By Glyn Haynie
The first five parts of The Vietnam War, a documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, aired Sunday through Thursday this past week. Each evening at 7PM I settled into my recliner to watch the PBS channel wanting to see if the documentary gives the soldiers that fought in Vietnam, now the Vietnam Veteran, the appreciation and welcome home they so deserve.
The basics of French involvement and withdrawal from Vietnam are well-known to the American soldier. In the first couple of episodes I learned underlying facts about the politics that led up to the war and the politics that got the United States committed to war. As I watched, it amazed me that the French people shouted disparaging remarks at their French soldiers and pelted them with rocks when they came home from war. The French government and citizens showed no appreciation for their service to country, however politically misguided. Sound familiar?
Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson privately showed the moral compass of the right thing to do: not get involved, but they followed their political instincts instead. What shocked me most was our President, with a few advisors, committed us to fight a war. Year after year, a president and his advisors, continued to make decisions that resulted in our involvement and the deployment of increasing numbers of combat soldiers. What happened to the Declaration of War that unites and commits the country and people of America to fight a war?
Prior to the documentary’s video of the mid-60s, my memories of Vietnam played in black and white, incomplete and distorted. When Ken Burns showed 1966 and 1967 television footage, my memory was immediately restored to vivid color, and blank spots lost over the years were filled in. I found it very difficult to watch the fire-fights, the wounded, the dying and the dead. I had to fight back tears and try to control the emerging fear I had brought home from the war and hid away for decades. I thought I had tamed the beast, fear! I wanted to get up and leave the room. Now I knew how difficult it would be to continue watching the documentary, but I am committed to watch through the final episode.
I am disturbed, actually more than disturbed, that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are showing the faces of the American and Vietnamese soldiers wounded and dead, even worse at the point of being killed. The media did the same during the war, showing the American people the war through an unfiltered lens. I don’t say this to hide what war looks like but what about the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, wives and girlfriends that watch? Must they again see their loved one wounded or killed on the battlefield? Are ratings more important than respect to the soldiers on both sides of the war?
I will try to use this time to pull myself back together. I will sit in my recliner ready to watch the next five parts, beginning Sunday at 7PM. I know the next several episodes will be even more difficult. I’m almost ready, not really.
When I Turned Nineteen: A Vietnam War Memoir and Soldiering After the Vietnam War.