William J. Astore on Still Not Getting the Vietnam War

I recently read an article on Rocky Bleier’s return to Vietnam, the subject of a documentary on ESPN.

Rocky Bleier played on the Pittsburgh Steelers football team in the 1970s, when the Steelers were at their finest. Before that, he was drafted into the Army and was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Doctors thought he’d never play football again, but Bleier proved them wrong, helping the Steelers to win four Super Bowls.

Bleier’s return to Vietnam was emotional and revealing, but in a way that is one-sided, privileging the American experience of that war. Franco Harris, another famous football player, puts it succinctly: “It’s a tragedy, I wish the war [Vietnam] had never happened.” But was America’s war in Vietnam simply a tragedy? Or was it more of a crime? What was America after in Vietnam? And at what cost to the peoples of Southeast Asia?

As Bleier puts it, “All of a sudden I had an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. Why did we fight this war? Why did we lose 58,000 soldiers and in all honesty for what? Maybe for first time I can understand on a slight basis the impact that our soldiers go through and maybe just a little what post-traumatic stress might be and how the body reacts to all the emotions.”

Those are important words. But what about the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians killed in that war? What about their war burdens? What about the suffering that is still ongoing in Southeast Asia today due to chemical defoliants, unexploded ordnance, land mines, and the like?

In this article on Rocky Bleier, the Vietnamese people make an appearance, but nothing is said of their suffering. Instead, they are presented as entirely pro-American:

“Everyone we met [in Vietnam] was pro American. There is a whole generation that the war is for the history books and not an experience they were a part of. The viewpoint has changed,” Bleier said.

The “viewpoint” that’s changed isn’t specified, but I assume Bleier is saying the Vietnamese used to be anti-American (I wonder why?), but are now pro-American in spite of the enormous devastation America inflicted on Vietnam.

Again, it’s good to see a prominent American sports figure talk about the tragedy of Vietnam and the pointlessness of that war. But, as with many other documentaries about Vietnam, including the Ken Burns series in 2017, it’s always all about us, and the tragedy is almost exclusively presented as an American one.

That bias may be predictable, but it’s no less pernicious for being so.

Update: Here’s the short version of the ESPN documentary. It features one Vietnamese soldier who fought for the Americans; he is allowed a statement about the general waste and horror of war. No other Vietnamese are shown, and no other opinions are solicited.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

30 thoughts on “William J. Astore on Still Not Getting the Vietnam War”

    1. OSS actually parachuted an operative into Vietnam and met with Ho, who agreed to aid the US with the proviso that independence from France was to be granted at the end of the war!

      1. Tacitus pretending that the communist mass murderers were fighting the U.S. for “independence”, and that the U.S. opposed “independence”. Cute! 70 IQ or just a liar? Vietnam was already independent. Except for the industrialized north, which was enslaved by the Soviet-backed communists. While you pretend to support independence, it was the communists who invaded South Vietnam to take away its independence, and then proceeded to kill at least half a million people, and steal all the wealth and all the farmland, while forbidding the slaves to leave the country. Oops, forgot that part, did you?

        Also conveniently forgetting China attacking Vietnam a few years after the Soviet-supported invasion of the independent South Vietnam. After Vietnam’s rulers had invaded the pro-Chinese Cambodia. But let’s not mention these communist invasions of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Vietnam, the communist enslavement of the Laotian people, or their attempts to enslave the Indonesians. History must be hidden. Instead, pretend “the U.S. tried to prevent Vietnam’s independence!”

        I guess the Korean war was also about the U.S. trying to prevent Korean “independence”?

          1. Thomas L. Knapp –The Geneva Accords’ call for free elections in Vietnam was a vague, non-binding feature of an un-signed document. It represented the imposition of wills by foreign nations, and wasn’t supported by the North or South Vietnamese governments themselves. As for the U.S., it neither objected nor assented to the call for elections, declaring only that it wouldn’t stand in the way of them. In practical terms, none of the participants at Geneva expected elections to ever take place, and so in that respect the Accords were a show pony, and everyone knew it at the time. Experts understood that only combat would settle the internecine conflict between the two Vietnams, and history shows that’s exactly what happened.

