Produced in 1980 as a Canadian TV documentary consisting of 26 half-hour segments, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War presents a comprehensive review of the Vietnam War from its historical roots to its tragic aftermath. The conflict is traced from the 1945 defeat of Vietnam's Japanese occupiers through the release of American POWs and later challenges faced by veterans. The series was written by Peter Arnett, whose coverage of the war as a reporter predates the earliest deployment of U.S. ground troops and continued beyond the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. In 1966 he was awarded for his Vietnam coverage with the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.
During the war, Producer Michael Maclear had visited North Vietnam several times for Canadian television networks. He returned to Vietnam for the production of Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War, where he was granted access to war archives. Segments from those archived videos appear throughout the series, intermixed with higher quality recordings. Black-and-white footage documents the extensive organization and sophistication of the logistics network developed over the course of the war, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. General Vo Nguyen Giap is shown directing the defense of Hanoi during the B-52 onslaught of December 1972. Captured American pilots are shown working in the courtyard, being interrogated and having meals in an old French prison they called the "Hanoi Hilton".
The Vietnam War from Multiple Perspectives
Every stage of the conflict is presented from multiple points of view, by men who were uniquely qualified to comment on what transpired. Former generals, ground soldiers, diplomats, heads of state and their staff, journalists, intelligence agents and historians contribute insights on events in which they were direct participants. By virtue of this documentary having been produced in 1980, only five years after the fall of Saigon, the movie becomes an irreplaceable resource: It simply isn't possible any more to ask these individuals for their recollections and opinions.
Following is a sampling of topics covered and persons called upon to recount their experiences and to contribute observations:
Topic: U.S. involvement in the coup against South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem
- Edward Lansdale
- During the First Indochina War, he advised French forces on special counter-guerrilla operations. Following the departure of the French, he was active in training the progenitor of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, as the South Vietnamese army was formally known.
- Roger Hilsman
- While serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs under President John F. Kennedy, Hilsman was the most active proponent of a coup against the government of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.
- Lucien Conein
- Conein was sent by the CIA to South Vietnam in 1954 to propagandize against the government of Ho Chi Minh and to help arm and train Montagnard tribesmen. In the film, he recounts maintaining communications between the South Vietnamese coup planners and the U.S. ambassador in Saigon.
Topic: The Ho Chi Minh Trail
- Wilfred Burchett
- Burchett was an Australian journalist who, owing to has radical-left sympathies, went places where other "free world" reporters would never have been allowed. In 1964 he became the first Westerner to make the journey along the Ho Chi Minh trail and at a later stage he interviewed American prisoners of war in North Vietnam.
- David A. Christian
- As a U.S. Army Ranger, Christian participated in 1968 in long-range reconnaissance patrols behind enemy lines and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars for his service. He later became a leading advocate for Vietnam veterans and appears again in the section of the documentary dedicated to that topic.
Topic: The contest for "hearts and minds" and the Phoenix Program
- Robert Komer
- Having served briefly as President Lyndon B. Johnson's National Security Advisor, Robert Komer was made the first head of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support program. CORDS was created in May 1967 to "pacify" rural villages and gain their support for the South Vietnamese government.
- William Colby
- Colby served as the CIA chief of station in Saigon until 1962, then was sent back to Vietnam in 1968, where he succeeded Robert Komer as the head of CORDS. He also oversaw the Phoenix Program, a CIA initiative designed to destroy Viet Cong political infrastructure and which later became a subject of considerable controversy.
Topic: The Paris peace negotiations and the bombing of Hanoi
- Winston Lord
- Serving as Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor, Winston Lord was a key figure in the normalization of United States relations with China. He was the top assistant during the Paris negotiations with North Vietnam, accompanying Henry Kissinger in every meeting.
- Nguyen Van Thieu
- Thieu was president of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1975 and appears often in this documentary, as does William Westmoreland, the former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Nguyen Van Thieu held that he and his country were betrayed by the United States and is given the opportunity to explain his opinions.
- Alexander Haig
- General Alexander Haig was serving as Deputy National Security Advisor during the peace negotiations with North Vietnam and was responsible for convincing Nguyen Van Thieu to finally accept the Paris Peace Accords.