The Absence of South Vietnam in “The Vietnam War” and in the American Consciousness

I just finished watching “The Vietnam War” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. While I really disliked the first episode (as it was extremely reductionist and simplistic), I found the rest of the documentary to be of much higher quality.

Ultimately, this is a movie about “America” rather than “Vietnam.” What Burns and Novick try to demonstrate is that the deep divides in American society today can be traced back to the time of the Vietnam War.

In exploring how America became divided at that time, Burns and Novick try not to privilege any single person or group in/from America by showing the complexity of each person or group, and by doing so they change how these years are often presented. For instance, almost every time that Burns and Novick discuss a famous event in the history of the anti-war movement, they follow that by noting that polls at that time showed that Americans favored the actions of the police/the establishment rather than the anti-war protestors.

There are some who will see this as a conservative distortion of “the facts,” but if the goal of this documentary is to explain why America is so divided, then contextualizing the anti-war movement in this way is helpful.

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However, in their effort to look at the complexity of the diverse views of Americans, there is one topic that is conspicuously absent – South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese. In this 18-hour long documentary, the Americans who are interviewed, and the narrator, say almost nothing about South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese.

Even if this is a documentary about Americans and what they think, the war was supposed to be about protecting South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese were America’s allies. So shouldn’t Americans have something to say about South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese?

About the only thing that gets said about South Vietnam in this documentary is that the government was corrupt and the army was incompetent.

Why is that?

SVN

I can’t help but see a deep strain of racism and a double standard running through the 18 hours of this documentary that is a reflection of the collective American consciousness and view of the war.

We’re told that the South Vietnamese army was incompetent, and it is all but ignored until the Tet Offensive when we suddenly see that same army fighting very effectively.

Repeatedly we see the Americans negotiating with the North Vietnamese without even informing the South Vietnamese government of what they were doing. We are also told that the landing of the marines in 1965 was carried out without informing the South Vietnamese government.

The South Vietnamese are presented as undermining the Phoenix Program because they engaged in revenge killings (and by extension, the American military is blamed for allowing people who are obviously unprofessional to run this program), but when Americans fired on civilians after their comrades have been killed in a long fight. . . “that’s just war.”

We are also told that the Americans fought at a disadvantage because the enemy knew the terrain while the Americans didn’t. But the Americans fought in places where the South Vietnamese lived, and there must have been officers and soldiers in the South Vietnamese military who were actually from many of the places where Americans fought. They must have known the terrain. Did anyone consult them?

At the end of the movie we see US veterans making their peace with their former enemies, but we do not see any instances in which veterans engage in any kind of dialog or interactions with their former allies.

Finally, it is clear that this disregard for South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese was equally upheld by the anti-war movement. While people in this movement opposed the killing of innocent civilians in all of Vietnam, they had less interest in defending South Vietnam as an ally, and the caricature of the South Vietnamese government as corrupt and the army as incompetent fit perfectly with their critiques of the war.

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Over the course of the 18 hours of this documentary there are a few instances when interviewees point out the issue that I am referring to here. Veteran Thomas Vallely states at one point (episode 8 maybe?) that Americans exaggerated South Vietnamese incompetence so that they could exaggerate their own importance.

In the final episode (episode 10), former CIA officer Frank Snepp and former intelligence officer Stuart Herrington both talked about how the US sold out its ally, a point that they have made for years. Both of these men participated in the final evacuation of Americans from Saigon in 1975 and personally witnessed South Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans for years being left behind.

Other than a few comments like these, however, South Vietnam is rarely mentioned, and if it is, it is just to repeat the caricature that it was corrupt and incompetent.

VNW

The absence of South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese in “The Vietnam War” is not the result of some bias or distortion on the part of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. To the contrary, I would argue that by not talking about South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese Burns and Novick have captured the majority American view of the war.

It was a war in which America’s ally did not matter to Americans.

Why didn’t it matter? There are undoubtedly complex reasons for that, but denigrating South Vietnam certainly made a lot of things easier for Americans.

If a US policy that was imposed with little consideration for the context did not succeed, it was easy to say that it was because the South Vietnamese government was corrupt.

When a battle that the Americans fought on their own without any consultation with South Vietnamese didn’t go well, it was easy to get angry at the South Vietnamese soldiers for being incompetent and not fighting their own war.

When an American found that he might get drafted, it was easy to criticize the entire war by characterizing South Vietnam as corrupt and incompetent and therefore unworthy of American support.

Was all of this denigration made even easier because the South Vietnamese were Asian? I know that there are many people in America who will challenge that assertion, but I’m convinced that it is an important element in understanding the war.

