Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side
In the post-September 11 era of renewed patriotism, you wouldn't expect a book like this one to sell many copies. However, I for one, was thrilled to get a copy of Another Vietnam; a collection of war photos taken by the Viet Cong as they spent a decade upending the U.S. forces. And yet, in post-September 11 America, I hate al Qaeda and the Taliban more than most patriots.
It's weird, but as someone whose spent a lot of time protesting and working against U.S. "interests" and extending sympathy to hard-left causes, I felt myself despising the anti-U.S. Taliban more than most mainstream or patriotic people; more than people like my conservative brother, for example, who draped a US flag over the face of his suburban home. Like my brother, I despised the Taliban for their arrogant complicity in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, but what's harder to explain--especially to my flag-waving brother--is why I hate the Taliban even more than he ever could.
Here's the deal: I can't stand the Taliban and their psychotic puritanical feudalism, precisely because of my sympathies for the Third World, hard-left, people's politics that have shaped my beliefs. The Taliban and al Qaeda, with their fake, disingenuous rhetoric, have made a mockery of my revolutionary heroes: The Sandinistas and their legitimate revolution against U.S. imperialism; the Naserists and their popular pan-Arabist movement; Frantz Fanon and the battle to free Africa; and of course, the greatest left-wing heroes of all time--the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong became heroes to many in the American left, thanks to the Western photojournalists from the UPI, AP, and New York Times, who were able to capture the Vietnamese struggle against the tyranny of their enemies--the US government and the South Vietnamese U.S.-puppet government.
The run of famous photographs is unforgettable: the Buddhist monks burning themselves in the streets of Saigon to protest the U.S.-backed Diem regime; Vietnamese children, skin on fire, fleeing a rain of Dow Chemical napalm; massacred Vietnamese village peasants in muddy graves, V.C. prisoners being executed with revolvers to the head. Ironically, all of these photos--images that helped turn the U.S. public against the U.S. war, were snapped by Western photographers.
Now, thanks to this collection, the West can view photographs taken by the Viet Cong. For the most part, the photos are staged propaganda set pieces of smiling upright soldiers, heroic medic units, dutiful patriotic workers, and sunbeamed shots of the Ho Chi Minh trail. In turn, most of the Viet Cong photos lack the harsh, split second history caught on film by Western photos.
It's no surprise then, that the most beautiful and moving pictures in this book are the final batch, which begin in the Spring of 1975, culminating on April 30, as the Viet Cong rolls into Saigon. With no time to stage set pieces, the cameras seemed to have clicked furiously in the moment, capturing arguably the most profound day in the 20th Century. And here the juxtaposition to Western photos works to enhance the Viet Cong's view. As opposed to the famous Western photo of helicopters fleeing Saigon, the photos here have a jubilant swoosh to them as the Viet Cong and their supporters spill into Saigon.
These last few pages of photos then, like the haunting photo of the highway leading into Saigon, littered with the abandoned military boots of the South Vietnamese army, are the split second of history on film.