Already there is controversy. The documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, airing on PBS and lasting an incredible 18 hours, has been denounced on the left for characterizing the Vietnam War as a fight between the north and the south and not one of anti-colonialism. It is also sure to be attacked on the right for not paying sufficient respect to the Domino Theory and the menace of international communism. But what becomes clear — clearer than ever — while watching “The Vietnam War” is that this was a war between lies and truth. By the time truth won, over 3 million people were dead, 58,000 of them American.
“The Vietnam War” is a massive enterprise. It starts with the French colonization of Vietnam in the 19th century and goes through American involvement and its aftermath. Like the war itself, the film is sometimes plodding but more often heart-stopping, with gripping combat footage. The accounts of American vets — or their families — are sad and tragic and ultimately infuriating. Young men marched out of Norman Rockwell towns with their abundant flags and American Legionnaires or out of the inner city, typically with little ceremony but with an almost inexplicable patriotism, and fought for … well, for what?
The confusion is rampant, and it is announced in the film’s promotional material: “There Is No Single Truth In War.” But there is to this one. The truth is that while lying might not have gotten us into the war — anti-communism was a genuine reaction to a world going increasingly red — lying is what sustained it.
The lying started with…
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