Framed In Fantasies: The Fall of Saigon and All That Came Before
A South Vietnamese father holds his dead daughter. Photo by Horst Faas.
This week marks the 40-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon, that "quintessential bitter end" to a war whose current retelling - through "soft lies, willful amnesia, and rampant revisionism" - increasingly transforms a brutal American imperial misadventure into something more noble and less ghastly than it ever was. With the country about to embark on an official, whitewashed, 50-year commemoration of the start of the war even as the ghosts of our more recent debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan still hover around us, those who endured the devastating injuries - physical, mental and moral - of the Vietnam War are resolved to set the grievous record straight for the sake of the past and the future.
Primary among those seeking to challenge "our nation's self-perpetuating war machine" are Veterans for Peace, who have launched a Full Disclosure movement to counter the Pentagon's $65 million, ten-year observance of a war marked by "hyperbolic salutations of soldierly valor," or what President Obama called "the valor of a generation that served with honor...fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans." A war, that is, unrecognizable by those who fought it, or protested it. The VFP seeks to "take control of how we remember the war" in the name of both the three million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans who died in it, as well as all those who could come after them if the unvarnished, non-mythologized truth isn't told. Toward that end, they are holding a "Letters to the Wall" Memorial Day action where they will place letters written to the dead - to honor them, or remember them, or tell their stories or weep or grieve or heal or vow to strive to stop the next war - at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"If you have been seared by the experience of the American war in Vietnam War, then tell them your story," they write. "Veterans, conscientious objectors, veterans’ family members, war resistors, anyone whose life was touched by the war - all of us need to speak. All of our experiences matter." Many letters have already come in. Doug Rawlings, co-founder of VFP, writes of "slipping past the names of those/whose wounds/refuse to heal" and coming upon the Wall, where "58,000 thousand-yard stares/have fixed on me... As if I/could tell them/the reason why."
In order to see the so-called fall of Saigon, and all we wrought that led to it, in a clear and truthful light, read some of the letters, even if they break your heart. See the photos that emerged from the war, images by Horst Faas, Tim Page, Larry Burrows, that "enduring band of brothers and sisters who believed to the end that their photographs made a difference," that they made "the strongest anti-war statement." For some, so did Jim Morrison's song, "The End" - "This is the end, my friend, of our elaborate plans." For the rest of us, it's the great Phil Ochs' "The War Is Over." Except it's not, yet.
Just south of the DMZ, 1966. Photo by Larry Burrows. On front, photo by Horst Faas.
Photo by Tim Page