Last Days in Vietnam

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Last Days in Vietnam

2014 LA Film Festival: Last Days in Vietnam

President Kennedy’s Niece Directs Vietnam Propaganda Piece

As U.S. foreign policy in Iraq faces its biggest defeat since the Indochina Wars the niece of President Kennedy — who escalated the U.S. presence in Vietnam — has directed the cinematic equivalent of putting a blossom on a turd. Rory Kennedy has fired the opening salvo in the propaganda war regarding upcoming historic anniversaries with Last Days in Vietnam. This film is so shamefully, wildly one-sided film that this historian/reviewer hesitates to call it a “documentary” — rather, Last is a piece of propaganda in the very worst sense of the term. Indeed, this egregiously biased, one-sided work is arguably more of a mock-umentary — but unlike This is Spinal Tap Kennedy’s Orwellian disinformation is no laughing matter.

As the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident — that fabricated hoax LBJ exploited to further escalate U.S. military activities in Vietnam, much as  the Bush regime’s blatant lies about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction were cooked up to “justify” another disastrous U.S. invasion of a sovereign nation that had not attacked America — nears this August, and the 40th anniversary of Vietnam’s liberation approaches next April 30, Last desperately tries to find something positive to say about the role the American military and diplomats played as the “Yankees go home” scenario unfolded and the communists took over what was then Saigon.

According to the film, some soldiers and State Department officials took great pains — and sometimes at grave personal risk to themselves — to evacuate about thousands of the Vietnamese, including military, who had worked for and married U.S. personnel, as well as the up to 5,000-7,000 Yanks still “in country.”

Kennedy and her partners-in-crime, including co-writer/husband Mark Bailey, have taken great pains to try and find something glorious and heroic in the greatest defeat for U.S. imperialism in the entire history of the American empire. In their disgraceful effort to make a stinking garlic smell like a rose, the filmmakers willfully expunge history and any sort of context from their one dimensional exercise in disinformation. For example:

It’s alleged that during 1968’s Tết Offensive the communists executed thousands of South Vietnamese at Huế. However, the countless war crimes committed by Washington are never, never once mentioned in this execrable piece of agitprop. Hey Ms. Kennedy, ever hear of the Mỹ Lai Massacre? How about the 1972 bombing of Hanoi — during CHRISTMAS? Or the mining of Haiphong Harbor??? Of course, the list of American atrocities committed against the Indochinese — starting with intervention in the domestic affairs of nations that never attacked the U.S.A. — is endless, the millions murdered by carpet bombing, landmines, agent orange, etc., is innumerable, and it would require an entire series of documentaries to record them all. But Kennedy never mentions any of them — although she goes out of her way to vilify the Reds (don’t forget that her father, Bobby Kennedy, served on anti-communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunting Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations).

Last simplistically endeavors to depict the Vietnam War (which, by the way, the Vietnamese call “the American War”) as a conflict between the north and the south, with Washington backing the latter. Kennedy conveniently commits the heinous crime of omission by never — not even once! — ever mentioning the National Liberation Front, the resistance fighters in the south. According to the Pentagon Papers, 300,000 people belonged to the NLF by 1962 (you know, when Ms. Kennedy’s uncle was president). MILLIONS of people in the south must have supported the NLF in order for the Tết Offensive to have been carried out in 1968, let alone for the south to have been liberated seven years later, beating both the American imperialists and the army it supplied and funded. Last mentions that the ARVN “eroded” in 1975, but never ponders why the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong didn’t.

(Assuming that Last’s conceit — that the U.S. merely backed the south against the north — is correct, then why is it that last month, when this critic visited Hanoi, he saw wartime shrines, such as the Hanoi Hilton and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, but did not see some wall inscribed with the names of the 50,000-plus Vietnamese who died fighting in the U.S. Civil War, from 1861-1865?)

Last’s sources include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who appears in news clips and presumably in contemporary, original interviews, where this mass murderer of millions in Indochina, Chile, Timor, etc., is once again given the softball “elder statesman” treatment. Richard Armitage — no, not the Hobbit actor but the Navy and U.S. government operative who apparently never met a covert action he didn’t like — is likewise given the hero treatment. But Armitage’s willingness to break the law — purportedly to save south Vietnamese lives — is never put in the context of his alleged involvement with Ted Shackley, the CIA chief in south Vietnam, and the heroin trade, or Armitage’s dubious role in the Iran-Contra Scandal — are never mentioned. The film also conducts original interviews with former ARVN officers.

After the LA Film Festival screening an audience member asked Kennedy and crew members why nobody from the communist and NLF side were interviewed for the film and she replied, “We considered this but ultimately their part of the story was about the war. We wanted to focus on the heroes,” that is, those Americans who put themselves in peril to rescue south Vietnamese lives, in order to tell what Kennedy blithely called “a human story.”

