These comments are by Bill Laurie
Haven't done Part 1 critique yet. Here are comments on episode 2.
1. At first viewing, and especially for those with limited background knowledge, the whole thing appears palatable, credible, honest. It is.....and it is definitely not. This dichotomy arises from combination of two of our designated flaws:
-OM2, or significant omissions, and
-DP 8, invalid, deceptive projection.
Latter point leads to former. By implying things were ever and forever as described then they ALWAYS and FOREVER remained so. If they did NOT, then we move into Significant Omission territory.... and simple dishonesty.
2. It's hard to argue that Diem was not in part responsible for his own demise. At same time, the crass, inept bumbling of U.S. news media AND U.S. buffoons in State Department certainly greased the skids. David Halberstam, one of the young, and quite inexperienced gun-slinger reporters, is reported to have told another reporter (and this comes from a very good source) that he was "going to get that son of a bitch," meaning Diem. How and why Halberstam was appointed chief executioner is not explained.
Part of difficulty in pointing this out is the Burns should have tagged on a three or four minute addendum at end of this episode, an addendum clearly showing thing were not the same and changed immensely, leaving early 1960s in the trash can of history.
3. Here are points that should have been included in a Burns addendum..
A. The ARVN 7th division shown as being inept and humiliated at Ap Bac, with an emphatic statement by Neil Sheehan that VC/NLF could indeed defeat GVN and U.S. forces. Several contradictory points are omitted.
- one of VC units at Ap Bac was 514th Regional Force battalion. Months prior to Ap Bac Battle, and several months after, the ARVN 7th beat the hell out of the 514th. This is not shown or even suggested in the documentary.
-for whatever problems it may have had at Ap Bac, the 7th ARVN evolved into an extremely good unit. Not a "yeah, they're OK" good unit but rather a "holy sh-t" good. This attested by American advisors to 7th. Not only were they formidable military opponents but 7th division leadership made it known that stealing chickens form villagers was not tolerated.
-at time of Ap Bac 7th was confronted with about three main force/regional force VC battalions, assorted local force, village guerrillas, etc. Of course the three MF units did most damage, posed biggest threat. They had crew served and automatic weapons not possessed by hamlet guerrillas. They were also mobile; guerrillas were not. By most accounts the 7th was having its problems dealing with the 3+ battalions. Fast forward to 1972. ARVN 7th had evolved into the domineering force in northern Delta. They were superb. They pounded and humiliated a much larger enemy force of 4 (FOUR) NVA-manner "VC"regiments, along with 3 regional/main force "VC" battalions, a total of 15 battalions. So ARVN 7th originally had problems dealing with 3+ battalions (3 250-350 men in each) yet 8 years later are dominating against a force 5 times '63 VC strength. What happened? They should have been overrun, opposed by 15 battalions 5 times it's '63 opposing force.
Easy to understand. 7th ended up commanded by a man of absolutely impeccable integrity and prodigious tactical acumen and skills, Gen. Nguyen Khoa Nam. The VN people would condemn their government with some regularity but never, ever had a bad thing to say about Gen. Nam, a man revered and described as "rat dao duc" or very virtuous.
Sheehan said he spent 16 years researching the subject for his book Bright, Shining Lie. Why then did he not discover anything about the 7th's amazing transformation? Nothing about Gen. Nguyen Khoa Nam? In BSL there is no index reference to 7th after 1963. Not one damn word. Why?
If 7th was so good why the continuing problem in northern Delta, need for 4 NVA-man regiments? Because of criminally negligent U.S. "strategy" that left Cambodia sections of Ho Chi Minh trail intact, exempted form attack.
By the way, had Sheehan done his homework, and talked to some VC/NVA POWs or hoi chanhs from northern Delta he would have discovered those who had this to say in their interrogation and debriefings:
-"the 7th was always on our tail. They knew the area. It was their home. Many of us were form North Viet Nam. We were foreigners and didn't know the area."
-"when I arrived from North Viet Nam I was assigned to an infantry company with mission of ambushing 7th Division elements conducting a sweep the following day. I went with my unit, moving at night, and set up in our ambush position to wait. It just started to get light but we saw no movement in the open areas in front of us. We didn't know where the 7th was, until they attacked us from the rear. We didn't know they had come up behind us."
Inclusion of this information is NECESSARY to portray changes and developments occurring. Sheehan and Burns will NEVER say one single word about the 7th throughout the entire documentary and viewers will be ever transfixed by perception that 7th was a bumbling, inept unit humiliated routinely and forever by indigenous VC. ALL of that is false. It isn't history.
The invalid projection produces malignant omissions and leads to totally false conclusions and perceptions.
4. Buddhist turmoil. Hard to dispute that Diem didn't step on his own feet in handling this. He was a very stubborn man. Nhu's "pagoda raids" appear to be completely unjustifiable. His wife should have shut her mouth. Still, as in case above, Burns allows viewers to form false perceptions and invalid projections which later lead to inexcusable and dishonest omissions.
A. The An Quang sect gave Diem the most problems. It had large number of adherents but still did not speak for all VN Buddhists. Still, viewers see a clearly troublesome situation but, once again,Burns, in pursuit of truth, needs to add an end-of-episode addendum clarifying matters.
1. Why didn't Buddhist turmoil remain a constant feature of VN's landscape for years into the future? Why didn't we read or hear of immolations, riots, etc. up until 1975? Because, by 1966 and certainly in aftermath of communist Tet '68 atrocities the Buddhist community realized its fate was tied for better or worse to the GVN and GVN survival. This spelled out in Alan Goodman's Politics in War. The Buddhist troubles were over with.
2. One of the An Quang ring leaders, sometimes called the "Mad Monk," Thich Tri Quang, was thrown in a communist prison cell after Hanoi's '75 conquest. He was confined in a small cell, unable to stand. His legs atrophied (see Nguyen Van Canh's Viet Nam under Communism, 1975-1982).
3. The Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam was forced into exile in 1978. All Buddhist properties, to include orphanages, clinics, were seized by the communists. The Unified Buddhist Church now resides in Paris. Its website:
4. One of Viet Nam's more revered leaders and monks, Thich Quang Do, remains in house arrest where's been held incommunicado for decades. Thich Quang Do has long been aware of communist blood-lust lunacy for a long, long time.
As a young student in Hanoi, September 1945, while Ho Chi Minh was enthralling - and bullshitting- all at Ba Dinh Square, Do and other students were forced to witness the execution of their head Monk by the Viet Minh. They first beat him so that blood was streaming down his face, then shot him in front of all his young students.
I have documentation on the execution and will post soon.
If these two explanatory addenda had been tagged on at end of episode, viewers would have been left with an entirely different impression than the one epoxied in their brain. These addend would have enlighten viewers about the dangers of false projections, the apparent duplicity of some "experts," and clear indication of Communist madness.
This is very, very subtle, yet very, very effective in planting subtle impressions, feeble excuses for "knowledge." These false impressions eventually ossify in the brain and become what people think is fact.
Wicked, insidious, stuff, all the more effective because the excuse for a U.S. government did nothing to wage a relentless counter-propaganda war. Burns needs to dig deeper if he wants to explain the whole damn thing in all its complexity.