As I and many other Vietnam vets are compelled to publicize our unfavorable opinion of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary on the Vietnam War, I fully realize many of you wonder, “Why can’t they let it go after all these years?” Simple answers are preferred, and this one isn’t.
When we came home from Vietnam decades ago, the values in our country seemed to have turned upside down. Funny how the public mood shifts and reverses course as attitudes spread like wildfire through the herd, where most were eager to nod in groupthink to avoid being ostracized as “them.”
We who wore a military uniform in those years were often ignored or despised while opposition to the war took root and became the measure of virtue in the public, the media and academia, even though the anti-war arguments were largely founded in falsehood, fed to each other in the echo chamber they created.
Twenty-somethings just arriving home from being transformed in combat, called babykillers or worse at California airports, were not inclined to debate politics, but it seemed to us our country was doing the right thing defending South Vietnam from communist overthrow.
And so we went to ground to live our life below that particular radar. Nobody wanted to hear our stories anyway, everybody seemed to know all the answers about Vietnam, they saw it on TV and heard it from each other, which seemed odd since we didn’t have all the answers ourselves.
While we kept our head down, the loud voices on the war were on the anti-war side, and so America never did understand what really happened there.
When Saigon fell in 1975, two years after the U.S. military withdrew, those of us who fought there couldn’t believe our country would stand by doing nothing while our erstwhile ally was brutalized. Americans seemed content to watch on TV the horrors of a panicked South Vietnam populace who knew the murderous recrimination that was coming, desperate enough to stay behind in their anguish after cramming their children on an overcrowded boat or airplane to flee, giving their confused and crying kids some hope of life, knowing they would never see them again.
America was finally not entangled in the mess, and that was the most important thing, wasn’t it? Americans could turn off the TV and enjoy dinner. Besides, the media didn’t even cover the slaughter that followed and our fellow citizens didn’t have to be troubled by that horrible process.
That event only strengthened the isolation some of us felt from what seemed an oblivious American public, and still most of us kept it to ourselves. Who would believe we could have won that war if only the White House had given the military its mission and stayed out of the way?
Like all films and TV programming, Burns/Novick delivered a mood, a feeling – in this case predictable gloom with cherry-picked content – that America’s role in Vietnam was a sad, misguided, costly mistake, unwinnable from the beginning, its veterans turned into victims, a validation of the anti-war movement and rationale for America abandoning the South Vietnamese to their fate.
With this masterfully crafted lie, including plenty of truth mixed in, Burns/Novick have soothed the conscience of the left, and their film is destined to much acclaim.
After all, who took history’s pen in hand to write their version of the Vietnam War in our schoolbooks? Who took up journalism as a cause to change the world — rejecting the obligation to just report the truth — and now occupy influential roles in the media? Who sought teaching roles in universities and now sit at the helm in those snowflake factories? Who sought government jobs and now control large patches of the federal swamp?
Here’s a hint: It wasn’t us, and I think the answer has much to do with the alarming drift of our country to the left.
Burns/Novick have reinforced a manufactured history, and this time we are not going to be silent. Not this time. Not any more.
Would that the world worked as the left sees it, like John Lennon’s naive song, “Give Peace a Chance.” I don’t deny the comforting sentiment of joining arms and swaying with the repetitive lyrics, but since that song was about the Vietnam War, it implies South Vietnam should have just surrendered to Ho Chi Min’s vicious communists, as if freedom from oppression is not worth a fight.
AVVBA (Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association) is a fine organization and I am proud to say I am a life member. If you are interested in what other vets think, here is a link to seven of them speaking for the organization; I urge you to take the time to watch and listen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeBC7DQoAbY).
The first speaker, Bob Babcock, emphasizes that it is well past time for Vietnam vets to counter false history by telling their own story, that we have a duty to do so. I couldn’t agree more. Bob has helped a number of vets get their story in print.
Looking back, I didn’t attend a single veteran event for over 30 years after my Vietnam experience. When I had kids late in life I began to think about the crap they would read in their schoolbooks about my brothers and sisters in Vietnam. It bothered me, and prompted me to reconnect with my fellow vets.
In 2005 a man said something stupid and derogatory to me about Vietnam vets, and after I cooled off, I realized he was just parroting the nonsense he had been taught. That’s when I decided to write a book about Vietnam vets, because, borrowing a turn of words from John Steinbeck, if we don’t tell it true, who will?
I finished my book in 2010. I won’t mention the title here because I don’t want to use this venue to sell books, but I do want to share with you an excerpt. The remainder of this column is how I ended my book and summarizes well how I feel.
“Whether we should have stayed out of Vietnam no longer matters. Whether we should have supported elections in Vietnam in 1956 no longer matters. Whether the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a sham no longer matters. Whether the government of South Vietnam was corrupt at any given point no longer matters. Whether democracy had a good chance in South Vietnam where the people were not fiercely committed to it no longer matters.
“But there are some things that still do matter. What matters is whether the troops America sent to fight and die in a war received the unbridled commitment of their country to win. What matters is whether America was united behind its own troops until they were out of harm’s way. What matters is whether the country delivered a debt of gratitude to its own troops when they came home.
“What matters is whether our media reported the truth to the American people without promoting an agenda. What matters is whether we preserved the true history of the war, and the truth about those who fought it. What matters is whether America kept its commitment to our ally.
“On the things that still matter, America failed on all counts.
“That’s what happened in Vietnam.
“In 1977 President Carter insulted the service of Vietnam veterans by issuing a blanket pardon for all of those who had broken the law by dodging the draft.
“Despite the failures, speaking for every Vietnam vet I know, nobody is more proud of serving their country well, nobody loves their country more.
“Now, decades later, the Vietnam vets who served their country so well have expanding waistlines and hair turning grey while America has new generations of politicians, still neither informed nor honest, and when I hear them discuss Vietnam as if we owe that communist regime an apology for any part of the war, I feel the sudden urge to puke.”
[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, GA. He occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]