Rewriting History: The Vietnam War (RELS 348)

On March 25th, The WND featured Chelsea Schilling’s (2015) article “Media’s Vicious Lies on Vietnam Finally Exploded: Eye-opening story finally tells truth of America’s most controversial war,” which addressed the release of a new documentary film: “Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Victory and Betrayal” that attempts to shed light on the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War. Botkin, the executive producer of the movie, expresses that the negative perceptions of the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies’ efforts in the war need to be reinterpreted by the public. The movie attempts to show a different side of the War, one that the makers claim to be more truthful than what was portrayed in the media, and one that gives pride to those who fought in the war/those who supported it.

Schilling begins her article by reminding readers of events that played out in the media during the Vietnam War, such as: a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protestation and an image of a South Vietnamese police chief photographed holding a gun to a prisoner’s head. She also reminds us how U.S. soldiers were often shamed and labeled as “baby-killers” and murderers while the South Vietnamese were cowardly and corrupt. Schilling (2015) asks, “But did these images and portrayals – splashed across Americans’ TV screens and newspapers – really represent the true story of Vietnam and the mission to halt the spread of communism?” – Botkin and his movie argue, no. Botkin points out that many Hollywood movies that deal with the Vietnam War are good for entertainment but not much else. Botkin believes that “they often grossly distort the reality of the warriors who fought courageously to stop the spread of communism”. Botkin hopes to rewrite history in the eyes of America, undo wrong perceptions of American soldiers and Vietnamese allies, and in the end prove that America’s presence in the war was justified/needed to combat the evils of communism.

The film uses a true story of Vietnamese Marine Maj and Le Ba Binh. The story chronicles his life in a communist camp, what the North Vietnamese called a “re-education camp”, while featuring flashbacks that show how Le Ba Binh courageously fought even in the face of hardship. Botkin argues that because Le Ba Binh was immersed first-hand in the war – he is a reliable source for information, whereas the American tabloids were not, “When the American went to Vietnam, they typically would go for 12 or 13 months… But Binh was there for the whole thing. It’s through him that we tell the story, hoping to make the Americans see that their sacrifice was justified”.

Schilling goes on to explain that many South Vietnamese and other oppositionists of communism fled the country in search of refuge. Although the U.S. received extreme prosecution for its efforts in the Vietnam War, Botkin wishes to change these allegations and show that he does not “think there’s any question that our effort was the right one”. The enemy was always communism.

This article and perspective from Botkin reminded me of Siemon-Netto and his mission to portray the South Vietnamese as the compassionate, strong and determined people he saw them to be. Botkin and Siemon-Netto also agree that the U.S. media is at fault for the misrepresentations of the realities of the Vietnam War. Throughout Siemon-Netto’s book, he is constantly frustrated by the absurdity and disconnect between the war reporters and the Vietnam War itself. Although there are many who believe that the Americans had no purpose being in the Vietnam War, it is also true that there are those who believe that any opposition to the communist forces and brutality was one that was needed.

In the end whether or not the Vietnam War is viewed as a War for the People, a colonial war, or a War Against America, I think it is safe to say that it was ultimately a war of ideologies. Freedom is defined differently throughout Vietnam, the U.S., and around the world. The Communist sought freedom from imperial control, South Vietnam sought liberty from Communist restraint and from suffering, religious followers sought liberation from belief restriction, and the American Peace Movement sought liberation from violence and the war itself. I believe that the war, in its confusion, can be summed up in a quote from Uwe Siemon-Netto (2014): “nothing, not even the most irrefutable evidence, can trump an ideologue’s fixed ideas” (p.199).



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