I love Netflix streaming. There is a constant stream of recommended shows that are hit and miss. One, “Aliens on the Moon, the Truth” was a miss. However, “Vietnam in HD” was outstanding.
It is a series, 6 episodes (40 minutes each, so originally broadcast, they were hour episodes) of commentary and footage from home movies, journalist cameras, and other sources. The commentary were from veterans, or people who were inextricably linked to the war. Fascinating watching, and once I started I couldn’t turn it off.
Having been born at the beginning of the escalation, it was before my consciousness, so I really had little opinion on the conflict from my direct experience. I of course couldn’t avoid reading about it growing up, but it seemed distant. A conflict to prevent the spread of communism, a domino theory in the cold war between east and west, it seemed remote.
This show dispelled that notion. It starts off with the lead in. The advisors had been in country for a decade (starting in the mid 1950’s) but boots on the ground didn’t commence until 1965.
The story in the first episode about taking hill 875, and the 12:1 ratio of dead Vietcong versus Americans, and how this created the new metric for conflict, the body count.
No longer was the progress measured by how much territory was captured and held, but by the number of the enemy you killed. I am not West Point, nor a military man, but it seems like a bad measure of success to merely count the bodies of the enemies versus the casualties of your own troops.
There was one thing that struck me as odd. Like the Iraq war in 2003, when the conflict began, the military estimated that the mess would be mopped up in 8 weeks. The arrogance that a 3rd world country could hold out against the mighty forces of America was not even considered.
I won’t regale you with the whole story, but by the 5th episode, when hill 671A becomes “Hamburger Hill” you are astonished by the bravado, ill placed confidence, and the complete disconnect in the chain of command.
I have always had great respect for the men and women who were on the front in the Vietnam war, and this increases that respect. That said, it is another example of the arrogance of “American Exceptionalism“.
One thing that the show didn’t do, and I can understand why, is to document the decade leading up to the conflict. A book I read, “Assuming the Burden” by Mark Atwood Lawrence, describes the French weakness as it tried to hold on to its colony in Indochina, and how America picked up the responsibility post WWII of the management. I highly recommend this book to get a full understanding of the geopolitical run up to the SE Asia conflict that was Vietnam.