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Vietnam—a graveyard for the US’s imperial ambitions

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Issue 2573
Vietnam was torn apart by imperialism
Vietnam was torn apart by imperialism

Secret troop build-ups under the guise of deploying military advisers, an anti-imperialist struggle and a brutal war in response.

It sounds like it could be the story of almost any imperialist intervention in the last century—or today. This one was in Vietnam, torn apart by imperialism in the wake of the Second World War.

The Vietnam War is a new ten-party documentary that takes a detailed look at the war, its causes and consequences. Graphic and remarkable new footage and interviews detail one of the darkest periods in US history.

US involvement started after France’s colonial regime in Vietnam tried to defeat the national liberation movement led by Ho Chi Minh.

The US armed the French against Ho Chi-Minh’s Viet Minh army.


By the end of the war, which the French lost, the US was funding three quarters of its entire budget.

The rebels appealed to the US for help and Ho Chi Minh wrote directly to Truman, the US president at the time. They were ignored.

Although he was not president when the troop build up started, numbers rose to over 11,000 in the first two years of John F Kennedy’s presidency.

“We have not sent combat troops in the generally understood sense of the term,” said Kennedy.

The US hypocrisy over the war is clearly on display—footage shows “military advisers” fighting.

The justification for projecting US power into Asia at the time of Vietnam was the rise of communism in China and its potential spread. Many accounts fall into the trap, intentionally or otherwise, of portraying anti?imperialist struggles and imperialists on an equal moral footing.

Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick seem to want to avoid that pitfall.

New testimonies from US fighters and National Liberation Front armies as well as journalists and secret service members gives a measured account of the war.


The grinding horror of Vietnam is dramatically shown and the resentment towards the US comes through strongly.

Some interviews are revealing. “We should have seen it as the end of the colonial era in South East Asia, which it was,” said Donald Gregg from the CIA. “But instead we saw it in Cold War terms, we saw it as a defeat of the free world, which was related to the rise of China.

“It was a total misreading of a pivotal event, which would cost us very, very dearly.” Some two million civilians lost their lives in Vietnam and as many as half a million more in US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s secret bombing in Cambodia.

The documentary describes Kennedy as being “caught between the truth and the lie,” as a conflicted individual.

He was a mass murderer. Bao Ninh was in the National Liberation Front’s armed wing. “To my parents’ generation you Americans were no different from the French,” he said. “I inherited their ideas.”

This new documentary is comprehensive enough for an introduction to the war.

But its great fault is its “balance” between those who fought for the US and those who fought against it, between those who backed the war and those who resisted it.

The Vietnam War, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. On BBC Four, Mondays at 9pm


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