Misalliance

There were of course Americans who worked very closely with South Vietnamese, and who do not fall into the broad categorizations that I have made here. Such people, however, were the minority, and what Burns and Novick have faithfully produced is the majority view.

Until recently, South Vietnam was also not taken seriously in the academic world either. Over the past 10-15 years, however, historians have started to research about the South and produce scholarship that brings to light a world that Americans previously ignored (the above book is one example and this is another). As such, Americans today can start to move beyond the superficial understanding of South Vietnam that they have based their ideas on for decades, but it may be more in keeping with “the American experience” to simply not bother to try.

By making these comments I am not trying to reignite debates about legitimacy or how the war could have been won, etc., nor do I have any intention to criticize the views and ideas that are presented in “The Vietnam War.”

I think that Burns and Novick have done a wonderful job of demonstrating what many different Americans think about when they talk about the war. And perhaps it is because they do that so well, that what Americans “don’t” think about when they talk about the war becomes so obvious.

Finally, while one could argue that every nation looks after its own interests first, what makes this case more complex is that many of those “corrupt” and “incompetent” South Vietnamese eventually became American citizens. If Burns and Novick are seeking to help mend some of the divisions in American society by educating viewers about how they emerged in the first place, it is difficult to see how continuing to ignore South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese contributes to this.

29 thoughts on “The Absence of South Vietnam in “The Vietnam War” and in the American Consciousness

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say. Are you saying that the documentary is “a popular view on history” and are asking whether that can be construed as history?

      I don’t think there is anything out there that we can be 100% confident is “history.” Every attempt to document the past is incomplete. Some attempts are just less problematic than others.

      However, I think we can be confident that thousands of people will watch this documentary and accept it as history (believing that we can confidently understand the past), and they will use what they understand about the past from this documentary to think about themselves, their country, and the world.

      That’s the issue I’m trying to address here – the way that Americans have constructed the history of this war and how that affects how Americans think about themselves, their country and the world.

  1. Great article, absolutely agreed with your positions. This is a typical view of Americans about VN war. It is a war between the Americans and the VCs, not between the South and the North. There are plenty of VN War books written by American historians & scholars, relying extensively on US records. Very few books written by the South Vietnamese in English, enabling the American to understand how the South Vietnamese think about this tragedy and their American “ally”. Nguyễn Tiến Hưng’s books are just not enough. Another absence is what happened in the South following the end of the war, the re-education camp, boat people etc

  2. South Vietnam really was staggeringly corrupt though, and the military was often incompetent – though with exceptions to be sure. Completely agree, and am likewise disappointed, that the film does not examine this in sufficient detail, but it is misleading to suggest this is just a stereotype. South Vietnamese newspapers bemoaned corruption and the government’s incompetence on a daily basis, no small factor in Thieu’s decision to effectively shutter them in 1973. And there are very few, if any, South Vietnamese memoirs which do not see corruption and incompetence (administrative more so than military, though it was a de facto military government) as central to the state’s collapse. Nguyen Van Tin’s account of the plight of brother, anti-corruption czar Gen. Nguyen Van Hieu, is an uneven book, but nonetheless quite instructive. By the mid 1970s, even the militantly anti-Communist Northern Catholic refugee parties were on the streets every day, demonstrating against Thieu who they judged – not without reason – as lacking the authority and legitimacy to hold the country together. Communist strategists themselves were startled by the speed with which ARVN’s bigger and better equipped forces disintegrated in 1975, which can only be understood against the backdrop of utter demoralization and despair in the South.

    Again, disappointing that South Vietnamese society gets short shrift in the film, no doubt due to the lingering self-serving American perceptions you identify, but while not adequately demonstrated, it is not a stereotype or an exaggeration to claim that the state was plagued by corruption and administrative incompetence.

    1. Thanks for the comments. I agree, but I think the corruption and protest to corruption in South Vietnam can also be put into context.

      1) Some of that corruption is related to the war, and the US also pressured the South Vietnamese government to allow people to protest so that it could be demonstrated to the world that South Vietnam was a democracy with a free press, etc.

      2) Meanwhile, the US did not care that its other allies in the region didn’t do this: Taiwan was under Martial Law through this whole period and the Philippines from 1972. South Korea and Thailand were under military rule. And while we can’t really call Burma and Indonesia US allies, they were both under military rule as well (Burma from 1962 and Indonesia from 1965, and the military in Indonesia killed a good half a million “communists” when they came to power). In these places if you protested against the government in person or in print you went to jail, period.

      That’s the larger context of decolonizing (Southeast Asia) Asia, but for some reason many people (in the US) hold a view that South Vietnam was just hopeless. Really? Was it really so different from other places in decolonizing Asia? Or was it more the case that it was pressured into a difficult position by the US (“you have to show that you’re a democracy”) that other countries in the region did not have to accept, and that SV was then criticized by the US (both the government and its critics) for failing?

