Howie Roak | Ken Burns’ disservice to The Vietnam War


Howie Roak | September 25, 2017

I’ve watched a portion of the Ken Burns’ Vietnam series and came away with the same conclusion I have had after numerous other TV exposes’ and books on the war. Nothing  has so dominated my life as the Vietnam war and my experiences in it. For me the Vietnam War started in October 1963 when as a young Marine I prepared to mounted out on a troop ship in support of the overthrow of President Diem of South Vietnam. President Kennedy had him killed so as to get a more responsive leader in the fight against the communists in Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). From 1963 till I got out in 1969, I spent 4 tours of varying degrees of duty in Vietnam with occasional forays back in the states. It took another 6-7 years after I got out of the Marines to overcome my experiences and to this day I still live with and/or re-live those experiences. Thus, I think I have some perspective on that war.

My conclusion is the same that I had when I got out in 1969, all sides do not understand what happened, the left lied, the right lied, the military lied, the news media lied and the political establishment lied; moreover, the historians are biased and they too lie. Ken Burns’ series reinforce those lies due to his left leaning viewpoint that the war was bad, that only the left were righteous, that the pro-war forces were dishonest and that the individual trauma of the soldiers did not justify the cost of the war.

After I got out in 1969 I struggled to integrate into society. I had trouble relating to others because my adult value systems were all formed in the Marine Corps, and in war. It was hard, so I read and studied a lot in an attempt to understand what happened. This study led me to see the war in a different viewpoint than those around me.

In my opinion the North Vietnamese were the only ones that understood the war, the nature of the war and how best to strategically fight and win. General Giap of the NVA has to be one of the greatest generals of the 20th century. He planned and executed one of the greatest strategy victories in history. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was the largest battle in the history of American Arms. It cover a area greater than the entire western front in WWII. It involved more combat troops, had more skirmishes (battles and smaller fights) than any battle in our history. We overwhelmingly defeated the NVA and Viet Cong and still lost the strategic objective – defeat of the enemy or their ability to continue the war.

General Giap understood that battle and planned accordingly. He knew he would lose men and material but also knew that war is but the violent end point of politics and we the American public would recoil as the French did from massive loss of life. That end point was his strategic objective he strove to achieve. Our Generals did not understand how to fight the war nor did they really study the long term effects of the daily grind of the war; thus, we the American troops suffered from de-moralizing leadership from the political and military leaders and our immediate commanders. The Military senior leadership refused to admit what they knew to be true. Consequently General Giap was right and America withdrew from Vietnam and abandoned the region to its fate.

We were fighting a war of attrition and the only number that counted was the destruction of the enemy personnel and logistics. America never won that battle. Sure our kill ration was over a 100:1 but the enemy was always able to field troops; we bombed their supply lines constantly and de-forest hundreds of miles of the jungle but somehow the supplies always got through to their troops; and, the NVA (as well as the Viet Cong) almost always chose the field of battle, the time of battle and the duration of the battle — As Gen. Mattis stated: “the enemy has a vote”. Our military lied to hide that fact and are still reluctant to admit that Air Power alone cannot win wars and the enemy still has a vote!

The news media (aka MSM) at that time was comprised of old WWII vets, Roosevelt Democrats, Eisenhower loyalists and Kennedy idealists that like today haven’t spent the time to understand the story they are reporting on. Because they wanted to see the war progress along their preconceived notions based on WWII and the Korea War they missed what was actually happening. They went to the big story line like moths to the flame – Khe Sanh, Saigon siege, Hue City and missed the true battles such as the Hill Tops, the daily patrols etc. Since the battles were not lines with tanks and troops but numbers of dead, tons of supplies destroyed and villages turned — they were disappointed. After they found the military was lying to them about those numbers, the MSM became like sharks smelling blood and turned on them with a vengeance that persists to this day.

The left wing reflected the turmoil of what the 1960’s was all about. The civil rights movement, the battle between the progressive agenda and the status quo, the change over from the staid generation burnt out by the depression and war (our parents) and the explosion of youth (my generation) ignited by Eisenhower’s ideals and Kennedy’s dreams only to be disappointed by reality; moreover, fueled by lies from the political establishment, the MSM and the military the young rebelled and dropped out. The left funded by the communists and the idealism of youth rebelled against the “establishment” with the hippie movement and anti-war protests — but, as Nixon’s silent majority proved the majority of America was mainly right wing-ish!

The “silent majority” told themselves lies and believed them implicitly that America was righteous, we were winning and that we had a plan… it was all a farce. Sure right wing goals were eventually achieved – stop communism from spreading in Southeast Asia and elsewhere but it was happenstance not well planned out. We wanted our lies to be true just as the left hated Nixon, the right wing had faith in him, that he had a plan to reverse the disastrous Kennedy/Johnson years. [sound familiar on today’s political scene?]

The only book I’ve ever read that predicted the outcome of the Vietnam war, the 2003  Invasion of Iraq, the Somali Incursion, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the current American situation in Afghanistan and even the current situation in Syria was the Territorial Imperative  by Robert Ardery. That being “the populace of the country being invaded, first view the invader as a liberator than as an occupier; initially welcoming, then resisting, and later deserving an armed rebellion” because they are not members of the resident baboon troop’s territory!

And, as history wonts – it repeats itself over and over. All sides are lying again and depending on the echo chamber of the individual the lies are taken as gospel.

Today’s civil rights is the public’s reluctance to live in a police state vs the government’s desire to control every aspect of our lives – security vs freedom; the Black Panthers has been replaced with the “Black Lives Matter” movement with the same agenda – equal treatment by society and the government; the left (progressives) still dream of some Utopia where money grows on trees and everyone’s needs can be met by taxing a few “rich white guys”; the right believes that some smart guy like Nixon or Reagan can wave a magic wane and make the problems of a changing society go away; and, like in the ’60s, the MSM refuse to understand the issues but like a reporter in a hurricane finding the puddle then posing for a dramatic shot or grabbing a quick sound bite ignore the real rationale of what is occurring – moreover, Americans, like the ’60s, are buying into the story line of our choice.

And that is why I think Ken Burns is doing a disservice to everyone with his biased and one-sided “true expose'” of  the “Vietnam War”. It is akin to me writing a book on my experiences focusing on the combat, the killing, the death and trauma without justifying as to the rationale behind why I was sent into combat. Ken Burns wrote a book on my Vietnam experiences but on a grander scale and still ignored the rationale behind the Vietnam War; moreover, and/or presented only one side — the left wing viewpoint while ignoring all others.

And that is why his Vietnam War Series is just another story line destined for late night TV viewers on the History Channel and not a groundbreaking special.






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