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March 12, 2018

Film: The Young Karl Marx

I recently watched and very much enjoyed director Raoul Peck's new film, The Young Karl Marx. (It's still in theaters, but is also available to rent on the major platforms.)

The movie spans a short segment of the young philosopher's life, roughly five years, concentrating on Marx's relationships with his wife, Jenny, and his close friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels. The narrative culminates with the authoring of the The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, just prior to Marx turning 30.

Instead of a full review, suffice it to say that Peck did a fine job keeping to the history and biography. While still a movie, the effort at fidelity—to people, names, events, language used, etc.—is admirable; Peck did considerable homework. It is also a good piece of filmmaking: the acting and casting are both excellent, the story well told, and the set design nicely detailed.

Also, instead of provide a primer on Marx's thought (see note below), I wish to simply express my hopes that the film reaches a sizable audience. Karl Marx is on that list of writers who are severely misunderstood and fictionalized due to a lack of reading their work. This list would include Adam Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche, Noam Chomsky, and (I recently decided) Thomas Hobbes. However, on such a list, Marx is probably at the top, especially for Americans.

For those new to Marx, I might suggest starting with the movie, actually. As mentioned, yes, it's a movie, not a documentary. But the film does a nice job of humanizing the historical figure, affording him a much needed third dimension.

Some who are new might also be a bit standoffish. This is likely on account of what you have heard your father, uncle, or grandfather say about Marx and "communism" (sermonizing about such topics tends to be a male-dominated activity). Three of the more popular distortions:

1. Marx's thought was on display in the Soviet Union, and what more proof do you need that Marxism is terrible?

2. Marx wanted people to live like ants in a colony, and because people are not ants, "socialism would never work."

3. Marx once said "I am not a Marxist," and therefore didn't believe his own philosophy.

Point 1 is simply wrong and only requires consulting some basic history; the World Book encyclopedia would probably be adequate. Point 2 is my personal favorite (the "people aren't insects" bulletin) and is based on the assumption that Marx was laying out a utopian blueprint, which he wasn't; Marx's work constitutes a methodical and philosophical critique of capitalism. And point 3, while correct in a literal sense—those are his words—Marx's point was that he was not a "Marxist" as the label was being applied in France at the time.

Some reviewers and critics have maintained the film was too intellectual, while some felt it was insufficiently so. I feel Peck struck a nice balance, allowing space for history and concepts as well as a good bit of drama and fun. I've seen it twice now and will likely go in for thirds. A movie worth checking out.


For those looking to get acquainted with Marx:

The School of Life has a ten-minute crash course on Marx on YouTube. For a very short (93 pages) and clear introduction to Marx's life and philosophy, I would suggest David McLellan's book Karl Marx. For a fully developed biography and examination of his thought, I started last year, have returned to, and recommend Jonathan Sperber's relatively recent Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013), which includes a good amount of historical context.

February 24, 2018

Parkland: arming teachers

After the shooting in Charleston in 2015, I posted a link to this article, entitled "Your Brain in a Shootout: Guns, Fear and Flawed Instincts."

In the piece, which appeared in Time magazine in 2013, former police officer Jim Glennon shares his experience of being involved in an actual shootout. Glennon was a police-academy trainer, and discusses the effects the stress of a shootout can have on perception and the human mind. His conclusion was that even police lack sufficient training to function proficiently in such a situation, and therefore hopes for the English teacher are rather low.

With suggestions being made by President Trump and others to arm teachers in response to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this article helps to cut through the cowboy-movie rhetoric that is now standard after a mass shooting.

The United States has a unique gun-violence problem (see statistics here and here). And the problem is being discussed by some, correctly, as a public-health crisis. Though gun violence is the result of multiple factors, gun-control legislation can—as the data bear out—help improve the situation. And any improvement greater than zero is worth pursuing.

My generation (I was born in 1972) and the Baby Boomers excel at criticizing millennials. The criticism is unfounded and requires considerable nerve given the track record of those two demographics. Instead, we should be listening very closely to this country's young people, especially if gun violence is an actual priority and not just an occasion to sound virile and protect the impulses of the increasingly vicious NRA.

