About the Author:
H. Bruce Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Among his books are M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America and War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. Key Points:
America's war in Vietnam was based on fantasies about both nations. Now public memory of the war has been transformed into myth. The illusion that the United States originally intervened to stop "North Vietnam" from invading "South Vietnam," the belief that returning veterans were frequently spat upon, and the fiction that American P.O.W.s were abandoned after the warall permeate contemporary American culture, deeply influencing politics in the twenty-first century.
The history of the antiwar movement has been falsified so blatantly that few Americans today would believe that by 1971 there was a revolutionary newspaper being published on every aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin or that 1500 crew members of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Constellation signed a demand that Jane Fonda's antiwar show be allowed to perform on board the ship.
The antiwar movement actually began in the fall of 1945, when hundreds of American merchant seamen protested against their ships being used to transport a French army to recolonize Vietnam. The movement reached its climax when tens of thousands of the soldiers and sailors fighting the war actively resisted the Nixon administration's attempts to achieve "victory."
Although the antiwar movement is today often depicted as campus-centered, it pervaded American society. And contrary to popular belief, opposition to the war actually ran higher among Americans with less income and less education while support for the war ran higher among those with more wealth and more education.
Wartime images that called into question the legitimacy of America's Vietnam policy have been reinterpreted in the postwar years to whitewash the U.S. role in the conflict. In popular media such as film and comic books, for example, the famous photograph of Saigon police chief General Loan assassinating a prisoner during the 1968 Tet Offensive has been transformed into its opposite. Today many Americans actually interpret the photograph as a picture of a Communist officer caught in the act of killing a South Vietnamese civilian.
American science fiction profoundly influenced how the Vietnam War was conceived and conducted as well as the way it has been remembered. Building on his work as an advisory curator for the Smithsonian exhibit, "Star Trek and the Sixties," the author shows how the Vietnam War was a subtext for early episodes of the TV series Star Trek and how space exploration has been replaced by the militarization of space.
The U.S. policy of "Winning Hearts and Minds" reached its climax in 1968 and 1969, when the CIA conducted a gigantic carrot-and-stick campaign aimed at reestablishing control in some of the countryside lost during the Tet Offensive. The stick was Operation Phoenix, a massive program of torture and assassination designed to root out the insurgent infrastructure. U.S. intelligence officers subsequently testified to Congress that not one of the many "Viet Cong suspects" whose arrest they witnessed ever survived interrogation. The carrot was a "land reform" program designed and run by a University of Washington law professor who also drew up the document that asserted a legal basis for Operation Phoenix and then later published a science fiction story articulating the assumptions underlying both programs.
The Vietnam War has been the matrix of the "culture wars" of the past few decades, and these culture wars are intertwined with both the Vietnamese revolution and the wars waged against it by France and the United States.