Why Vietnam? with 2nd feature: The Battle of Khe Sanh
United States – 196?
Director – United States Department of Defense
United American Video Corporation, 1989, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour
What bothers me is that the box proposes the title, “Why Vietnam?” as a socio-cultural question and suggests that some analysis will occur within its frames. It is the use of the past tense in the synopsis; “Why did the U.S. send our young men…?” clearly suggesting that there is to be some reflection on a past event, the causes and meanings of that conflict, what we learned from it. What it actually consists of is a government propaganda film bookended by a speech given by Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960’s in which he proposed to answer a mother’s question: “Why is my son fighting in Vietnam?” It’s a legitimate question, for at the time it was still unclear to the American public just what was really at stake and what warranted such a precious investment of blood and riches. Up until that point Americans really didn’t know what Vietnam was all about and so, Johnson’s administration made a concerted effort to sell the war, to legitimize undeniably bellicose behavior with the rhetoric of freedom, justice and honor. I may not agree, but I’m okay with the past, I’m aware that these things happened and certain people took part. What I can’t abide is just redistributing a grainy government propaganda film under the guise of some serious reflective analysis. Don’t ask me one of the heaviest questions of the 20th Century American experience, and drop decrepit saber-rattling rhetoric in my lap for an answer. The least you can do is call it out for what it is, a government PR film, and let me buy it on my interest in history rather than some false pretense.
The second feature is a Department of Defense film about the 1968 Battle of Khe Sanh. Though lighter in tone, this too is merely a government film produced only slightly after the events. I saw this film some 6 years ago albeit in a higher quality print, but that’s not what’s disappointing. It too is misrepresented as an “objective” analysis. But at this point I’m complacent, I can only shake my head and pay attention to other things. Ultimately, the lies told are the same as they’ve always been, self deceptive and incomparably pitiful. That’s why this tape is useless, it is the very thing it purports to dissect. It offers nothing new, just the same sad rhetoric and circular justifications that got us into that mess, in a grainy washed out print no less.