietnam War, as it would cut through a lot of bullshit ideological rhetoric. When you get away from emotional intelligence, and the incredible grief and sorrow of the Vietnam Holocaust, you are still discussing whether it was a noble cause. When I saw the end results of a couple of American soldiers commit suicide in Vietnam, and a good Vietnam vet friend hang himself in a motel room twenty years after he got back from Vietnam, I didn’t need anymore proof on weather it was a noble cause of not. I had the blood on my hands to prove it, and the emotional trauma of the LIE for a lifetime.
Army Medic Vietnam
September 20, 2017
You do not bring the enemy to the peace table by just killing military combatants. You ultimately bring the enemy to the peace table by killing innocent civilians, because they are military targets. The primary goal of the aggressor nation is to break the will of the people, and their ability to defend their homeland. This strategy is as old as warfare itself.
I was planning on waiting till I saw all 10 episodes, but after watching the first 5 in the explicit language version, I need to blow off some steam.
Burns has stated in an interview that the one interview in the documentary that he would most resist removing would be the one with the Marine from Missouri. This Marine stated in episode 5 that after making his first kill, he told God that he would not kill any persons during his remaining tour. He went on to say that he just killed “gooks” . He stated repeatedly what a deep hatred he held towards the Vietnamese.
I don’t care how much of a sacrifice was made, how great of a physical effort was made, how elite the unit was, how close one bonded to ones fellow soldiers, how much of a risk one took, how much one was provoked, how special one felt, or how greatly one felt about the cause. An act of inhumanity against ones fellow-man is still an act of inhumanity against ones fellow-man and is evil.
Though I have been learning some interesting information about the period, my view of war has not been changed but has been reinforced by watching the first 5 episodes.
I am reminded why I established the two mile rule after I got back from Viet Nam, which was to never go closer than 2 miles to an American Legion or VFW post.
I was able to remove myself from society by staying on the farm for a few years as I did not trust myself due to being a highly trained killer.
After a couple years I did venture off the farm to attend a welcome home event for Vietnam Veterans. It was co-sponsored by the Legion but was at the Holiday Inn, so did not break my 2 mile rule.
My wife and I got to the Holiday Inn at the north edge of Galesburg and went into the lounge area and got a table. I went up to the bar and got us drinks and brought them back to the table and then excused myself to go to the restroom. In the restroom were two Vietnam veterans loudly complaining about the mother fucking gook in the room. I knew I would blow up if I confronted them, so I just turned around and walked out and told my wife that we had to leave and left the untouched drinks on the table.
Last year I got my best welcome home from the Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth. It was the opposite from the one at the Holiday Inn. Tammy’s late father was a Vietnam veteran and her mother was from Thailand as was my first wife. As we exchanged stories at a neighbor’s farmhouse, she somewhat implied that I reminded her of her father. As we were laughing and exchanging our stories, she said something the complete opposite of what the Marine had said in the documentary. My now Senator said “I am what happens when you send a soldier to war, and he falls in love”. As I listened to her, it was the only time that I wished I could have had a daughter with my first wife.
James Foley, a few weeks before he went back to Syria and was captured and beheaded, talked to us at the NATO Summit protests about the first thing that needs to be done to start war. That is to designate the enemy as others. I would hope that if we don’t consider those of differing views like many in the documentary are doing as others, maybe we can prevent wars.
As W. H. Auden wrote in his poem “September 1, 1939”, “Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return.” Hopefully, those that watch the documentary will learn this lesson.
Had a flashback in a surreal return to what seemed like a virual reality, my Viet Nam experience was being relived in one scene in the first episode and it kind of freaked me out.I am having trouble with some of the narrative this favors, while pleased with the inclusion of Vietnamese NVA & NLF Veterans perspective on the American War in Viet Nam.
Though my emotions struggle to keep calm and rational as I watch how irrational our presidents, generals and advisors were even when smarter more rational intelligence warned of the quagmire we were getting into and recommended getting out.
It is difficult for me to watch this series as it is taking its toll on me but I will continue watching because I am obligated to see where it all leads and to add my comments and critiques as a combat Viet Nam Marine Veteran adding my perspective, I saw no noble cause to the war I served in and that deserves being repeated with each episode.My Viet Nam Full Disclosure colleagues can better critique the accuracy of events, missing accounts, analyze the psychology of the generals and white house playing politics in lying to the our citizens about how we were losing the war, keeping secrets of bombings like that of Rolling Thunder.
For more critiques from Veterans For Peace, Authors, Journalists and Vietnam Anti-War Activists check out www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org