Tag Archives: Nixon

The 10,000 Day War and Ken Burns’ Vietnam War PBS Series

by Rick Bretz

Before analyzing these two documentaries, it is important to note the definition of a documentary.

From the Oxford English Dictionary–Documentary: Using pictures and interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject.

Documentaries strive to be objective but their reliance on human beings makes that goal honorable but a little out of reach. People have their own views and biases as witnesses to history and those who write their first draft of history are subjective.  Documentaries are the truth according to who produces them. In the end, documentaries can be a source for information but just like all forms of research, a scholar must seek other sources and make his or her own conclusions.

Vietnam War (1)

Many Vietnam War documentaries have been produced but two stand out.  One was done more than 30 years ago while the other aired recently on PBS.   One was produced by a Canadian journalist and narrated by Richard Basehart while the other was produced by the noted documentary producer Ken Burns and narrated by actor Peter Coyote, airing recently on PBS.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16568035

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/timelines/vietnam_timeline.htm

 

The Vietnam story goes back centuries before the United States became a nation. The people of  Vietnam were conquered and abused by the Chinese and French before the American government and military were major players in the Vietnamese struggle for independence.  Ho Chi Minh wanted to speak with Woodrow Wilson after World War II in Paris.  However, politics and diplomacy married with class defined government protocols can be complicated.  Not seeing then how Ho Chi Minh could be a leader is understandable.  What is not excusable is how the United States could ignore the Vietnamese leader after working with him during World War II to defeat the Japanese.  It’s only because they believed France’s Charles de Gaulle when he suggested the communist ideology would be taking a foothold in Western Europe.   Leaders saw the dominoes falling and became worried about the Red Menace.  This was also the time that the United States government thought that communism was infiltrating American society from Hollywood to the local unions.  The Korean War and the influence of Communist China was also dominating foreign policy strategy during the early 1950s.

12th_Inf,_4th_Inf_Div,_Vietnam_War_Hill_530

They documentaries interview key players or use interviews recorded years ago.   The 10,000 Day War is less passionate and more forensically produced.  It tries to stay away from making judgments and conclusions.  The recent Ken Burns documentary uses more editorial language and interviews veterans and other key players to illicit an emotional response.  Both of them use archival news footage and photographs.

They were both ambitious in their attempt to explain why the world, an especially the United States, became entangled in a war many people thought we had no business waging.  They both make the point that our commitments to our allies like France’s Charles de Gaulle and the strict following of the Truman Doctrine led to sending advisers that eventually led to more than a half million servicemen fighting there in the 1960s.

In both documentaries, the Presidential Administrations that were a part of the Vietnam problem don’t look good.  The early administrations, Eisenhower and Kennedy, look better than others because they were wary of the South Vietnamese leadership in the early stages.  In addition,  the US wasn’t fully committed yet and the early administrations conclusions were that “this is their war and the South Vietnamese were going to have to win it.”

The one criticism of The 10, 000 Day War is that it is a US dominated production and doesn’t give any other country’s diplomatic view, and that it doesn’t take to task the French Government’s insistence in occupying Vietnam after World War II when France was liberated themselves from Nazi rule.  The Ken Burns’ series points out that the only reason France wanted to control Vietnam was national pride and the economic exploitation of its resources.  The PBS series points out that the French occupiers treatment of the local population gave rise to Ho Chi Minh’s recruitment efforts.  The Burn’s PBS series also makes a better attempt to explain the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese points of view.

Ho Chi Minh for is part couldn’t understand why the Americans couldn’t see his side of wanting to gain his country’s freedom from colonial rule.  He reasoned the United States was in the same position 200 hundred years ago so they must be able to relate to his struggle.  He didn’t count on America’s fear of communism and the spread of it across the globe. What is fascinating to know from the PBS series is that Ho Chi Minh’s influence in the decision making process was diminished late in his life.

The 10,000 Day War documentary is called that because it lasted that long.  Scholars might say the United States is still fighting the war by the decisions they make concerning other wars and because they are trying to make up for the ill-treatment of the Vietnam veterans after they came back.  The PBS series does a good job of telling the veterans story and their experiences there.

Vietnam veterans are looked upon wrongly as fighters who went over, lost the war, were there to do drugs and commit war atrocities.  As with many events, negative headlines become the perception and finally the reality.  The movies from Hollywood never helped the perception.  This is far from the truth.  The majority of Vietnam veterans were honorable and went over there to do a job and come back alive. They were put in a situation they had little, if no control, over. They made the trip, they didn’t skip out or make excuses.  Some of them came back alive but 58, 220 didn’t make it.  That’s a high price to pay for a generation.

Both documentaries are worth watching but they are both just additional sources. Do your own research and make your own conclusions.  You walk away from both of them shaking your head and wondering why decisions were made and why opportunities were not explored, especially after World War II.

Notable Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam:_The_Ten_Thousand_Day_War

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvo3yeTYvNc

https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/vietnam-ten-thousand-day-war/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0174323/

https://undertheradar.military.com/2013/04/revisiting-the-ten-thousand-day-war/

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/watch/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vietnam_War_(TV_series)

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/ken-burnss-vietnam-war-is-no-profile-in-courage/

http://kenburns.com/films/vietnam/

 

 

The Two O’Clock War

by Rick Bretz

I came across an interesting book with an even more captivating title.  The book, by Walter J. Boyne, and published in 2002 is titled “The Two O’Clock War.”  The first thought that enters the mind is:  Why Two O’clock?

