Two remarkable programs; our shared history
Two excellent programs currently on television are must-watch pieces of American history.
The first is the much publicized Vietnam documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novik, a series shown on PBS. It's hard to miss promotion for this splendid piece of production. But watch it and you'll realize it is beyond worthy of its praise.
The most stunning element to me — along with its deep, steady stream of rich history — is the amount of "enemy" footage obtained for the program. The grainy, black and white footage of Viet Cong activities, coupled with the modern-day interviews of North Vietnamese combatants, greatly "humanizes" the reality of the war. It wasn't really a war against communism, as it was sold. We were fighting a nation and people that deeply wanted independence.
It's by far the most powerful, educational production regarding the war ever produced, and is a tremendous gift to our nation's shared history through one of its most important, shape-forming periods.
It all seems to be here: the history of Vietnam as a French-controlled country; the "red" scare that drove our involvement; the steady lack of honesty of our national leaders; and the overall ignorance and overconfidence of our government and on-ground commanders.
But also there: the stories of the gallantry, bravery of heroics of the Americans fighting the war.
What has yet to be fully aired, though, is lack of compassion and "welcome home" provided the Vietnam veterans. This was the most embarrassing element of that ill-conceived and managed war, and what will likely be the sad end to the saga.
But as much as the Vietnam series is much-watch TV, another program regarding the American military drew me in to the point of missing Sunday's episode (knowing full well that the Vietnam episode would be re-run). A CNN Films production "Legion of Brothers" left viewers to marvel at what a small amount of magnificently trained American soldiers can achieve.
Days after the 9/11 attack, the U.S. began getting Special Forces units into Afghanistan, the Taliban-governed home of Osama bin Laden. The unit showcased in the program, the Green Berets of the Special Forces 5th Group, known as "the Legion," were in country just five weeks after the towers went down.
Unlike the more publicized counter-terrorism Special Forces that kick down doors and, through speed, force and tactic, quickly eliminate opposition and manage their objective, the Green Beret work "by, with and through" local allied forces on the ground to achieve common goals.
While all Special Forces work is generally covert, these Green Berets essentially disappeared into their surroundings. These Army super soldiers were soon in native clothing, riding horseback with a regional anti-Taliban warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. By November, with the key assistance from the American team, Dostum forces rode into the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif and liberated the city from Taliban government. People lined the streets in celebration.
In the southern portion of the nation, another Green Beret team hooked up with an Afghan diplomat Hamid Karzai. In mid-November, anti-Taliban forces, with Green Beret backing, were moving toward Kandahar, the Taliban defacto capital. As Taliban forces geared up to hold down their city, and to an extent their government, the Green Berets called in an air strike that obliterated upwards of 1,000 or more Taliban fighters.
Days later, the Taliban surrendered the city and Karzai was appointed the next leader of Afghanistan.
Essentially, with the infusion of just a handful of Special Forces teams, the Taliban — bin Laden's army, so to speak, which had taken over Afghanistan with its brutal, Medieval brand of government — had been rousted from power.
In this era when our nation is as divided as it has ever been since the Civil War, it is vital that we understand our shared history, military and otherwise, that we recognize, acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.
But it's just as vital, maybe more so, to appreciating the deep sacrifice war places on its combatants and their families. It's atrocious that young Vietnam vets, many drafted into service right out of high school, were not welcomed back home, instead forced to deal with the conflict silently for, in some cases, decades — or in other cases, until their lives ground to an early end.
The Vietnam program is a historical gift to our nation. Certainly viewers will be left with substantially more understanding and knowledge of the era and conflict. Hopefully it will conclude with a powerful "welcome home" that some veterans have yet to fully appreciate, and a sense of unity that we are in desperate need of today.
And the much less ambitious "Legion" program? It can, in a way, be viewed as a companion piece. It's a moving reminder of what a magnificent soldier the United States can produce, especially when driven by righteous motivation, clear objective and quality leadership — all of which were too often absent or vague in Vietnam.