Director/Producer Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” [Netflix] Requires Mandatory Viewing!
The Vietnam War haunts many of us veterans in different ways. My friend was a helicopter pilot evacuating the wounded and he is still angry today. He keeps asking me the one question I cannot answer:
“Why did we got to Vietnam? And why were over fifty thousand American warriors killed?”
My direct involvement in the war came when I was ordered by Under Secretary of State for Management to be involved in the evacuation of Vietnam, especially regarding certain American ambassadors. In particular he was referring to Ellsworth Bunker and Graham Martin, two distinguished war hawks who refused to concede defeat in the waning days of the war.
My career at both state and the IC began with an attempt debrief the senior officials involved in the decision not to evacuate Saigon. I learned that the distinguished Ambassador Graham Martin refused to recognize the simple fact that the North Vietnamese were winning. That point came home to me once again as I viewed the brilliant, haunting documentary film entitled “Last Days in Vietnam”.
A very talented documentary film artist, Rory Kennedy produced and directed a brilliant visual narrative. The film depicts in painful images how American leaders were not prepared to win the war nor to exit the war in an orderly, humane way. In contrast, Ms Kennedy’s masterpiece portrays the heroism of thousands of American servicemen [Marines], CIA operatives, helicopter pilots, guards, contractors and Navy personnel. These valiant men/women attempted to extract as many thousands of South Vietnamese as possible. If they were left behind these people were assured impending death from the imminent North Vietnamese victory.
The film highlights the raw courage of many military/intelligence officers who defied the orders of both Ambassador Graham Martin and POTUS Gerald Ford. In particular, one name stood out for me— US naval officer Richard Armitage. His refusal to obey Presidential orders saved countless thousands of South Vietnamese lives.
I met him several years later when I was a DAS for State and he was a DAS for DOD. He looked like a football player [graduate of Annapolis] and talked like a savvy combat warrior who knew much more than he would say. Unlike his future boss, Sec.State. Collin Powell, I had a lot of respect for Richard. He never bragged about his exploits nor self-deprecated his opinions on a host of extant problems like North Korea, the Middle East, and SE Asia where both of us were deeply involved. Unfortunately, I realize Armitage’s legacy is not as sterling as my impression of him was at that time. Yet, from this film, I learned that Captain Do, a Republic of Vietnam Navy officer who served with Armitage said the following:
“Armitage [who spoke fluent Vietnamese] seemed drawn like ‘a moth to flame’ to the hotspots of naval warfare: bedding down on ground with Vietnamese commandos, sharing their rations and hot sauce, telling jokes in flawless Vietnamese. He never wore a uniform but he was always dressed in native garb.” [Wikipedia]
No one can really glorify a war that should not be fought in the first place. Such a war was invariably lost because of a major dereliction of duty by our JFK [Rory’s uncle], LBJ, Nixon, Kissinger, generals, et. al. I recommend that our military and civilian representatives watch this film to understand one simple point. It’s easy to start a war but it is major bitch to finish it, or even to win.
In any war zone, hundreds of thousands of civilians will be killed for nothing. We call that ‘collateral damage’. The real damage from the Vietnam War was created by our political and military leaders who had no idea of how to win or even lose a war sixteen thousand miles away.
I fear that we have repeated Vietnam over and over again in:
Now American citizenry must defy any new attempts at creating unnecessary wars. “The Last Days of Vietnam” illustrates a metaphor that has lasted for over the past fifty years. We have won no wars and never will as long as we act in a self-delusional manner, invading foreign countries for nonsensical ethereal concepts, like the “War on Terror”! A complete oxymoron!
Ho Chi Minh warned us :
“You will kill ten of us, but we will kill one of you; in the end, you will tire of us first, and then leave defeated.”
Years later when I negotiated the Cambodian Peace Treaty with the famous Vietnamese Foreign Minister Lee Duc Tho, he said to me:
“You Americans can win any war. But, you are lazy and undisciplined in your thinking; you will never really finish to the end.”
Nothing has changed in fifty years!!