Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) show their outrage as they protest the lives lost (both U.S. and Indo-Chinese) in the Vietnam War. Both VVAW members and thousands of anti-war demonstrators massed at the Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, FL to show opposition to the war. PhotoLangelle.org (1972)
Two critiques of Burns’ film The Vietnam War question its intentions
by Global Justice Ecology Project’s Orin Langelle – co-founder, consultant, and photographer
As someone who was active in the movement to stop the Vietnam War, I was asked to comment on two key critiques of Burns and Novick’s highly acclaimed series, The Vietnam War. The first,“The Killing of History,” is by John Pilger and the other,“Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About,” is by Frank Joyce. [I include a few others as well.] I have found writing about that epoch deeply challenging, as that war forever changed me and my understanding of reality, as well as millions of others–some living, some dead. I carry the heavy load of that time every day.
It was a crash course in imperialism, racism, colonization and class.
On July 1, 1970 a “lottery” draft was drawn for all men born in 1951. I drew 031 out of a possible 365. I subsequently was ordered by my draft board to report for a physical. I took the physical, but made sure I did not go to Vietnam. There was no guarantee of a round trip ticket and I had no desire to kill anyone.
I had a lot of friends who did go to Vietnam. One young man I knew was a conscientious objector but served as a medic refusing to carry a gun. He received the purple heart three times and returned deeply disturbed. Another was a military combat photographer. The last time I visited him the only things he had in his refrigerator were bottles of vodka.
I had no animosity for those who went to Vietnam, nor did I or anyone I knew ever spit on any veteran–a myth perpetuated through endless propaganda to undermine the anti-war movement, which also included many Vietnam veterans.
I was arrested many times trying to end the war. But I wasn’t marching in circles like so many in the ‘peace” movement today – I was in the streets taking part in direct action to STOP the war. Not to complain about it, to STOP it.
But back to Burns’ advertisement for Bank of America – I mean his series The Vietnam War. I have to congratulate Bank of America for their part in the making of this series. They sound so concerned and compassionate. For those who suffer from societal amnesia or just weren’t paying attention or alive then, it sounds great. But I was suspicious from the beginning of all the film’s corporate sponsors, especially Bank of America. And I wasn’t the only one.
Noted journalist, John Pilger, in his article “The Killing of History” states of Burns’ movie, “It’s lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.
Burns says he is grateful to ‘the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans.’ Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.”
And Frank Joyce in the LA Progressive goes after PBS in “Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About. “The corporatization of so-called public broadcasting is a fact of life, a prime example of how the machinery of manufacturing consent works ceaselessly to expand its influence.”
Joyce also discusses sponsorship of the film by the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers?
Last night I watched the film’s credits to see exactly who was behind the making of “The Vietnam War.” And yes, David H. Koch’s name (from the Koch Foundation) was displayed in great big letters.
David H. Koch has a track record of well, just plain evil. Jane Mayer in 2010, writing “Covert Operations” for The New Yorker says, “David H. Koch… and his brother Charles are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes.”
Mayer continues, “A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, ‘The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!’”
But that’s just the beginning. In a Rolling Stone article, “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire” Tim Dickerson writes, “The volume of Koch Industries’ toxic output is staggering. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, only three companies rank among the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water and climate: ExxonMobil, American Electric Power and Koch Industries. Thanks in part to its 2005 purchase of paper-mill giant Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined. The company ranks 13th in the nation for toxic air pollution. Koch’s climate pollution, meanwhile, outpaces oil giants including Valero, Chevron and Shell. Across its businesses, Koch generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.”
So glad Koch and Bank of America now want to set the record straight on the Vietnam War.
John Pilger continues in “The Killing of History,” “The ‘meaning’ of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea…
Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on 19 September – a body established to spare humanity the ‘scourge of war’ – he declared he was ‘ready, willing and able’ to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual.
His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to ‘totally obliterate’ Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.
Returning to the US, I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the ‘mainstream’ has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.”
So The Vietnam War is another outrageous attempt by the corporations and corporadoes to absolve their transgressions through the re-writing of history in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of viewers and pave the way for future atrocities.
See: John Pilger’s “THE KILLING OF HISTORY” https://johnpilger.com/articles/the-killing-of-history Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. He covered the Vietnam War for a decade.
Frank Joyce’s “Ken Burns’ Vietnam Gives Corporate Sponsors Little to Worry About” https://www.laprogressive.com/ken-burns-vietnam/
Jane Mayer’s “Covert Operations” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/30/covert-operations
Tim Dickerson’s “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire” https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924