It is too early to judge the Vietnam documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, but one element of the struggle is immediately apparent: The fierce determination of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong to achieve Vietnam’s unity after the separation of the country into the Communist North and the Democratic South. Vietnam had been a French colony for nearly 100 years. As the number of American military personnel increased, so did the resistance of the North Vietnamese. The documentary suggests the South Vietnamese lacked the same zeal to defend their government.
It might be a strained analogy, but Vietnam’s history recalls the 800-year Irish struggle against English domination that reached a crisis on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, when Irish rebels took over Dublin’s General Post Office and poet and activist, Patrick Pearse, read a declaration of Irish independence on the steps. James Connolly commanded an Irish volunteer army. The rebels included 200 women who seized key locations in Dublin. One was an Anglo-Irish aristocrat turned revolutionary, Countess Constance Markievicz, and another was a school teacher turned sniper, Margaret Skinnider. The armed insurrection had no chance of success, and the Irish rebels surrendered on April 29.
The countess was condemned to death but not executed because she “was a woman.” Markievicz was later released along with Skinnider who wrote about the uprising a year later.
The Easter Rising was costly for the British military. According to the BBC History channel, “Military casualties were highest at Mount Street Bridge. There, newly arrived troops made successive, tactically inept, frontal attacks on determined and disciplined volunteers occupying several strongly fortified outposts. They lost 234 men, dead or wounded while just 5 rebels died.” Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and 15 others were executed, which made them martyrs and turned the public against England.
England sent in troops to suppress the 1919 war of independence but the effort failed.
Twelve members of the elite English “Cairo gang” were assassinated in one day. In 1921, England agreed to an Irish Republic, though six counties in the north would remain part of England, including Belfast. Many revolutionaries, including Countess Markievicz, didn’t accept an Irish Free State not united. Rebels assassinated Michael Collins, who fought in the initial insurrection and signed the treaty. A civil war began.
When the civil war ended in 1923, the Irish Free State, under limited control by England, became a reality, though violence continued between Catholics and Protestants until a peace agreement in 1998. By then, Ireland had a republic.
Nothing creates more zeal to fight than a struggle to free and preserve one’s country, and the cost is always severe. Pearse and Connolly knew the insurrection would fail, and they would face a firing squad. The countess, often pictured holding a pistol, knew her life as a privileged aristocrat would end; she died, penniless. Certainly, the Founding Fathers led by George Washington knew they faced possible annihilation against superior British forces.
The Vietnam documentary notes that Hồ Chí Minh fought against the Vichy French and Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II. He was secretly supported by the United States Office of Strategic Services, which eventually became the CIA. Minh sought help for an independent Vietnam from President Harry Truman who then backed the French claim to Vietnam. The country was eventually divided and the war began.
Perhaps by the end of the Burns-Novick documentary, we will have some insight as to why the massive slaughter of the Vietnam War on both sides had to happen.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with an MA in English and creative writing. He is a retired instructor of English and speech communications from Idaho State University. He has written several articles for various outlets, including Atticus Literary magazine online.