Why I won’t watch “The Vietnam War” documentary — and you probably shouldn’t either
I don’t care that the documentary was probably made with the best of intentions. I don’t care that director Ken Burns is apparently one of the good guys. I don’t even care it “allows Vietnamese people a voice”.
As a Vietnam resident I digitally trawl for Vietnam news. On a daily basis 95% of it is about America. Even though I try to filter out the worst of the repetitions.
These include hourly hate thrown at Jane Fonda and John McCain. Trump’s bone spurs. Who was a draft dodger and who served. MIAs. Military hardware and veteran news. The New York Times appears to be running Vietnam war opinion pieces in real time. I really don’t know why.
Not to mention tourists who arrive and need to see prisons and planes and tunnels. As if Vietnam is a war theme park
The common wisdom is the United States needs all of this. To heal, to learn, to move on. Vietnam suffered far more but doesn’t dwell. Vietnam doesn’t play the victim card. It has every right to. Vietnam largely celebrates independence over war.
Does America even want to move on?
Let’s start with the documentary name. Called “The Vietnam War” it’s already just being referred to as “Vietnam”. Again America is making the war represent the country’s entirety.
Its 18-hour length isn’t to be admired. It’s an indulgence. Sure it’s a documentary but it’s also another TV series. A schedule-filler.
Here’s another phrase I hate: “the Vietnam era”. Did Vietnam cease to exist after Americans left?
And what about “Vietnam war” in itself? A phrase universally used outside Vietnam and yet so entirely one-sided. I’ve even seen Americans casually discount the Vietnamese-used “American war” as propaganda. It’s hard to imagine a more obvious lack of empathy or understanding.
This Frankie Boyle quote above is harsh. I have the utmost sympathy for all families of all nationalities who fought in this war. But the point is, if we’re talking countries not individuals, America is not the victim.
The number of Americans killed in the war is often repeated by hawks and doves alike. The number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians is almost always overlooked. I’ll give you a clue — it’s a figure so vast historians can’t even agree to the nearest million.
There has been so much published about the Vietnam American war in the US that if the country was going to learn from it — it would have done so already.
If it could have learned, subsequent conflicts wouldn’t have happened.
But a draft dodger is president and his supporters attack John McCain. By now anyone can make any narrative fit their own agenda.
“Vietnam” (ie the Vietnam American war) is fodder for books, movies, documentaries, content, memes, political posturing, awards, tweets, shares and ultimately for entertainment and commerce. The war is an American industry
But Vietnam needs its own narrative.
I arrived in Vietnam shortly after Clinton visited. Since then I’ve seen Bush and Obama visit. Always with the same message — it’s time to put the past behind us.
It really is.