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Unlike "Stay Alert, Stay Alive," which was not distributed to the general public, "The Ordeal of Con Thien" was shown on television as a 30-minute CBS News special with Mike Wallace. For that reason, it goes in the TV Forum instead of the History Forum

In the past day, I've begun three threads dealing with non-fiction, short films: "Stay Alert, Stay Alive" (police), "Stay Alert, Stay Alive" (army), and this one, which may not exist forever, as there's a clear disclaimer written at the opening - however, this video is duplicated on numerous websites - I even found one in color. The other two videos have different purposes (the police film is a Ned Beatty novelty, the army film is more to raise soldiers' spirits than anything else), and if you're only going to watch one of the three, and you wish to actually *learn* something factual and important about the Vietnam War, make it this one. Example: I had *no* idea that B-52s could haul and drop as many bombs as they can - the bombs coming out of the bomb bays looked like it was raining confetti at a ticker-tape parade.

Another interesting thing about Con Thien (also called "The Battle of Con Thien") is that, although the report makes it sound like a slaughter, the statistics say that 1,149 Americans were killed, and 7,563 Vietnamese were killed - almost a 1:7 ratio. In terms of statistics, that's a pretty good trade-off, but our country simply didn't have the belly for this war, as so many people thought it wasn't supported by a noble cause (such as fending off Adolph Hitler from taking over the entire world). Thus, those 1,149 dead American soldiers might as well have been a million, and the number of Vietnamese killed wasn't even relevant to the American public - our boys were being killed for no good reason, and we needed to get them the hell out of there. The Vietnamese communists were being invaded by a foreign country, and were determined to defend their turf until the last man fell.

A poem composed and recited by a soldier at Con Thien (properly spelled Cồn Tiên):

"When youth was a soldier, and I fought across the sea,
we were young and cold hearts, of bloody savagery.
Born of indignation, children of our time,
we were orphans of creation, and dying in our prime."

Two extremely important leaders were interviewed, Lieutenant-General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. and General William C. Westmoreland:

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One fascinating thing that General Westmoreland said is essentially what I said just above: North Vietnam was fighting a psychological war at Con Thien, designed to weaken the will of the American public, and that's the only way they could possibly win this war. 

Well ... that statement is supported by the statistics I quoted up above, and ... the North Vietnamese's tactics worked.

For those who don't know, Westmoreland Circle, on the border of Washington, DC and Maryland, is named after General Westmoreland.

CBS War Correspondent John Laurence's brief report was perhaps the most interesting and revealing moment of the entire show, which demonstrates just how important it is to have an independent press; it is a polar opposite description of the situation from Westmoreland's, and the juxtaposition of the two is the highlight of the entire news report - the words are both riveting and chilling, and reveal two very legitimate viewpoints that are completely at odds with each other.

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Although this is merely a news report, it was presented in a way that made it thirty of the saddest minutes I have ever watched on television, and it is absolutely *no* coincidence that 1967 was such a pivotal year in Hollywood.

And to think that this came the year *before* the election of Richard Nixon, the assassinations of RFK and MLK, the Tet Offensive, and Operation Neutralize (which was *directly* related to Con Thien) - 1968 was arguably the most historic post-WWII year in our nation's history, but in many ways, it was set up by 1967.

Do yourselves a favor, and watch this entire film - you'll be somewhat unaffected during the first fifteen minutes, but those fifteen minutes set up the final ten minutes, which will rip your heart out.

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Watching the tv broadcast and reading the comments above, brought me back to the age of Vietnam.  I'm a few years younger than the young soldiers who are interviewed toward the start of the piece.  In 1967 when they were stationed at Con Thien and under constant barrages of artillery from the North Vietnamese I was still in high school and quite removed from the seriousness and significance of Vietnam as it impacted the US.  The impact hit me later when I hit high school graduation, was geared toward college, registered for the draft and received a deferment for college attendance.  I didn't have to go to Vietnam.  That entire time period is deeply embedded in my consciousness and not a period of remote history.

As to the comments and piece from its very beginning watching those soldiers forced to hit the ground while under artillery assault and knowing that the US was not doing enough to protect their asses was deeply moving and disturbing.  I was struck by the entire piece, not just the final 10 minutes.  Also of note John Laurence the blond reporter at the front is also referenced in a dr.com post and thread wherein he reported about Woodstock.  Laurence kept returning to Vietnam over a period of 5 years as a reporter and wrote a strong memoir on it published in 2002. (only $13.99 as an ebook ;) ) Laurence was possibly the most respected journalist that covered Vietnam, and his experiences there converted him from initial Vietnam hawk to dove.  Laurence started his book in 1977.  It took an incredibly long time to finish and publish.

Two other perspectives from this time and place: 

W. Erhart who became a PHD and Professor who served in Vietnam and in Con Thien wrote an amazing piece; a moving essay in conjunction with Laurence's book in 2002.  It is powerful.  In his case the "history" of this place and time is personal.  He was there as a Marine, subject to the bombardments.  His youthful self hated and resented the journalists who came and went; his adult self is a friend and correspondent with Laurence.  Its simply a powerful read, mixing his experiences and personal perspectives.  Its an amazing rugged piece as Erhart keeps moving back and forth from his heart to his mind.  He was one of those soldiers at Con Thien, subject to bombardments, not protected as one would hope and pray, and impacted in a way most of us cannot comprehend.

Just the other day author, businessman, Vietnam vet who served in 1967, former Rhode Scholar, and writer Karl Merlantes wrote an op ed in the NYTimes that described how Vietnam had impacted our current times and perspectives.  One of his points is the one that sticks with me from that time and place.  Merlantes is a vet that following his service had a successful business career, only to be affected by delayed PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) decades after Vietnam. 

During Vietnam and before the US had a draft.  The draft was abolished following our quitting of that war.  It changes so much.  Roughly between 1966/1967 and 1970 about 300,000 additional US soldiers went to Vietnam.  The number of US troops serving skyrocketed.  In each year of 1967, 1968, and 1969 more US soldiers died in combat than all the combined combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan roughly 11-17000 per year.  Injuries from combat for each year probably were similar to total injured in Iraq and Afghanistan during the entire periods of combat (and still going on).  And of course the population of the country was probably about 1/3 less than it is today.  During Vietnam soldiers would serve their term and if they survived and were uninjured they could finish their service, not join the reserves and never had to serve again.  Today, with no draft and a much smaller military, members of the military and reserves return and return to overseas service, subject to whatever action might be occurring. 

The differences between then and now have enormous impact as we forge forward.  I recommend the piece by Merlantes.

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