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18 September 2017


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ex-PFC Chuck

I fully agree that history is a continuum. Or perhaps as Churchill once put it, “History is one damned thing after another.”

When I used the term "backstory" in my previous comment I was doing so in the context of the assumption that the main thrust of Burns's narrative will be on the period of intensive involvement of larger size USA combat units. Anyone who seeks to tell a history-based story has to decide where to start, and how much he or she needs to tell about what went on prior to the "main event." For an American public that barely knows its own history nor pays much attention to current world events the undeclared war began in earnest in 1965 when President Johnson began sending combat units of battalion size and larger. There were less than one thousand war-related deaths of USA military personnel in Vietnam through the end of 1964 and, tragic as those losses were for the individuals and families involved were, if Johnson or one of his predecessors had decided not to commit major forces to the country there would have been no Vietnam war as we in the USA know it, and thus no Ken Burns documentary series.

I also agree that the USA’s failure to respond positively to Ho Chi Minh’s reach-out at the end of World War II was a tragic miscue. However given the Zeitgeist of the time and the recently sworn in President Truman’s inexperience it’s hard to see how the decision could have gone otherwise, unless President Roosevelt had lived out most of his fourth term. He was far more foresightful in seeing that overt colonialism had reached its sell-by date than his successor was, and if he had lived and retained the level of health he’d had through most of 1943 he might have been able to pull it off. Another of history’s What Might Have Beens.

dilbert dogbert

An old friend, who was a air force pilot at the end of WW2, helped fly in French troops back into Vietnam. A friend long gone, who after the war flew for Pan Am.
As I have noted before, I spent a short time in Vietnam (May/June 1967) viewing battle damaged M113s. The team was to document the types of damage and report back to the Army.
I posted my photos of Saigon on my facebook page as a public album. A bit of hunting may find them.
All of my photos of battle damaged vehicles were given to the company I worked for.
M113s were not designed for Vietnam. They were part of our response to the cold war. The design criteria was for resistance to 50cal and 35mm frag simulators. They sure as hell were not resistant to RPGs. The gas powered early versions were flamers. The diesel M113A1 helped a bit.
They were not designed to be mine resistant. That was very evident from what I saw in the damaged vehicles.


there is a choice of several versions (broadcast, explicit language, and two foreign languages) at PBS.org.



may be restricted to viewers with US IP addresses. There is a way around these restrictions for the bold and the reckless. Google can help with that.

Also ... for a v. fuzzy version of Ten Thousand Day War https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvo3yeTYvNc

howard nyc

I'm looking forward to the Burns treatment of the history of the war. Now I am looking forward even more, at the prospect of reading more reactions to the series from you guys who were there. I just missed being draftable/old enough (turned 60 this year), but otherwise grew up with the war, with friends older brothers going, like Oilman2 above.



No disagreement here. Most people who do want to be like "us" become "us," while those who do not become "us" don't because they don't want to be us, and that accounts for most people who are still there, wherever "there" is, as I see it.



Baloney. The unwillingness to be "us" fights us every day in these wars. pl


Agreed, though I was quite alive & paying attention at the time. And a perspective informed by experience of a military brat whose Dad made it through WWII, Korea & the Cuban Revolution in Havana (alternative posting: Saigon!). How do we reconcile our pragmatism vs Exceptionalism ideology? I guess I'm going to have to read the recent treatments of the Dulles Bros as a lens into the transition from our Depression to Victory to Suppression (first of others, now of ourselves). Maybe I'll just watch The Ugly American again. Damn... Imperialism is a burden.
I liked Gelb's pov (& a bit surprised by it ... does old age unleash candor?). I noted that informed, insightful (& on-site!) experts back in the day were mostly ignored, while power-players back here were gaming their way to (more) power (& riches?). Nahhhh ... that doesn't happen much. A nice feature of the first episode I was attention paid to NVN politics, soldiers & their home-front. As to the inhuman behavior of one side and the other... seems there's enough guilt for everyone (though not necessarily symmetrical). After all, badness is in humans.

The Porkchop Express

David Talbot's "The Devil's Chessboard" was a neat little history/autobiography with respect to the Dulles' impact on our FP post WWII. Good book, if you have the free time to read it.

One of the marines in the doc did say that or something to the effect that joining the military isn't what turns you into a mindless killer, it's just finishing school for it. Human nature writ large.



The second episode was equally satisfying. It strikes me that the French effort to re-occupy Vietnam resulted in something very like what would have happened if the US had reneged on its promise to the Filipinos to grant independence in 1947. We left on the 4th of July. that was a very good move because a communist led revolution was brewing in the wings in the form of the Huks, It took several years for the new Phillippine government to suppress that revolt. The best line IMO in last night's episode was someone who sad ruefully that "we were an exception to history." meaning that people would understand how good our intentions were because we were so special and that people should accept our breaking of crockery in a good cause. That was clearly the underlying attitude in VN and for many Americans it still is. pl



Anothre interesting moment in the episode last night was the reading of an excerpt from JFK's journal. In the month he was murdered he wrote that 47 US servicemen had been killed in VN and that he could not withdraw because the American people would not accept the meaningless loss of life and would not re-elect him. Within a few years we were losing over 200 killed a week. pl



Some years ago Mike and I had an intense exchange as to whether or not the Philippines Campaign of 1944-45 had been necessary. He argued that the essentially naval campaign route through the central Pacific Ocean would have led (as it did in the event) to the Marianas bases from which Japan was bombed into submission with conventional and nuclear weapons and that the at least half million deaths in the Philippines could have been avoided thereby. I have come around to his point of view especially considering that the US did not intend to retain the Philippines post war and that the decision to allow MacArthur to invade the islands was made by FDR under an implicit threat made by MacArthur and his supporters to run the general for president against FDR in 1944. Some things never change. FDR - 1944, JFK - 1963 pl


"...and thus no Ken Burns documentary series."

