Abandoning Vietnam

PBS’s American Experience series broadcast Rory Kennedy’s documentary film “Last Days in Vietnam” on April 28. You can watch the entire film online at the link; clips and other resources are accessible here. PBS has posted 17 clips from the film on YouTube here.

I would post the whole thing here if I could, but I don’t think I can. Prefaced by a 30-second message, the opening of the film is posted below with a link to the rest of the film online at the conclusion of this excerpt.

The documentary tells the story of the American evacuation of Vietnam in April 1975. It is a dark and heartbreaking story shot through with many moments of great bravery. The film also reminds viewers of, or acquaints them with, events of stark national humiliation. There are things wrong with the film, but I think by any standard it is worth watching. Kennedy has dug up some incredible footage to tell the story. The cumulative power of the footage is overwhelming.

Looking around online this morning, I find that Seth Lipsky draws out the film’s contemporary resonance for American viewers in an excellent New York Post column. Seth says exactly what was on my mind as I watched the film. I hesitate to quote from Seth’s column; please read the whole thing. I would also like to note, however, that Seth goes out of his way to credit Kennedy with courage in making the film.

The film is deficient in political and military context, though one fears it would have fallen victim to claptrap if its focus had been enlarged. The film’s narrow focus allows Kennedy to fill out a story many of us thought we knew. I didn’t know the half of it.

George Veith rounds out the story in Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75, reviewed here by Mark Moyar for the Wall Street Journal. Moyar writes:

Mr. Veith demonstrates persuasively that the root cause of South Vietnam’s defeat was the slashing of assistance by the U.S. Congress in 1974, when military aid was nearly halved. As the North Vietnamese onslaught began in March 1975, South Vietnam’s shortages of aircraft fuel and spare parts prevented the military from flying troops in to fortify a vulnerable 900-mile western flank. The North Vietnamese were thus free to focus their attacks with overwhelming numbers on key towns and cities.

Because of the scarcity of air assets, imperiled South Vietnamese troops frequently had to retreat by truck or on foot. Civilians raced after the soldiers, terrified of being massacred by the communist forces, who had slaughtered noncombatants in Hue in 1968 and along Route 1 in 1972. Women and children and civilian vehicles clogged the major roads and bridges, slowing the withdrawal. Consequently, some of the combat units were cut off by the advancing North Vietnamese and destroyed.

In his New York Post column, Seth Lipsky takes up the subject of John Kerry then and now. Seth’s comparison packs a wallop. As Kerry and Obama finalize the arrangement facilitating the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the preeminent enemy of the United States — an enemy that already accounts for one of our protracted national humiliations — we should take the time to compare and contrast great moments in the humiliation of the United States.

Bill Clinton’s howlers cast doubt on his usefulness to Hillary

Will Bill Clinton be an asset to his wife’s campaign for the presidency? A week ago, I would, without hesitation, have said yes. After all, the former president remains popular and surely is a better politician than Hillary.

But after his comments to NBC’s Cynthia McFadden, I’m not so sure. Consider his defense to charging $500,000 or more for a single speech. Serving up an instant classic, Clinton told McFadden “I have to pay our bills.”

It may be difficult for the Clintons to reconcile this statement with the class warfare oriented campaign Hillary wants to wage. For example, it’s a staple of Democratic campaign rhetoric to attack multi-million dollar salaries for CEOs, and Hillary has already trotted out this theme. But CEOs have to pay their bills too.

If the Clintons really have bills that require such enormous speaking fees, then they are living a lifestyle that virtually no American can relate to (as, indeed, they are). This doesn’t bother me. But it undercuts Hillary’s attempts to portray herself as in-step with middle class Americans, whose “champion” she holds herself out as.

Now, consider Bill Clinton’s claim, also made to NBC, that he has “taken almost no capital gains” in the last 15 years. The Clintons tax returns tell a different story. They show that from 2000-2006, the Clintons made nearly $400,000 in capital gains. In 2006, they made more than $155,000.