      The majority American view is that SV was uniquely corrupt and incompetent. However, in the context of decolonizing Asia, I find that difficult to believe.

      Thanks again for your comment, because I was not trying to say that there was no corrupt in SV.

      1. Very true. Very few places in post-colonial Asia during this period could have legitimately claimed to be an oasis of democracy. I do think it was more the case of it was pressured into a difficult position by the US, if you view it in terms of a patron-client relationship in a project of ‘nation-building’ as part of a total war against communist infiltration on all fronts so the patron wants to see a return on their (heavy) investment, or least an illusion of it. The US government probably recognised the authoritarian tendencies of some of their Asian clients (Thailand, pre 1980s S.Korea, etc.) and this extended to America’s backyard, Latin America as a foregone conclusion so it was probably necessary to have at least one ‘success story’ for Cold War propaganda.

  3. I have “watched” this documentary sporadically, catching a few of the episodes and then watching something else the next night.

    My thoughts are that very few people are actually listening in totality from the comments and from the author’s dissertation. They are picking up on minor comments and making them the major story of Burns and Novick.

    Go to the original episode when they were talking about how Vietnam was colonized by the French. If you don’t understand “colonization” you won’t understand the history of the people of Vietnam. The French theories of colonization were about the colonized people (Vietnam) becoming “assimilated ” into the French culture BEFORE they could be accepted as people, as a nation.

    Bottom line is that America should be ashamed of their decisions concerning the conduct of a nation during the years between 1966 and 1973. They should also be ashamed of their decision making concerning the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. They simply repeated what they did in Vietnam. Where are the apologies?

    Finally, for those folks who have not seen the Vietnam wall in Washington, DC, please take the effort to see it in person. Tell me that your eyes won’t be welling up after going from one end to the other.

  4. Thank you for your voice. I agree completely with you. Unfortunately, the” true Story of the Vietnam War” and “what South Vietnamese people think of the war” may only be found in books written and published only in Vietnamese and not translated into English so that all the world can see both sides. That is unfortunate. Making into movies is another big step in order to touch people’s hearts, and I understand how we, the South Vietnamese think of ourselves being born in a small and under-developed country with no financial means to do what we would like to do.
    Many incompetent South Vietnamese now are US citizens, living a very productive life and contribute greatly to the United States. Many of their children and grand children have made America proud.

    Thank you.

  5. Last night, the final episode of The Vietnam War film was aired on PBS to conclude this documentary series. My overall feeling is sadness, and along with it, some disappointment. In terms of cinematography, the film is no doubt an attractive documentary, especially with the way personal accounts are incorporated in the story telling. The content, on the other hand, does not seem to match the title. It does not fulfill what was previously advertised about the film. As Leminhkhai has pointed out, the film does not provide equal weight to different views from all sides. As impressive as it may seem with tons of video footage, audio recordings, photos, interviews, etc., the film does not really give any new insights or breakthrough understanding. It mainly repeats the view that has been held by most Americans for many years. From this point of view, South Vietnam is simply an incompetent and corrupt ally.

    The first president of the Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, is depicted as a man put into power by the Americans. His administration is viewed as ineffective despite all the great help from America. Really? Given ten years and easy access to a huge collection of resources, especially the readily available declassified documents, this is what the filmmakers have come up with? I’m not sure if they don’t know or simply ignore the fact that the United States decided to support President Diem only after he had proved himself to be the only viable leader of South Vietnam. I’m surprised to hear the film call President Diem “a messiah without a message”. Haven’t Ken Burns and his team heard about Personalism, the political ideology used as a guidance to build the nation of South Vietnam during the First Republic? Sadly he was killed for his resolute defense of the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Vietnam. More about him can be found in a book recently written by Geoffrey Shaw, “The Lost Mandate of Heaven: the American betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem.”

    I don’t deny that corruption existed in South Vietnam, especially following the coup d’état of 1963. But was it as bad as how it looks in the film, or was it exaggerated as an excuse for the failure of the U.S. foreign policy? Don’t forget that, ugly as depicted in the film, that government of South Vietnam allowed itself to be the target of protests by the people and criticisms by privately-owned newspapers. This is something not only unimaginable in the North Vietnam at that time but also still impossible in Vietnam right now. In the South Vietnam during that war time, these rights were definitely abused by the communist activists to create chaos in the society.

