Last night we finally watched the tenth and final installment of the Ken Burns documentary, The Vietnam War. Seemed fitting it was Veterans Day.
It’s a powerful account of the soldiers, victims and manipulators— from both sides. It stirred emotions as I recalled the memories of body-count scoreboards on the nightly news, registering with selective service, the friends and relatives who fought, and those that never came back. As I watched, it became clear to me just how much Vietnam had influenced who I am.
I was not old enough to be drafted during hostilities, but I came pretty darn close. Even though I was a child, just witnessing the violence on TV that was occurring overseas and in our streets left an indelible impression. We lived in a great divide created in America, created by a war nobody really understood.
The lessons of that era should not be ignored. To do so would be a disservice to the more than 50,000 Americans who lost their lives, and the veterans who survived. Watch this story and remember. If you aren’t old enough to remember, then watch and learn. Watch and imagine a nightly stream of violence on a black and white TV. Watch and try to understand just how terribly wrong things can go.
IT HAS BEEN A LONG FIGHT AND WE HAVE LOST. THIS EXPERIENCE UNIQUE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT SIGNAL NECESSARILY THE DEMISE OF THE UNITED STATES AS A WORLD POWER. THE SEVERITY OF THE DEFEAT AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF IT, HOWEVER, WOULD SEEM TO CALL FOR A REASSESSMENT OF THE POLICIES OF NIGGARDLY HALF MEASURES WHICH HAVE CHARACTERIZED MUCH OF OUR PARTICIPATiON HERE DESPITE THE COMMITMENT OF MANPOWER AND RESOURCES WHICH WERE CERTAINLY GENEROUS. THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE FORCED TO REPEAT IT. LET US HOPE THAT WE WILL NOT HAVE ANOTHER VIETNAM EXPERIENCE AND THAT WE HAVE LEARNED OUR LESSON.
SAIGON SIGNING OFF.
Last transmission from the American Embassy in Saigon
Thomas Polgar, April 30, 1975
Images courtesy PBS