The US code of honor is broken by US Intelligence’s dishonesty in The Uncounted Enemy and by US soldiers’ disobedience in Last Days in Vietnam. Wajiha R Rizvi explores the differing motivations and objectives involved, and the implications of the decisions that were made.
Rory Kennedy’s documentary film, Last Days in Vietnam (2014) depicts the minute-by-minute evacuation in Saigon in 1975 and builds upon the conspiracy of the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) revealed in The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (1982), a controversial documentary aired as part of the CBS Reports Series in 1982. Producer of the documentary, George Crile III exposes what narrator Mike Wallace calls, “a conspiracy of the highest levels of American Intelligence to suppress and alter critical intelligence on the enemy leading up to the Tet Offensive”. The conspiracy centres around the allegation that truthful information regarding the statistics, strength, and filtration capabilities of the Viet Cong Communists in Vietnam was hidden from the US public, and high command. Burton Benjamin, former vice president and director of CBS News, describes the documentary as, “an exposé”, which reveals “a deliberate plot to fool the American public, the Congress, and perhaps even the White House into believing we were winning a war that we in fact were losing” in his book Fair Play: CBS, General Westmoreland, and How a Television Documentary Went Wrong. The Uncounted Enemy reveals the conspiracy that hindered proper planning to win a war, while Last Days in Vietnam shows the aftermath of the conspiracy and the absence of exit strategy when the Americans lost the war.
“a deliberate plot to fool the American public, the Congress, and perhaps even the White House into believing we were winning a war that we in fact were losing”
The Uncounted Enemy offers evidence of the conspiracy and repercussions of the erroneous information regarding infiltration of 20,000 enemies into the battle field every month via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It confronts General Westmoreland with questions of “Duty, Honor, Country” (McChristian) and it debates the enemy’s strength against, what Peter C. Rollins (author of Historical Interpretation or Ambush Journalism?) describes as, “the order of the battle”, by juxtaposing the CIA’s footage of the enemy planning countrywide attacks with the Tet Offensive. It concludes that the Tet Offensive was a repercussion of the erroneous figures quoted by the commander, General William Westmoreland. Crile juxtaposes old press clips and graphics of CIA figures with a present-day (1982) interview with General Westmoreland, to highlight the contradictions in his statements regarding the enemy, infiltration and support numbers in South Vietnam. The intelligence officers testify to the conspiracy of a 300,000-troop ceiling imposed by MACV. The Uncounted Enemy debates the authenticity of the figures provided by Adams, Hawkins, and McChristian of the CIA’s Board of National Estimates, and compares them with the figures quoted by the command to point to the implications of the inaccurate information.
The implications include defeat and serious evacuation issues of the Americans and their allies in Vietnam. Last Days in Vietnam shows Lionel Rosenblatt from the State Department saying that he pressed the government to evacuate his counterparts from Vietnam, fearing that they would otherwise be killed. Rosenblatt made an unauthorized trip to the Saigon embassy and ran into Joe McBride, who set up a black op to get 450 Vietnamese on cargo flights, buses, and boats. Crile includes historical footage of the US’s rush to leave Saigon and celebrates the American mavericks who refused White House orders to evacuate only US citizens as heroes, suggesting that they did the right thing by saving the lives of many non-Americans in Vietnam. The film strengthens American soldiers’ image of “trying to do good, for a change” (Thompson, 2015) as opposed to their negative image as a militarily invincible muscle which justifies war in the name of peace.
Last Days in Vietnam focuses on this rescue effort, particularly on Paul Jacobs and his crew on the USS Kirk as they save the lives of 30,000 refugees. On the ground, soldiers work beyond the orders of the high command and those of the Congress and the voters to save the allies along with the Americans.
Both Last Days in Vietnam and The Uncounted Enemy reflect violation of the US code of honor, though the objectives and implications of the two violations are different. Last Days in Vietnam focuses on mavericks denying the orders of the high command to do the right thing in the interest of humanity. The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception focuses on the CIA-MACV dispute and their lack of responsibility for the consequences of the miscommunication and incorrect statements and claims. The Uncounted Enemy reflects egotistical tendencies amongst the higher command that caused internal instability and lack of trust. The Uncounted Enemy hints at the CIA-MACV tussle and explores General Westmoreland’s motivation behind his misleading of the public about the strength of the enemy. It focuses on actions that heightened tensions with President Lyndon B. Johnson and lost the loyalty of the American public. The Uncounted Enemy highlights the President’s desire to see a victory in the trenches, juxtaposed with clips of public protest and demonstrations during the period, while the Last Days in Vietnam focuses on the defeat and evacuation to safety. In the former, the tensions provide a backdrop to the intentional fallacy of General Westmoreland. In the latter, the tensions reflect intentional correction of the inhuman evacuation policy of the US.
“During General Westmoreland’s 1982 interview, Mike Wallace’s voice is paired with close-ups of General’s face, revealing his defensive body language and a flickering snake-like tongue.”
During General Westmoreland’s 1982 interview, Mike Wallace’s voice is paired with close-ups of General’s face, revealing his defensive body language and a flickering snake-like tongue. According to Tom Mascaro, this “visual image in conjunction with other program material suggests that Westmoreland engineered a conspiracy and, as viewers can see, he appears guilty.” The General intended to avoid and appease the internal situation, while the soldiers intended to avoid and appease an external situation through their humanity. Both situations reveal a paradox of the ideologies of war, and of the vested diplomatic and economic interests in the region that compromised the American soldiers and civilians in Vietnam.
The Uncounted Enemy concludes by confronting ideology with the violation of the code of honor of the Military Academy by General Westmoreland. In Last Days in Vietnam, soldiers break the code of honor to do the right thing. Last Days in Vietnam leaves a question mark over nationalism and ideology of war by emphasizing the humanity of American soldiers who break the honor code, yet earn honor through challenging habituation and the appeal for rebels (soldiers) who go against the authority.
Last days in Vietnam reflects the implications of the conspiracy through the emotionalism of Ex-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who publicly reprimanded Rosenblatt, calling his acts illegal, and behavior unacceptable, yet he called him his greatest hero for making the trip to Saigon. According to Kennedy, Kissinger articulated that the US needed to withdraw from Vietnam (Thompson, 2015). The Kissinger interview unpacks the US war policy: misconceptions, politics and decisions. Kennedy highlights the significance of war, which is both an investment into the future and a responsibility that does not end when the ally leaves a country, or a war. The ally can leave a country, or a war but it cannot abandon its people.
Crile, George (Producer), & Lack, Andrew (Senior Producer). The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. USA, 1982, 90 min.
Mascaro, Tom. “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam War Deception”. The Museum of Broadcast Communications 18 Apr. 2007 www.museum.tv/archives/etv/U/htmlU/uncountedene/uncountedene.htm
McAlester, Kevin (Producer), & Kennedy, Rory (Director). The Last Days in Vietnam. USA, 2014, 98 min.
Rollins, Peter C. “Historical Interpretation or Ambush Journalism?: CBS vs Westmoreland in The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (1982).” War, Literature, and the Arts 2(1990): 23-61.
Thompson, Anne. Oscar Nominee Rory Kennedy Reveals Perils Making Last Days in Vietnam. IndieWire. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.indiewire.com/2015/02/oscar-nominee-rory-kennedy-reveals-perils-making-last-days-in-vietnam-188865/>.