WASHINGTON - Until this week, the Vietnamese government has remained silent about the release of The Vietnam War, which premiered in the U.S. after a big buildup.
In Vietnam’s lively online sphere, many commentators speculated that authorities had remained silent about the series because it presented what the government considered sensitive material about towering Communist Party figures, such as Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap.
The 10-part documentary film series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which premiered September 17, covers the war’s main events and focuses on the experiences of Americans and Vietnamese during the war. American broadcaster PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is streaming it online with Vietnamese subtitles.
On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang issued a statement saying, “The Anti-America War of the Vietnamese people was a righteous revolution that mobilized the entire nation, and was supported wholeheartedly by friends and people worldwide.
“Positive developments in the comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the United States are the results of great efforts by the two counties,” Hang continued. “The policy of Vietnam is to put the past behind us, overcome differences, promote our mutual interests and look forward to the future.”
She added, “I personally hope that American people and filmmakers understand the righteousness of the revolution as well as Vietnam’s goodwill.”
Like the government, the Vietnamese press has remained muted in its response to the well-reviewed documentary that has been a major event in the United States.
Only the Thanh Nien newspaper has covered the effort by Burns and Novick, reporting last month that the “U.S. consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City would hold a screening and discussion session” based on a 90-minute synopsis of the documentary. Vietnam’s top daily added that "film director and producer Lynn Novick is here in Vietnam to meet and discuss with the guests and the audience during the screening."
One of the people who attended the screening, a former journalist, wrote on Facebook that after the screening, another attendee, a young woman, asked Novick why in the excerpts “do I only see characters from North Vietnam being interviewed? Will people from the South be interviewed?”
The journalist noted that Novick said people from the South had been interviewed and “that will be evident when you see the complete documentary being shown on the PBS website."
The former journalist, who once worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), added on Facebook, “Lynn’s answer raised an uneasy suspicion about whether the shown clip was heavily censored before it was screened to young people, who really wanted to understand the Vietnam War beyond the simple division over red and yellow flags [of the current and former regime respectively].”
About 70 percent of Vietnam’s 96.1 million citizens were born after the April 1975 fall of Saigon.
Brian Moriarty, the press spokesman for the filmmaking team, told VOA Vietnamese, "There have been two successful screenings in Vietnam, and the clips can be shown to those interviewed in the movie."
Moriarty added he "could not comment" on the Facebook posts in Vietnam that Hanoi’s Central Department of Propaganda, the media watchdog, has forbidden "media coverage" because The Vietnam War documentary has "sensitive details about the 1968 Tet Offensive, about Ho Chi Minh, Le Duan or Vo Nguyen Giap.”
The Tet Offensive is widely considered to be the turning point of the Vietnam War. While communist forces ultimately lost the Tet Offensive, they won a propaganda victory that prompted Americans to lose support for the conflict.
Revered CBS-TV anchorman Walter Cronkite, after reporting on one of the Tet Offensive battles, in Hue, broadcast an editorial calling for a negotiated end to the war.
Vietnam’s Central Propaganda Department could not be reached for comment.
Moriarty added that people in Vietnam "can still watch the Vietnamese documentary film with Vietnamese subtitles" on the PBS website. He also said they have "people in Vietnam [who] have checked and confirmed this.”
But there have been hiccups, according to Facebook posts speculating that the sensitive material in the work makes the current Vietnamese government uncomfortable.
Ho, a founding member of the Indo-Chinese Communist Party, was president of North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969. He abstained from a Politburo vote to approve the Tet Offensive, widely seen as the bloody turning point in growing U.S. opposition to the war.
Le Duan, head of the Vietnamese Communist Party, presided over a severe postwar economic slump, and took an anti-Chinese stance that included border clashes as well as the expulsion of ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese citizens, before his death in 1986.
Vietnam today looks to China as its primary trading partner, even though the two communist countries have a long-running dispute over the South China Sea that has pushed their relationship to a new low.
Giap, a general who defeated the French and the U.S. in Vietnam, came to support economic reform before his death in 2013. He “fell into disfavor and became sensitive to the Communist Party of Vietnam because of his anti-China point of view and the disapproval of an all-in attack [on] the South in 1968,” said Bui Tin, a former party member and colonel in the People’s Army of Vietnam who is now a dissident living in France.
On Facebook on September 17, the day the film was shown on public television in the U.S. and available for streaming in Vietnam, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius wrote: “In order to build a just and bright future, we must acknowledge and be honest about the past. While many of you will not agree with all that is featured in the film, it’s important to consider that, as the film says, ‘There is no single truth in war.’ Once we accept this, we can move forward from the past, deepen ties between our two peoples, and build a brighter future for all.”