Forty Years Ago Today
April 30, 1975, is a momentous date in world history. On that day, Vietnam, a small and poor country, won its liberation by finally defeating, in order, France and the U.S., two of the world’s great empires, in a 10,000 day war that killed millions of its people and devastated its country. It marked the end of 400 years of western imperial domination of Asia.
You won’t see or hear a word of that in Rory Kennedy’s PBS documentary, The Last Days in Vietnam. Apart from some rudimentary references to the red menace, you are not told what the war is about or why the U.S. lost it. You do not hear from those who fought on the winning side or see more than fleeting images of the joyful throngs in the streets as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon.
You are not told that the losing South Vietnamese regime was a brutal military dictatorship invented and propped up by Washington. And there is no mention that the winners won because they had the support of the vast majority of Vietnamese.
None of that. The Last Days in Vietnam is only about the losers. Not all of them, but merely about a handful of the Americans still ‘in country’ and the Vietnamese compradors who ran errands for the Americans who ran their country.
Since they couldn’t imagine losing, especially in such a shameful rout, the Ford administration in Washington and military command in Saigon had no viable plan for defeat with honor. Chaos, panic and betrayal would rule the day.
Kennedy’s documentary details the debacle from the pov of the rearguard of the U.S. military and CIA desperately trying to squeeze themselves and their Vietnamese collabos into the overloaded helicopters and boats ferrying people out to the rescue flotilla parked off shore. The documentary aims to turn them into heroes and to allow such as the war criminal Henry Kissinger and a few other hoary hawks to regurgitate the same old self-serving lies about Vietnam that they’ve been peddling for half a century.
Rory Kennedy is one of the younger generation of our former first family. You might expect then that she would have a fresh eye and make an effort to draw lessons about that awful war from some of the historical realities mentioned above.
No way. Her political perspective is barely existent. You might as well be watching the evacuation from a hurricane or an earthquake. For her, there are no lessons from Vietnam, only bathos. It's easy to imagine her down the line making exactly the same documentary about an American rout from Iraq or Afganistan or Ukraine or wherever else our relentless and self-destructive imperium takes us.