Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

LETTER FROM VIETNAM WAR CORRESPONDENTS TO RORY KENNEDY

LETTER FROM VIETNAM WAR CORRESPONDENTS TO RORY KENNEDY

Dear Ms. Kennedy --

Of all the people who see the Last Days in Vietnam film, no one will watch with more sympathy and understanding than those who covered that war as journalists. Many of us witnessed the final collapse and evacuation, and quite a few have their own stories, not unlike those told in the film, of helping Vietnamese associates and friends and family members get out of the country in the final days and hours. The story documented in the film is important and moving, and we are glad to see it reaching a wider audience. So we hope you'll understand that the concerns we are raising in this letter are not meant to criticize the central story or basic nature of the film, and the changes we ask you to consider are not meant to turn it away from its theme or to have it go into any more historical detail than it already does. They're suggested only in the hope that some aspects of the background of the story will be explained more accurately.

The issue that concerns us most is the contention that the events of April '75 occurred because North Vietnam unilaterally broke the 1973 peace agreement. Whether intended or not, that's the conclusion the film leaves with its viewers -- as illustrated by the New York Times reviewer who explained the background this way: "The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 had provisionally maintained the partition of Vietnam into North and South. As soon as the American forces were gone, the Communist North began to unify the country by force, sweeping quickly through Da Nang and other Southern cities and closing in on Saigon by April of 1975." The architects of a failed policy would like nothing better than to have NY Times readers and everyone else remember it that way, since it glosses over their own mistakes and cynical policies. But those who covered Vietnam in 1973-75 would tell you, probably to a person, that it is simply not consistent with the historical record.

This is not a matter of ideological interpretation but plain facts, which make abundantly clear that both Vietnamese sides, not just one, violated the ceasefire and the political provisions of the Paris agreement, while the United States, pretty much from the day we got our last prisoners back, effectively made no effort to put the agreement back on track. The South and the North both shared the blame for the agreement's failure. Neither ever made any concessions for a political settlement. Except in a few places during the first few weeks, neither observed any restriction on military operations. Both continued to use military force to the limit of their capability to control every square foot of territory their troops and firepower could reach. Neither ever put peace above their own objectives. The
Vietnamese people -- those shown in the film and the rest of the population on both sides -- paid the price.

This is more than just an academic issue. It seems likely that this movie will draw more attention to the end of the war than it has ever gotten before, and will have a major role in shaping the public's view of those events. Letting a false narrative take root in the public
mind  would not just be a disservice to historical truth, but would damage public understanding of issues that are pertinent to important policy debates today. We are not suggesting changing the nature of the film or shifting its focus to tell the whole complicated story or address all the details of South Vietnam's defeat. But we hope that
the relatively limited footage intended to set the scene can be edited to give a more accurate summary of the historical facts: a peace agreement in January 1973 led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces, but neither Vietnamese side observed the ceasefire provisions or took any steps toward a political settlement. Instead both kept fighting for another two years, which culminated in the final North Vietnamese offensive that defeated the South Vietnamese government in the spring of 1975.

A second issue that troubles some of us is the portrayal of the final $722 million supplemental aid request that was put forward by the Ford administration on April 10, 1975.

One scene in particular is questionable: the short clip of antiwar demonstrators, presumably included to give a visual image of the loss of American popular support for the war. Using that image to make a point about the 1975 aid debate is misleading, however. The clip has to be from some years earlier, since big demonstrations like the one shown were pretty much over after 1971. This matters because for many years, partisan commentators have tried to put all the blame for South Vietnam's defeat on the peace movement. That's clearly untrue, no matter what opinion one may have about the movement and its politics, and we would be sorry to see your film reinforce that false message.  By 1973 the great majority of Americans, not just long-haired protesters, were disenchanted with the war. That's why Nixon pulled out U.S. troops and negotiated the Paris agreement in the first place, and why not just long-time doves but members of Congress across the political spectrum were reluctant to keep paying for South Vietnam's
war. The mass student/counterculture movement against the war had largely evaporated even before the Paris agreement, and played virtually no role, let alone a decisive one, in the aid decisions in 1974 and 1975. The film would be no less powerful without that scene, and we urge you to consider cutting it altogether.

A broader question is that the film portrays the $722 million proposal as a genuine chance to rescue South Vietnam from defeat, and suggests that failing to pass it betrayed our commitment to an ally in its hour of greatest need. That was of course the rhetoric of the time, but how much the rhetoric reflected anyone's real calculation is a different
question. By the time of Ford's request, less than three weeks before the evacuation, South Vietnam had already lost two-thirds of its territory, mountains of weapons and ammunition and other military supplies, and probably half or more of its military manpower. It is doubtful that many of Ford's advisers really believed that any U.S.
resupply effort could change the outcome at that late date. It is much more likely that everyone or nearly everyone involved recognized the aid request as a symbolic gesture of support, with no realistic chance of helping in any practical way (and also likely that some policymakers saw it as a way to blame Congress, and not their own mistakes, for South Vietnam's defeat). The scenes on the aid debate are not essential for the film's main narrative in any case, and we hope you will consider giving that thread of the story somewhat less prominence, toning down the unqualified impression that that aid package was a definitive a do-or-die issue for South Vietnam.

