Carl & Vietnam Old Hacks

Washington October 18/15

Kieu Chinh - Don and Deanna North1. California Vietnamese-American actress Kieu Chinh, and Don and Deanna North attend the film “Vietnamerica” at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Tran Sorley Duong2. Panelist’s : Than Tu Tran, ARVN Captain who following the war spent 15 years in a “re-education camp”, Lewis Sorley, Vietnam veteran and author “A Better War.” Nguyen Anh Duong, scientist helped develop the Pentagon thermobaric bomb.

Bui Turner Luong3. Panelist’s : Nancy Bui, Founder Vietnamese Heritage Foundation and Executive Producer “Vietnamerica.”, Robert Turner, Vietnam veteran& director National Security Law, UVA, General Viet Luong, 1st Vietnamese-American general in US Military.

“Vietnamerica: Master Hoa’s Requiem” a film produced by Nancy Bui, founder and President of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation was presented last night at the Newseum in Washington D.C. followed by a panel discussion.

Before the film began the now rarely heard South Vietnamese national anthem was played, followed by the American national anthem and a moment of silence for Vietnamese “boat people” who perished attempting to escape.

The film states that after the Vietnam War, over 2 million Vietnamese escaped to search for “freedom” and “hundreds of thousands” died before they reached land. Forty years later the film follows martial arts master Nguyen Tien Hoa’s return to Southeast Asia to search for the graves of his wife and two children. Hoa escaped on a boat with 75 of his family and friends, and was the only survivor. Throughout documenting his search a diverse group of Vietnamese survivors and scholars explore the reasons they escaped and the lives that Vietnamese Americans have created today as the largest political refugee group in the U.S. Archival footage of Vietnamese “boat people” escaping and washing up on uninhabited islands is dramatic. They are also shown massed in thousands who lived for years on the islands before acceptance in the US.

The film is an ambitious undertaking of Vietnamese-Americans to tell their own story, four years in the making and financed by donations. As a documentary producer myself I am reluctant to criticize the work of others but I think in this case some revisions could make this film much more credible and of historic merit. At two and a half hours running time it is surely exhausting to most potential audiences. Judicious cuts would improve the flow. A five minute rant by an unidentified Hungarian anti-communist shouting at American war protesters may have satisfied many Vietnamese still angry about the loss of South Vietnam, but is not appreciated by most viewers and leaves a taste of strong bias which hurts credibility of the film.

Credibility is also endangered by many unsourced and unsubstantiated facts like claiming there were 65,000 Vietnamese executed by Hanoi following the war. Or that 7 million Vietnamese died in the war.

The choice of Lewis Sorely, author of “A Better War” and Robert Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia as Vietnam War historians, tends to induce a strong bias that forty years after the wars end is not upheld by recognized scholars.

Professor Turner even argued during the panel discussion that U.S. sailors in the Gulf of Tonkin were accurate in claiming North Vietnamese gunships fired on US destroyers largely dispelled by US Navy radar observers.

In speeches before the film, Executive Producer Nancy Bui made strong accusations that their host, the Newseum, was remiss in not admitting that the U.S. press did not effectively cover Vietnamese military or political stories in their current exhibit “Reporting Vietnam.” There is some validity to the accusation against the American press. There were some crack Airborne and Marine units we liked to cover, but often we found ARVN units plagued with high desertion rates and questionable commanders who rarely moved aggressively from their base camps.. Vietnamese politicians were mostly not articulate in English. Strapped for crews to cover the war, we would opt for covering a 1st Cav or US Marine unit where you were sure to find a combat story. The Newseum should not be blamed for not presenting Vietnamese coverage in their “Reporting Vietnam” exhibit, except perhaps to explain why it did not take place over US military coverage.

It is not surprising that many Vietnamese “boat people” refugees here tend to demonize the communist government of Vietnam. In Vietnam today there is little honest discussion of the war issues. Here in the US there is an opportunity for Vietnamese Americans to uncover the truths of the war and why it was lost. Blaming the US Congress for losing the war by withdrawing support as this film charges is simplistic and inaccurate.

Don North Washington D.C. 10/18/15