In what universe is capital gains of this magnitude “almost no capital gains”? Most Americans probably didn’t make $400,000 in income plus dividends plus capital gains during this time period.

At best, Clinton’s claim is a howler that, like his “gotta pay the bills” line, shows how out of touch he has become. At worst, it’s a significant liberty with the truth.

Eight years ago, at roughly the midpoint between the end of his presidency and today, Bill Clinton’s contribution to Hillary’s campaign was mixed. Even without the latest howlers, it would be plausible to suspect that his political skills and acumen have continued to erode, perhaps at an accelerated pace.

I’m sure Bill still gives a great speech, having famously stayed in practice. Whether the rest of the package is intact remains to be seen. Even for a political genius, it must be very difficult to live as Bill Clinton does and still retain the common touch.

New York police officer dies, killed by man who should have been in jail

Brian Moore, the New York City police officer who was shot over the weekend by an ex-con, has died. Moore was 25 and had already received several police decorations.

Moore’s assailant, Demetrius Blackwell, reportedly has nine prior arrests, including two for assault on police officers. He was convicted of attempted murder for firing shots into a car, which is how he killed Moore. Thus, Blackwell had done it all before — he had assaulted police officers and shot at innocent people sitting in a car.

The left and the emerging bleeding-heart right complain that prison sentences are too long. But from what I can tell, Blackwell served seven years or less for his attempted murder conviction (the attempted murder occurred in 2001; Blackwell reportedly was released in 2008). Considering that Blackwell tried to kill a man he had just robbed at gunpoint, that sentence strikes me as too short. (Not that it should matter much, but Blackwell wasn’t a model prisoner; reportedly, he had “institutional adjustment problems[.]“)

After his release, Blackwell assaulted a police officer while being arrested in 2013, and in 2014 he allegedly threw bricks at the windows of a house and a parked car while waving a gun. There was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

One way or another, Blackwell should have been in jail this weekend. Had he been, Brian Moore would still be alive and well.

When it comes to the criminal justice system, our priority should be keeping people like Demetrius Blackwell off the street. Unfortunately, things are trending in the opposite direction.

JOHN adds: Amen. When a horrific crime occurs, and information comes out about the person who committed it, my reaction is nearly always the same: why in the world wasn’t this guy in jail?

The Times Does American Business

Scott’s daughter Eliana, knowing our fondness for New York Times corrections, pointed out this gem from today’s paper. The correction is to an article by political reporter Trip Gabriel, who, as you can see from his Twitter feed, is a Democratic Party operative:

Correction: May 4, 2015

An earlier version of this article misspelled part of the name of the company of which Carly Fiorina was the former chief executive. It is Hewlett-Packard, not Hewlett-Packer.

Heh. It’s nice to know that the reporters the Times assigns to politics are knowledgeable about the business world. And, once again, I wonder whether the Times actually employs any editors. Not for the purpose of reading articles before they are published, apparently.

JOE adds: It is strange to think about how a New York Times reporter might actually think about business. Like: when Trip Gabriel imagines a CEO, COO, accountants, product managers, and engineers drawing out a plan to bring a new product to market, does he envision something like a human plantation, with men and women hooked up, jellied and Matrix-like, to a grid, spinning vigorously, to no particular end, but ejecting little ergs of money through iron circuits to the limestone regional processing cathedrals of the IRS? If their understanding of private enterprise is anything other than this, I cannot find any evidence for it.

Police Body Cams: Not So Fast?

I’ve generally favored the idea of equipping police with body cams. But the ever wise Todd Zywicki of George Mason Law school offers the following caution about possible unintended consequences:

I think I am generally favorably inclined toward body cameras for police. But I also worry about the unintended consequences. For example, in a world of overcriminalization, often the best police judgment is to not enforce a law against someone. For example, you have the teenage kid pour out the beer instead of arresting him, throw away the marijuana instead of arresting him, or giving a speeding driver a warning instead of a ticket.