    An impression the viewers can easily (and wrongly) get from the film is that almost all the battles were fought between U.S. forces and Viet Cong together with the North Vietnamese Army troops. If this were true, I wonder how hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers lost their lives? The film also seems to use Kim Phuc (the girl burned by a mistakenly dropped napalm bomb) and a Viet Cong executed by General Loan during the Tet offensive in an effort to portray the South Vietnamese soldiers and officers as incompetent and war criminals. Yet it does not give viewers a chance to know the other side of these stories. Do you know that Kim Phuc was later forced to become a propaganda icon for the communists? It was so terrible that she said, “I wished I died in that attack with my cousin, with my South Vietnamese soldiers.” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2153091/Napalm-girl-photo-Vietnam-War-turns-40.html). And do you know how deeply Eddie Adams regretted the negative impact of his photo on the general’s life? He said, “The General killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.” (http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/03/the-story-behind-the-man-who-was-killed-in-the-famous-saigon-execution-photo/)

    Henry Kissinger once said, “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.” This is sadly true about the fate of South Vietnam. Thank you, Leminkhai, for raising a good point. The film can be considered a success if its purpose is to capture the popular view by the majority of the American people of the Vietnam war. However, it is far from a complete, accurate, and honest historical view.

    P/S: Dr. Nguyen Tien Hung has pointed out some of the film’s inaccuracies here: http://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/forum-41387069

  6. _ which legitimate south VN are absent ? not the members of the renegade illegitimate Diêm – Thiêu Saigon regimes invented out of thin air by the USA http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/his/historyjournal/index.cfm?name=Review-of-Inventing-Vietnam:-The-United-States-and-State-Building,-1954-1968-by-James-Carter&cat=4&art=285
    but the likes of the Caravelle group https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravelle_Manifesto
    and the associates of Duong van Minh who wantedto take the winds of the VC insurgency by winning over the non communists elements of the South VN NLF https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_South_Vietnamese_coup

    1. How many Vietnamese-language sources does James Carter cite in his “Inventing Vietnam”? Zero.

      How much time did Carter spend researching the the archives in Saigon? Zero.

      Books like that are part of the problem that I am pointing to in this blog post.

      1. J. Carter ‘s “Inventing VN ” focuses on US agency , he doesn’t need to research VN language sources ; his book is well documented in US archives and received good reviews .
        [“James Carter has written the most important book to appear in the last decade about the U.S. experience in Vietnam. Using new evidence, he shows just how cynical was the nation-building project that consumed American energies and Vietnamese independence. Carter’s book is a persuasive alternative to current revisionist scholarship about the Vietnam war.” – William O. Walker III, University of Toronto “Despite repeated announcements of its demise, the American effort to build nations where none existed before — or to transform those already in place — is alive and well and as full of contradictions as ever. James M. Carter pursues these themes with immense vigor in his compelling account of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1968. Inventing Vietnam takes the brief history of South Vietnam seriously and makes clear why it still matters.” -Marilyn B. Young, New York University “Mistaken assumptions that the United States was in some manner defending an already existing state in South Vietnam has helped mask what policy-makers at the time understood all alongthat the United States was engaged in a massive state-building enterprise that was doomed to failure by its own logic. So argues Carter (history, Drew U.) as he reviews the history of this aspect of the US involvement in Vietnam, from the initiation of the Michigan State University Vietnam Advisory Group in the mid-1950s through to 1968.” – Reference & Research Book News

        This blog https://astickinthemud.com/2017/05/27/inventing-vietnam/ ] has ctitical words about South VN regime :
        [Everyone recognized fairly early on that South Vietnam occupied a precarious position in Southeast Asia. President Diem failed to inspire confidence. The North had nearly all the best political leadership.The major battles of the war against France, and thus, the major political infrastructure to handle the war, happened in the North. Even in the late 1950’s we realized the South Vietnam could collapse not so much because of the actions of North Vietnam but under its own weight. Castles cannot built on air.*
        Our efforts to “create” South Vietnam massively undermined our stated goals.
        The massive surge in U.S. dollars in South Vietnam destabilized their economy
        South Vietnam’s economy and infrastructure could not absorb the massive inflow of goods, which created a black-market economy almost immediately. This “shadow economy” further eroded governmental authority.
        Most significantly, construction projects facilitated the expansion of our war effort. The expansion of the war effort led to more bombing in South Vietnam, and more troop activity. The more war South Vietnam experienced, the more disruption they faced, the less chance the South Vietnamese government had of establishing themselves.

        Each of these problems served to ensure that the South Vietnamese government had no control over its own destiny. Many in the State Department and military realized this, but could do little else but press on. We couldn’t help ourselves. This is what we knew how to do. We can reasonably assume that if we had defeated the North Vietnamese militarily, the overall strategic situation would have changed hardly at all since the 1954 Geneva Accords which divided Vietnam in the first place. South Vietnam would not have been an independent country.]