To reiterate: we realize that the purpose of this film was not to explain the history of South Vietnam's collapse but to present some compelling and moving human stories that took place in those final days. We don't want to change that purpose; we applaud it. All of us knew, and some had very close ties with, Vietnamese like the ones who appear in the film -- those who were officers or officials in the South Vietnamese government or who had some association with Americans. The film's stories are important and redeeming and should be told. But this film will be the only thing a great many people ever see about the end of the Vietnam war, and we hope that in telling its main story, it will reflect an accurate and undistorted memory of the war and its end.

The signers of this letter are speaking for themselves, no one else, but we will add this about our other colleagues as well: all of us worked very hard and at times risked our necks to write the first draft of that history as truthfully as we possibly could, and we
would like to see later histories written in that spirit too.

Sincerely 



Arnold R. Isaacs, Baltimore Sun, 1972-75, Author, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia

Carl Robinson, USOM/USAID 1964-68; Associated Press, Saigon, 1968-75

Fox Butterfield,   New York Times, Hanoi Dec. 1969; Saigon 1971-'73 and Feb.-April 1975

David K. Shipler, New York Times, mid-1973-Jan. 1975

Jacques Leslie, Los Angeles Times, Saigon, Jan. 1972-July 1973;  Phnom Penh, July-Dec. 1973 and March-April 1975. Author, The Mark: A War Correspondent's Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

Leonard Pratt, Associated Press and Westinghouse Broadcasting, 1970-75,

Nayan Chanda,  Far Eastern Economic Review, July 1974  -Aug. 1975, Author, Brother Enemy

Loren Jenkins, Newsweek, 1973-75

Tony Clifton, Newsweek 1971-75

John J. Schulz   USAF fighter pilot 1967-68, Voice of America correspondent 1972-75, faculty member, National War College, 1989-91

Wayne Corey, US Army 1968-69, Voice of America SE Asia correspondent 1973-78 (evacuated from Saigon April 29, 1975)

Ron Yates,  Chicago Tribune Nov 1974-April 29, 1975

Derek Williams, CBS News 1971-75

Keith Kay, CBS 1970-75

Haney Howell  CBS News 1972-75

Nik Wheeler, UPI photographer 1967-70; Newsweek March-April 1975

Richard Pyle  AP   1968-73 (bureau chief 1970-73), coauthor (with Horst Faas), Lost Over Laos

Tracy Wood, UPI, 1972-74, coauthor, War Torn, Stories from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam

Don North, freelance photographer, 1965-66, Staff correspondent, ABC Radio & TV, 1966-68; NBC TV News, 1970-73; Senior Producer, "The Ten Thousand Day War" CBC, Canada.

Bruce Palling, BBC World Service Vientiane 1972-73;  The Times (London) Phnom Penh and Saigon 1974-75; Associate Producer, "Vietnam: A Television History" (PBS) 1980-83

David Brown  Political Officer, US Embassy, 1966-68, District Senior Advisor, CORDS, 1968-69, lead analyst on South Vietnam, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US State Department, 1971-73

Donald Kirk  Washington Star, 1967-70; Chicago Tribune, 1972-74; Author, Wider War: The Struggle for Cambodia, Thailand and Laos and Tell It to the Dead: Memories of a War

Judith Coburn,  Village Voice and Pacifica Radio, VN and Cambodia, 1970-73

Stanley Cloud, Time, May 1970-Dec. 72

David Burnett,   Time-Life photographer   1970-72

John Giannini, US Army, Vietnam, March, 1969-May 1971; Sipa-Presse, Paris Peace Talks, July 1972 - Jan. 1973; Gamma/The Observer/NYT, Cambodia & Vietnam 1973-1974; Nat. Geo., Cambodia Refugee coverage 1980-1981

Tom Fox,  Dispatch News Service, New York Times and Time magazine 1969-72.  

Bill Lenderking, CORDS Pleiku 1968, JUSPAO Saigon 1969

Lewis M. Simons, AP, 1967-'68, Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, 1986

Robert L. Pisor, Detroit News, 1967-68,  Author, The End of the Line: the Siege of Khe Sanh

Tim Page, UPI and Time, 1962-69

Frank Johnston, UPI Newspictures 1967-68

Steve Northup, UPI staff photographer, 1965-66.


Lance Woodruff, US National Council of Churches. Saigon 1966-68, Vietnam Christian Service Asian Christian Service, 1971-72

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