Do You Remember Vietnam

“Do you remember Vietnam? Do you remember all those television pictures of far-away suffering, of reporters shouting over the noise of meaningless battles. Vietnam ran longer than Z Cars and at times had popularity ratings even higher than Kojak... Some nostalgia may creep into this film but, if it does, it will be nostalgia purely and simply for the endurance of the Vietnamese people, whom I admire.”

Do You Remember Vietnam signalled John Pilger’s permanent switch to longer, one-hour documentaries – and was significant for being his first with actor-turned-director David Munro. Returning to the nation he had known through its long years of war and struggle, Pilger was able to film for the first time the devastation wrought on the North and finally saw Vietnam as a country, not a war.

With photography by Mike Dodds, Munro elicits tranquil pictures of peacetime Vietnam that include almost primitive scenes of peasants at work amid a landscape of calm far removed from the war years. This adds another dimension to the tales of horror that Pilger tells.

In the north of the newly reunited Vietnam, he finds whole landscapes laid to waste as the result of the Americans’ Operation Hades – the spraying of the herbicide dioxin on forests – bomb craters peppering Route 1 from Hanoi to Saigon and people in the town of Vinh facing famine while food is running out in some cities.

Presenting a sympathetic view of the Vietnamese people, he points to their ingenuity, such as in irrigation schemes and the network of underground tunnels at Cu Chi in the south that enabled the National Liberation Front (dubbed the Vietcong by the United States) to perform a vanishing act from American soldiers – for whom he shows no animosity while being harsh on their political masters in Washington.

Pilger is also critical of the victors, filming so-called re-education camps and describing “Stalinist” brutalities, as well as the Vietnamese government’s new “economic zones” – the result of crop failures – book-burning and watchdogs in red armbands.

Returning to Saigon for the first time since his departure on the last day of the war, he is pleased to see no more crippled children or maimed veterans of the South Vietnamese army, though reveals that loudspeakers tell people when to get up in the morning and what they should think. “But,” he concludes, “balance this against the civilised takeover after 30 years of bitterness, and new hospitals and orphans being lovingly cared for and an absence of tension, violence and war.”

Do You Remember Vietnam (ATV), ITV, 3 October 1978

Producer-director: David Munro (53 mins)