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The War in Vietnam: John Wayne Was Wrong

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John Wayne’s Vietnam-era pro-war classic, The Green Berets opens with a scene of a press conference. It starts off with a group of Green Berets introducing themselves to the press, which is followed by a Q&A session with two Green Berets sergeants who have been assigned to answer questions. The scene reaches a crescendo when a reporter asks one of the sergeants if the war in Vietnam does not seem like a war between the Vietnamese and if the Americans should therefore stay out of it. Hearing this, the visibly irritated sergeant proceeds to pick up captured Vietnamese firearms from a display board nearby, and drops them in front of the reporter one by one, all the while explaining in a voice laden with hostile emotion that the weapons are Chinese-made, Soviet-made and Czechoslovakian-made respectively.

The implication is clear. The war in Vietnam is not merely an internal Vietnamese affair, because quite aside from the American factor in the war there is also the Soviet, the Chinese, even the Czechoslovakian factor. It is therefore on the account of this involvement of foreign Communist powers in Vietnam that the United States has to involve itself on the other side.

Now it is easy to see the inadequacy of that argument. Providing war material, even on a vast scale, is in no way comparable to a direct military intervention carried out with an occupation force of half a million soldiers, which is how many the United States had in Vietnam at the time The Green Berets aired in 1968.* Clearly the American involvement in Vietnam went far beyond what was necessary to balance out the involvement of the Soviets, the Chinese, or the Czechoslovaks, on the side of Hanoi.

But is it even true the American involvement was a reaction, perhaps an exaggerated reaction, to the Soviet, etc involvement? What were the actual cause and effect, in life rather than on film? Were the Americans in Vietnam because Soviet shipments of weaponry were going there, or were the Soviets shipping weaponry to Vietnam because the Americans had come there? How does this and other claims of war propagandists of the time stack up against what we know from the works of historians today?

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