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 from 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.