February 7, 2018

Gaza photo

I recently happened upon this CNN article and gallery entitled, "Meet the photographers challenging stereotypes of the Middle East." It's worth a look.

Among the images, this particular photo by Palestinian photographer Wissam Nassar, of two kids in a bathtub in Gaza, made an impact.

Perhaps my selection is a bit cliche; photography of kids tends to be popular and an easy appeal to the emotions. Yet, I feel this image is worth the risk of seeming trite (see also my Jan. 12, 2015, blog post).

For one, it's simply a good photograph (composition, palette, timing). For another, it journalistically displays well the devastation that Gaza has suffered, especially over the last decade. Thirdly, the kids laughing in the tub against the backdrop of this devastation serve as a humiliation of longstanding US-Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

Though tempted to include an update on Gaza and its current situation, I think I will leave that for another post. This photograph deserves its own space.

Wissam Nassar, ©2017

December 19, 2017

Inequality, taxes, GOP agenda

This post is something of a roundup of material I've been meaning to share. The items, three in all, address the interrelated issues of worsening income inequality and the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill, specifically, tax legislation and healthcare.

The three are:

1. Noted economist Thomas Piketty and others have launched the World Inequality Report, and this article in the Guardian is their introduction to some of the issues addressed in the WIR. Sober, rational analysis by people who know what they are talking about.

2. Good piece on Trumpism and Republicanism, also in the Guardian, by economist Nouriel Roubini. Go deep; in it Roubini links to, for instance, a worthwhile article by Fareed Zakaria (who does decent work when the subject isn't foreign policy), which in turn links to some interesting pieces and studies. (Some will recall Roubini's name from the 2010 documentary Inside Job. If you haven't seen it, I strongly recommend doing so; it superbly examines the causes of the 2008 financial crisis—and provides context for the one we are possibly headed toward.)

3. A clear, informed interview with political scientist Jeffrey Winters concentrating on the Paradise Papers, inequality, and the GOP tax plan. The discussion aired on Jerome McDonnell's Worldview (WBEZ) in November. Worth a couple listens.

The current drift of the Republican Party's agenda—neither secret nor concealed—is to reward the top at the expense of everyone else. The assertion made by party leaders, in an attempt to justify and sell their agenda (tax cuts, deregulation, privatization), is that the "conservative" approach will raise the tide and therefore all boats.

Specifically, it is maintained the GOP's tax plan, with its enormous reductions, will stimulate growth and pay for itself. The Congressional Budget Office disagrees. So does the Tax Policy Center. Also,

In a recent University of Chicago survey of 38 prominent economists across the ideological spectrum, only one said the proposed tax cuts would yield substantial economic growth. Unanimously, the economists said the tax cuts would add to the long-term federal debt burden, now estimated at more than $20 trillion. (NYT, Dec. 3)

In the same Times article, economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz suggests there's only two possibilities concerning the mindset of those pedaling trickle-down economics: it's either a religion or cynicism.

The lack of popularity of the GOP tax plan is also noteworthy, sitting at around 30 percent (five points lower than the president himself). The only major piece of legislation less popular in the last 25 years has been the Republican initiative to repeal Obamacare: 23 percent. (See Michael Tomasky's recent op-ed in the Times, looking at political scientist Chris Warshaw's analyses.)

The Republican Party is doing highly unpopular things, while working alongside a highly unpopular president. From a distance, one wouldn't guess the United States to be a democracy. Yet, we ponder with skepticism, for example, as to whether the people of the Middle East are "ready" for such a responsibility.

This of course is not to suggest that the Democratic Party is the country's knight in shining armor. The Democrats have played a damaging and shameful role with regard to the economy and inequality; operationally, they are now the Republican Party. The GOP, on the other hand, as pointed out by a number of commentators, has degenerated into a cult.

So, when presented with two options, one bad and one (far) worse, the logical choice is the bad. Because less bad is better. And getting to the polls helps get this done. Alabama recently showed the country how it works.

Part of why the Republican Party is making frantic haste to do all it can for the billionaire/donor class, I suspect, is because party managers and their financial backers have seen the future. And the future is minorities and millennials voting their interests. Indignant white men who take issue with "liberals" giving "everything away" to "[insert disparaging label]" are precisely a dying breed. As a result, the GOP inhabits a sinking island, with mortifying irony.