        1. The Vietnamese turned communist because the Communists offered to help them. Free their country of foreign invaders.
          The came to us first. We told them the French will run your country.

    2. You “forget” a little detail about the communists murdering or betraying the Buddhist and nationalist leaders opposing France, and then occupying northern Vietnam, where all the industries were – and then invading South Vietnam to start their usual mass murder, take all the farm land from the peasants and enslave the people. Oops, “forgetting” an entire invasion, how clumsy of you! SURELY you will never “forget” that again, the next time you present Vietnam as a war by the U.S. against “Vietnam”, right?

      The communist party is a Mafia that indoctrinates the conscripted sons of the families in the occupied zone, turning them aggressive and mocking their parents when they come home. When the communist mafia wants a building they simply arrest the businessman who owns the building, who uses it as the center for his business that his entire extended family has invested their savings in. He is arrested for “drug crimes,” and the communists plant the drugs while they do the arrest. This is just one small example of how they steal from and tyrannize the people. But you will “forget” this right away.

      1. Chant it loudly: “The U.S. INVADED VIETNAM!” Right? Good boy. The communist flags carried by your parents in pro-invasion “peace” demonstrations are easily forgotten, as are their “Ho Chi Minh is gonna win” chants, as the pro-communist media made sure to never show them. And a liar will never mention them.

        At least Indonesia escaped the fate you cheer when it happened to the South Vietnamese. When the communists you “forget” tried to take over Indonesia Suharto dared fight them, knowing that the U.S. would back him as they had backed the South Vietnamese. Communist lovers like to blare “The dominoes didn’t fall, ha ha, you were wrong about Vietnam!” But that is because Suharto stopped the communist plans to mass murder his people. Thanks to the U.S. showing it would fight. Sorry socialist, millions of Indonesians escaped mass murder. I know it must upset you.

        1. Just because communist sympathizers in the US were against the war doesn’t mean they were wrong. The Vietnamese should fight their own battles. Each generation has to defend its own freedoms, right?

          Who’s defending America’s freedoms, today? The Bill of Rights are under assault, but you’re concerned about foreign polities?

          As the US turns Democratic, the very socialism you’re against is coming to the US. Our future is enslavement under socialists which could have been avoided. Single-payer healthcare, government-controlled education, widespread surveillance, loss of gun rights and free speech, controlled online information.

          If Bernie gets his way, everyone will work for the government. That’s our future. What about America’s freedoms?

          1. “Single-payer healthcare, government-controlled education, widespread surveillance, loss of gun rights and free speech, controlled online information.”

            These things have been advancing, slowly but surely, under Republicans and Democrats alike. Trying to blame it all on Democrats is disingenuous. Just look at Trump’s federal government, exploding spending, deficit, and debt.

          2. “Single-payer healthcare, government-controlled education, widespread surveillance, loss of gun rights and free speech, controlled online information.”

            These things have been advancing, slowly but surely, under Republicans and Democrats alike. Trying to blame it all on Democrats is disingenuous. Just look at Trump’s federal government, exploding spending, deficit, and debt.

          3. The Republicans are a bit better, except when it comes to surveillance. Someone like Tulsi is admittedly very good, on the whole. It’s admittedly complicated.

  1. USers! Fess up! The US war in Vietnam. Call it by its proper name. When are you going to stop bombing Asia?

  2. I believe Rocky was one of 7 pro athletes that served in Vietnam out of 2.5 million veterans. 1 KIA, Bob Kelso, 101st Airborne, killed at LZ Ripcord, July 1970.

  3. Bullshit. It was never a bad idea to fight the communists. Take your revisionist lies and shove them. ’68–’69 northern I corps.

    1. The only lasting accomplishment from “fighting communism” has been radical Islam in the Middle East and encroaching socialism in the US, due to mass immigration, which was facilitated by the warring and the transformation of the US from a nation into an “ideological nation”.

