Vietnam War Series Ends with Load of Sentimental Claptrap

The Weight of Memory, Episode 10

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

I found the final episode of the Vietnam War series, shown on Maori TV earlier this week, extremely disappointing. The first half contained some good historical detail and valuable commentary by North Vietnam and Vietcong fighters. The last half was a load of sentimental claptrap about the Vietnam War memorial and other efforts to “heal” the Vietnam experience. It was totally devoid of any political analysis, eg the role of banks, oil companies and defense contractors in strong arming three administrations into pursuing an unwinnable war at great cost to the American people. Even more disgusting was the failure to identify obvious parallels with the illegal US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have lasted even longer than Vietnam.

The filmmakers also totally gloss over the reality that for the Vietnamese, the war was purely a war of independence against foreign invaders.

Episode 10 covers March 29, 1973, when the last US troops left Vietnam, through April 30, 1975 when Saigon collapsed. The US evacuation had scarcely ended in 1973 when the Watergate scandal superseded all other national news. It was all over for Nixon once Congress learned that he had tape recorded all his Oval Office conversations. The tapes would provide undeniable proof of his participation in the Watergate burglary and cover up.

On August 9, after the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment, Nixon resigned. On the same day, Congress halved military aid to the (puppet) South Vietnamese government. The result was the virtual economic collapse of South Vietnam. Massive pay cuts would lead South Vietnamese troops to desert at the rate of 20,000 a month.

This episode includes very moving coverage of South Vietnamese who collaborated with the US occupation desperately trying to flee Saigon in front of North Vietnamese troops. Only a few were airlifted via helicopters that evacuated US embassy and security personnel. Many launched themselves into any vessel they could find in the hope of being picked up by US freighters.

Once North Vietnam took control of the south, the blood bath that had been predicted never eventuated. Roughly 1,000 South Vietnamese collaborators were killed in revenge killing and roughly 1.5 million were forced to participate in compulsory re-education.

The Vietnamese economy was a virtual shambles for a good ten years after the war ended. The filmmakers blame this on the privatization of Vietnamese industry and forced collectivization. A better explanation, in my view, is that the US war of aggression totally destroyed the country’s infrastructure and poisoned its farmland with Agent Orange.

Dire economic conditions would lead 1.5 million Vietnamese to flee Vietnam in small and medium-sized boats between 1978 and the early 1990’s. A good number drowned, but most ended up in refugee camps in other Southeast Asian countries. About 400,000 eventually made it to the US.

 

The Hidden History of Cannabis

The Hidden History of Cannabis

Chris Rice (2018)

Film Review

This documentary traces the medical, textile and spiritual use of cannabis from its first discovery in ancient China. It’s use for 100 different medical conditions is listed in the first Chinese “materia medica” in 2,800 BC. Archeological evidence suggests it was in wide use for cloth, paper and rope for centuries before that. It has long been one of the 50 herbal remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Archeologists believe that Caucasus tribes known as Aryans spread cannabis use to India and Persia along primitive trade routes that pre-dated the Silk Road. In India it was used in Hindu sects devoted to Shiva, in Buddhism and Sikhism. According to legend, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) subsisted on cannabis alone for six years prior to his enlightenment.

In 500 BC, when the Persian empire (Iran) extended from the Indian border to Egypt, it played an essential role in Zororastianism. There is also good evidence Egyptians used it for medicinal purposes 700 years prior to their conquest by Persia (in  552 BC).

Following the unsuccessful Persian attack on Greece (in 492 BC), Greek physicians began using it to treat a variety of medical conditions. Both Pythagoras and Socrates refer to its mind enhancing properties. Cannabis would make its way to Rome by way of Greece.

Use of Cannabis in Judaism and Christianity

Rice also traces how Kaneh Bosm (which English Biblical scholars have mistranslated “calamus”) was used extensively along with frankincense and other psychoactive herbs to anoint ancient Jewish priests. Christ (which means “the anointed one”) used similar holy oils to anoint his twelve disciples. Some scholars believe Kaneh Bosm may have played a role in his healing miracles – due to its medicinal properties. Early gnostic gospels, which were banned by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD, cover the subject far more extensively than the New Testament.

Cannabis was also widely used by Muslim physicians, Sufi sects and by assassins (derived from the word hashish) of the secret 11th century Islamic sect Nizari Ismailis.

Cannabis Spreads to Europe and the New World

Cannabis cultivation spread from Rome to northern Europe via Germanic tribes who used the seeds as a food source. Prior to the conquest of the Americas, Europeans used it mainly as a source of fiber. When the New World tobacco trade made pipe smoking popular in Europe, a growing middle class also began smoking cannabis and opium.

Queen Elizabeth initiated the legal requirement that the North American colonies grow hemp to help supply the British Navy with rope and sails. Shakespeare, James Madison and James Monroe all smoked it, and Washington used it for toothache.

During the 18th century, it became widely available in various patent medicines – until the American Medical Association began a state-by-state campaign to ban it. Its ready availability and effectiveness for pain relief  posed a major threat to the fledgling medical profession.

The advent of alcohol Prohibition in 1919, caused a surge in the use of cannabis, which was still legal surged.

The Corporate Conspiracy to Suppress Hemp Production

In 1936, a corporate conspiracy to suppress hemp production in favor of wood fiber and synthetic fibers (see The Politics of Hemp) would lead to the controversial 1936 Marijuana Tax Act.

