Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Remembering Vietnam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th October, 2017

Vietnam War helicopterRecently I’ve been watching the stupendous 10-part series of one-hour films on the Vietnam War, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, screened on BBC4 but also available through BBCiPlayer. The project took ten years to put together, from contemporary news footage, home videos, interviews with survivors or families of those killed, Vietnamese North and South as well as American. There are also extremely telling tapes of US presidents J F Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon talking to top advisors, hoping to believe that everything was going well, whereas it became increasingly obvious that victory against the Communists — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, against the Vietnamese people — was impossible. Tonight I watched Episode 6, covering the first half of 1968, which had some iconic moments, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the US as well as the Tet offensive, when tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops spirited into the South, hoping their assaults on major cities would lead to an uprising by the South Vietnamese, who would overthrow the corrupt regime of Nguyen Van Thieu and welcome them with open arms. That did not happen, though casualties on all sides were horrendous and the old imperial capital of Hue was largely destroyed. US propaganda portrayed the Tet Offensive as a failure for the Communists, arguing that the 510,000 US troops now in South Vietnam fighting alongside the South Vietnamese forces (as well as troops from Australia and South Korea, notably) were sure of victory. But many of the people really in the know, including Robert McNamara, who had recently stepped down as Defense Secretary, were aware that the cause would inevitably be lost, sooner or later. Anti-War protests were by now rampant on both sides of the Atlantic at it was at that moment, in the summer of 1968, that I decided that when I left school after taking the Oxbridge entrance exams, I would head out to Vietnam to see the truth for myself — as recounted in the second half of my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes.

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