      2. A “Good review” is a positive review written by someone who is an expert on the topic. Such a review of this book would require that someone be an expert on the war years, and have done research in the US and Vietnamese archives. I know of only one such person who has reviewed this book (David Biggs. in “The Journal of Military History”), and his review is not “good” as it disagrees with the main premise of the book (what follows is a quote from the review):

        “Reading this text as someone who has spent years working in both the Vietnamese and American archives, however, I could not get past a fundamental disagreement with Carter’s assertion that American advisors “invented” South Vietnam’s post-1954 institutions and infrastructure. Considering recent scholarship on American aid and the Republic of Vietnam, it is less clear that Americans, in spite of the unprecedented scale of financial and material aid being delivered, played the leading role in state building. Evidence from American archives, too, suggests that both military and civilian aid programs after 1954 were largely continuations of programs set in place since 1950 to shore up Franco-Vietnamese nationalization efforts. From the Army-led military campaigns to the organization of the Vietnamese administration, French designs were evident well into the 1960s. The American advisory community—diplomats, military officers, spies, academics, contractors and missionaries—also was anything but monolithic in terms of a vision for South Vietnam. Even within the US Operations Mission, development advisors often stridently disagreed with one another over what was happening in Vietnam and what responses might work. Rather than “inventing” Vietnam, I would challenge Carter’s notion by suggesting that Americans and their South Vietnamese allies were perpetually experimenting with a flurry of programs and tactics that lacked any real coordination over space or time—Vietnam was a circus of invention. Meanwhile, Vietnam as experienced on the ground continued to change politically and materially with little resemblance to American or Saigonese presentations.”

  7. Thanks for creating this blog! I came across this blog researching views about Burns’ documentary. I agree whole hardheartedly that the voices of the non South Vietnamese are neglected. I don’t know why that is but it is a form of condescension or maybe subtle form of racism. Maybe this will change when more and more Vietnamese Americans become part of America’s cultural landscape by becoming writers, journalists, academics, or any other cultural personalities. On another note, I get tired of hearing the “corrupt’ word thrown around to describe South Vietnam. Of course it is corrupt. ALL developing countries are corrupt because they are DEVELOPING countries without the institutions, the rule of law, primitive structure of government, the underdeveloped state of society and culture, and the lack of economic development. When critics make that charge, it is to de-legitimize the cause of a non-communist Vietnam. They want to make South Vietnam dirty and unclean. She is by that judgment unworthy of America’s support. It is a disgusting slander. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and other countries went through this stage of development. Tell me something that I don’t already know! Corrupt countries and societies do change over time given the framework and environment of peace.

    There were also good and decent men in South Vietnam. Some of them died resisting communist totalitarianism. Strange we hardly ever hear of the good men and women of South Vietnam who endured such suffering and hardship. I hope more children who are educated in their new country can articulate the views of their parents and the struggle they went through. That’s a story yet to be told!

  8. Other unmentioned south Vietnamese : the peasants who made up 90% of the population
    Here’s how they were ” saved ” from communism by US and south VN soldiers
    _ The devastating civilian toll by Nick Turse who gives voice and face to the sufferings of millions of dead and deplaced VN peasants
    https://theintercept.com/2017/09/28/the-ken-burns-vietnam-war-documentary-glosses-over-devastating-civilian-toll/
    _ The Purposeful Killing of Civilians in War
    http://vietnamfulldisclosure.org/index.php/purposeful-killing-civilians-war-voices-vietnam/
    _ American Rape of Vietnamese Women was “Standard Operating Procedure
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/03/american-rape-of-vietnamese-women-was-considered-standard-operating-procedure/

    1. _ more than five milllions , maybe 7 million peasants were uprooted and displaced . A snapshot of their sufferings :after operation Cedar Falls : a US general [ describes the “sight of the natives of Ben Suc with their carts, chickens, hogs, rice” as “pathetic and pitiful.” Moreover, he reports grave difficulties occurring during the inhabitants’ resettlement to the village of Phu Loi. He quotes Gen. Westmoreland as having said “Unfortunately, the resettlement phase was not as well planned or executed as the actual evacuation. For the first several days the families suffered unnecessary hardships.” When interviewed more than fifteen years later, one resident of the village recalled how they were not allowed to take anything from their homes, and how, from the very start of Operation Cedar Falls, the army killed villagers Journalist Schell thus describes the deported Ben Suc villagers as having “lost their appearance of healthy villagers and taken on the passive, dull-eyed, waiting expression of the up-rooted ]
      _ 2 to 3 millions were murdered in most savage ways
      Matter for reflexion : wasn’t the post war ” boat people” wave a countershock or aftershock or blowback of the tsunami of the sufferings of the displaced and murdered ?

