Chasing Ghosts, Episode 7
The Vietnam War
Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick
Last night, Maori TV showed Episode 7 of the Vietnam War series, covering the second half of 1968. 1968 was a year of global revolution, when working and oppressed people all over the world revolted against their governments. This happened even in countries like Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Nigeria, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay that had nothing to do with the Vietnam War. See 1968
This episode incorporates excellent footage of the antiwar protests at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and the bloody police riot that ensued. Esteemed CBS journalist Walter Cronkite referred to Chicago as a “police state.”
By mid-1968 the new Secretary of Defense Clifford Clark was begging President Johnson to stop bombing North Vietnam. Clark no longer believed the US could win the war, and this was a North Vietnamese condition to begin Paris peace negotiations.
1968 also marked the start of the CIA’s controversial Phoenix program, in which US and South Vietnamese intelligence murdered 20,000 South Vietnamese in an effort to root out the Viet Cong (a secret South Vietnamese revolutionary group) and their supporters.
In the lead-up to elections, Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey also called for an end to the bombing. When Johnson finally halted the bombing on October 31, Humphrey’s poll numbers surged ahead of Nixon’s.
A few days before the election, Nixon sent a secret envoy to South Vietnam promising President Thieu a “better peace deal” if he withdrew from the peace talks – which he did. Because the CIA had caught the conversation on a secret bug in Thieu’s office, Johnson confronted Nixon, who denied it. Viewing it as treason, Johnson chose not to make the incident public. He didn’t want the South Vietnamese government (or the American public) to know how he obtained the information.
Immediately after Nixon’s 1969 inauguration in January, he began secretly (and illegally) bombing Laos and Cambodia. Parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail (which North Vietnam used to send troops, weapons and food south) snaked through Laos, and Cambodia was known to offer sanctuary to North Vietnamese troops.