The Vietnam Debt
Excerpt: That’s the injunction of the famed filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, writing in this Memorial Day’s New York Times in respect of what they call the “unhealed wounds” of Vietnam. It’s part of the pre-launch publicity for their forthcoming documentary on the Vietnam War for the Public Broadcasting System. The film is due to air in September. We’re looking forward to seeing it, having glimpsed in Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” how riveting and moving even a left-of-center take on the war can be. Yet our instinct is that Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick are going to have a hard time honoring the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of those who served and those who died at Vietnam absent some bow to the rightness of our cause. “Noble” was the word Ronald Reagan used for it. It is widely reckoned that America lost the Vietnam War. We are with the minority that rejects that formulation. We don’t even think of Vietnam as a war, per se. The Sun prefers to speak of the “Battle of Vietnam.” We see it as but one engagement in a much larger war. Which we won. The larger war pitted us against the Soviet Union, and it was our side that was in the right and that stood for freedom. We understand that’s not a universal view, and we’ve oft-said in these columns that we don’t gainsay the patriotism that animated many entered the peace movement. All the more reason, though, to remember that America emerged victorious in the larger struggle. We have always found it difficult to imagine winning that struggle if we’d left Indochina to the communists without a fight. Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick may be right when they assert that nothing will ever make the tragedy of the Vietnam War “all right.” A special preview of their film, which is up at PBS.org, makes it clear how wracked with guilt are those who greeted returning veterans with sneers and jeers (one anti-war activist they interviewed appears close to tears as she recalls such behavior). The thing to remember about the tragedy is that with our triumph in the Cold War our GIs finally won the salve of victory.