I posted my “Notes on the Ken Burns version” as a placeholder until the time more knowledgeable observers than I published their comments on the updated left-wing version of the Vietnam War. In place of fairness it gives us a pretense of Olympian if sorrowful detachment. In place of a fair representation of the men who fought the war, it gives us voices ranging from disillusion to shame. The Ken Burns version should not become the received version with our silence or acquiescence.
I mentioned that we needed to hear from Mackubin Thomas Owens, among others. I got to know Mac through the Claremont Institute. He is now the dean of academics at the Institute of World Politics and editor of Orbis, a journal of world affairs. Orbis is the quarterly publication of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (subscribe here). Mac is the author of US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain. Mac is also a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, where as an infantry platoon and company commander in 1968-1969 he was wounded twice and awarded the Silver Star medal.
In addition, Mac is a contributing editor of Providence, a journal of Christianity & American foreign policy. Readers can find more about Providence here and can subscribe here. Readers can also click on a tab at either of those pages to sign up for the magazine’s email list.
Providence has posted Mac’s review of the Burns/Novick/War documentary in two parts: “Mission Failure: The Burns & Novick “The Vietnam War” Misses its Target| A Review (Part I)” and “A Failure to Discern: Burns’ & Novick’s ‘The Vietnam War’ is Bad History | A Review (Part II).”
Mac is one of the many veterans of the war who is proud of his service but whose like was somehow overlooked by Burns et al. in the ten years they worked on the documentary. He is also a scholar and student of the war. Mac writes in part I, for example:
I was struck by the absence of certain voices. There is nothing from those who have offered reasoned defenses of both the purpose and conduct of the war, especially Jim Webb. There is no mention of Mark Moyar, who has written a revisionist study of the war, or of Bob Sorley’s important contribution to the study of the military leadership during the war, which has generated a lively debate among US Army historians. Sorley appears in the documentary, but if he was asked to talk about his revisionist history of the war, it must have ended up on the cutting room floor. I was stuck as well be the downplaying of the patriotism and sense of purpose that fortified the resolve of many of the Americans who served in Vietnam—including the two-thirds who volunteered. Absent too is any sense that the war might have been right to fight, even if, in the end, it was fought wrongly. Nor is there any real allowance that the war was fought wrongly in primarily strategic—rather than moral—dimensions.
In Part II Mac covers the conduct of the war itself. I hesitate to excerpt it. If you have an interest in the subject, I urge you to read the whole thing. Mac’s is the voice of authenticity. He knows what he is talking about.
The Ken Burns version cannot rightly be ignored without dishonor either to our history and to our veterans living and dead. I think the documentary seeks to fix the record in falsity. Burns and his colleagues assert their will to power by controlling the past. We need Mac and the others who have risen to Burns’s challenge to provide the true ground of resistance.
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