Vietnam: The Last Battle

“This film is not just about an anniversary, but will try to rescue something of Vietnam’s past and present, from Hollywood images that have pitied the invader while overshadowing one of the epic national struggles of the 20th century.”

Twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War, on which he reported for a decade, John Pilger returned to the country to make Vietnam: The Last Battle. He and director David Munro took with them Bob Muller, the eloquent voice of the wounded American veterans in their 1981 documentary Heroes, to reflect on the changes in the country and “the last battle” – against the pressures of “globalisation” and “the market”.

Pilger finds Vietnam losing many of the gains it fought for against invading powers as it is drawn into the globalised economy while another form of imperial control exerts itself through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global institutions. As a result, a consumer class has developed in the south, with all the old divisions of rich and poor.

Vietnam: The Last Battle features interviews with a woman who lost eight of her children in the war, a coal miner recalling the devastation caused by the American bombing, a sociologist noting that life is happier but capitalism threatens to lose the country what it gained through sacrifice, and a government economic adviser explaining that “market socialism” has been embraced.

Pilger examines how the trade embargo imposed by the United States and Britain was lifted only after the Vietnamese government announced that it was embracing the free market and foreigners would be welcome. “America effectively runs the currency, Japan dominates the money lending, Singapore the property market and Taiwan and Korea the sweatshops,” he says, adding that cheap labour is commonplace. 

A reminder of the war’s legacy comes with the sight of deformed babies in a Saigon hospital, a continuing effect of the herbicide Agent Orange being dropped on Vietnam by the Americans.

“In order to rebuild their country, the Vietnamese have been finally granted a place in the New World Order, but only on certain conditions,” says Pilger. “They must first create a society based on exploited labour and divisions of rich and poor, a society in which achievements in health and education will not be valued as before and freedom will be sold as a commodity with a bottom line. In other words, the kind of foreign-imposed society they sacrificed so much to get rid of... Perhaps the most difficult battle of all has only just begun – and, this being Vietnam, it is far from lost.”

Vietnam: The Last Battle (Network First, Central Independent Television/Carlton UK), ITV, 25 April 1995

Producer-director: David Munro (52 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library