Psychodelic guru Timothy O’Leary would initiate the first legal challenge to the Act, leading a federal court to overturn it in 1969. Nixon’s response was to ban cannabis altogether, under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

 

 

The Link Between Vietnam and Nixon’s Recognition of China

A Disrespectful Loyalty, Episode 9

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed part 9 of the Vietnam War series.

During the period covered (February 1970 – March 1973), Nixon’s sole focus with to withdraw US troops from Vietnam without losing the 1972 election. He knew he would be defeated if Saigon fell. Much of this episode consists of tape recordings of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations with his chief security advisor Henry Kissinger.

Although the filmmakers refer to 1/4 of US GIs using marijuana in Vietnam and 40,000 being addicted to heroin, for some reason they neglect to mention the South Vietnamese army was the main source of these drugs.

They do report on the growing influence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and play an excerpt of former naval lieutenant John Kerry’s (a VVAW member) compelling testimony before a Senate investigative committee.

1971 also saw the New York Times publican of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. This Defense Department study, covering 1945-1967, revealed successive US presidents had been continuously lying to the American public regarding their true motives waging war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s paranoia about documents Ellsberg and others might possess about his own lies led him to create “The Plumbers,” a secret team that broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (in the hope of finding material they could use to blackmail him).

Much of this episode focuses on the Paris peace talks, and Nixon’s efforts to force North Vietnam to agree to a favorable peace treaty. To this end, he resumed bombing raid on North Vietnam, which were far more brutal (in terms of civilian casualties) than those Johnson had been condemned for.

I was surprised to learn that Nixon’s recognition of Communist China (after nearly 40 years) was part of a ploy to increase Chinese and Russian pressure on their North Vietnamese allies to sign a peace settlement favorable to the US.

The latter would be signed on January 23,1973, and over the next few weeks the last US troops would leave Vietnam.

As of March 1973, over 58,000 GIs and 2 million Vietnamese had been killed in North Vietnam.

 

The Vietnam War in 1970: GIs Kill Their Own Officers While Government Slays Student Protestors

A Sea of Fire, Episode 8

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

This week Maori TV showed A Sea of Fire, Episode 8 of the Vietnam War series. It covers the period from April 4, 1969 to May 1970 and the massacre of four students at Kent State and two at Jackson State

By April 1969, there were 543,482 US troops fighting in Vietnam, with thousands more on nearby naval vessels and support bases. By that date, 40,794 GIs had died in Vietnam.

In October Nixon, who privately acknowledged the US couldn’t win, replaced a complicated draft deferment system with a more popular lottery based on draftees date of birth. In December, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced the “Vietnamization” of the war (eg a transfer of responsibility to to South Vietnamese troops) and began drawing down US troop numbers (10,000 by the end of 1970).

The move led many serving GIs to become deeply demoralized about being sent to die in an unwinnable war. Accordingly, 1970 would see a big increase in “fragging,” the deliberate murder of officers by men under them. It would also see a big increase in draftees seeking asylum in Canada (30,000 in total).

I was disappointed this episode failed to cover the role of the CIA and South Vietnamese army setting up a thriving trade selling heroin to US GIs. My former partner served in Vietnam from 1967-1969 and returned to the US addicted to it.

The years 1969-70 would also see a big surge in the US peace movement. The October 15th Vietnam Moratorium was actually a general strike, with hundreds of university campuses closing down and tens of thousands of Americans staying off work in cities around the country. It would be the largest mass protest in US history.

In November, independent journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai Massacre, the brutal murder of 400 South Vietnamese civilians, which had occurred 20 months earlier. It would be only one of many civilians massacres in Vietnam.

In 1970, the peace movement, which had died down in response to Nixon’s gradual troop withdrawal, was reignited following the April 30, 1970 invasion of Cambodia by 30,000 US troops. Four million American students protested the invasion, 448 campuses were shut down and 16 states called out the National Guard.

At Kent State, the National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, killing four, including an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) scholarship student who was merely an onlooker.

On the same day, police shot two peaceful African American antiwar protestors at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

 

 

Nixon’s Treason in Vietnam

Chasing Ghosts, Episode 7

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

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.

 

 

The Ugly History of the White Rights Movement

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

How to Build an Alternative to Capitalism

How Do We Build Movements That Can Win

Naomi Klein (2017)

In this presentation, Naomi Klein  outlines the strategy she feels grassroots activists need to pursue to resist the growing attacks on working people while building build a genuine alternative to post industrial capitalism. It’s very similar to the one Kali Akuna proposes (see Don’t Just Fight, Build).

While she begins by focusing on climate change, she heavily emphasizes that environmentalists alone can’t solve the crisis of catastrophic climate change – that it will require a large diverse coalition of activists organizing around a broad array of environmental and social justice issues. While she doesn’t state directly that it’s impossible to prevent climate change under capitalism, this is strongly implied.

Another concept Klein stresses is the importance of radical ideas in creating the conditions for major reform. She gives the example of the calls for socialist revolution following the 1929 Depression and during the Vietnam War – how serious discussion of revolution scared the corporate elite so much that they granted major economic reform (the New Deal) under Roosevelt and major environmental reform under Nixon (creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.).

Klein also gives the example of the Leap Coalition in Canada, which is working for bold social and environmental justice reforms, as well as the development of community controlled energy systems (similar to Germany’s) – where the profits from energy production fund community services, such as teaching, daycare and senior care – rather than distant corporations.