Tatiana Sanchez at the Mercury News offer a piece on the complaints of Vietnam veterans who watched PBS’ The Vietnam War.
A gripping documentary on the Vietnam War — described by many viewers as a masterful depiction of a prolonged conflict that divided the nation — has left many American and Vietnamese veterans feeling deeply disappointed, even betrayed.
“The Vietnam War” — a 10-part, 18-hour PBS documentary by American filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that concluded Thursday night — depicts the history of the war through photographs, archival footage and interviews with more than 80 veterans and witnesses from all sides. The film has been hailed as a hard-hitting, raw account of the war and the players involved.
But veterans of the South Vietnamese military say they were largely left out of the narrative, their voices drowned out by the film’s focus on North Vietnam and its communist leader, Ho Chi Minh. And many American veterans say that the series had several glaring omissions and focused too much on leftist anti-war protesters and soldiers who came to oppose the war.
On Thursday evening, hours before the film’s final installment aired, a group of American and South Vietnamese veterans came together at a San Jose home to share memories of the war and talk about the documentary.
Sutton Vo, a former major in South Vietnam’s army engineering corps, watched the series but has told friends and family not to do so. The film is “pure propaganda,” he said.
“The Vietnam War included the Americans, South Vietnam and North Vietnam. But in the 18 hours, the role of South Vietnam was very small,” said Vo, 80. “Any documentary should be fair and should tell the truth to the people.”
After the war, Vo was sent to a communist “re-education” camp, where he was imprisoned for 13 years. At one point, he said, he was confined for three months to a pitch-black cell virtually 24 hours a day — his feet shackled and his hands bound with rubber string — after an escape attempt.
… Like Vo, Cang Dong spent time in a re-education camp; he was freed in 1987. Dong, 70, president of the local chapter of Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, has just started watching the series, but said he’s unhappy with what he sees as the filmmakers’ glorification of Ho.
“Everything is a big lie,” he said. “To our people, Ho Chi Minh was a big liar and immoral.”
Veteran Jim Barker, 70, of San Jose, also said he was surprised by the extent of coverage given to North Vietnamese soldiers in the film.
“What bothered me is the element of arrogance that seemed to come out in seeing themselves so superior. I had trouble with that,” said Barker, who was an adviser with a South Vietnamese intelligence unit in the Central Highlands and survived the siege of Kontum in 1972. “That focus detracted attention from the people of South Vietnam and the idealism that was there.”
… Jack Wells, a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, called the documentary “a masterpiece of video and footage” in which he learned a number of things, but said he identified several omissions that bothered him.
He pointed to the film’s depiction of Kim Phuc, “the Napalm girl” who became a famous symbol of the war after a 1972 photograph showed her running naked on a road with other children, her back severely burned by a South Vietnamese napalm attack. The film said Phuc left Vietnam and eventually moved to Canada but didn’t mention that she had requested political asylum from the Vietnamese communists, who had used her as a propaganda symbol, Wells said.
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