Getting History Wrong: the Vietnam War

By | October 3, 2021

[October 3, 2021]  To learn from our past is one of the many virtues of great leaders.  To gain essential lessons, to ‘see’ what needs seeing, to hold onto something that pushes us in the right direction, is the value of history.  But we can get history wrong, and that creates a dilemma. Our history of the Vietnam War is wrong.

“The past actually happened, but history is only what someone wrote down.” – A. Whitney Brown, writer and comedian

The Vietnam War was a time of great turmoil.  Of course, there are many reasons. The time was an intersection of the Civil Rights movement, the sexual revolution, technological leaps (like putting a man on the moon), and political upheaval.  Out of this tumultuous time, a common narrative about the Vietnam War was taking shape.  The war was seen as something to be maligned and spit upon (in many cases literally).

What is considered the ultimate history of the war was put together by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, an 18-hour documentary series.  The Vietnam War tells the epic story of “one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history…”  I agree, but not for the reasons stated.

Ken Burns got it wrong.  And, I’m not the only one who thinks this way.  I studied war for 40 years, read over 50 books on Vietnam, interviewed more than a hundred Vietnam War vets, participated in professional studies, and listened to the many “experts.”  From all this, I wanted to gain important lessons that I could apply to war if I were ever to be in the fight.  But, what I learned is not what one would expect.

“From my perspective, the Burns production had one objective, to reinforce the standard anti-war narrative that the Vietnam war was unwinnable, illegal, immoral, and ineptly conducted by the allies from start to finish.” – Lewis Sorely, Vietnam Vet and historian1

Lewis Sorely gets it right.  His critique of Burns’ documentary is telling.  Crucial omissions, a focus on “emotional reality,” a lack of context, poor and biased research, reliance on discredited sources, dependence on sponsors and untrustworthy advisors, and revisionism deeply stain the Burn’s product.

But go and read the hundreds of reviews, and you will not this mentioned.  Amazon, for example, shows nearly 3,000 reviews of the film and an average five-star rating.  IMDb gives the film a 9.0/10.0 rating, extraordinarily high.  The problem is that the film is wrong from the get-go and provides the wrong lessons for us as a society.  If we are to learn from history, we had better get the history right.

I recommend Lewis Sorely’s criticism of Burn’s documentary.  Read the article and see what you think.  See link here.

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  1. https://blog.vvfh.org/2019/10/critique-of-the-ken-burns-vietnam-program/

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Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Getting History Wrong: the Vietnam War

  1. Fred Weber

    I’m amazed that the series got so many five star reviews. Shows that the liberal narrative is winning.

    Reply
  2. DocJeff

    My dad is a Vietnam War veteran and proud of it. He and his buddies are great folks to talk to and I remember growing up around them. They helped me become a better man and family oriented. They knew life’s priorities. And they stuck to their guns on any topic of importance.

    Reply
    1. Lady Hawk

      Hey, DocJeff, you should be proud of your dad and his buddies. Go Go Go. These men (and a few women) deserve our greatest respect.

      Reply
  3. Linux Man

    This is one of your best article, Gen. Satterfield. I believe it is about time that some of our greatest historians like Victor Davis Hanson write a book on the Vietnam War and tell the story like it should be told. Otherwise, the narrative the Burns, et all are trying to sell us will stick.

    Reply
  4. The Kid 1945

    ….. and yet there are so many 5 star reviews. The “history” (in quotes because it is indeed revisionist) is followed and agreed upon by so many because it fits nicely their preconceived ideas they learned in school. So, we now see where the failure begins.

    Reply
    1. Doug Smith

      Kid, unfortunately, you are right. That is why we need to push back on these and write our own studied analysis as well. Give him a one star and say why.

      Reply
      1. Raise the Ruckus

        Don’t be surprised by the fact that liberals have won the information war. They have an easy way ahead upon tgem. Free stuff for all without responsibilities. 👍

        Reply
  5. Plato

    Their military training will ensure success in war, but they must maintain unity by not allowing the state too grow to large, and by ensuring that the measures for promotion and demotion from one class to another are carried out. Above all they must maintain the educational system unchanged; for on education everything else depends, and it is an illusion to imagine that mere legislation without it can effect anything of consequence. – Plato

    Reply
  6. Karl J.

    Burns went about making this case by—contrary to the claims of Burns and his associates that theirs was a historically respectable and unbiased account—skewed and unrepresentative content and commentators, lack of context, and crucial omissions.

    Reply
    1. Pooch T.

      Yes, and an unforced error at that. Easy to follow the socialist-lite path.

      Reply
  7. Lynn Pitts

    This article by Gen. Satterfield uncovers a number of unspoken concerns that most of us have. First, our colleges are not teaching history, nor are they teaching why we need to know history and what lessons can be learned from that study. Second, those who are in colleges are discouraged from learning it and their college professors encourage only platitudes and protests over real learning.

    Reply
    1. American Girl

      You nailed that one Lynn. I too think that the college campuses are ripe with anti-Americanism because they are jealous of our successes and are simply unable to compete. They hate they are ALL losers.

      Reply
    1. Max Foster

      Yes, here is the bottom line:
      It may be that the logic of the stalemate machine is built into the very concept of limited war. Or that it is a predictable consequence of how presidents manage the constraints posed by American politics. In any case, the histories of U.S. military involvements in Vietnam and Afghanistan should serve as warnings to future presidents who might be tempted to again jump onto the treadmill of perpetual war.

      Reply
      1. Eduardo Sanchez

        We never seem to learn our lessons. War is about winning. Not muddling thru.

        Reply
      2. Clyde Z.

        Good comment, Max. Gen. Satterfield has laid out the case pretty well.

        Reply
  8. Greg NH

    Excellent article, as I have always been uncomfortable with our current view of this war. Yes, many mistakes made but the battlefield was won.

    Reply
  9. Cat A Miss

    Gen. Satterfield, the narrative on the Vietnam War has been wrong since the late 1960s. Radical communists, and I don’t mean that in a crazy way, have shaped the narrative for us and they are wrong wrong wrong. Time for us to kick leftists like Burns in the butt and tell them over and over they are revisionists and are doing damage to the United States in their hubris.

    Reply
    1. British Citizen

      Cheers! Great comment, Cat A Miss. Jolly good to have you on Gen. Satterfield ‘s website of leaders.

      Reply

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