The Vietnam War (2017) s01e01 Episode Script

Déjà Vu (1858-1961)

1 ANNOUNCER: Major support for "The Vietnam War" was provided by members of The Better Angels Society, including Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, Diane and Hal Brierley, Amy and David Abrams, John and Catherine Debs, the Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, the Montrone Ffamily, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, the Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, the Lynch Foundation, the Roger and Rosemary Enrico Foundation, and by these additional funders.
Major funding was also provided by David H.
Koch The Blavatnik Family Foundation The Park Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S.
and James L.
Knight Foundation, the Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Ford Foundation JustFilms, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by viewers like you.
Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Bank of America proudly supports Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's film "The Vietnam War" because fostering different perspectives and civil discourse around important issues furthers progress, equality, and a more connected society.
Go to bankofamerica.
com/ betterconnected to learn more.
(HELICOPTER BLADES BEATING, GROWING LOUDER) (HELICOPTER BLADES STOP BEATING) (WIND WHIPPING, BULLET WHIZZING) (GUNFIRE) (EXPLOSION) (HELICOPTER BLADES BEATING, INDISTINCT VOICES) (GUNFIRE, DISTORTED SCREAMING) (DISTORTED MARINE CORPS HYMN PLAYING) (ELECTRONIC HUM) (MARINE CORPS HYMN PLAYING, CROWD CHEERING) KARL MARLANTES: Coming home from Vietnam was close to as traumatic as the war itself.
For years, nobody talked about Vietnam.
(GUNFIRE) (MARCHING BAND PLAYING) We were friends with a young couple and it was only after 12 years that the two wives were talking.
Found out that we both had been Marines in Vietnam.
Never said a word about it.
Never mentioned it.
And the whole country was like that.
It was so divisive.
And it's like living in a family with an alcoholic father.
(WHISPERING): "Shh, we don't talk about that.
" (GUNFIRE) Our country did that with Vietnam.
It's only been very recently that, I think, that, you know, the baby boomers are finally starting to say, "What happened? What happened?" ("A FAMILIAR TASTE" BY TREN REZNOR & ATTICUS ROSS PLAYING) HENRY KISSINGER: What we need now in this country is to heal the wounds and to put Vietnam behind us.
("A FAMILIAR TASTE" CONTINUES) RICHARD NIXON: The killing in this tragic war must stop.
("A FAMILIAR TASTE" CONTINUES) LYNDON JOHNSON: General Westmoreland's strategy is producing results.
The enemy is no longer closer to victory.
("A FAMILIAR TASTE" CONTINUES) ROBERT MCNAMARA: No matter how you measure it, we're better off than we thought we would be at this time.
REPORTER: You have been less than candid as to how deeply we are involved in Vietnam.
We have increased our assistance to the government, its logistics.
We have not sent combat troops there.
DWIGHT EISENHOWER: You have a row of dominoes set up and you knock over the first one and the last one, certainly it will go over.
HARRY TRUMAN: If aggression is successful in Korea, we can expect it to spread throughout Asia and Europe and to this hemisphere.
("A FAMILIAR TASTE" CONTINUES) ("A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL" BY BOB DYLAN PLAYING) Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been, my darling young one? MAX CLELAND: Viktor Frankl, who survived the death camps in World War II, wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning.
DYLAN: I've walked and I've crawled on six CLELAND: You know, "To live is to suffer.
To survive is to find meaning in suffering.
" And for those of us who suffered because of Vietnam, that's been our quest ever since.
DYLAN: And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard It's a hard It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall NARRATOR: America's involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy.
It ended, 30 years later, in failure, witnessed by the entire world.
DYLAN: And what did you see, my darling young one? NARRATOR: It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence, and Cold War miscalculation.
And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions, made by five American presidents, belonging to both political parties.
DYLAN: I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleeding NARRATOR: Before the war was over, more than 58,000 Americans would be dead.
At least 250,000 South Vietnamese troops died in the conflict, as well.
So did over a million North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerrillas.
DYLAN: Sharp swords in the hands of young children And it's a hard NARRATOR: Two million civilians, north and south, are thought to have perished, as well as tens of thousands more in the neighboring states of Laos and Cambodia.
(HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRRING) For many Vietnamese, it was a brutal civil war; for others, the bloody climactic chapter in a century-old struggle for independence.
DYLAN: And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son? NARRATOR: For those Americans who fought in it, and for those who fought against it back home, as well as for those who merely glimpsed it on the nightly news, the Vietnam War was a decade of agony, the most divisive period since the Civil War.
Vietnam seemed to call everything into question the value of honor and gallantry; the qualities of cruelty and mercy; the candor of the American government; and what it means to be a patriot.
DYLAN: Where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten NARRATOR: And those who lived through it have never been able to erase its memory, have never stopped arguing about what really happened, why everything went so badly wrong, who was to blame, and whether it was all worth it.
BAO NINH: DYLAN: And it's a hard It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall (SONG ENDS) (SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE PLAYING "PEOPLE AND FIGHTERS UNITE") BAO NINH: NARRATOR: The French conquest of Indochina began with an attack on the ancient Vietnamese port of Danang in 1858.
It took 50 years to lay claim to the whole region Laos and Cambodia, as well as the 1,200-mile-long area that would come to be called Vietnam.
All of it was ruled by a French governor-general from his palace in Hanoi.
The French largely lived on plantation estates, and in cities, like Saigon, made to look as much as possible like those at home.
Most did not even bother to learn the language spoken by their subjects.