December 8, 2017


President Trump recently stated his intentions to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the latter as the capital of Israel. Though merely symbolic, such a move is nevertheless ominous and won't be without consequences.

At present there are no foreign embassies located in Jerusalem. Though Israel considers the city in its entirety—East and West—as its capital, all foreign governments with embassies in Israel maintain them in Tel Aviv. There are, however, foreign consulates located in both sides of Jerusalem.

For instance, Italy's consulate keeps offices in East and West Jerusalem: in the East to work with the Palestinians and, in the West, to assist "the Italian Jewish community of Jerusalem." The description on their website doesn't mention Israel.

An embassy is the diplomatic headquarters located in a host country, generally headed by an ambassador. It is standard practice that a government's embassy be established in the host country's capital, and that there be only one embassy and one ambassador designated per host country.

Consulates, on the other hand, generally do not operate in the context of the diplomacy between two countries. They do tend to work in coordination with the embassy and its mission, and can perform many of the same services. Yet, consulates are smaller is status and usually function in a bureaucratic capacity, handling visas, passports, trade, education, and so on.

For example, the United States has diplomatic relations with Germany. Accordingly, the US embassy and its ambassador are located in Berlin. However, Washington also has consulates located throughout the country: in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and elsewhere.

The matter of embassies and consulates is normally not a contentious one. With Jerusalem, the issue is a bit more involved.

The present international status of Jerusalem dates back to 1948 and 1967. After the 1948 war between Israel and the Palestinians (and the surrounding Arab states), Jerusalem was divided into West and East: the former became the capital of Israel and the latter went to Jordan. (As part of the armistice, the West Bank was assigned to Jordanian control and Gaza to Egyptian control; hence twenty years of delayed sovereignty for what was supposed to become the state of Palestine.)

During the June 1967 war, or Six-Day War, in addition to Egyptian and Syrian territory, Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, along with East Jerusalem. Israel would then annex East Jerusalem, meaning Israel now considered it Israeli.

Conquest and annexation of territory contravenes international law, specifically the UN charter (Article 2) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 47), both to which Israel is a signatory. Moreover, following the Six-Day War, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which emphasizes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war." Security Council resolutions have the force of law and are actionable.

Since 1967, Israel has encouraged and facilitated the transfer of its citizens to live in occupied East Jerusalem. This transfer is also in contravention of international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49). Today, roughly 200,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem.

Especially in light of UN 242's call to "achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement," the illegal post-1967 situation has required—and has yet to receive—diplomatic resolution. This illegal postwar situation, which we call the Palestine-Israel conflict, has existed now for fifty years, largely due to Israeli intransigence and US consent.

Any diplomatic settlement of the conflict will have to address a core list of issues. Those issues are: borders, territory, settlements, East Jerusalem, and refugees. East Jerusalem is therefore central to the diplomatic agenda. It is also fundamental both to Palestinian hopes of statehood and a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

For fifty years, the United States has played a direct role in preventing a solution to the conflict (see chapter 5 of my Straight Power Concepts in the Middle East for a summary). Nevertheless, in small increments, moments of progress took place during the peace process (1991-2001). And on paper, the United States upholds the two-state solution, namely, two independent states—Israel and Palestine—based on the post-1948 borders, called the Green Line. The issue is simply one of willingness. Resolution of the conflict is very much attainable.

Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will dramatically increase the difficulty in getting any diplomacy underway. There is supposedly a peace plan in the works, led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but nothing of any kind of substance, beyond a few recently made blank utterances, has been produced.

The decision will also further legitimize Israel's illegal expansion in the West Bank, potentially inspire further brutality toward Gaza, as well as encourage rightwing elements within Israel's government. (Encouragement of rightwing elements has, after all, been a leitmotif for this president.)

Given the importance of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause, the city's overall importance to the Arab world, and its religious significance to billions of people, Trump has risked much for many in an effort to satisfy a few.

Upon word that the president was for sure going to make the announcement, the US consulate in Jerusalem alerted its staff, while the State Department warned embassies around the world. The immediate reaction was concern for security.

In general, the response to a good idea is not to batten down the hatches.

