Film Review

Film Review: Vietnam: American Holocaust

By Karl Abrams

This incredible historical-political documentary by Venice filmmaker Clay Claiborne is an eye-opening account of the horrors and atrocities of the Vietnam War. It depicts, scene-by-scene, how misguided, ignorant and xenophobic racist U.S. war policies were mercilessly carried out by political and military leaders, many of whom remained unrepentant. Truman worried about a Soviet Union alliance with Vietnam, Eisenhower lamented that “tin and tungsten would cease coming” while McCarthy, Nixon, Ford, Johnson and McNamara wrung their hands over communist expansion, picking military leaders like Westmoreland to develop the details of military strategies. Many senior officers who championed these early war policies—like Alexander Haig and Colin Powell—rose through the ranks. Some soldiers in the field followed orders because they just wanted to stay alive, some refused to follow inhumane orders, still others deserted.

This is a story that quickly becomes an emotionally spellbinding and compelling must-see film for you and everyone you know. Its purpose is both to reveal the audacity of America’s military policies in Vietnam and its blind and perpetual march into new horrors like our present-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

This fast-moving film, skillfully narrated by actor Martin Sheen, begins with the colonial history of Vietnam and the longings of the Vietnamese people to win their democratic freedom. The most basic cultural aspects of the Vietnamese and their years of struggle for independence from the French, the Japanese in World War II, and the French again, for another 10 years were ignored by pentagon war planners. The film points out that Ho Chi Minh, the popular and beloved leader of the Vietnamese people declared independence from France, ironically in words from our own declaration: “All men are created equal…” 

There is dramatic footage showing U.S. Senator Wayne Morse warning us to avoid war. He scolds us that “our country boasts about democracy” yet denies Vietnam their right to vote in 1956 for their own unification according to the Geneva Accords simply because intelligence sources already knew that “if democratic elections were held, Ho Chi Minh would win with 80% of the vote.” There is also some amazing footage that documents the Johnson-McNamara fabrication of the war-provoking Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

Clay Claiborne moves from history to the more gruesome details of the war, while an ironic blues sound track is played the background. Herein is the beginning of a war policy designed to ignore the popular wishes of a society it doesn’t understand and to treat everyone as the enemy. If a civilian is accidentally killed, then automatically that person is considered an enemy combatant. 

American battle cries of freedom and patriotism, once again, are skillfully twisted by our political leaders and fashioned into a war machine that can now be used to dehumanize the “gooks” and the once innocent American soldiers who have become, in the mindless fog of war, too scared to differentiate between peasant and Viet Cong. Their unrelenting approach was to kill as many people as possible and keep track by the now infamous “body count” and the 1000s of civilian villages burned in order to save them. The U.S. would not yield its madness until it lost over 50,000 soldiers and 300,000 wounded. The enduring and prevailing Vietnamese “enemy” of peasant soldiers and civilians lost a staggering 4 to 5 million.

What makes this film great is the riveting footage of events that have, for the most part, been kept out of view for most Americans. Who wants to see war-ravaged soldiers following orders from brazen and brainwashed high-ranking officers to burn villages and shoot escaping innocent peasants? And who wants to see B-52s dropping more bombs than all those dropped by both sides in World War II or generals determined to use Agent Orange and napalm to defoliate one-third of South Vietnam? Scenes of white phosphorous destruction on human beings are also hard to bear. But this time the film deftly depicts dead Iraqis to show how war tactics never end.It is happening again. How can we stop the war machine?

From a critical point of view, the film misses one accusation. The masters of war, the political and military leadership that chooses war over diplomacy, need to be indicted by history as war criminals for their crimes against humanity. See the film and become part of the jury.