Notes from Ken Burns' Vietnam War

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Vietnam was originally under French colonial rule since the 1800’s.

Ho chi min, a nationalist first. The founder of the Viet Minh. It was actually communist, but most saw it as nationalist because they were against the colonialism.

Near the end of WW2, the US was looking for allies to get against the Japanese. One place they were looking was Vietnam. Ho chi min contacted them, so the US sent CIA precursors (OSS) to give them arms and teach them to fight. Of course, communism wasn’t the concern, it was the Japanese at that time.

The Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Min, briefly claimed independence right after WW2 but the French quickly tried to reclaim their colony.

A couple years after world war 2, as communism was expanding to new countries, such as Korea and China was expanding communism to Asia, the US felt it needed to hold these countries as non-communism. This meant fighting Ho chi min, even though the Viet min were fighting for their independence against colonial masters, the French.

So really, America’s involvement was because it wanted to control communism, and China and Russia were backing Ho Chi Min. The United States was fighting against a county’s independence movement because it wanted to fight communism.

The Americans saw it as the rise of communism, but really what was going on was the end of colonial rule.

North and south Vietnam were established as a temporary way of ending the fighting. North was the Viet Minh, south was everyone else. Seems like French related, Catholics, etc all went south.

The US wanted to back a guy, Ziem, to be president of the south and become a democracy on its own. But the French were opposing of this, and so were some other factions in south Vietnam. Then Ziem managed to get the French to leave completely. Then Ziem became president and so the US had to back Ziem completely.

US started adding huge numbers of military advisors to back South Vietnam. The south’s Army was called ARVN.

The north Vietnamese army called themselves “the national liberation front”, the NLF. But the US and combatants called them communist traitors to the Vietnamese revolution or something like that, so “Viet Cong”.

Le Daun was also sharing power now with Ho Chi Min, and he was more aggressive. Both wanted to reunify their country. Le Daun wanted to do it by force.

The US started putting the advisors into actual combat, and the US, Kennedy at this point, was hiding the extent of this involvement. This was in the early sixties.

People seemed to really see the spread of communism like the spread of nazism, and that terrified them. Seems like it was an overreaction because they were sensitive.

One US guy said “we were probably the last generation to believe our government wouldn’t lie to us”.

Diem was Catholic and they were in the minority and they controlled the cities, which were 80% Buddhism. This is where they started self-immolation.

Diem refuses, despite Kennedy’s insistence, to appeal to the Buddhists to unify them.

Essentially the generals in south vietnam wanted a coo, and the US sort of accidentally supported it because of misunderstandings. They ultimately said they would not thwart one but they wouldn’t stimulate it. Then, the coo happened.

Then Diem and Nhu (his brother, who was also half in control) were both killed after the coo. But the worry was who would replace him.

Kennedy was killed about 20 days after the coo.

The south Vietnamese government went through like 8 governments after that.

In a very decisive moment, the North Vietnamese attacked a US battleship. This essentially launched the US into the war directly.

Johnson really was the one who escalated beyond retaliatory US involvement. It was all in secret.

The Chinese would ultimately send 350,000 Chinese troops to support north Vietnam.

A green beret American said the Viet Cong were the best soldiers he had ever seen. It really seems like nationalism, like the American revolution, was what made them such good soldiers.

After more fighting, they asked for another 200,000 troops. Originally 50,000 were stationed there.

There were no lines, they measured success by body count.

We were on: episode 4, at 30:00 flat. About 20 minutes after this point was all the stuff below. All great content

There actually was a draft, birthday based, and people were terrified. There wasn’t one in WW2. Then they started drafting people out of college. That’s what even more fueled the anti war movement.

After they were running low on draftees, they had to start including college students. When they were pulling out the college students, they pulled them out by the lowest rank. This led protestors to try to get colleges to stop providing the rankings.

Some people would join the national guard, like my uncle Tony and uncle John, so that they most likely wouldn’t have to go to combat. About 1 million did. Those who went into the national guard were almost always white. “If you’ve got the dough, you don’t have to go”.

But all of these people getting around going, typically that left minorities, like blacks, to go in disproportionate numbers. A lot of poor people went. More than half of all eligible people avoided service by deferments. 500,000 applied for conscientious objectors, 170,000 were granted. They usually did work in hospitals, and some were sent to Vietnam anyway as medics.

Dad’s dad was on the draft board, who decided whether a conscientious objectors were accepted.

It went from 10,000 draftees per month to 30,000 per month.

1966 I believe is when they started drafting college students.

China and Russia were providing oil for the north Vietnamese.

About half a million people protested the war on Central Park in 1967 I think. Including MLK.

