Mackubin Thomas Owens
Owens was a Marine infantry platoon leader in Vietnam, received a Silver Star, retired as a colonel, has a bio/resume far too long to list, not the least of which is his birthplace in Bryan, Texas.
He has written a two part review of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary I believe is the best I’ve read so far.
The divisions over Vietnam are deep and people on both sides of the divide have become invested in their respective positions. As someone who is proud of his service during the Vietnam War, I saw the series—touted as an even-handed portrayal of the war—as just another manifestation of the standard narrative advanced by those of the “Vietnam generation” who have somehow been anointed as spokesmen for all of us.
Let me be stark in describing the polar attitudes of those who came of age during the Vietnam era. On the one side in this culture war are those who believe that Vietnam wasn’t very different from other wars. The cause was just, but it was as affected by ambiguities as any other war, including World War II. In the end, the U.S. defeat was the result of strategic failure, not moral failure. Those who fought it were doing their duty as they saw it, just as their fathers and grandfathers had done theirs when the times demanded it of them.
Such are the problems with the series. I was struck by the absence of certain voices. There is nothing from those who have offered reasoned defenses of both the purpose and conduct of the war, especially Jim Webb. There is no mention of Mark Moyar, who has written a revisionist study of the war, or of Bob Sorley’simportant contribution to the study of the military leadership during the war, which has generated a lively debate among US Army historians. Sorley appears in the documentary, but if he was asked to talk about his revisionist history of the war, it must have ended up on the cutting room floor. I was stuck as well be the downplaying of the patriotism and sense of purpose that fortified the resolve of many of the Americans who served in Vietnam—including the two-thirds who volunteered.
and most tellingly,
But this is bad history. A 1980 Harris poll of Vietnam veterans revealed that 91 percent were proud of their wartime service; 74 percent enjoyed their time in the service; and, contrary to the notion that the war was inherently unwinnable, 89 percent agreed with the statement that “our troops were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would not let them win.” One would think the producers could have found at least a few veterans who supported the war.
The particularly grievous result of all this is that Burns and Novick wrongly reinforce the myth that the US military in Vietnam was an army of unwilling and dispirited draftees—and one composed of an unjust overrepresentation of minorities. But in fact, two-thirds of those who served — and 73% of those who died — were volunteers. With respect to minorities, African-Americans comprised 13.1% of the draftable age group, 12.6% of the military, and 12.2% of the casualties.