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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/1/17

Lying for the National Security State

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Message Arthur Silber

From Arthur Silber Blog

The particular subject that engages me here is the arrival, after what is reported to be the largest advertising and PR campaign in PBS's history, of the 18-hour, 10-episode, Ken Burns-Lynn Novick series, "The Vietnam War." I'm not watching it, even though it is available for free (for the moment) at After reading many articles about it, I have to conclude that watching the series would constitute an unusually painful and enraging experience. I don't choose to go through that, not right now. Life is too short; what remains of my life in particular is definitely too short for this kind of noxious, dangerous bullshit. What interests me is not an evaluation of the series per se (whether it is well-written and directed, how effective its presentation is in aesthetic terms, etc.), which would require a viewing, but rather the purpose of the series in our culture at this particular moment, which does not.

As we shall see, the numerous articles about the series (only several of which I will reference, but there are many, many more) present enough particulars to reach certain judgments without having seen "The Vietnam War." Indeed, my reading on this subject has made many issues so unmistakably obvious, and in an especially nauseating, dishonest and contemptible manner, that I was forcefully reminded of a line of Lily Tomlin's: "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

A good starting place is: the biggest single backer of the series is Bank of America. Some of you might be heard to mutter: "Jesus." That's because you remember that antiwar protesters burned down the Isla Vista branch of Bank of America (near UC-Santa Barbara) in 1970. There should be no doubt that Bank of America would not bankroll a mammoth TV series on Vietnam unless it was certain that the series would not present any facts or viewpoints that would be at all disturbing to its corporate interests (which are roughly coextensive with those of the national security state).

That's not all: the Koch brothers are also backers of the series. I mention this for the benefit of those "libertarians" who view the Koch brothers as allies of some kind and support their efforts at "influencing events." I put "libertarian" in quotes now because of the unavoidable fact that no one has the slightest idea what the term means any longer. I caution the reader that the fact "libertarian" is used without any specific discernible meaning hardly means that "libertarians" themselves acknowledge or address the issue, which they do not. In many cases, people call themselves "libertarians" because they know their target audience would regard them as unsophisticated and ignorant if they self-identified as Republicans. I suspect many of such "libertarians" think that their chosen label transmutes their conventional, unremarkable views into a stance many will view as "cool" in some manner. Pity the poor, deluded idiots: "libertarian" is today's Republican, and deserving of as much respect, which is to say none.

When well-known, self-described "libertarians" include insanely militant, murderous interventionists, as well as people of widely varied, and not infrequently directly contradictory, political and social/cultural views, "libertarian" can signify anything -- which means that it signifies nothing. As for the Koch brothers: there should be no doubt that they would not support this particular series unless they were certain that it would not present any facts or viewpoints that would be at all disturbing to their business and corporate interests (which are roughly coextensive with those of the national security state; see also, Donald J. Trump).

I also note that many prominent "libertarians" fall into the same category: white, affluent, straight men. I don't know about you but, as a general rule, if I want to ascertain the truth of any issue, the first place I will turn, and even the tenth, is decidedly not a white, affluent, straight man. Yes, I mean that with regard to any issue at all.

In a valuable article on the Burns-Novick series, John Pilger notes that Bank of America is heavily promoted in the "lavish advertising campaign." He goes on:

"Burns says he is grateful to 'the entire Bank of America family' which 'has long supported our country's veterans.' Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives."
About the series, Pilger writes:
"I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war 'was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings.'

"The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of 'false flags' that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record -- the Gulf of Tonkin 'incident' in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. ...

"There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me -- as it must be for many Americans -- it is difficult to watch the film's jumble of 'red peril' maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences.

"In the series' press release in Britain -- the BBC will show it -- there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. 'We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,' Novick is quoted as saying.

"All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while 'searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy.'"
As for the "meaning" so earnestly sought by Burns-Novick -- no doubt also "decent people," whose "good faith" and "good intentions" might elude you, poor shmuck that you are, but are deeply appreciated by the national security state -- Pilger says:
"The 'meaning' of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea. The aim was described by Colonel Edward Lansdale, the famous CIA man on whom Graham Greene based his central character in The Quiet American.

"Quoting Robert Taber's The War of the Flea, Lansdale said, 'There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.'

"Nothing has changed.
I mention above that many prominent "libertarians" are white. With regard to "The Vietnam War," this particular issue is of special significance (as it is in connection with any issue of importance). Frank Joyce observes, in an article which I highly commend to your attention:
"In discussing the recent Kathryn Bigelow film, Detroit, I said, 'Approach it as a case study of the intrinsic limits of the white gaze, combined with the manipulation of facts for political and Hollywood marketing purposes.'

"Darned if the 18-hour Burns/Novick opus doesn't come across as a case study of the intrinsic limits of the white gaze, combined with the manipulation of facts for political and marketing purposes for PBS and the underwriters of the series.

"Even if Bigelow gets the benefit of some doubt as 'just a Hollywood filmmaker,' Ken Burns is different. He is widely considered by his funders and admirers as 'America's historian.' He is explicitly tasked with shaping public opinion. A recent New Yorker profile of him was headlined, 'Mr. America.'"
"America's historian." "Mr. America." See? You're nauseous already -- and you're not even watching the god****ed series. (But if you are, I pray that the goddesses will safely see you through the dangerous journey on which you've voluntarily chosen to embark.)

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Arthur Silber has worked as an actor, in the business side of the film industry, and as a civil litigator for more than a decade.  In recent years, he has written for his own blog, Once Upon A Time ... with an emphasis on the crimes of Empire, cultural trends, and the (more...)

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