The FBI and CIA started infiltrating the anti war movement with wiretapping. They thought the movement was made by Moscow.

Because it was all about body count, they were just gaining ground, then leaving, and then having to regain that ground.

50,000 people marched on the pentagon. They wanted to get into the building and wreak havoc.

Helicopters lifted most injured to a hospital within 15 minutes.

Guy shot a Viet Cong unarmed soldier. This is the famous photo and video. The Associated Press and someone else was video taping it. It was south Vietnamese army it seems (ARVN) that shot the guy.

The tet offensive, which was a massive arrack by north Vietnam. They got even Saigon, the south Vietnamese capital, and took over the US embassy it seems for a time. It seems maybe to have been a turning point. The American public really was woken up to the fact that America was not winning the war, but was at best a stalemate. Lots of reporters started saying so too.

Johnson didn’t seek re-election. Probably because of how broken the war was.

Anti-war students at Columbia completely took over the university, and held it for a week. It was the first incident of this.

At the democratic national convention, before Nixon was elected, 50,000 protestors came to protest the war. There were thousands of soldiers guarding it to prevent

Essentially, Nixon did the same thing Trump did by contacting the south Vietnamese in a way that would hurt his opponent right before the election to tell them to not go to peace talks, but Johnson, the current president, had a wiretap and found out and told the Nixon campaign they were committing treason.

Nixon lied directly via a phone call to Johnson. He didn’t want to go public about it because he would have to reveal they had wire tapped an embassy and Saigon. Nixon literally was prolonging a war and committing treason to try to get elected. He won by a small margin of the popular vote. He could have lost if Johnson had gone public with What Nixon did

Nixon bombed Cambodia which had enemy in it. He didn’t tell the public. Or the cabinet. NYT figured it out and published, but they denied it. Then Nixon ordered a wiretap on 17

The administration actually worked to undo the disproportionate number of blacks. They succeeded by 1968 or so.

There were lots of cases of American men killing their superiors. Usually with drag grenades. So they called it “fragging”.

In 4 hours, 100 American soldiers murdered 500 villagers, civilians. A massacre. An American helicopter pilot landed and separated the men from the civilians, and ordered his men to open fire on the Americans if they did not stop. This is what ended it.

During a protest near the White House with half a million people, the boundary of the White House was lined with buses, back to back, as an extra barricade.

Nixon began withdrawing men from Viet man.

After they started invading Cambodia, then Kent State happened. They were protesting, and then the guards opened fire. In 13 second, they killed 4 people. Including an onlooker, who was an ROTC student. 9 more were wounded. 58% of the American people thought the killings were justified. After that, 400 colleges were closed down, there were protests everywhere on campuses.

40,000 men in the US Army we’re addicted to heroin, which was everywhere in Vietnam. There were only 500,000 or fewer troops.

Mayday tribe, during protests, 7,000 were arrested in 24 hours. The most arrests in that period in American history.

The pentagon papers, was a leaking of the report that they started when Kennedy, that showed that they didn’t think they could win the war. This is really what made Americans not trust government. Before people thought the president wouldn’t lie.

Nixon ordered the burglary of a psychiatrists office, the psychiatrist of the guy who leaked the pentagon papers to figure out who he was working with. They couldn’t find the file. So Watergate wasn’t his first burglary.

Agent Orange was a chemical the US dropped. It acted as a herbicide. It killed trees and crops, to get rid of cover for the enemy and to kill their crops. It was dropped on 1/4 of the area of south Vietnam, and it turned out to have health effects on humans.

One thing that really didn’t work was American bombing of north Vietnam, normally that would have made north Vietnam come to the negotiating table. They just took it. It didn’t work.

One pivotal moment for the anti-war movement was when veterans of the war started speaking out, including a testimony by John Kerry, a recent war vet who gave a very riveting testimony in congress it seems.

By 1973, when the Americans had withdrawn, South Vietnam had the 5th largest army on earth.

After the US pulled out in 1973, North Vietnam very quickly started taking everything. Moving into South Vietnam and then finally taking Saigon, the South Vietnam capital. The US had to frantically evacuate, mainly via helicopter at the US embassy. The marines were shredding and then burning classified material on the roof, but there was so much. They couldn't even finish it by the time they had to go, so they left some behind. Also on the roof was a helicopter pad, and the winds from the chopper ripped open the bags, and shredded classified material flew all over the place, out into the street. Apparently the North once they took the embassy scotch taped it back together, and used it to figure out who was working with the Americans.

PTSD was coined mainly because of the Vietnam war. Previously it was other names, like Shell Shock in WW1, or soldier's fatigue in WW2.