Author Stuart Herrington, who served in military intelligence and then the Defense AttachéOrganization in south Vietnam and is a source in the film as he was an eyewitness to the events of April 1975, joined Rory for the post-screening Q&A. Herrington said that the communist side “did not add to the film” and that they would have merely indulged in “chest thumping” had they been interviewed. SORE LOSER! As if Yanks never take part in “American triumphalism” screaming “USA! USA!” and the like, especially when it invades — unprovoked — smaller, weaker nations.

But here’s the real reason why this agitprop pic never makes any effort to show the other side of the story: NVA and NLF supporters would presumably point out that the southerners the Yankees tried to save at the last minute were collaborators and running dogs of U.S. imperialism, who supported a Washington-backed puppet government. And that it was the Viet Cong who were the south’s real patriots. But don’t worry: The former president’s niece, charter member of the ruling class, has taken great care to make sure that American ears aren’t offended by hearing the other side of this “human story.” The Vietnamese Left doesn’t just not get equal time — it gets no air time in this blatantly biased propaganda flick, violating journalistic ethics to present all viewpoints, without fear or favor.

However, skillful propagandist that Kennedy is, in her effort to whitewash history and to try to ferret out something positive in a colossal debacle so she can pander to U.S. rightwing sentiment, there’s something even she can’t hide. Look closely at the newsreel clips as the NVA tanks roll into what was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Not only are the soldiers jubilant, but look at the smiling faces of the Vietnamese masses as they are being liberated from decades of Japanese, French and Yankee occupation and imperialism. Perhaps we should thank Ms. Kennedy for not using CGI to turn those smiles into frowns.

To be fair Ms. Kennedy has produced and/or helmed some good documentaries in the past, including 2005’s Street Fight, 2006’s The Homestead Strike and 2007’s Ghost of Abu Ghraib. The jury is still out as to what JFK would have done in Vietnam had he had a second term in office. Some, like Oliver Stone, contend he planned to pull out of Vietnam (which Stone and others believe is a major reason why he was liquidated). And Rory’s father, Bobby Kennedy, did run as a peace candidate in 1968, although again, bullets cut short his life and who knows how a possible Bobby presidency might have ended the war, instead of Tricky Dick’s ascension to the presidency in 1968?

And Last does point out that the U.S. Ambassador to south Vietnam, the Nixon-appointed Graham Martin, was in denial of reality up to the very last minute (if not, like the pig who appointed him, unhinged), resulting in chaotic, last minute evacuation plans. More than 400 of those Vietnamese camping out at the U.S. embassy grounds in what had been Saigon never made it to those choppers or boats to escape their fates.

Having said this, with liberals like Rory Kennedy, who needs reactionaries? Last Days in Vietnam will premiere on PBS’ (your tax dollars at work!) American Experience in Winter/Spring 2015, just in time to brainwash Americans as the 40th anniversary of U.S. imperialism’s greatest defeat nears, and as another catastrophe for Washington’s foreign policy unfolds in Iraq. But the real lesson to draw from the Vietnam War is not that at the very end, perhaps a handful of Yanks put themselves in harm’s way. (Which is a bit like arsonists patting themselves for rescuing a few folks from the house they’ve set afire.)

Rather, the true moral of the story is that being the world’s policeman is a disastrous policy that costs Americans and the nations they willy-nilly invade dearly, in blood and treasure. U.S. military and intelligence are arguably the most destabilizing forces on Earth, with bases straddling the globe and eternally intervening in others’ internal affairs. Nobody likes busybodies and meddlers: If you go around the world sticking your nose into other people’s business you’re likely to get punched in the nose. Washington’s empire is bankrupting a country that can’t even take care of those hapless soldiers who politicians and corporations blithely send abroad for foreign misadventures — should they eventually make it back home outside of body bags. No amount of flag waving can hide the truth, that when it comes to militarism, Washington should mind its own business — as if America doesn’t have enough pressing problems back home.

Having just returned from Vietnam, this reviewer can assure readers that yes Virginia, there is life after U.S. imperialism. Rory Kennedy’s despicable, reprehensible propaganda flick might be called Last Days in Vietnam, but the liberation and reunification were certainly not the last days of Vietnam. The Vietnamese won the war and they are winning the peace, proving that the last shall be first.

Last Days in Vietnam screens 6:45 p.m., June 16, at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live 12 in Downtown Los Angeles.

For more info see: www.LAFilmfest.com.

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Ed Rampell About Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film critic/historian and author named after Edward R. Murrow, in honor of the broadcaster's exposé of Senator Joe McCarthy. As a film critic and historian Rampell co-wrote Made in Paradise: Hollywood's Films of Hawaii and the South Seas and Pearl Harbor in the Movies and Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States. He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., Islands, Action Asia, Travel Age West, Skin Inc., Porthole, Far East Traveler, Asian Diver, L.A. Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Business News, E The Environmental Magazine, L.A. Reader, and is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Journal.