Christian Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, in an interview reflects on the legacy of the war. As usual, he offers great advice based on years of study. For example, he proposes “that we fully and finally dispense with American exceptionalism. I don’t think the historical record justifies the faith, it alienates other people and nations (for obvious reasons), and it contributes to public acquiescence to the tiny few who make foreign policy in our name and are all to ready and willing to assure us that they can be trusted to use our ‘indispensable’ power as a force for good in the world.”
Read the entire interview here: History News Network | Christian Appy on the Legacy of the Vietnam War: An Interview
In his review of Appy’s book, Ron Briley concludes that it “is a provocative read and presents a convincing argument regarding the Vietnam War as exposing the myth of American innocence. Yet, the concept of American exceptionalism continues to exercise a strong hold upon the nation’s belief system, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War may not provide the national reckoning so passionately called for by Appy.” Read the entire review here:
History News Network | Review of Christian G. Appy’s “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity”
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?
History News Network | Ronald Reagan Would Have Loved Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam”.
I don’t remember how I learned about the My Lai massacre, but it began a life-long quest to understand how and why such atrocities occur. It was a turning point in my life that ultimately led me to getting my PhD in history, even though the focus of my research has been on the Bosnian War (1992-1995) rather than Vietnam.
Similarly, a desire “to understand how young men—boys, really—could have done this,” is what drove the reporter Seymour Hersh to pursue the story of My Lai as soon as he learned of it in 1969. In large part we know about My Lai because of Hersh’s dogged determination to uncover what happened. Recently he visited My Lai and this is the subject of his recent article in The New Yorker. It is long but well worth the read.
The Scene of the Crime – The New Yorker.
Photograph by Katie Orlinsky