Is the Vietnam War “Finally Uniting America?” (Short answer: No.)
Above Photo: US soldiers under fire during the Vietnam War (Larry Burrows).
I’ve been following Vietnam War-related news for a few of years now, and US media references to it seem to be increasing, especially since the election of Donald Trump. (As an aside, Donald Trump bizarrely gets a mention in our new Vietnam War film M.I.A. A Greater Evil, which is apparently the first cinematic reference to him as President in the world of cinema).
So is the Vietnam War being rehabilitated in American culture, as some have recently claimed? It is certainly becoming a hot news topic again, so I thought I’d investigate some of the more recent references to it.
The Vietnam War As A Term of Political (And Presidential) Abuse
Trump seems to use the war as a giant club to batter his opponents with – for example on the campaign trail, criticising John McCain’s period of captivity and torture in the Hanoi Hilton when he was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967. Trump said: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”
Being no fan of McCain myself, I still thought this was an outrageous insult coming from a draft-dodger like Trump.
Trump also recently berated draft-dodging Senator Richard Blumenthal, calling him “A phony Vietnam con artist” after Blumenthal had previously and misleadingly “misspoke” (we’d say LIED) about the time “that I served in Vietnam”, when he’d never even gone near the place.
Echoes of Vietnam in the North Korea Standoff
The Vietnam War is also re-entering peoples’ consciousness as Trump ratchets up pressure on North Korea. The former Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War are two military engagements in South East Asia that led to US POWs disappearing and from which many combatants still remain MIA.
Links between new misadventures in South-East Asia and the sorry historical context of the Vietnam War are frequently raised in the US press when discussing North Korean options.
The Vietnam War’s Ongoing Political Legacy of Cynicism and Distrust of Government.
There have been a number of recent articles in the American press reviewing a new book by Mark Bowden, called “The Beginning of the End in Vietnam: An Account of the Battle of Hue.” (Bowden was also the author of Black Hawk Down).
In a very interesting article in the National Review called “Diminished Trust in Government Can Be Traced to the Vietnam War” the article started with the claim that “Since 1968, Americans’ trust in the U.S. government has not risen to pre-Vietnam levels.”
The article quoted an extract of the book where a Marine had been clearing houses during fierce fighting in the centre of Hue. The extract is a reminder that for many combatants, the Vietnam War will never be in the past.
“in one [room] he found a tall wardrobe that he had riddled. In it was a mortally wounded woman holding a rifle and a baby. Bowden writes: “When he was an old man, living in Odessa, Texas, he still wondered almost every day about that woman and child. . . . Who was she? How would he have felt if he had killed the baby, too?” Hue, like the war that pivoted there, continues to haunt some elderly men who live among us. And the war’s legacy lives in Americans’ diminished trust in government. Since 1968, trust has not risen to pre-Vietnam levels.”
Questioning what can be learnt from the war in the modern-day, the article concludes:
“Hue 1968” is a meticulous and vivid retelling of an important battle. It brings an old war to life for young Americans, and perhaps it will prompt a wider reflection on how to apply the lessons of Vietnam to our wars of today.
”The Vietnam War is Finally Uniting America”.
The New York Post recently ran an article whose opening sentence was: “Who would have thought that the unifying note in the Time of Trump would be Vietnam?”
Titled ”The Vietnam War is Finally Uniting America”, it weakly backed up this extravagant claim by listing decorations deservedly handed to Vietnam Vets under Obama, and now, Trump. Then it undermined itself by taking a swipe at its more learned rival, The New York Times, which has also recently been featuring Vietnam War articles.
This was hardly the ‘uniting’ the article boasted about in its headline as it went on to slag off the New York Times for:“running a series riddled with praise for those on the Communist side or those who, while loyal to our side, opposed the war.
One piece celebrates “the women who fought for Hanoi” meaning Soviet-backed Communists of North Vietnam. “My First Anti-War Protest”, reads another headline in the Times series. Another kvells about “A frontline nurse for the Vietcong.”
This newspaper spat firmly reminded readers that the Vietnam War is an ever-present feature on America’s cultural, political and social landscapes. And it is especially useful as a cultural weapon to be wielded in American newspaper wars.
The Vietnam War in Contemporary American Art
A recent CNN article featured the Vietnam War as depicted in the art of a new generation of artists interpreting their childhood memories. Reaching back to some iconic cultural totems of the Vietnam War, the article said:
“Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter,” Paul Hardcastle’s “19” and Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” depict the war as vivid, violent, surreal and futile.
They often recreate the drug-fueled experiences of American soldiers and the unspeakable things they saw in that strange war.
But with the benefit of time and distance, younger artists are channeling their childhood perceptions of the war into bold new work….”
It went on to quote New York artist Matthew Brannon as saying the Vietnam War is “really the question that still plagues America”
The Vietnam War In Recent Films
Apart from our own new, powerful Vietnam War supernatural thriller, M.I.A. A Greater Evil, a Hollywood film about the Vietnam War is also being quietly shot in Asia right now (including scenes in Thailand), with a Hollywood budget to match.
The Vietnam War in An Important New Documentary.
Heavily featured recently in US media, Ken Burns’ ambitious and critically acclaimed 10 hour, 18 part series ‘The Vietnam War’ will air in September.
In a recent interview Burns again sought to link the Vietnam War with events in modern-day America.
Burns was asked about what the youth of America would find relevant in ‘The Vietnam War’. He replied:
“This is a story about mass demonstrations all across the country against the current administration. About a White House obsessed with leaks and in disarray because of those leaks, about a president railing against you, the news media, for making up news.
“It’s about asymmetrical warfare, which even the mighty might of the United States Army can’t figure out the correct strategy to take, and it’s about big document drops of classified material that’s been hacked, that suddenly is dumped into the public sphere, destabilizing the conventional wisdom about really important topics and accusations that a political campaign reached out to a foreign power at the time of a national election to influence that election.
“This is the film we started in 2006, and every single one of those points are points about the Vietnam War having nothing to do with today,” Burns concluded.
By creating a fully-formed picture of Vietnam, Burns hopes to shed light on the rancor and alienation defining this present moment, he explained.”
Director Lynn Novick also shed light on continuing problems in US education in trying to teach students about the Vietnam War today:
“We’ve had great response from teachers already that the Vietnam War is difficult to teach because it’s controversial and unsettled history and they’re looking forward to using the film in the classroom.”
Hopefully our film M.I.A. A Greater Evil will fuel debate about events in the rice fields and jungles of Asia that happened so long ago, but which still carry painful connotations for many in the US, especially for those families touched by the still-unexplained and unaccounted-for loss of loved ones.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs/MIAs left behind in Laos, see