Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 18)

The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 9 (1966-1967)
The chapter helpfully starts off by describing the changing nature of military experience as soldiers “fought different wars depending on when they arrived and where (and whether) they were in combat."
A key point of this chapter is that the Vietnamese live in Vietnam, that they are there to stay (where would they go?). The US realized they would lose ground that had just taken, so they decided to secure a village and then destroy it with bulldozers and bombs. They couldn’t appreciate the importance of the rice fields or the little huts to those who have spent their whole lives cultivating them.
South Vietnam used to be an exporter of rice, but in 1967 it had to import.
Huntington makes an appearance (I didn’t realize he went that far back) and his statements are logically consistent but still flawed. The Clash of Civilizations was an overrated idea and it seems one can garner much respect by being partly/mostly wrong as long as the position provides a comforting ideology.
The war started to be seen as a contest of will and the US couldn’t lose that so they had to keep bombing. McNamara admits in Newsweek (1966) that he underestimated the resolve of the Vietnamese.
Representatives from other countries as well as senators come to realize that the public US position of negotiations isn’t meaningful and is in fact deceptive. Senator Fullbright was especially displeased (see p. 182).
South Vietnam elections were rigged and the US kept going because it had a good kill ratio.
One point of the bombing was to stop the flow of materiel to the South from the North. It was realize that no matter the level of bombing the minimal amount would get through. The ‘Ho Chi Minh” trail was a large network of roads that 300,000 people worked full time to maintain.
A CIA report said that “by 1966 it took the United States $9.6 to inflict $1 worth of damage” and that experiments estimated about 24,000 people had been killed, 80 percent civilian(!).
The NLF began to be seen as an organism that functions as a whole, greater than the sum, and one cannot stop it by stopping a small part of it.
Finally, Vietnam was a nice testing ground for the weapons developers and users. Bombs, mines, machine guns, IR photography, poison gas, crop defoliants and even consideration of germ warfare.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 10 (1965-1967)
In this brief chapter the "war in America" is examined, with descriptions of protests, passive and more active, of draft card burning, of solidarity, of Zinn's publication of The Logic of Withdrawal, of MLK's important shift from criticizing the war on pacifist grounds to criticizing it politically.
Additionally, the American public is made more aware of some of the horrors its sons are committing, as well as those in the military resisting orders (from 1966-1973 over 500,000 soldiers deserted).
Fullbright had hearings in the House of Foreign Relations Committee and disputed every administration argument, saying it was there country and the US didn't really have the right to be there. Yet, despite all of this, no one on the committee advocated withdrawal. (It's like they can only go so far.)
When McNamara disputed increasing the bombing would have the desired result because that wasn't achieved in operation Rolling Thunder. He soon found himself no longer the Secretary of Defence (but sent to head the World Bank).
The chapter ends when Wilber Cohen (then secretary of health) asked Johnson, in a cabinet meeting, how he would answer "Why are we in Vietnam?" Cohen said the president took half an hour to answer and the answer didn't make any sense whatsoever.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 11 (1967-1968)
This chapter examines the "cross-over point" and the Tet Offensive. The "cross-over point" was when the US and ARVN troops were killing the enemy faster than they could be replaced. This was believed because a figure of using 285,000 was used for the enemy instead of 500,000-600,000. The former is by only counting the 'main' force and not the 'low-grade, part-time' local defence forces. Of course, if one doesn't count all the people involved in a resistance, one is bound to have incorrect conclusions about an issue. Narratives are hard to alter.
Consequently, the American public was lead to believe in late 1967 that the war was being won. Reporters were told that Communist military strength had decreased and that 67% of the South Vietnamese lived in secure areas. General Bruce Palmer said "the war- the military war-in Vietnam is nearly won." That is what some said, others said almost the opposite. In the same year the senior US military adviser for Long An Province said that "in reality , we can control only a very small area... I would say that we control only four percent in the daytime and only one percent in the night."
As as consequence of that, the US public was completely shocked by the Tet Offensive and the brutality. [I'm finally catching up to the television doc]. The execution of the prisoner by the South Vietnamese General was shocking to the public. Later the media would be blamed for describing Tet as a loss, but in fact they did say it was a military victory. The problem was that people started to feel that the whole thing was such a mess that it wasn't winnable. Polls changed to reflect this. Significantly, Walter Cronkite, on Feb 27, 1968, said to the nation that "we are mired in stalemate."
Johnson was shocked when a large group of senior advisers said things weren't winnable and the war shouldn't be escalated. He almost stated the reverse in his final speech but his friend/adviser Clifford reigned him in.
The chapter ends with the death of MLK, the resulting riots, and the death of Robert Kennedy, all of which lead to greater demonstrations and riots at the DNC in Chicago in August, which was put down by heavy police force.
"The war comes home to us..." (Denise Levertov, p. 231)

Apocalypse Now (1979) Redux (2001) Directed by Coppola, starring Brando, Duvall, Sheen...
(This is mainly a review for people who have seen the movie).
I had seen Apocalypse Now around 10 years ago but I had never seen the Redux version. At 3 hours and 22 minutes, it certainly made for a bit of a project today (it required multiple sittings). My previous memories consisted of The Doors "This is End" playing at some point, the phrase "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" and "the horror" as well as some nice cinematography. I didn't really remember the plot but had vague notions of what the movie was about. No longer!
Martin Sheen is ordered to take out Brando who has gone rogue and is living as a God of sorts in Cambodia. I had forgotten Harrison Ford had a small role as well as how gruesome some of the scenes were (I'm guessing I didn't care as much when I was younger and/or the recent project has made the 'fictional' film deaths seem real).
It turns out Duvall says the "napalm line" (I had pictured Hopper saying it) and I found it really revolting now knowing in more detail what napalm is and having images in my head of Vietnamese walking with their skin hanging off them.
Duvall did an excellent job at his role and the helicopter attack scene was so powerful - it succeeded where all the docs have failed (probably due to the larger budget). I do know music was played (I don't know about Wagner) and the line about "letting him drink from my canteen" references an enemy that had held his intestines in for 3 days with a pot lid is based on a real event. Additionally, one official did actually use the phrase "bomb them back to the stone age." The absurdity of the surfing issue!
The killing of innocents, women treated as meat and general "lord of the flies" situations were quite disturbing to watch. I hadn't remembered the decapitations or hanging bodies and things seemed more gruesome (this could also be because things were more gruesome as the original was tamer). Additionally, I had thought Hopper had a larger role.
Sheen's narrative tries to make some decent points, such as why almost kill them and then try to treat them humanely. The flim also explores the horrors of war and how far one must be willing to go to win a war. Brando's main point was that the US soldiers were neither enveloped within their war nor sadistic enough while the enemy was both of these things.
Finally, the French dinner was new (truly, due to Redux) and I felt this was where Coppola was almost trying to explain/warn the American audience of what had happened in Vietnam and how they had erred.
Apocalypse Now is interesting, meandering, and demonstrates the absurdity of war and the psychological toll taken on those who fight in them. It was good but only because I was expecting something similar to what I got.


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