      If the US itself turns communist as a result, then was it worth it?

      1. Communism is the system that is most explicit and authoritarian in its demands that people be stopped from moving around at will. Tolerance of migration is the opposite of communism, and part of its antidote.

        1. Your ideological swings are too extreme. Yes, every communist society I’m aware of has been extremely controlling and authoritarian; but we needn’t swing to an equally bad extreme in reaction.

          If Stalin encouraged the drinking of clean water, should Americans then refuse to drink water?

          1. “Yes, every communist society I’m aware of has been extremely controlling and authoritarian; but we needn’t swing to an equally bad extreme in reaction.”

            Exactly. The notion that the state should get to decide who travels where is extreme regardless of whether those advocating it call themselves communists, capitalists, whatever. Evil is evil no matter what label you put on it.

          2. All that happens from the state withering is new statelets arise. If we really see what’s called “neoliberal globalism” arise, it’ll just mean corporations raising their own militaries. There’s no particular reason a person ought to respect the non-aggression principle.

            These ideologies take on a religious element. They require belief. You argue for non-aggression, another argues for Christianity or Islam or Marxism. It’s religion and requires the conversion and adherence of others to succeed.

          3. More seriously, the real issue here is whether it’s wise of me to reference immigration at this website, even though I’m doing so to appeal to a likely conservative, not to advertise my perspective on the matter. The intended goal of this website is to tolerate all perspectives, but there are limits. And people like me are few in number, even if most everyone academically right-wing is anti-war these days. At the same time, I can win over most any legitimately right-wing person to an anti-war perspective, provided he’s not senile.

          4. You’re free to reference immigration here.

            But you’re not going to win anyone over to an anti-war perspective by preaching a pro-war perspective. War on immigrants is war.

          5. Translation: “All who disagree with me are pro-war.”

            The problem with open borders is it inevitably brings about slavery. Neoliberalism and neosocialism, or whatever terms for the global movements of each, lead to very similar results: Domination and exploitation by foreign elites.

            What resists domination by foreign elites are nations and other traditional groups (such as religions, kingdoms, and I guess beptarchies where one group rules over others within a polity). “Beptarchy” I’ve only seen mentioned in GK Chesterton’s “Patriotic Idea” essay, but it seems to mean a society ruled by others. The word’s not in the standard dictionary. Many of the societies we read about at this site have some group dominating within that particular polity.

            Without some more-local source of authority though, globalists rule everyone and everything everywhere, totally. In a world of individuals, groups dominate the individuals; so the elites I refer to aren’t asocial human individuals but likely to be united by group ties of one sort or another.

            Regarding similarities, your neoliberal ideals seem intended to create an unbalanced society with a large wealth gap which inevitably shifts to socialism. So, even though we pretend it’s the opposite, the ultimate result seems to always be global socialism. Even without socialism, your ideas inevitably lead to similar foreign exploitation and domination. The only significant difference is a touch more freedom.

          6. The problem with closed borders is that it is slavery.

            If I wanted to live in East Germany or North Korea, I’d try to move there. I have no use for anyone who wants to recreate them here.

          7. Well, diverse societies are easily divided and conquered by the rulers. And open societies are easily influenced from without. And large cities lose a sense of community and civic duty.

            What you’re wanting just doesn’t lead to freedom. I don’t know whether you actually believe what you’re saying, but I guess there’s no sense debating further either way.

            At the least, it can be said Raimondo understood trade protections. So, he might have been individualistic like you, but he understood the opposing view somewhat. Maybe his being around so many Paleos at Chronicles is why, though.

          8. If Raimondo “understood trade protections,” then he lied to his readers about them.

            As a matter of respect for the dead, I prefer to assume he was ignorant, rather than dishonest, in that particular area.

            As a matter of respect for the living, I prefer to assume the same of you.

          9. Haha. Well, I’m referring specifically to the recently reposted article by him on China. Raimondo argues against preserving high wages via protections. He could argue against Pat Buchanan.

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