      How many similar victims suffered during the French colonial war ? this aspect of the first Vietnam war is still undocumented . Was not the ” hallowed ” di cư năm 1954 or operation Passage to Freedom ” migration of Catholic northerners also the same kind of countershock ?

  9. Finally, while one could argue that every nation looks after its own interests first, what makes this case more complex is that many of those “corrupt” and “incompetent” South Vietnamese eventually became American citizens. If Burns and Novick are seeking to help mend some of the divisions in American society by educating viewers about how they emerged in the first place, it is difficult to see how continuing to ignore South Vietnam and the South Vietnamese contributes to this.

    Your last paragraph strikes a very important note with me…
    The very “incompetent” and “corrupt” personnel of the ARVN have gone on to produce numerous and successful descendants who are now contributing across wide ranging fields all over the world. From Senators to Judges to Admirals to Ministers, not to mention the mere and relatively more mundane professions such as lawyers and doctors and engineers..
    And the country that benefits the most from the successes of these descendents is the US of A.
    I would readily argue to anyone that the ratio of tertiary education achieved by this “incompetent” generation’s offsprings is higher than most if not all other generations.

    I have not watched this Documentary but reading your post suggests to me that it is a confirmation of what the Americans would like their citizens, past and present, to believe in. It is much easier to go to your graves with an accepted view. Put everyone at ease. A documentary more than 40 years after the end of the war, with lots of research and interviews by “some” people involved in this same war, must (in the eyes of Authors) make this “Authentic” – Right?
    A whole generation of disappointed offsprings of South Vietnam’s “incompetent” regime will keep on fighting and make noises until that day when history is properly rewritten.
    I’m not even going to start with that Jew, Kissinger. That’s for another day…

    Born in 1969 in Danang. Left Vietnam in 1980 on a leaky boat. Now resides in Australia. Tertiary educated…Proudly an Offspring of ARVN personnel..

    1. I failed to see why the accomplishments of the VN American community would retroactively influence the judgment bearing upon the Saigon regime The same accomplishments can be found in other ethnic – American communities .
      The Saigon followers to this day feet a deep sense of injustice because
      they self – righteously think that just staking their cause as anticommunist is a redeem -it-all-panacea for the numerous failings of the Saigon regime , they desperately hope that some day the world would open its eyes to their accomplishments and to the sins of the commies and vindicate the Saigon regime
      They should read VN-American Pulitzer prize winner NGUYEN Thanh Viet’s ” Nothing ever dies ” . It’s a very interesting book , it’s choke full of insightful remarks on the Vietnam war . He explains among other things how the Hollyood propaganda machine ” WON ” the Vietnam war ; how the south Koreans surfing on their new found prosperity and their cultural accomplishments ( K-pop , Hallyu or Korean wave , Korean TV series , etc… ) succeed in redeeming their image , glossing over their Vietnam atrocities . If the VN american communiity can command as much financial clout as the south Koreans , they would be able to imitate Hollywood and the South Koreans

      1. Gee, you’re looking at history from a horse’s view. I’m looking at my own country’s history during the war through my own experience and those of my direct family, ie my father, uncles etc…Of course atrocities occur in every war. We are talking about the majority views and actions of the various sides. If you talk to the right people, you would know that the Tet massacre of 1968 in Hue numbered in the thousands. This fact was grudgingly acknowledged by the NV’s “great” General’s biography.
        And we all know who the perpetrators were. I’ve personally spoken to the survivors. Don’t just read history books from the comfort of your couch.
        I don’t know why people bring up events like those committed by the South Koreans, or the My Lai incident to generalise the war this way…
        The war was not won or lost due to these incidents. It was lost when the Americans sacrificed SV for the sake of bonding with China. Plus they had Israel to worry about. The rest as they say, is history.
        The point I’m making is that uninformed foreigners like to make assumptions that SV failed because there were all these incompetent personnel running the government. I usually associate incompetency with those who are illiterate or lacking education or training. The Vietnamese people of the South were not incompetent. The proof is that from 1975 to 1986 the country of Vietnam went backwards economically and culturally. Why is that? If the hundreds of thousands of the “incompetent” Nguy quan and Nguy quyen were locked up in concentration camps plus approx 500,000 others risking their lives on leaky boats, then shouldn’t that increase the competencies average of Vietnam as a whole?
        Thang lam vua thua lam giac. Winners are grinners..But we keep our heads up because sometimes losing is part of history. And history can be rewritten. Just look at the cases of Nguyen Trai and Nguyen Hue..

      2. Yea, the key point that was brought up either in the comments here or on another post is that while the US had no problem backing “allies” (Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea) that were led by dictators and under martial law, South Vietnam was pressured by the US to be “democratic” and to not declare martial law (because they wanted to set an example that would counter the authoritarianism of the communist North, again, at the same time that there were 100% ok with authoritarian Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the list goes on and on around the world. . .).