I worry that if the police are going to be forced to wear body cameras, then they are going to be more reluctant to exercise judgment and discretion in how they enforce these laws because they might later be second-guessed, especially if it later turns out that there is some disparate impact in policing. And I suspect that these instances of police exercising discretion to not enforce laws are far more prevalent than the rare instances where matters go awry. I also recognize that the costs of the latter situation are much larger. 

So while I think the benefits of body cameras probably outweigh the costs overall, I fear that one unintended consequence will be that there will actually be more arrests, especially of people who don’t really deserve it.

We already have lots of dash cam video, and audio recordings of officers interacting in their duties. I wonder if there have been any careful studies by criminologists of what data may have been generated from these existing monitoring systems.

On the Terror Attack In Texas

As you probably know, two gunmen attacked a “draw Mohammed” event in Garland, Texas last night. The event was sponsored by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, which awarded $10,000 to the best depiction of Mohammed. The gunmen were armed with semiautomatic rifles, but they didn’t get far: the event had security, and a Garland police officer armed only with a handgun killed them both. One security guard was wounded in the attack.

One of the gunmen has been identified as Elton Simpson, a “known wolf” convert to Islam who was convicted of lying to the FBI in January 2010. He was not jailed, apparently because, while there was evidence that he lied about his intention to travel to Somalia, there was no proof that his purpose was to join al Shabaab.

In the aftermath of the attack, Pamela Geller has come in for more criticism than those who tried to murder her. This morning, Alisyn Camerota interviewed Geller on CNN in a rather hostile manner. As usual, Pamela is her own best spokesman. Enjoy:

Our Inhuman Humanities

The rise of political correctness and rigid ideological filters is only one reason the humanities are suffering a precipitous decline in enrollment at colleges and universities.  Other reasons include the deliberate obscurity and mediocrity that attend so many humanities programs and professors these days.  (I’ve observed classics departments where the object seems to be keeping as esoteric, inaccessible, and irrelevant as possible.) Why would students want to waste their time on “Queer Themes in Shakespeare”?

In the New York Times today Christy Wampole points to one strong symptom of the maladies afflicting the humanities in “The Conference Manifesto”:

We are weary of academic conferences.

We are humanists who recognize very little humanity in the conference format and content.

We have sat patiently and politely through talks read line by line in a monotone voice by a speaker who doesn’t look up once, wondering why we couldn’t have read the paper ourselves in advance with a much greater level of absorption.

We have tried to ignore the lack of a thesis or even one interesting sentence in a 20-minute talk.

Our jaws have hung in disbelief as a speaker tries to squeeze a 30-minute talk into a 20-minute slot by reading too fast to be understood.

We have been one of two attendees at a panel.

We have suffered in silence while someone, for the duration of their talk, simply lists the appearances of a certain theme in a novel.

Our faces have twitched as our colleagues pretend they’ve understood a speaker’s academese. . .

We have wondered, “If this is what the humanities have become, should they continue to exist?”

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

But be sure to couple it with The Toast’s sendup of every Q & A you’ve ever heard.  Samples:

3. “This question has two parts, neither of which have anything to do with the other or the subject at hand. Also, this question has four parts.”

4. “Can you possibly speak to an area that is outside of your expertise but is secretly in mine, so that when you can’t answer it, I can try to hang onto the microphone and answer it for you?”

13. “This is more of an observation than a question – in fact it’s not a question at all – in fact it’s less an observation than an open-ended series of unconnected thoughts wrapped in a thin veneer of criticism – I’ve never asked a question in my life.”

This one is worth reading in total as well.

But finally, who needs humanities professors at all when you can get the “Random Academic Sentence Generator” to write your sentences for you.  Just a few clicks at the tabs and I got this:

The linguistic construction of post-capitalist hegemony is, and yet is not, the discourse of the gendered body.

Sounds conference-ready to me! (And another threat to underemployed adjuncts.)