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Porkins Policy Radio episode 113 Michael Swanson on Ken Burns Vietnam Propaganda

Michael Swanson, the author of The War State, joins me for an in-depth discussion of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Vietnam documentary series. I begin the conversation by discussing my own fascination with the Vietnam War. I talk about the influence my father has had on my understanding of the war, touching on his experiences with the army when he was drafted in 1969. Michael and I then dive into the film itself. We look at some of the serious flaws and aspects that the we felt were left out with the film including the CIA and drug trafficking. Michael and I dive deeper into the bizarre narrative that Burns and Novick craft, whereby the politicians and military leaders are never shown actually making policy decisions, but instead are shown as making bad choices with good intentions. Michael and I explore this concept in some depth and offer up our own reasons for why the Vietnam war was not started “in good faith by decent men.” Michael and I also critique the way in which the Gulf of Tonkin Incident is handled in the film. We explain how the film avoids admitting that the whole incident was made up and instead repeats an outright lie.

In the second hour Michael and I talk about some of the government talking heads that appear in film such as: John Negroponte, Leslie Gelb, Rufus Philips, and Donald Gregg. We explore their backgrounds and the destructive impact they had on the Vietnamese people. I talk with Michael about the Phoenix Program which is only briefly touched on in the whole series. We explore why Burns and Novick lay most of the blame of the Phoenix Program at the feet of the Vietnamese. Michael also elaborates on this by talking about the negative portrayal of the Vietnamese through out the film. We pay particular attention to North Vietnamese leader Le Duan and South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Michael and I also discuss the documentaries skewed version of the assassination of Diem, and how yet again the CIA is almost completely airbrushed out of it. Michael and I touch on Lucien Conein’s integral role in the assassination as well as heroin trafficking. We also discuss the CIA’s war in Laos and discuss the overarching agenda behind the film. Michael and I also talk about the impact of Vietnam and its parallels with the Iraq and Afghan War.

Download PPR episode 113

Show Notes:

The War State

The War State (book)

Wall Street Window

PPR Special Michael Swanson Ken Burns Vietnam Extra

The Vietnam War

Douglas Valentine: Expectations for PBS/Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War”

Reflections on the Vietnam War and the Ken Burns/PBS Series: John Ketwig

Alfred W. McCoy: The History of the Southeast Asian Drug Trade

What the Pentagon Papers Do and Do Not Reveal w/ Peter Dale Scott (1971)

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