        And when things didn’t work out (gee, I wonder why. . .), SVN gained the reputation of being “corrupt” and “incompetent” (after all, US policy was was perfect, so it must have been those corrupt/incompetent South Vietnamese. . .) but. . . in the context of that time of decolonization (when basically every former colony turned at first to authoritarian rule), that’s kind of like tying someone’s hands behind his/her back and then criticizing him/her for not being able to fight. . .

        There’s definitely a lot there to feel bitter about.

  10. I’m bewildered by some of the comments regarding corruption and incompetence. Some of it coming from commenters with Viet names. Of course there are corruption. This is a human trait. And it is rife in Asia and probably more blatant and in your face than most. If the old Chinese have taught us anything it is “Tien di truoc la tien khon” “money goes first is smart money”.
    Why bring this up now..but only to use it as an excuse. Do we all think that the South Vietnam government did not work out because there was a corrupt culture at that time?
    The only thing wrong with the whole situation back then was not to impose Martial Law. It had to be done..The success of countries like Phillipines, Taiwan, Thailand and eventually North Vietnam only reinforces that. The Americans wouldn’t have it and therefore SV was conflicted and restricted by all and sundries. The biggest failure that I can see now is the total reliance on the American funding. If we just promised to sell some of our lands to the Americans like NV did to the Chinese, we may have seen things turned out differently. I don’t know if it was naivety, but how can the SV government expect to receive endless funding from the US. It had to end or reduce drastically. The signs were coming for a long time.
    No, corruption wasn’t the cause. There are no free meals..Everyone has to pay, either with lives, land or oil. We had many lives lost. No land was exchanged. And there was no oil (at least pre 75) back then. So, the inevitable happened.

  11. @leminhkhai
    Yes having your hands tied behind your backs and being given WW2 weapons to fight the enemy armed with AK47 and T54…
    Being bitter is only half the story. It is people’s dignity that are being thrown about and kicked and mugged while you are down curled up in a corner, sometimes just wishing you’d killed yourselves like some of the Generals did at the end of the war..Funny that no foreign press ever brought these suicides up to give a hint of balance to their arguments. Yet when an well known and acknowledged communist sympathising monk burnt himself, everyone jumped at the chance to criticise and reason to themselves and the free world of his motive.
    In the words of an infamous Aussie Bushranger, such is life.
    Such is American policy. They have much to answer for.

  12. @leminhkhai
    https://phamjngocjlaan.wordpress.com/

    I suggest people read this man’s journal….It is written diary style the author’s life from the time he was born, 1940 till around 1980 when he emigrated to France. The book is complete in French. However he is, due to tremendous interest among Vietnamese abroad, translating it into Vietnamese, chapter by chapter. It is still not completed. As of today we’re at Chapter 66, around the time 1978, i think..
    This is the kind of of reading and learning about the actual events and happenings that every student studying about Vietnam should read. Especially during the period most significant to the fate of Vietnam at the time of decolonization leading to the main event of the Vietnam war.

    Sometimes it is difficult to get the real picture of the true events when you read so many books written by so many people, especially Western authors. No disrespect intended but unless you understand Vietnamese culture and psyche, these authorship will never be complete.
    This author is of mixed blood, Vietnamese mother and French father. The book is titled
    “Di tim nguoi cha vo danh”.
    It is a fascinating read.. I hope you read it and give your views..

  13. I think in the long run, the narrative of the 2nd Indochina War, aka: Vietnam War, will be more balanced. There are a lot of young Vietnamese American scholars are writing about this subject and contributing to the Western scholarship of this subject with an added contribution of the much neglected voice of the non-communist Viet nationalists. People who can read and write in Vietnamese and have a understanding of the culture and history of the country have a deeper understanding of that conflict than the American centric point of view of the very complex war. The conventional narrative is still prevalent but with the passing of time this narrative will no longer be the dominant one. Once Vietnam Communist Party falls from power, there will be a flowering of added narratives when the Vietnam archives become open and accessible to everyone. I think it is the start of the beginning of the end for the VCP rule in Vietnam. No dictatorship lasts forever. VC power is not immune to that reality.

