The Vietnam War

Just finished watching Ken Burn’s 18-hour documentary, The Vietnam War. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen.

Telling the story of a war from both sides is to be expected, but Burns and Novick went a step further by showing two sides of each person featured. Just as you begin to see a particular person as an evil villain, they show a different aspect of the same person that changes the way you look at him. Everyone is depicted as a multi-dimensional human being.

Of course, this can be achieved now because it’s been 40 years. But the recurring question I had while watching the film is why we cannot see our opponents in the same way during the conflicts. Why are we so quick to paint our opponents as pure evil and our allies as heroes? Why must every conflict turn into a team sport where independent and critical thinking is suppressed for the sake of team cohesion?

The pursuit of team sport inevitably leads to the one-dimensional way of looking at other human beings, not just our opponents but also our allies too. In order to maintain the team cohesion, we have to suppress our internal differences too. We are forced to look at each other in black-and-white terms. But no human beings are one-dimensional, and for that reason, a team sport is inevitably dehumanizing. It is this mentality of team sport that eventually escalates a conflict to a war.

To avoid a war, in every conflict, we need to resist our tendency to play a team sport, to follow a charismatic leader, and to suppress independent thinking. We have to insist on seeing the multiple dimensions of every human being no matter how evil they may appear. The Americans today are bitterly divided again. It shouldn’t take 40 years to see our opponents as human beings and shake their hands.