No anti-war marches, no Tom Hayden, no Jane Fonda, probably no Bill Clinton either. Lots of things would have been different. Perhaps there would even still be a democratic South Vietnam.

Eric Newhill

Skipping the invasion of the Philippines would have also meant skipping the campaign in the Palaus; meaning the Pelelieu battle would not have happened. A good turn of events for the 1st Marine Div.

That said, the Japanese were rather infamously homicidal. As the home islands were bombed and defeat looked more inevitable, I can imagine the Japanese murdering all allied military and civilian prisoners on the Philippines; as well most likely becoming more brutal to the non-POW Philippinos. The loss of life may have ultimately been equal to what occurred. IMO, the POWs alone were worth sparing if there was a risk of Japanese retribution. They were dying at a high rate from abuse even without full on retribution.


Eric Newhill

In fact, US PWs in Japan were not massacred as defeat aproached. I remeber one former American PW in Japan who told me that he had the odd experience of having the sergeant in charge of the guard detail guarding him and his comrades surrender to him after learning of the emperor's surrender. In SE Asia and Korea Japanese troops meekly surrendered to allied troops after Japan's acceptance of defeat. Col Aaron Bank (then with OSS) received the surrender of a Japanese infantry regiment near Danang. The colonel of the regiment asked that he accept his sword so as to safeguard it. It was a family heirloom. pl

Eric Newhill

Yes Sir, in retrospect, the Japanese did not massacre prisoners upon defeat.

McArthur's promise to "return" no doubt did influence his drive to do so. I don't doubt the scuttlebutt regarding his threat to FDR either. He seems like the kind of ego that would do that. I'm merely suggesting that there were also some very valid reasons to invade the Philippines that happened to coincide with McArthur's personal desires.

I would argue that Japanese behavior up to that point certainly left the potential for mass killings of POWs and civilians to appear to be a very real potential that had to be considered seriously. They were, in fact, quite vicious to the Filppinos when the invasion of the islands took place. I think it is said that 130,000 + died due to war crimes committed by the Japanese. We all know what they did to the Chinese and, of course, the Bataan Death March. POWS were executed and starved to death during the war.


The japanese did murder internees and POWs when they became inconvenient. At Kavieng in New Britain in 1944 they murdered some twenty three internees, priests and planters right down to a twelve year old boy when it appeared that the japanese would have to retreat.

My father tracked the bastards who did it down and ensured one was hanged and others received long prison sentences just before Allied war crimes investigations were scaled back in 1948 in favor of our rehabilitating Japan as a bulwark against communism. Many japanese war crimes are still unavenged.



I don't disagree with any of that, but the question is one of what the greater good would have been. pl

Hood Canal Gardner

FWIW all above ..In 60/61 I was posted to the Ed Center @ Ft MacArthur in San Pedro trying/helping cadre to get "ed papered-up." More that one US/RA talked openly about being posted to Vietnam in "civvies" NOT in uniform re their duty there. I asked if they were outliers the answer was uniformly "no." I left it at that.

Larry Mitchell

C-4-9 lost 48 kia on 3/02/68 in an ambush near Tan Son Nhut. In last night's installment, Johnson's comments were similar with regard to the inability to accept losses and get out. I was pleased to hear some comments of recognition that US servicemen were sacrificing their lives in hope of a better government for the Vietnamese people. That was refreshing. Also glad that this presentation is not insinuating that US service men were simply fools for being there. Not surprised to hear that, noble cause or not, we were viewed as invaders. I think too few in our government understood the culture and history in VN and didn't want to listen to those who did - much like today in the middle east. Good show so far. I wasn't planning to watch until I heard good reviews here.

Cape Cod Skeptic

Burns claims in the documentary that De Gaulle told US govt that if the US didn't help them in Viet Nam, France might fall into USSR's sphere of influence. A threat the US took seriously. I don't recall this being covered in my history books (and this period got short shrift anyway), but it clearly made an impression on US govt at the time. Just one of many bad decisions.

Cape Cod Skeptic

Colonel, I am glad to read your comments. My family are fans of Ken Burns' work (his documentary on Jack Johnson is outstanding, BTW) and have eagerly awaited this series. I was born in '65 and grew up in the South, and history teachers in HS and university never seemed to have enough time to adequately cover this period. My own readings are nonexistent, so I was hoping this series would present the events in a non-partisan way. We have found it to be very informative, particularly the relaying of events prior to US involvement. Like others, we wish our leaders would have been able to think about the issues differently, so the many tragic errors could have been avoided. What a waste. Thanks very much for your perspective.



Probably enlisted intelligence people. pl


Larry Mitchell

C-4-9. Ah, this would be C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, the Manchus, so known for their service in China in the Boxer Rebellion. Motto - "Keep up the fire" pl


Undoubtedly though JFK would not have escalated the way LBJ did, not unlike those who criticise Trump for keeping a meagre contribution in Afghanistan when the likely alternative was a 'surge'.

The armed forces do have a real problem with the concept of sunk costs though.


The Japs certainly treated their POWs in an abysmal manner, much ill feeling amongst that generation towards them here in Britain.

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