October 2, 2017

U.S. Entry into Vietnam: More Doctrine than Disorder

[Self-published blog post]

In this essay, I wish to touch on some of the circumstances and thinking that resulted in US operations in Vietnam. It was the political and ideological substructure that produced the war, and therefore is the only means of comprehending it.

Two connected points highlighted in particular are (1) the feeble claim that Ho Chi Minh and his party were communists above all else, and (2) that primary to US decision making was not communism, but power projection and enhancement of its own prestige, with consideration given to markets and resources.

"Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact is so already."[1] These words were spoken on September 2, 1945, by Ho Chi Minh, the leader of Vietnamese nationalism, when he declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Ho and his party, the Viet Minh, were embarking on the creation of a (very) long-desired independent Vietnam. This should have been the birth of a sovereign nation.

The Vietnamese had lived under French colonial control since the mid-1800s, and briefly under Japanese rule (1940-45) during World War II, with France functioning as an adjunct during that period. After the war, and with Japan defeated, France moved against history to reestablish itself in Indochina, just when colonialism was coming to an end elsewhere in Asia and Africa. In late 1946, tensions escalated between Vietnamese desire for self-rule and French imperialism, ushering in the First Indochina War.

Despite reduction by Washington to a puppet of international communism—for either China (after 1949) or the Soviet Union—Ho was nothing of the sort. Even early on, in the 1920s, his relations with the Kremlin had been touch and go, mostly owing to Ho being too flexible and inclusive in his approach to revolution for Moscow's liking. By the 1940s, there was no evidence to suggest Ho was a Soviet pawn. Even US diplomats maintained he was nothing more than a nationalist who had the support of the vast majority of the country.[2]

Similarly, there is little to show for Stalin's interest in Vietnam, being concerned primarily with postwar reconstruction and security. The scholarly literature presents the Kremlin in a light wholly different from the one Americans have come to know through spy thrillers.[3] As for China: though Ho, for lack of options, accepted material support from Beijing in the Viet Minh's war against France, his words of hesitation on the matter are revealing: "It is better to sniff French shit for a while than eat China's all our life."[4]

In addition to principally being a nationalist, Ho was heavily influenced by Western liberalism and was almost notoriously moderate. As one surveys the standard histories of the Vietnam War,[5] one repeatedly encounters both how much those who worked with him (French diplomats, American intelligence agents, and others) were impressed by Ho and found him likable; and that Ho was ready and eager to negotiate with anyone. On multiple occasions he was criticized within his own party for being overly moderate.

Though fond of Western liberalism, Ho grew familiar with its lack of hospitality. Near the end of World War I, Woodrow Wilson issued his Fourteen Points, a blueprint for world peace upholding such principles as self-determination and democracy. Following the war, at the Versailles peace conference in 1919, Ho petitioned for Vietnamese self-determination, perfectly in accordance with Wilson's avowed ideals. It would not be the first time the United States would ignore Ho's entreaties. Ho would then take an interest in Leninist thought and its anti-colonialist orientation, thus providing the Americans with a certified reason to dismiss him.

Of course, there were Wilson's words and then there was Wilson. The twenty-eighth president did indeed speak of lofty ideals, but those ideals generally applied to powerful countries or weak countries ruled by a powerful someone. His administration's foreign policy was defined largely by interventionism, projecting US power into a list of countries in the Western Hemisphere—Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico—not to mention Russia.

The point is that Wilson was a continuation of an increasingly interventionist and expansionist US foreign policy. In a sense, expansionism is in the country's DNA; crossing the continent and realizing Manifest Destiny was only the beginning. By the twentieth century, a set of principles and doctrines steering US foreign relations had been established that did not spell tolerance for small countries pursuing a course of autonomy, typically viewed as radical or militant nationalism. In essence, this is the beginning of what would later be labeled the domino theory.

The domino theory was based on a fallacy called "slippery slope": if one country "fell" (that is, became independent and self-sufficient), then the next might, then the next, and so on. And typically, the countries in question tended to be small in size and economy, and commonly agrarian.

This logic was self-evident and required no justification. Any country judged to be a domino soon to fall—other metaphors included rotten onions and apples, and infected meat—needed US protection from itself. After WWII, White House planners operating within the largely contrived Cold War ideology applied the domino theory in an expressly communist context, referred to as containment.[6] And with the United States taking its expansionism global after 1945, Northeast and Southeast Asia became early priorities.