Instead they installed a series of puppet emperors and employed a network of French-speaking Vietnamese officials mandarins willing to carry out their wishes.
The French put their subjects to work building roads and canals, railroads and bridges.
BAO NINH: NARRATOR: The Vietnamese people did not take easily to French occupation, just as they had fought against earlier invasions by the Chinese.
By the early 20th century, nationalism was on the rise.
But anyone who dared resist colonial rule risked exile, prison, or the guillotine.
LAM QUANG THI: (HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRRING) JOHN MUSGRAVE: My hatred for them was pure.
Pure.
I hated them so much.
And I was so scared of them.
(GUNFIRE) Boy, I was terrified of them.
And the scareder I got, the more I hated them.
I was an 18-year-old Marine rifleman with the ink still wet on my high school diploma.
I didn't want to shame myself in front of my buddies.
But I was so scared.
I felt like I was hanging onto my honor by my fingernails the whole time I was there.
("LA MARSEILLAISE" PLAYING) (CROWD CHEERING) NARRATOR: In the spring of 1919, as the victorious Allied Powers met in Paris to rebuild a world shattered by the Great War, President Woodrow Wilson headed the American delegation housed in the Hotel Crillon.
One day, a tall, slender, 29-nine-year-old man appeared with a petition for the president he and other Vietnamese nationalists had written.
Inspired by Wilson's declaration that the interests of colonial peoples should be given equal weight with those of their European rulers, the man was asking that this principle be applied to his homeland.
The president's secretary promised to show it to Wilson, but there is no evidence that he ever did.
His name was Nguyen Tat Thanh, but he was now living under an alias, Nguyen Ai Quoc "Nguyen the Patriot.
" During his long, shadowy career, he would adopt some 70 different pseudonyms, finally settling on "the most enlightened one" Ho Chi Minh.
DUONG VAN MAI: Ho Chi Minh was a man who succeeded in projecting an image of somebody who was totally dedicated to freeing his country and his people from foreign domination to the point that he sacrificed his own well-being, his own life, not having a family of his own.
To Vietnamese, that's a big sacrifice because to us everybody needs a family.
NARRATOR: Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890, the son of a minor official in the French regime.
After taking part in a demonstration against the puppet emperor and the Frenchmen who pulled his strings, Ho was expelled from school and marked for arrest.
He left Vietnam in 1911 and remained in exile for 30 years.
He served as a cook's helper aboard a French liner, and visited New York and Boston, where he worked for a time as a pastry chef at the Parker House.
He shoveled snow in London, tinted photographs in Paris.
There, Ho Chi Minh joined the French Socialist Party.
But when he discovered the anti-colonial writings of Lenin, he became a communist.
He was invited to Moscow to study, underwent training as a Soviet agent, was sometimes criticized for being a nationalist first, a communist second, and then was dispatched to China to organize a cell of other Vietnamese exiles and help establish the Indochinese Communist Party.
Through it all, "He was taut and quivering," a friend remembered, "with only one thought his country, Vietnam.
" (AIR RAID SIREN BLARING) (BOMBS WHISTLING, EXPLODING) (SHOUTING) (GUNFIRE, EXPLOSIONS) NARRATOR: By 1940, much of the world was at war again.
Germany had seized most of Western Europe, including France.
Imperial Japan threatened many of the European colonies in Asia, and occupied Vietnam, where they permitted their allies, the collaborationist French, to continue to oversee their colony.
To some Vietnamese, the coming of the Japanese seemed to signal a welcome end to white colonial rule.
But Ho Chi Minh, still in exile in China, saw the Japanese as alien invaders, no more welcome than the French.
They were only interested in exploiting his country and seizing Vietnamese crops to fill their own rice bowls.
The time had come, he said, to rally "patriots of all ages and all types, peasants, workers, merchants and soldiers" to defeat the Japanese and the collaborationist French.
In February of 1941, after three decades away from his homeland, Ho Chi Minh slipped back across the Chinese border into Vietnam and set up headquarters near the remote village of Pac Bo in a limestone cave at the side of a mountain he named for Karl Marx, overlooking a jungle stream he named for his hero, Lenin.
There, he founded a revolutionary movement, which he called the Vietnam Independence League the Viet Minh.
NARRATOR: To build and lead a fighting force for his revolution, Ho called upon Vo Nguyen Giap, a one-time teacher of French history who had instructed the children of Hanoi's elite.
Giap was an early convert to communism, whose life-long hatred for the French intensified when they beat his wife to death in prison.
Inspired by Napoleon, Lawrence of Arabia, and the communist Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, Giap had already begun to develop a distinctive theory of warfare that relied on guerrilla tactics until a full-scale conventional attack could be mounted.
In the fight for independence which he believed was coming, his armies, Giap said, would be "everywhere and nowhere.
" DUONG VAN MAI: The reason Vietnamese had always resort to guerrilla warfare was because we were a small country.
And it was just a way of fight the weak against the strong.
Don't fight unless you're sure you can win, and surprise is a big element.
Choose your own battle.
MIKE HEANEY: I had about 26 guys that day out of 45.
We were always somewhat understrength.
And this day we were quite understrength.
My platoon's on point.
MAN: Go, go, go, go, go! HEANEY: And all of a sudden the very point man, the first guy in the column, said, "VC on the trail.
VC on the trail.
" - Before I had a chance to digest this - (GUNSHOT) he went down, shot right through the chest.
(GUNFIRE) And what was a very well-laid ambush erupted.
