The two episodes are painful to watch because they show the unravelling of civil society in the United States as an exit is sought form Vietnam. Nixon was to call it “Peace with Honor.”
The most painful thing for me was to revisit the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. The police riot and the protestor riots sickened me. I had just returned from Vietnam and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I actually called home and told my folks “that at least in Vietnam I was armed and knew who the enemy was.”
It was reactions like mine caused Richard Nixon to win the presidency, promising law and order at home and peace overseas. In Vietnam, the war went on and soldiers on all sides witnessed terrible savagery and unflinching courage. The episode is short on highlighting the courage and focuses on the ravages of war. The number of casualties shown and the extent of their wounds was greatly overplayed.
It is interesting that there is no mention of Jane Fonda in the vividly displayed anti-war activities. Hanoi Jane was actually a rallying image for the forces in Vietnam and the veterans. She is still mutually hated by most Vietnam veterans.
Episode 8 focuses on the plummeting morale of the troops in Vietnam. It also argues that the Vietnamese Armed Forces were corrupt, while trying to explain “Vietnamization”. Vietnamization was the strategy that allowed President Nixon to begin withdrawing American troops.
The episode paints the incursion into Cambodia as a strategic mistake because of the public debates the rectitude of the war. The My Lai massacre contributes to the renewal of the anti-war excesses.
Since the entire documentary is short of strategic explanations and long on adding to the history of moral outrage at the war it is not surprising that the invasions of Cambodia and Laos are not explained. Their purpose of course was to try and gain time for Vietnamization. It can be argued that in this regard they were a success. I say that while reminding the reader of two things:
- The invasion of Laos was a tactical defeat for RVN
- If the invasion had occurred in 1968, not 1971 the results would have been much different.
The final note that I would add to this discussion is how important Nixon made the return of the POWs. Their health and welfare was a rallying issue for most Americans. Their importance gave the North Vietnamese more leverage in the negotiations.