Vietnam fell squarely in the domino-about-to-fall category. It was endeavoring to cut its own path, improve the lives of its people, and make its way in the world. Free and fair elections were held in 1946. A famine was fought. And literacy rates were going up. The DRV was moving forward—despite the presence of three foreign powers on its soil at the time: China, France, and Great Britain. Ho would also make multiple attempts to reach out to President Truman, and was paid no attention just as he was at Versailles by Wilson.

France, however, decided to stay, wanting to reassert itself as an imperial power, if for no other reason than to give its self-image a boost. The Truman administration, regardless of the opposition of world opinion to the French presence in Vietnam, transitioned from consent to support for French designs on Indochina. And the more Truman and his advisers read communism into the activity in the region, the more it was axiomatic that France needed assistance, another matter looked upon unfavorably by world opinion. "Most of the countries of the world do not share our view," observed John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower, "that Communist control of any government anywhere is in itself a danger and threat."[7]

At the peak of US support for French operations, the United States was footing 80 percent of the bill for the Franco-Viet Minh war. It was of course better that Paris do the dirty work, though Washington viewed French efforts with disdainful disappointment for not being aggressive enough. By 1954, France became the ultimate disappointment and called it quits, especially after the battle at Dien Bien Phu.

The peace conference in Geneva shortly after Dien Bien Phu bisected the country into North and South, as had been done in Korea, this time at the 17th parallel. The accords called for elections in two years' time, which Ho Chi Minh would have won handily. However, this gave White House strategists ample time to ram into place a system of governance in a newly independent South Vietnam, or Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Though the South would suffer under this system's repeated brutality and corruption, it was brutality and corruption that Washington could superintend; for American officials, anything was preferable to genuine Vietnamese sovereignty.

Those in the South found the viciousness of leaders like Ngo Dinh Diem not to their liking, and a deep resentment took hold throughout the country. This resentment eventually grew into organized resistance in the form of the National Liberation Front (NLF; dismissed as Vietnamese Communists, or Viet Cong). Washington viewed the NLF as a marionette operated by the DRV, as it was unthinkable that villagers in the South would be unappreciative of all that America was doing for them.

For the Vietnamese in general, the Americans were merely the new French. As historian Marilyn Young points out in her classic survey: "Indeed, the divisions within villages reproduced those that had existed against the French: 75 percent support for the Front, 20 percent trying to remain neutral, and 5 percent firmly pro-government."[8]

Simply put, the Vietnamese people were never on-board. And the more Washington pushed, the further it got from its goal. This is how and why the American war in Vietnam began.

This is why the United States killed millions of people, subjecting a peasant country the size of New Mexico to unprecedented firepower. Strategists, advisers, policy architects, military officers, and a series of presidents pursued the preservation of a wholly unpopular system in an artificial country (the RVN), and the more the Vietnamese—North and South—refused to yield, the harder Uncle Sam brought down the hammer.

Integral to the domino theory, of course, was intimidation. Small and weak countries were expected to cower. And anything short of cowering was met with corrective action. The resistance that the United States encountered in Vietnam was beyond the pale, elicited outrage, and had to be dealt with accordingly.

What was deliberate and based on long-established doctrines has been replaced in the popular imagination with the language of "mistakes" and getting "sucked in." This language is not new and, in the case of Vietnam, has its roots in Washington's "liberal" (centrist) criticism of the war. "In this view," says historian Mark Atwood Lawrence, "the U.S. commitment in Vietnam represented major errors of judgment but did not flow from deeper flaws in American motives or institutions."[9] The distinction is a crucial one.

It is precisely the "deeper flaws in American motives" that resulted in the US military deploying over two million service personnel (1964-75) to carry out democracy prevention. This would, in turn, send a message to the next country considering self-determination, while enhancing the reputation of US hard power.