(EXPLOSION, GUNFIRE) (GUNFIRE, SHOUTING) I knew I'd lost a bunch of guys.
I said a prayer to God saying, basically, "If you need any more guys from my platoon, take me.
Don't take any more of my men.
" As soon as I said it, I freaked myself out and said, "Holy shit.
Can I take that prayer back?" (GUNFIRE, PLANE ENGINE ROARING) (EXPLOSION, ALARM RINGING) NARRATOR: By the spring of 1945, more than three years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government was looking for allies behind the lines in Vietnam.
The Americans were hoping to find a way to undermine Japanese forces there when they were contacted by Ho Chi Minh.
DONALD GREGG: And so it was decided to drop an OSS team in to meet with the Viet Minh leadership.
Paul Hoagland was the medic on the team.
And the first thing he was told was that he must attend to their leader, who was desperately sick.
So he was taken to a grass shack where a bewhiskered, skinny man lay on a bundle of straw, desperately ill.
And that was Ho Chi Minh.
NARRATOR: The OSS, the secret wartime precursor of the CIA, supplied Ho's ragtag guerrillas with arms and marveled at how quickly they learned to handle them.
Ho Chi Minh began to call his followers the "Viet-American Army," and praised the United States as a "champion of democracy" that would surely help them end colonial rule.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, famine gripped the northern part of the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were dying of starvation while Japanese storehouses were filled with rice.
DUONG VAN MAI: In those days, garbage was collected by people pushing carts.
And my mother remembers that every morning she would see these garbage carts going around and people picking up dead bodies and throwing them on the cart.
It was incredible.
And people who lived through it never, never forgot.
NARRATOR: Duong Van Mai's father was the deputy governor of a province east of Hanoi, the son and grandson of mandarins who had all served the French.
He and his wife had 17 children.
DUONG VAN MAI: Parents who had children who were, you know, plump, were very afraid of their children being stolen and killed.
And it was really like hell on earth.
The government didn't have a clue on how to deal with this calamity.
NARRATOR: But Ho Chi Minh did.
He directed the Viet Minh to break into the Japanese storehouses wherever they could and distribute the rice to the people.
They were hailed as saviors.
(ENGINE STARTS) (EXPLOSION) NARRATOR: When an atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, and three days later a second one destroyed Nagasaki, Japanese surrender seemed imminent.
Ho Chi Minh called upon all Vietnamese to rise up and take over their own country before the Free French could reestablish their old colonial regime.
They did, in cities and towns across the country.
On September 2, 1945, the same day the Japanese formally surrendered, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese streamed into Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi to see for the first time the mysterious leader of the Viet Minh and hear him proclaim Vietnam's independence.
(HO CHI MINH SPEAKING VIETNAMESE) NARRATOR: With an OSS officer standing nearby, Ho Chi Minh began with the words of Thomas Jefferson: "All men are created equal.
They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
" DONG SI NGUYEN: GEORGE WICKES: Ho Chi Minh had great hopes that the U.
S.
would support the Vietnam desire for independence, not necessarily by intervening but by doing what it could to support an independence movement.
NARRATOR: Ho Chi Minh's hopes for American support were calculated but understandable.
President Franklin Roosevelt had promised a postwar world that would "respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live.
" But Roosevelt was dead now, and his successor, Harry Truman, had inherited a very different world.
The alliance with the Soviet Union that had won the Second World War had collapsed.
The Soviets now occupied the Eastern European countries they had overrun, and hoped to spread their influence farther, into Iran, Turkey, and the Mediterranean.
A new cold war had begun.
French president Charles De Gaulle warned that if the United States insisted on independence for her colonies, France might have no choice but to "fall into the Russian orbit.
" The United States must do nothing to undercut the restoration of France's empire, including Vietnam.
WICKES: There were hardly any Americans in Vietnam, you know State Department people, consular officials, a few businessmen.
Hardly anyone from this country knew where Vietnam was located.
NARRATOR: George Wickes was part of a seven-man OSS mission sent to Saigon, the largest city in the south.
The United States was officially neutral, hoping the French and Viet Minh could reach some peaceful solution on their own.
Allied leaders had agreed temporarily to divide Vietnam into two separate zones.
Nationalist Chinese troops were to handle things in the north.
British colonial troops would try to perform the same task in the south, where rival factions, including the French and Viet Minh, were already fighting in the streets of Saigon.
WICKES: No one was in charge.
On both sides, there was brutality and atrocity and violence.
It wasn't quite a civil war but it was getting very close to civil war in the streets of Saigon.
NARRATOR: Lieutenant Colonel Peter Dewey, the 28-year-old commander of the OSS in Saigon, tried to make sense of it all.
WICKES: Right from the start he was in touch with everybody not only the French, but very soon he established a connection with various Vietnamese groups.
The Viet Minh soon established themselves as the most successful.
NARRATOR: Dewey, who spoke fluent French, brokered talks between a Viet Minh spokesman and the senior French representative in the city.
His efforts infuriated British general Douglas Gracey, who commanded Allied forces in the south.
Gracey was convinced that French control should be reimposed as soon as possible.
By conferring with the Viet Minh, Gracey said, Colonel Dewey had become a "subversive" force.
(GUNFIRE) The violence in and around Saigon escalated.
Colonel Dewey urgently cabled his superiors: Vietnam "is burning," he wrote.
"The French and British are finished here and the United States," he concluded, "ought to clear out of Southeast Asia.
" (GUNFIRE) Two days later, September 26, 1945, he set out for the airport, prepared to fly to OSS headquarters.
At a roadblock, the Viet Minh mistook Dewey for a Frenchman and opened fire.
(GUNFIRE) He was killed instantly.
WICKES: Ho Chi Minh wrote to the United States lamenting the death of Dewey, whom he recognized as a person sympathetic to his cause.
It seemed a terrible irony that Dewey, who was doing what he could to help the Vietnamese independence movement should have been killed by the Vietnamese by a mistake.
(ELECTRONIC BUZZING, MUTED HELICOPTER BLADES BEATING) An elderly African-American woman answered the door.
I think she knew the instant she saw us why we were there.
And the padre said, uh, "I'm I'm terribly sorry to inform you, but your son was killed in Vietnam.
" And she just sat down.
Didn't say a word.
Then the her husband says, "No, there's a mistake.
" He comes back with this letter.
And he said, "Look, see? We got it yesterday, my our son was still alive yesterday.
" And the chaplain looked at the letter and he said, "It's a week old.
I think your son was killed on the day he wrote this letter.
" ("LA MARSEILLAISE" PLAYING) NARRATOR: In the fall of 1945, a week after Colonel Dewey's death, fresh French troops began arriving in Saigon, taking over from the British.
They quickly established control of the city and set out to reoccupy the entire country.
Ho Chi Minh hoped somehow to achieve independence without a war with France, and he still hoped the United States would intervene.
"You never had an empire, never exploited the Asian peoples," he would tell a visiting American journalist.
"Do not be blinded by this issue of communism.
" LESLIE GELB: He did not want to fight the French as an enemy of America.
And, in fact, I saw the letters he wrote to President Truman saying, "We believe in the same things you believe.
" Those letters I saw in the CIA files, they had never been given to President Truman.
(CHILDREN SHOUTING) NARRATOR: In June of 1946, Ho Chi Minh returned to Paris in a fruitless attempt to get the French to live up to a promise they had made of increased autonomy for his country.
While Ho was away, General Giap began consolidating communist control of the revolution.
He conducted a merciless purge of members of rival nationalist parties and people he called "reactionary saboteurs" landlords and moneylenders, Trotskyites and Catholics, men and women accused of collaborating with the French.
Hundreds were shot, drowned, buried alive.
LAM QUANG THI: NARRATOR: On December 19, 1946, after months of building tension, fighting broke out in Hanoi between the Viet Minh and the French.
(GUNFIRE) The Viet Minh proved no match for French firepower.
Ho, Giap, and their comrades slipped out of the city and returned to their mountain stronghold far to the north.
"Those who have rifles will use their rifles," Ho declared in a radio address calling for a nationwide guerrilla war.
"Those who have swords will use swords; those who have no swords will use spades or sticks.
" NGUYEN NGOC: NARRATOR: But the country Ho Chi Minh hoped to unite was itself bitterly divided.
Families were being torn apart.
Despite her father's position in the French government, Duong Van Mai's sister felt compelled to answer Ho's call.
DUONG VAN MAI: My older sister Thang was married to a man who had great sympathy for the Viet Minh.
And by that time Ho Chi Minh had evacuated his government to the mountain base.
So my sister and her husband trekked all the way from Hanoi toward the base in order to join the resistance against the French.
So the Vietnam War was really a civil war down to the family level.
NARRATOR: France poured thousands of men into Vietnam French regulars, European mercenaries, and colonial troops from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Senegal who fought alongside an army of Cambodians, Laotians, and anti-communist Vietnamese.
French forces managed to occupy most of the large towns and province capitals and established hundreds of isolated outposts.
The French also set out to try to win over rural Vietnamese through a program they called pacification pacification building dikes, schools and roads, and vaccinating children.
DUONG VAN MAI: The French would pacify a village and during the daytime they could control it.
But at night the Viet Minh would come back.
And so it was never completely secure.
My father would shake his head and said, you know, "Pacification is really futile because it's like trying to hold sand in your fingers.
" NARRATOR: The Viet Minh mined roads, blew up bridges and railroads, ambushed French patrols, and then disappeared.
French soldiers sometimes took revenge on the nearest village, burning homes, raping women, executing men suspected of aiding the Viet Minh.
LE CONG HUAN: NARRATOR: But the communists proved every bit as ruthless as the French.
"It is better to kill even those who might be innocent," one commander said, "than to let a guilty person go.
" And they specifically targeted anyone who had links to the French.
DUONG VAN MAI: Once my father started working for the French, then he was a target, especially the higher he rose, the bigger target he became.
A Viet Minh agent actually came in with a pistol to shoot him but at the last moment decided not to.
TRANG NGOC ("HARRY") HUE: (GUNFIRE) NARRATOR: French casualties continued to mount.
"There are days when we are so discouraged that we would like to give it all up," a French soldier wrote his mother.
"Convoys under attack, roads cut, "firing in all directions every night, the indifference at home.
" ROGER HARRIS: While I was there I had the opportunity to call my mother, you know.
And I was telling my mother what was happening over there, and I was telling her how she shouldn't believe what she sees in the newspaper and sees on television because we're losing the war.
I said, "And you'll probably never see me again because we're the most northern outpost that the Marines have, you know.
" We could literally could look right into North Vietnam.
We could see the sparks when the guns fired on us.
And I said, "And everybody in my unit is dying.
I probably won't be coming back.
" And my mother said, "No, you're coming back.
" She said, "I talk to God every day and you're special.
You're coming back.
" And I said, "Ma, everybody's mother thinks that they're special.
You know, I'm putting pieces of special people in bags.
" (EXPLOSION) ED HERLIHY: President Truman's dramatic announcement that Russia had the atom secret caused state departments all over the world to stir uneasily.
HAL KUSHNER: We were very aware that there was a Cold War and that we had an enemy, and that enemy was the Soviet Union.
The United States stood at one pole and the Soviet Union stood at the other pole.
It was kind of a Manichean dynamic that there was evil and there was good.
And we were good, and the other side was evil.
It wasn't morally ambiguous.
NARRATOR: Just a few weeks after Russia became a nuclear power, there was more stunning news communist forces under Mao Zedong seized control of China.
Separate communist insurrections were also underway in the British colonies of Burma and Malaya.
In January 1950, Mao formally recognized Ho Chi Minh's insurgency and agreed to provide the arms, equipment, and military training he had been seeking.
The Soviets recognized the Viet Minh as well, and also offered help.
President Truman, who was being blamed by his political opponents for having "lost" China, and having failed to "contain" communism, approved a $23 million aid program for the French in Vietnam.
The United States was no longer neutral.
SAM WILSON: We were caught on the horns of a dilemma of how can we maintain our friendship and our alliance with the French and support them in Indochina while we, as a former colony ourselves, sympathized with the Vietnamese and their aspirations for freedom and independence? ED HERLIHY: A highly trained and well-equipped North Korean Army swarmed across the 38th parallel to attack unprepared South Korean defenders.
(EXPLOSION) NARRATOR: In June of 1950, China's ally, communist North Korea, invaded South Korea.
(GUNFIRE) President Truman ordered tens of thousands of American ground troops onto the Korean Peninsula.
The United States and its allies eventually pushed the invaders back north.
Meanwhile in southern China, Mao's military was beginning to turn the Viet Minh into a modern fighting force, capable of inflicting a heavy toll on the French occupiers.
In July, the Truman administration quietly dispatched transport planes and a shipload of jeeps to Vietnam.
Thirty-five military advisors went along to oversee their use.
None of them, and no one in the American embassy, spoke a word of Vietnamese.
But the United States was now officially in Vietnam.
In October of 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops began pouring into North Korea, driving the allies back down the peninsula.
As that fighting raged, Truman continued to increase military aid for the French war in Vietnam.
HARRY TRUMAN: If aggression is successful in Korea, we can expect it to spread throughout Asia and Europe and to this hemisphere.
(MORTAR FIRE) We are fighting in Korea for our own national security and survival.
("MEAN OLD WORLD" BY T-BONE WALKER PLAYING) NARRATOR: In the autumn of 1951, a young Massachusetts congressman named John F.
Kennedy dined at the rooftop bar of the Hotel Majestic overlooking Saigon.
(DISTANT GUN FIRE) As he and his party ate, they could hear the thunder of guns across the Saigon River.
French commanders assured Kennedy that with more American support, French rule would be re-established.
But Kennedy spent two hours with Seymour Topping, a seasoned American reporter, who gave him a very different perspective: the French were losing, he said, and many Vietnamese, who had once admired the Americans, were beginning to despise them for backing the French.
Kennedy believed the reporter.
Unless the United States could persuade the Vietnamese that it was as opposed to "injustice and inequality" as it was to communism, he told his constituents when he got home, the current effort would result in "foredoomed failure.
" (ROSEMARY CLOONEY SINGING "COME ON-A MY HOUSE") Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you candy NARRATOR: In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, in part because he promised to take a tougher stance on communism.
That year, American taxpayers were footing more than 30% of the bill for the French war in Vietnam.
Within two years, that number would rise to nearly 80%.
CLOONEY: Everything, everything, everything RICHARD NIXON: And many of you ask this question: Why is the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars supporting the forces of the French Union in the fight against communism in Indochina? I think perhaps if we go over to the map here, I can indicate to you why it is so vitally important.
Here's Indochina.
If Indochina falls, Thailand is put in almost impossible position.
The same is true of Malaya with its rubber and tin.
Now may I say that as far as the war in Indochina is concerned, that I was there, right on the battlefield, or close to it, and it's a bloody war, and it's a bitter one.
(EXPLOSIONS) NARRATOR: By 1953, the French had been fighting for seven years.
They had suffered over 100,000 casualties and failed to pacify the countryside.
Six commanders had come and gone.
Nevertheless, the seventh commander, General Henri Navarre, assured his countrymen that victory was near.
"Now we can see it clearly," he said, "like the light at the end of the tunnel.
" Meanwhile, large parts of the French population were horrified by reports of French brutality and the widespread use of napalm gelatinized petroleum that burned foliage, homes, and human flesh.
When returning French troops disembarked at Marseilles, members of the longshoremen's union pelted them with rocks.
Parisian leftists began to call the conflict "La Sale Guerre" "The Dirty War.
" (POLICE SIRENS WAILING, PEOPLE CHANTING) RON FERRIZZI: The camera was a close-up, was over the shoulder of this storm trooper who had a kid by the scruff of his shirt and he smacks him.
REPORTER: People screaming FERRIZZI: At that moment in time, I realized that anybody who really cared for America was sent halfway around the world chasing some ghost in a jungle.
In the meantime, my country's being torn apart.
So I saw somebody who looked like my dad hitting somebody who looked like me.
Whose side would I be on? ED HERLIHY: In Korea, three years of combat end as United Nations and communist negotiators at Panmunjom sign a truce.
NARRATOR: In July of 1953, the Korean War ended in a negotiated settlement and a still-divided peninsula.
American policymakers saw it as proof that communism in Asia could be contained.
HERLIHY: And in Washington, a dramatic evening press conference NARRATOR: That fall, the French indicated their willingness to begin talks to end the fighting in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh agreed to meet.
But before the negotiators were to convene in Geneva, each side sought to improve its position on the battlefield.
General Navarre set up a fortified base in a remote valley in northwestern Vietnam called Dien Bien Phu, where he hoped to lure the Viet Minh into a decisive battle.
Navarre was certain that superior French firepower and air support would crush any attack by the Viet Minh.
He and his commanders saw no need to worry about the jungle-covered hills that overlooked his 11,000 men, dug in on the valley floor.
The artillery commander was so confident of victory, he complained, "I have more guns than I need.
" General Giap saw his chance.
"We decided to wipe out at all costs the whole enemy force at Dien Bien Phu," he remembered.
To do it, he pulled off one of the greatest logistical feats in military history a feat that would be restaged in propaganda films and celebrated for decades.
A quarter of a million civilian porters nearly half of them women moved everything he needed for a siege, from sacks of rice to disassembled artillery pieces, on foot through the jungle.
Giap surrounded the valley with 50,000 soldiers and 200 big guns, dug-in and camouflaged so well they could not be spotted from the air.
On March 13, 1954, Viet Minh artillery on the hillsides began raining down 50 shells a minute on the French troops huddled below.
(EXPLOSIONS) The airstrip was destroyed.
The besieged troops could only be reinforced and resupplied by airdrop.
The French artillery commander, who had underestimated his enemy, committed suicide.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: The airlift to Dien Bien Phu continues vital men and supplies for the heroic garrison that has defied the massed Viet Minh onslaughts for over six weeks.
Today, Dien Bien Phu is a human dam trying to stem the red tide that threatens to engulf Southeast Asia.
NARRATOR: The French government begged President Eisenhower to intervene.
He refused to act without Congressional approval and support from European allies.
Britain said no and the Congress would not support unilateral action.
JOHN F.
KENNEDY: The communists under Ho Chi Minh are able to claim that they are fighting for independence and the French appear to be fighting for a maintain maintenance of colonial rule.
I therefore believe that before the United States moves in, in any degree, that independence must be granted to the people, that the people must support the struggle.
NARRATOR: "I am convinced," Eisenhower confided to his diary, "that no military victory is possible in this theater.
" Still, without consulting Congress, the president had secretly sent more American transport planes, their markings painted over and flown by civilian contractors, to help resupply the desperate French troops at Dien Bien Phu.
GELB: Everyone understood that in and of itself, Vietnam didn't mean very much.
But they believed, I believed, if we lost it, that the rest of Asia would tumble to communism.
EISENHOWER: You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the falling domino principle.
You have a row of dominoes set up, and you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.
(EXPLOSION) (MUTED GUNFIRE) NARRATOR: On the afternoon of May 7, 1954, after 55 days of siege, the exhausted French forces at Dien Bien Phu surrendered.
They had lost 8,000 men, killed, wounded, or missing.
General Giap had lost three times as many, but he had won a great victory.
NGUYEN THOI BUNG: NARRATOR: Even Duong Van Mai's parents could not help but be impressed.
DUONG VAN MAI: They were very proud that the Viet Minh had defeated the French, this great Western power.
Admiration and respect on the one hand, but fear on the other hand.
And fear was the stronger emotion.
NARRATOR: "We have been caught bluffing by our enemies," Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson said.
"Today it is Indochina, tomorrow Asia may be in flames.
And the day after, the Western Alliance will lie in ruins.
" DONALD GREGG: We should have seen it as the end of the colonial era in Southeast Asia, which it really was.
But instead we saw it in Cold War terms, and we saw it as a defeat for the free world that was related to the rise of China.
And it was a total misreading of a pivotal event, which cost us very dearly.
(CHANTING) (NEWSREEL MUSIC PLAYING) JACK TOBIN: The former home of the League of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, where East is meeting West in the international conference that may decisively affect the political future of Asia.
NARRATOR: The day after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, diplomats from nine nations gathered in Geneva to settle the future of Vietnam.
The talks dragged on for nearly two-and-a-half months.
Despite their victory, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap could not keep fighting without more support from China and the Soviet Union.
But China had lost a million men in Korea and did not want to become involved in another war along its border.
The Soviet Union was hoping to ease tensions with the West.
Both of Ho Chi Minh's communist patrons urged him to agree to a negotiated settlement, a partition like the one that had ended the Korean War.
Ho had no option but to give in.
In the end, no one was satisfied.
Vietnam was temporarily to be divided at the 17th parallel.
The 130,000 French-led troops stationed in the North were to withdraw to the South, and somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000 Viet Minh were to "re-group" to the North.
The two halves would be separated by a demilitarized zone until an election could be held to reunify North and South Vietnam, an election everyone knew Ho Chi Minh would win.
NGUYEN VAN TONG: (CHEERING) NGUYEN THOI BUNG: KARL MARLANTES: We had started walking up and we had probably gotten about a third of the way up the hill and then they unleashed on us.
(EXPLOSION, GUNFIRE) We were in the middle of this horrible shit sandwich.
That's what we called it.
(EXPLOSION, GUNFIRE) One of the things that I learned in the war is that we're not the top species on the planet because we're nice.
People talk a lot about how well the military turns, you know, kids into, you know, killing machines and stuff.
And I'll always argue that it's just finishing school.
(GUNFIRE) (SHOUTING) NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Braving the dangers of the open sea in tiny, rickety craft, thousands of Roman Catholic and Buddhist faith have found life impossible under the communists.
For them, it's freedom or nothing.
NARRATOR: Under the Geneva Accords, civilians living in either half of Vietnam who wanted to relocate to the other would have 300 days to do so.
DUONG VAN MAI: My mother and father wanted to stay and meet my sister Thang again because they knew Thang would come back.
But on the other hand they couldn't risk that.
They were convinced that when Ho Chi Minh and his government arrived in Hanoi, my father would be the first one to be killed and all of us would be persecuted.
And I remember the day we left.
I looked around and I thought, "I never come back here again.
" It was extremely traumatic.
It was like the ground was suddenly cut from under you.
NARRATOR: In the end, some 900,000 refugees, including more than half of all the Catholics living in the North, fled to the South, many of them aboard American ships.
The United States hoped somehow to encourage the building of a legitimate government in the South.
That government was now headed by Ngo Dinh Diem.
Both a Roman Catholic and a Confucian in a largely Buddhist country, he was a celibate bachelor who had once planned to be a priest.
GELB: The war for us really started when we became the partner, or I would say the victim, of President Diem.
We were going to help him turn South Vietnam into a democracy.
That's what he said he wanted to do.
And we believed him.
NARRATOR: Like Ho Chi Minh, Diem had spent years abroad seeking support for his own brand of Vietnamese nationalism.
He was a veteran politician whose loathing for the French was matched only by his hatred for the communists, who had imprisoned him and buried alive his eldest brother and his nephew.
Diem was aloof, autocratic, mistrustful of anyone much beyond his own family.
He also proved to be shrewd, resourceful, and skilled at exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents.
But he faced a daunting task in creating a new country.
The French, who still had thousands of troops stationed in the South, detested Diem.
Several provinces were under the sway of religious sects with armies of their own.
Tens of thousands of Viet Minh soldiers had gone north, but several thousand cadre trained and dedicated Communist Party workers had stayed behind to organize resistance in the countryside.
And Saigon itself was ruled by the Binh Xuyen, a crime syndicate backed by the French.
RUFUS PHILLIPS: And the French were behind the Binh Xuyen, sort of supporting them because they didn't want Diem to succeed.
And that became the central contest.
NARRATOR: Some in the CIA believed that Diem could be the savior of South Vietnam.
Others were not so sure.
"He is a messiah without a message," one diplomat reported to Washington.
The U.
S.
ambassador agreed.
On April 27, 1955, President Eisenhower decided to end American support for Diem's regime.
(GUNFIRE) But then Diem made an all-out assault on the Binh Xuyen syndicate.
(SIRENS BLARING, GUNFIRE) DUONG VAN MAI: Suddenly in the middle of the day we heard gunfire and then we saw flames and the neighborhood was burning.
MICHAEL FITZMAURICE: There are hundreds of dead and wounded on both sides as the street fighting continues for an entire week.
For the United States, the situation presents a grave problem.
Diem finally regains control of Saigon.
NARRATOR: In the end, Diem's forces prevailed.
Eisenhower now saw no option but to stick with Diem.
The French then announced their intention to withdraw completely from South Vietnam, ending nearly a century of occupation.
PHILLIPS: Diem became wildly popular because he seemed to embody the nationalist cause in the South.
He succeeded in getting the French out of Vietnam all the way.
And Ho Chi Minh had only got them out of the northern half.
NARRATOR: Flush with victory, Diem called for a referendum in the South.
The CIA warned him not to meddle too much with the returns.
But when the ballots were counted, Diem claimed to have won 98.
2% of the vote.
On October 26, 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem named himself the first president of the brand-new Republic of Vietnam.
The election to reunify the North and South that had been promised at Geneva would never be held.
GELB: He became our ally, or rather our master, because the goal of preventing the communists from taking over the South was so strong that we couldn't afford for him to lose.
So Diem started to boss us around.
And this was a typical relationship.
You need any ally you believe to be the centerpiece of your foreign policy.
They understand that right away.
And the tail wags the dog.
ED HERLIHY: From the Far East comes a distinguished visitor.
President Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam is accorded one of President Eisenhower's rare airport greetings, as he arrives for a four-day state visit.
President Diem, one of America's staunchest allies in Southeast Asia, will seek an increase in aid to shore up his country against increasing communist pressure, a request to which the president lends a sympathetic ear.
NARRATOR: Most politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, now seemed to share the changing views of Senator John F.
Kennedy.
South Vietnam is "our offspring," he said.
"We cannot abandon it.
" If it fell, the United States would be "held responsible and our prestige in Asia will sink to a new low.
" There had never before been a South Vietnamese nation, but Americans, who had rebuilt much of their own country during the New Deal and had helped rebuild Western Europe through the Marshall Plan, were convinced they could build one nonetheless.
(BLOWS WHISTLE) Eisenhower ordered scores of American civilians to South Vietnam, full of plans for economic development meant to win, he hoped, the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.
But those civilians would always be outnumbered by military advisors, with orders to modernize, train, and equip Diem's forces, now called the Army of the Republic of Vietnam the ARVN.
Some ARVN officers found American methods unsuited to the guerrilla war they expected to wage against the communists.
Most American military advisors were veterans of the war in Korea, determined to prepare South Vietnamese forces to slow a conventional invasion from the North.
But no one in North Vietnam was planning a conventional invasion.
Ho Chi Minh was focused on rebuilding his country, devastated by more than a decade of war.
The communists imposed brutal land reforms modeled on those underway in China with a ruthlessness that left thousands of people dead, including not only landlords who had sided with the French, but also many villagers who had fought with the Viet Minh.
Ho Chi Minh was still determined to reunite Vietnam.
But he worried that if he took direct military action against the South, the United States would be drawn more deeply into the struggle.
He cautioned his comrades in the South to put their faith in political agitation and avoid violence.
But that message rang hollow among embattled Southern revolutionaries struggling to survive under Diem's increasingly harsh regime.
In a campaign he called "Denounce the Communists," Diem had imprisoned tens of thousands of citizens without trial and ordered the executions of hundreds more.
Now, the communists took matters into their own hands and began attacking South Vietnamese officials.
LE QUAN CONG: NARRATOR: As violence in South Vietnam intensified, new leaders emerged in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh would remain the face of the revolution around the world, but he now began to share power with men who were growing impatient with his caution, men about whom Americans knew almost nothing.
The most important proved to be a carpenter's son from Quang Tri province in the South named Le Duan.
He had helped found the Indochinese Communist Party, survived nearly ten years in a French prison, and proved himself a shrewd political infighter as he rose to become First Secretary of the party.
NGUYEN NGOC: NARRATOR: By 1959, Le Duan and his hardline allies were gaining influence within the North Vietnamese Politburo and beginning to change its policy.
They now argued that Hanoi should do everything within its power to help Southern revolutionaries remove Diem by force.
NARRATOR: Now, bands of 40 to 50 armed Viet Minh began slipping back home into South Vietnam, following jungle paths hacked through the Laotian mountains that the Americans would soon call the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Violence against the Diem regime steadily accelerated.
(GUNFIRE) (SIREN BLARING) On the evening of July 8, 1959, at Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon, six American military advisors were watching a movie in their mess hall.
Viet Minh guerrillas, who had crept silently into the compound, opened fire through the windows.
(RAPID GUNFIRE) Major Dale Buis from Pender, Nebraska, and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnand from Copperas Cove, Texas, were killed.
They were the first American soldiers to die from enemy fire in the Vietnam War.
JOHN KENNEDY: We must prove all over again, to a watching world, as we sit on a most conspicuous stage, whether this nation, conceived as it is with its freedom of choice, its breadth of opportunity, its range of alternatives, can compete with the single-minded advance of the communist system.
NARRATOR: On November 8, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president of the United States.
His vice president was Senator Lyndon Johnson.
They had narrowly beaten Vice President Richard Nixon and his running mate, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.
During the campaign, both Kennedy and Nixon had pledged to hold the line against international communism wherever it seemed to be a threat.
But very few Americans knew or cared about what was going on in Vietnam.
Six weeks after Kennedy's election, at a remote jungle village called Tan Lap near the Cambodian border, representatives of southern revolutionary groups met to form a new organization to replace the Viet Minh, dedicated to overthrowing Ngo Dinh Diem and ousting the foreigners supporting him.
Behind the scenes, Le Duan and his communist comrades in Hanoi were orchestrating everything.
The new organization would be called the National Liberation Front the NLF.
The armed wing of the NLF was called the People's Liberation Armed Forces, but its enemies in Saigon and Washington preferred a more disparaging term.
In their eyes, the revolutionaries were Communist Traitors to the Vietnamese Nation the Viet Cong.
(MUTED SHOUTING) HUY DUC: JOHN KENNEDY: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
TIM O'BRIEN: For me, I'd always thought of courage as charging enemy bunkers or standing up under fire.
But just to walk, day after day from village to village and through the paddies and up into the mountains, just to get up in the morning and look out at the land and think, "In a few minutes I'll be walking out there and will my corpse be there, over there? Will I lose a leg out there?" Just to walk felt incredibly brave.
I would sometimes look at my legs as I walked, thinking, how am I doing this? ("A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL" BY BOB DYLAN PLAYING) Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been, my darling young one? I've stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard And it's a hard, it's a hard It's a hard, it's a hard It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son? And what did you see, my darling young one? I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin' I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin' I saw a white ladder all covered with water I saw 10,000 talkers whose tongues were all broken I saw guns with sharp swords in the hands of young children And it's a hard, it's a hard It's a hard, and it's a hard It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall And it's a hard, it's a hard It's a hard, and it's a hard It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
ANNOUNCER: Learn more about the film and find additional resources at PBS.
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"The Vietnam War" is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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To order, visit shoppbs.
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ANNOUNCER: Bank of America proudly supports Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's film "The Vietnam War" because fostering different perspectives and civil discourse around important issues furthers progress, equality, and a more connected society.
Go to bankofamerica.
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ANNOUNCER: Major support for "The Vietnam War" was provided by members of the Better Angels Society, including Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, Diane and Hal Brierley, Amy and David Abrams, John and Catherine Debs, the Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, the Montrone Family, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, the Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, the Lynch Foundation, the Roger and Rosemary Enrico Foundation, and by these additional funders.
Major funding was also provided by David H.
Koch The Blavatnik Family Foundation The Park Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S.
and James L.
Knight Foundation, the Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Ford Foundation JustFilms, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by viewers like you.
Thank you.