Last month PBS aired a documentary on the evacuation of Saigon as the North Vietnamese closed in. I just recently watched it and I was captivated by this part of the Vietnam era that I knew so little about. But knowing so little about this episode I wasn’t sure how accurate the story was. The reviews were mostly positive. The New York Times called it “concise and gripping.” Stephani Merry from The Washington Post described the documentary as being “like an intricate piece of woodwork. It’s painstakingly crafted, sturdy and incredible to look at.”
But Ron Briley, reviewing the documentary for the History News Network, took a more critical view of film. He claims that it as a heroic version of events, missing the broader context of American brutality. He ruefully declares that “the harsh reality of the Vietnam War was far more complex, and commemorating the conflict by depicting the war as a noble cause in which Americans were saving the Vietnamese people from communism does little to help the nation cope with what really happened to America and its ideas in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Last Days in Vietnam is an intriguing look at the fall of Saigon, but it is often quite misleading in its larger depiction of the Vietnam War and its meaning.”
I agree that the larger context is important, but I would still recommend watching the documentary. It raises important questions about how we engage with the world, especially in the places where we bear some level of responsibility for the chaos and violence. In Saigon the Americans were forced to leave behind many Vietnamese who had loyally served them. This is the same issue that we in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to many others. What obligation do we owe to those foreign nationals that have made great sacrifices and risked their own lives to help us?