  14. Vietnam is really the ” war that never ends ” .As Pulitzer winner Nguyen Thanh Viet wrote : All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory ” . Some Vietnamese -Americans are desperately waiting for some vindication about the justness of their cause ; they’re clutching at straws like ” the numerous VN American accomplishments ” or the VC atrocities ( forgetting conveniently the much more innumerable American or south Korean ones ) . They are playing out a new version of the “stab-in -the -back ” or ” we could have won , should have won if … ” .
    The Rand corporation book ” RAND in south east Asia ” https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/corporate_pubs/2010/RAND_CP564.pdf should shake them out of their illusions :
    _ chapter two startin page 45 , “What Makes the Viet Cong Tick?” shows the face of the enemy who are depicted as dedicated , resilient patriots , as the ” best , filled with passionate intensity ”
    _ in chapter 10 ” the end of the war ” the Saigon followers are shown as ” losers , who lack all conviction ” . In this chapter mid- page 527 ” after the fall of Saigon many former upper grade South Vietnamese military and civilian leaders , 27 of them among whom Nguyen cao Ky , at the request of the Historian, Office of the Secretary of Defense were interviewed , regarding what they perceived as the causes of this sudden collapse. To make it short , they talked of corrupt and incommpetent generals and officials .
    The Rand report mentioned the SIGMA war games
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigma_war_games . They were started well before US massive troop involment to guess the results of different strategie over the conduct of the war . They all predicted US failure , whatever the scemario .
    The Australian jounaliist Wilfrid Burchett , ( who was maybe a KGB agent ) wrote end 1968 after the Tet offensive a series of reports ” Vietnam will win ” In the posts ” Taking on the Pentagon ” and ” Military realities ”
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/02/19/vietnam-will-win-taking-on-the-pentagon/
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/02/21/vietnam-will-win-military-realities/
    he explains how American troops were checkmateed by the VC .
    So much for the tune ” we should have won” , except for the antiwar, the media , the Viet Cong- ress

  15. @Sid T.
    The digital age with social media has helped in fastforwarding the new generation’s knowledge base of the past. That is one good thing. The other is the many overseas students from Vietnam now studying and living amongst the many Vietnamese diaspora are seeing and learning for themselves the many contradictions that they’ve been fed with under the communist regime.
    Amongst this new generation, we hope to see some “revolutionaries” as they are the ones who have lived and breathed that culture internally, and are now in the privileged position of learning from a different perspective.
    The stigma and fear of speaking out is still holding back many of this generation. They fear for the consequences to their family still living in Vietnam. However bit by bit we all hope that scholarship from this generation will grow and prosper as that fear slowly subsides and replaced by new found “freedom of speech”. The things we take for granted in western world such as the freedom to express yourself, is such a pipedream for many people in Vietnam, despite it looking all rosy from the outside.

  16. @Sean Nguyen, I hope your optimism about Vietnam post war generation becomes a reality. I’m not so sure though because I have come across some very unreasonable, infantile, pro-VCP regime students from Vietnam. It is very discouraging. I think a lot Overseas Vietnamese have a misplaced ideal about the youngsters of Vietnam. The crude dictatorship in Vietnam has been in power for so long that a lot of Overseas Vietnamese are always pinning their hope that a new generation of Vietnamese will overturn this crude dictatorship. Their hope should not be misplaced because reality can be disappointing. I don’t know what will become of Vietnam but the fact that communism and the dictatorship that arose from this ideology has been a huge disaster for the people of Vietnam. All those wars and deaths were for a dead end. Communism was such an unbelievable lie and caused too much suffering in that country. The VCP has no more valid ideology to exist. It only exists to benefit the family members of the party. They only exist to stay in power and the privileges that come with that power. It’s pretty much the same way in North Korea, Cuba, and China. Everything is family based. They only cling together because if they don’t they will fall from power.

  17. I think you are partly right, in that those overseas students that you may have come across are children of the elite ruling class or Dai gia (rich families). I’m referring more to the other end of the spectrum. The real people from the country sides and those who are here because their parents have seen enough. These “students” and their parents have wagered all their modest assets to get them overseas hoping they find a way to stay, by hook or crook. Basically once they leave their country, the objective is not to return, certainly for a long time. I m speaking from personal experience having employed several of these students. I’ve talked to them and learnt about the many thoughts and insights of the young generation and even those of their parents.
    I’m not saying the majority are like minded. These things will take time. By evolution or revolution it will happen. There will be breaking points and once reached the tide will be so overwhelming that something will have to give.

  18. Matter for reflection :
    _ did the Filipino independance fighters who got end of 19th century their fight stolen and were crushed by the Americans obtain to this day their day in the court of history ? It seems , the history taught to Filipino youth is a narrative of benevolent Americans coming to help and civiliize the natives .
    _ how does their plight can be interpreted through the lens of the anti communists ( who see
    the USA as can-do-no-wrong white knight in shining armor ? )
    The past and present history of other parts of the world does not limit itself to the communist – anticommunist confrontation .
    _ how does it go for the White Russian community ? did they get their vindication ?
    _ in Russia , the communist doctrine have been discarded . But the people still continue to
    celebrate the anti-nazi war but ignoring Stalin .

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