Thursday, September 28, 2017

PBS Vietnam Series, Finale, "The Weight of Memory," 28 September 2017

Excellent project all together; for what it's worth some comments.

      * This is trivial, but they got across the green of the Vietnamese countryside: a brilliant, unforgettable green. Not as much as the earlier series, they also did well to suggest the occasional terrible beauty of the war, and to get statements from a US veteran or two on the exhilaration and community of combat. I cannot speak to that point personally, but in terms of men's behavior, the polished-up version of General Sherman's "War is hell, and all its glory moonshine" has got to be balanced, at least for some, by positives, including, with a lot of irony, beauty and community.

      * The final episode didn't make up for the previous one's unfairness to George McGovern and John Kerry. McGovern was a good and honorable man, and far more right than wrong. With Kerry, they let stand without any response the accusation that in his testimony to the Congress for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War he passed along lies about atrocities by US forces. The last word on the subject is from an American combatant who said that he was certain atrocities occurred but that wasn't what he saw, not part of his war. I believe him, but what is actually the case in terms of the war and the stories Kerry told the Congress?

      * There's a book on Vietnam movies by the PR officer for General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. He found THE DEER HUNTER mostly pretty silly but praised it for showing a small-town's friendly wellcome-home for returning Vietnam soldiers, as opposed to the usual Hollywood curses and spittle. The US is a big country, and in the Midwest outside of Madison, WI, and some other places, the party line among the Peace Movement — as opposed to "The Revolution" — was to treat grunts and low-ranking officers as (as a critic of the Wall put it) victims of the war and potential and important allies. (The VVAW were crucial for the anti-War movement.)

      * The approach of the documentary necessarily avoided the wonkish "Well ...?" Well, were US actions in Vietnam finally, on balance, right or wrong? Was it a just war, or a "mistake" that with so high a body count would be a crime? The US lost, and we're still here and doing OK, and, arguably, would be better off if we hadn't fought. Therefore no vital interests were involved, by definition of "vital"; certainly there was no existential threat to the Republic. Alternative, the US opposed the Communists with vigor, and the Philippines and Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, et al. aren't part of a Stalinist world. Indeed, the USSR fell, and the Cold War ended before World War III. All of this precisely because the US showed that JFK was right and we would (just about) pay any price — and inflict huge damage — to preserve capitalist, liberal freedom: our spilling so much blood and spending so much money proved that. The approach of this PBS series was effective, but a wonkish word or two would have helped.

     * I really do have to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington,  DC. I wanted to leave a stone there that I had picked up at Kent State, but left the stone at My Lai instead. Still, I do need to see the Wall.

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