Thirty years ago today North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon and the last American troops stationed in Vietnam were airlifted off the roof of the American embassy. South Vietnam was reduced to Communist vassalage as the first wave of Vietnamese “boat people” sought escape from servitude. Today’s papers are full of retrospectives; a Google search on Vietnam this morning turns up 16,800 hits on “Vietnam.”
For me, the horrible sights of April 29 and 30, 1975 bitterly highlighted the necessity of unlearning the many lies and myths of the American antiwar movement that I had merrily bought. The much-derided doctrine of containment that had more or less led us to resist the Communist takeover of South Vietnam was vindicated within remarkably few years — crowned with success by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the liberation of its conquered provinces and former satellites.
One didn’t need to wait that long for reason to rethink the narrative that American newspapers and networks had imposed on the war. By 1977 former Washington Post Saigon bureau chief Peter Braestrup had meticulously documented the pitiful performance of the American press covering the war in Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington. (Click here for a good account of the book and here for a 1995 oral history interview with Braestrup.) Is there a retrospective on that subject today? Not that I can find.
Standing out among the retrospectives today is one that attempts to rethink the meaning of the war in the light of subsequent history and experience. Thomas Lipscomb’s Chicago Sun-Times column is “Prosperous Southeast Asia proof U.S. didn’t fight in vain.”
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