The melodramatic photos of key players like President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara belie the consistency of US decision making. Talk of policy instead gets replaced with talk of personalities—always a dangerous preoccupation in the realm of politics. Yet, under the noise of individual behavior existed a regularity, an order, and a logic. "If personalities, egos, and individual factors were the dominant building blocks of crucial historical decisions," observes war historian Gabriel Kolko,

there would hardly be more than chaos to cope with, and social processes, forms, and patterns would be buried under a mass of idiosyncratic behavior. Vietnam's place in postwar American foreign policy can be traced very clearly and explained as part of a coherent strategy as well as a continuous dilemma.[10]

The atrocity that was the Vietnam War was not merely the collective savagery committed on the ground or the spectacle of violence seen in footage and movies. The atrocity was also the calculated resolve among successive White Houses and corresponding staff that spanned three decades and displayed a consistent line of reasoning that made sense given the priorities.


[1] Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 (HarperPerennial, 1991), 11.

[2] George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, 4th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2002), 13.

[3] See Melvyn Leffler, The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953 (Hill and Wang, 1994), ch. 2. Leffler is a leading Cold War scholar who has done detailed work, but this title is short and reader-friendly. Likewise with David S. Painter, The Cold War: An International History (Routledge, 1999), ch. 2.

[4] Herring, America's Longest War, 22.

[5] In addition to the general surveys cited in these notes—Young, Herring, and Lawrence—see also Robert D. Schulzinger, A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975 (Oxford University Press, 1997).

[6] One of the best corrective analyses of Cold War ideology remains Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (Hill and Wang, 1992), ch. 1

[7] William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions, since World War II, rev. ed. (Common Courage Press, 2004), 124.

[8] Young, Vietnam Wars, 73.

[9] Mark Atwood Lawrence, The Vietnam War: A Concise International History (Oxford University Press, 2008), 112.

[10] Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience, reprint (The New Press, 1994), 168.

Follow-up to Ken Burns, "The Vietnam War"

This is a follow-up to my Sep. 18 post on episode one of the Burns-Novick documentary The Vietnam War. Today, I also posted a separate essay above entitled "US Entry into Vietnam: More Order than Disorder," which reviews some of why the American war in Vietnam took place.

In my posting on the first episode of Ken Burns's ten-part documentary The Vietnam War, I pointed out that the film's opening words were a continuation of what Americans have routinely been told about the war, but that the episode contained some good information. The opening words spoke of the war as "begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence, and Cold War miscalculation." On balance, the subsequent nine episodes tend to reinforce this narrative.

While Burns and Lynn Novick do include interviews, discussion, and footage of a multitude of perspectives, the film tilts toward the American experience. True, the project was directed by Americans, whose careers have centered on America, and was presumably made mostly for an American audience. Nevertheless, episode to episode one feels that the GIs took the worse beating. The documentary doesn't say this, and presents information to the contrary, but the scale isn't conveyed.

When one takes into account the sheer disparity in fatality figures, the extent of the film's partiality is revealed. To illustrate, the death toll for Vietnamese was on the order of the entire population of Chicago. Fatalities for American service personnel, on the other hand, coincide with the capacity of Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play.

All in all, the bar was low. And, in my view, Burns and Novick didn't have to do much to do good. The way the war has been recalled, discussed, packaged, and processed is distorted so severely that the Vietnam War that exists in the American imagination is a grotesque—a different one. And given that this misconception lies under 40 years of sediment, every little bit helps.

Burns and Novick do treat the North Vietnamese story. We meet Ho Chi Minh, who is presented in a reasonable light. Ho's outreach to the United States is noted, as well as his non-identification with Communist China or Moscow. We see a country that desired independence get bisected, with "independence" forced upon the South by the United States as the White House saw fit. And we are introduced to a number of North Vietnamese and "Viet Cong," who share their experiences.

So some of the origins of the war do receive treatment. And because the film deviates slightly from cinematic depictions—The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and others—progress is made. Though at this point, all these decades later, Burns and Novick ran little risk in presenting a deeper, more honest, less nationalist version of the history. Whether this team would make such a film is another matter.

Taking into account how incremental and careful this film was, could one interpret the results as maybe a temperature reading of the culture? That maybe this is where we (still) are at the moment? (Or maybe it's just where Burns and Novick are.) In either case, a great distance must be covered if we are to prevent further such crimes. Recent history offers limited hope, such as the protesting of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nevertheless, the support for invasion was 70 percent.

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