Burning History: Ossifying the False Narrative

Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game.

By John M. Del Vecchio

The Vietnam War, a new 10-episode, 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, will begin airing on PBS stations in less than a week. From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false  cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will by omission, not by overt falsehoods.

The Little Dragon: Detail carved into a column at the sepulcher of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1841). Photo by the author.

The Little Dragon: Detail carved into a column at the sepulcher of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1841). Photo by the author.

Here’s what to look for in Episode 1: Deja` Vu (1858-1961):

·         If the episode indicates the ancient state of Vietnam was one nation prior to 1858, it’s not history; it’s a set up for skewing the story. Although there were periods (totaling approximately three decades) when North and South were united, what was then North and South included limited coastal and river population centers, and did not include the Mekong Delta, the highlands, or any of the territory that became border lands between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Wars between North and South dominate Vietnamese history, but many of the wars are between the area north of the Red River (Haiphong/Hanoi) and south of the river. The ancient capital city of Hue was established at approximately the same time as the ancient city of Philadelphia.

·         If the episode mentions the French colonial administration of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China but does not include The Crown Dominion Lands, it’s not history, it’s a set up for skewing the story.

·         If it mentions Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism, his quoting from the American Declaration of Independency, and the allies arming “his” Viet Minh at the end of World War II; but does not mention that the allies armed resistance movements in virtually all countries occupied by either Germany or Japan during the ‘40s, and that in all those countries (including Italy and France) the nationalistic resistance groups attacked the occupiers while the communists attacked the other resistance groups, it’s not history, it’s a set up for skewing the story.

Regarding Ho’s nationalism, this paragraph is from VN scholar William Laurie: “In 1945 Ho Chi Minh launched a veritable pogrom against any anti-French, non-communist nationalist groups. Hundreds were killed. Members of nationalist anti-French parties such as Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, Dai Viets, Dong Minh Hoi, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai were all targeted. Ho Chi Minh, a Stalinist adherent, even had VN's Trotskyites killed. Non-political, moderate, anti-French independence people such as Bui Quang Chieu and Pham Quynh were also assassinated. This political blood-lust is not the hall mark of a ‘nationalist.’”

·         If the episode mentions that the First Indo-China war was fought to preserve French colonialism, but does not mention France granting Cambodia de jure independence in 1949 and full independence in 1953, or why that is relevant, it is not history, it is propaganda. The war in Vietnam was pursued by the French in a manner consistent with fear of genocide in the international communist prevailed. Recall that much of Eastern Europe fell behind the Iron Curtain in the early post-WW II years, and that China fell to the Red Chinese in 1949. In an attempt to forestall a repeat of the human rights abuses and mass execution reported from all countries which fell to communism, the French opposed the Viet Minh. In Cambodia, where that threat did not exist, France pursued a far more peaceful reversion of power to legitimate native administrations. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, the man who, in 1975, received the surrender of Saigon, and who had been a cohort of Ho Chi Minh’s from the 1940s, lamented a few years ago in an interview published in a Vietnamese language paper in France, that independence could have been achieved earlier and with much less bloodshed had Ho Chi Minh been willing to work with non-communist anti-French groups.

·         If the episode mentions how France lost at the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, but does not mention the Chinese army and artillery being the deciding factor, it is not history, it is propaganda. In 1952 the French established the base at Dien Bien Phu along the main road from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos because a year earlier Vietnamese and Chinese communist armies had begun a terrorist campaign in northern Laos with the intention of overthrowing the Lao government. The supply route from the Hanoi, through Dien Bien Phu and south through Laos later became communist Route 959 (see relevance below).

·         If the episode mentions Ho consolidating power in the North after 1954 but does not mention the murderous Land Reform Campaign of 1954-56, it is not history but is propaganda. Historians have debated the number of land owners and merchants killed during this period, some claiming 50,000, others doing their best to reduce the number to 5,000. The prior number was confirmed by North Vietnamese scholars during the short period in the late 1980s when their archives were open, but even if one chooses to use the lowest estimate that needs to be placed in context. At the time North Vietnam’s population was approximately 12 million, 1/30th of today’s U.S. population. The atrocities would be the equivalent of 150,000 (or up to 1.5 million) farm and home owners being summarily executed in America in a two-year period.

·         If Burns mentions that the Geneva Accords were not lived up to by America or South Vietnam without mentioning that neither government signed those accords (indeed no party from either sidesigned the Final Declaration), it’s not history, it’s propaganda. How often have we been told that the U.S. blocked the proposed 1956 election to reunify the country as if that had been a previous agreement? No agreement existed. That the North, by 1956, was a closed, highly controlled and completely terrorized society was of paramount concern.

·         Finally, if the episode indicates the North sought unity, but does not mention the tacit Declaration of War produced during the 1959 winter-spring session of Hanoi’s Politburo, it is not history but is propaganda. It was during this session that infiltration routes 559, 759 and 959 were authorized. The numbers indicate the date of inception: 559 being May 1959, etc. Route 559 came to be called by most western sources the Ho Chi Minh Trail; 759 was the sea route to bring men and materiel along the coast from Dong Ha down around the Mekong Delta all the way over to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville; and 959, as mentioned above, was the route west through Dien Bien Phu and south along the Mekong River through Laos into Cambodia. In 1960 insurgents (today we’d call them terrorists) began an assassination campaign which murdered approximately 18,000 South Vietnamese hamlet, village and province officials by the end of 1962. Another 50,000 individuals were “disappeared.” Government officials included hamlet chiefs, school teachers, and often their families. Again using equivalent U.S. population figures, this would equal nearly 400,000 terrorist murders in three years, or 1.5 million if those who were abducted and never heard from again are included. This was the situation that the U.S. responded to at the end of the Eisenhower and beginning of the Kennedy years. Not understanding the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis may lead one to assume all justifications for American intervention were neo-colonial. That’s a set up worthy of a great scam artist not a great filmmaker.

A few thoughts; a few questions:

                Why have Mr. Burns and his backers chosen to present these events in this manner? What is their motivation? What is behind that motivation? Who is behind that motivation? Who financed the work? What do those who created or backed this series gain, or seek to gain, by slanting history via massive omissions?

                Is the purpose of burning history a desire to ossify an existing, highly-skewed narrative, and to cover-up the “sins” of the “anti-war” left? Or might it be more? Without the skewed base-narrative the rationalization and justification for much of the left’s agenda at the time and since, simply falls apart.

I believe that few people who support that agenda are cognizant of the covert motivations at its very foundation; nor do they recognize the unseen machinations that driving it forward. Most people are motivated by the positive messages. Most people want to do good. They are not looking to destroy freedoms or the American dream. Indeed, they believe they are doing the opposite. They believe they are enhancing freedom for all, and that they are opposing people, organizations and/or movements that are anti-freedom. But factors driving the agendas—as we have seen in all countries taken over by fascist or communist regimes over the past century—may be something quite different than hyped or broadcast. One must ask: Why destroy history? Why destroy cultural memory? Why supplant that which is verifiable with that which is partisan? One does not honor the sacrifice of those who served by supplanting the meaning and justification behind that service with falsehoods. Why, Mr. Burns, have you chosen to go this route?

False narratives create aberrant behavior and cultural complications. For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com; also video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0slD-jQr8w&feature=em-subs_digest.