Two O'Clock War Book Cover

The Two O’clock question is answered in the book but the subtitle made me want to read it the minute I picked it up from my father-in-law’s bookshelf, “The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel.”  What Airlift and by whom?

The Yom Kippur War or as some call it, The October War,  began on the holiest of Jewish Holidays on October 6th of 1973 and the Arab forces chose “Two O’clock”  for a reason.

The author, a retired Air Force Colonel, explains the Two O’clock time hack in the title is derived from a couple of factors.  One is that Israeli commanders and the government leadership never thought the Arab forces would begin a war at two o’clock in the afternoon.  President Anwar Sadat and Air Chief Marshal Hasni Mubarak elected to change strategy to achieve the element of surprise.  Also, they knew the Israeli leadership’s guard would be the most lax at that time on Yom Kippur.

Sinai_Oct6_13_1973map_sm

Israel thought the Suez Canal provided a natural defensive barrier and would give them enough time to call up their reserve forces if they tried to cross the canal for an attack on Israel.  However,  in the case of  October 6th, soon after the explosives started hitting the concrete bunkers, 600 tanks started rolling towards the Israeli front on pontoon bridges crossing the Suez Canal.  At the same time, Syrian MiG jet fighters and Sukhoi bombers attacked the Golan Heights in the North.

Arab Forces led primarily by Anwar Sadat’s bold decision making wanted some revenge for the six day war and also wanted to reclaim some prestige and the land Israel won after soundly defeating the Arab coalition in June of 1967.  This War, lasting until October 26th, almost completely redrew the map in that region.

The book describes how the Israeli military and its government became overconfident in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.  Due to the Six Day War outcome, the Israeli leadership never gave Arab Forces from any of the surrounding countries any credit.  That overconfidence almost resulted in disaster during the first couple of days of the Arab surge once they crossed the Suez. Arab forces caught Israel by surprise and with supplies and support from the Soviet Union, the Arab coalition almost succeeded in overrunning the Israeli Defense Force if not for the heroism and bravery of soldiers and airmen of the Israeli Defense Force who lost their lives defending their young country.

Boyne’s account of how American and Soviet leadership faced-off in a proxy war with the Soviet’s supplying the Arab Forces and the American Military airlifting supplies, weaponry and ammunition to the Israeli government is a lesson in diplomacy and decision-making.  What’s eye-opening is the fact that, 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, hands were ready to send nuclear warheads down range in a last, desperate act to save their country.  Henry Kissinger working with the Soviets stepped in and clearer heads prevailed.

All of the key players have a primary role in this event in history: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Ariel Sharon.  After many meetings, and diplomatic trips back and forth from one country to another, Nixon ordered the US Military and specifically the US Air Force to airlift weapons, ammunition and other logistics to Israel as they were running out of vital supplies, arriving just in time to resupply the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli and United States military’s coordinated efforts resulted in supplies moving from the planes just after landing on the airfield in Tel Aviv to supply trucks and then forward to the battle fronts.

The United States Air Force’s leadership saved the day because, while the politicians were talking, they were developing a plan and putting their airmen on notice to be ready for an airlift to Israel. An Airlift of Yom Kippur’s magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight and it occurred while Vietnam required air support simultaneously. Working 24 hours a day for several days straight, the Air Force contributed to saving Israel and were thanked by Golda Meir through a special visit.  This book is worth the read to get a little history that forms Middle East politics as it is today.

Notable LInks:

http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-yom-kippur-war/

http://www.historynet.com/the-arab-israeli-war-of-1973-honor-oil-and-blood.htm

https://amcmuseum.org/history/operation-nickel-grass/

 

The Curtain Remains Closed

Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th Pr...
Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick  Bretz

Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today.  In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes.  The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived  journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard...
President Johnson meets with candidate Richard Nixon in the White House, July 1968 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election.  The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal.  Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.

Nixon announces the release of edited transcri...
Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes.  The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940.  President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time.  The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties.  President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings.  A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day.  Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business  but at the same time they short-changed history.  Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him.  And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to  24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.

If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events.  I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today.  Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words.  One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.

These are just of a few events lost to history.

English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon...
English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library (Left to right). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.

An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.

President Carter-The Panama Canal Treaty, the Shah of Iran overthrow, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the 1980 Election, The Soviet Union Invasion of Afghanistan, The Oil Embargo, The Olympic Boycott, The Taiwan Issue, Israel-Egypt Peace accords.

President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.

President George H. W. Bush-The Panama Invasion, General Noriega issue, the Persian Gulf War, the Kurdish situation in the North part of Iraq, the 1988 Election, the 1992 Election.

President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.

President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.

Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office.   The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.

Notable Links:

http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/dictabelt.hom/content.asp

http://www.ibtimes.com/lbj-tapes-show-richard-nixon-may-have-committed-treason-sabotaging-vietnam-peace-talks-1131819

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2294821/Lyndon-Johnson-White-House-tapes-reveal-knew-Richard-Nixons-treason.html

http://whitehousetapes.net/