The nature of Empire is inherently duplicitous. It lies as much to the world as it does to itself, laboriously weaving myths of its supposed virtue in order to shroud the mass grave it sits upon. This makes it incapable of any meaningful reflection when it comes to its crimes. After all, such an exercise would ultimately be its undoing. And even though there are many examples of pseudo contrition the insatiable impulse for self-glorification is interwoven through its fabric. War is what Empire lies about the most; and the American Empire is not “exceptional” in this regard. On the contrary. It has become an expert at its execution.
Since its founding the United States has manufactured threats to hackneyed and meaningless concepts like “liberty” or “freedom” to justify aggressive expansion, domination and exploitation. Its founding mythology rooted in the supremacist lie of “Manifest Destiny” has excused its unending militarism as a supposedly noble response to a “barbaric” world that needs to be “civilized.” And the war against Vietnam is perhaps one of the greatest examples of that imperial overreach. It claimed millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian lives. Millions more were maimed or displaced and at least 58,000 US troops lost their lives with many more coming home with broken bodies and lifelong psychic wounds. Today millions still suffer from the lasting effects of Agent Orange.
But in the years since this catastrophic war the American Empire has struggled to rebrand itself as the benevolent giant. Unending forays into South and Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and beyond have also made this task next to impossible. Enter the professional obscurantist. To make this self delusion possible they are essential and there are few as adept at it than Ken Burns. In his new PBS documentary series entitled “The Vietnam War;” the “many sides” narrative is being peddled again. And in an era where a sitting US president makes the “many sides” argument to defend the violence of white supremacists against anti-fascists, this worldview is more than troubling.
“The Vietnam War” is, unsurprisingly, a project funded by the Bank of America and billionaire reactionary David Koch. And it relies heavily upon former CIA agents and military generals for “perspective.” This is what makes a series like this so insidious. They ultimately serve a way of thinking that make past imperialistic wars not only forgivable, but current and future ones appear almost palatable and even inevitable.
The real Vietnam War should be revisited, but it should not be cast as an intervention with noble intentions to assist one side in a civil war. South Vietnam was an invention of French colonialism and, later, US election rigging as they understood that communist candidate Hồ Chí Minh was likely to win. None of this is to absolve the Viet Cong of the atrocities they committed; but they should be understood in the context of an indigenous group fighting against a foreign invader who possessed far more military might. And for the war to make sense to us today it must be looked at in this light, as the deliberate result of blatant and brutal imperialism.
The storytellers of Empire ultimately serve one purpose, to extol the glory of the Empire. This might at times take on the veneer of humanization or even remorse, but at their core these are stories that absolve its crimes by portraying an even playing field where there was none. The real story of this war is written in innocent blood that indicts the powerful of their savagery. Nothing less will suffice.
Kenn Orphan 2017
An accurate record by novelist Robert Gore of the American Empire’s war on Vietnam follows: