“Last Days in Vietnam”: propaganda flick by JFK’s niece

As U.S. foreign policy in Iraq faces its biggest defeat since the Indochina Wars, the niece of President Kennedy – who escalated the U.S. presence in Vietnam – has directed Last Days in Vietnam, the cinematic equivalent of putting a blossom on a turd. Rory Kennedy’s film is so shamefully one-sided that it’s hardly a documentary – rather, it’s pure propaganda.

As the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident nears this August – that fabricated hoax LBJ exploited to further escalate U.S. military activities in Vietnam – and the 40th anniversary of Vietnam’s liberation approaches next April 30, Last desperately tries to find something positive to say about the role the American military and diplomats played as the “Yankees go home” scenario unfolded and the communists took over what was then Saigon.

According to the film, U.S. soldiers and State Department officials took great pains, at grave personal risk, to evacuate thousands of the Vietnamese, including military, who had worked for and married U.S. personnel, as well as the up to 5,000-7,000 Yanks still “in country.”

The filmmakers willfully expunge history and all context from their one-dimensional exercise in disinformation. For example:

It’s alleged that during 1968’s Tet Offensive the communists executed thousands of South Vietnamese at Hue. However, the countless war crimes committed by Washington are never mentioned. Ever hear of the My Lai Massacre? How about the 1972 bombing of Hanoi – during Christmas!? Or the mining of Haiphong Harbor? The list of American atrocities committed against the Indochinese is endless: intervention in nations that never attacked the USA, millions murdered by carpet bombing, land mines, Agent Orange, etc., that would require an entire series of documentaries to record. But Kennedy goes out of her way to vilify the Reds (remember, her father, Bobby Kennedy, served on anti-communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunting Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations).

Simplistically depicting the Vietnam War as a conflict between north and south, Kennedy neglects to mention the National Liberation Front, the resistance fighters in the south. According to the Pentagon Papers, 300,000 people belonged to the NLF by 1962, when Ms. Kennedy’s uncle was president. Millions of people in the south must have supported the NLF in order for the Tet Offensive to have been carried out in 1968, let alone for the south to be liberated seven years later, beating both the Americans and the army America supplied and funded. The South Vietnamese army “eroded” in 1975, but Kennedy never ponders why the North Vietnamese Army and the “Viet Cong” didn’t.

This agitprop pic never makes any effort to show the other side of the story because the “Viet Cong” – the NLF – were the south’s real patriots. There’s something even Kennedy can’t hide: Look closely at the newsreel clips as the North Vietnamese Army tanks roll into Saigon (later renamed Ho Chi Minh City). Not only are the soldiers jubilant, but look at the smiling faces of the Vietnamese masses as they are freed from decades of Japanese, French, and Yankee occupation.

The jury is still out as to what JFK would have done in Vietnam if he had a second term. Some, like Oliver Stone, contend he planned to pull out of Vietnam (which Stone and others believe is a major reason why he was liquidated). And Rory’s father, Bobby Kennedy, did run as a peace candidate in 1968, although again, bullets cut short his life. Who knows how a possible Bobby presidency might have ended the war? Instead we got Tricky Dick’s ascension to the presidency in 1968.

The U.S. military is arguably the most destabilizing force on Earth, with bases straddling the globe and troops forever intervening in other countries. Meanwhile, Washington’s empire is bankrupting our country, that can’t even take care of those hapless soldiers whom politicians and corporations casually send abroad for foreign misadventures – should they eventually make it back home outside of body bags.

Rory Kennedy’s despicable flick might be called Last Days in Vietnam, but these are certainly not the last days of Vietnam. The Vietnamese won the war and they are winning the peace.

Last Days in Vietnam will premiere on PBS (your tax dollars at work!) American Experience in Winter/Spring 2015.

Photo: Some of the victims of the My Lai massacre. Photo taken by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968, in the aftermath of the massacre, showing mostly women and children dead on a road. Wikipedia


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.