John Pilger returned to Vietnam twenty years after the fall of Saigon to warn of another war being waged by American interests. Eddie Gibb talks to the veteran war correspondent and campaigning
After almost twenty years of war in Vietnam. during which time guerilla tactics had triumphed consistently over the well-oiled machinery of a modern army. the American forces had decided to cut and rrrn. ‘I knew I was breaking the last of many promises that had been made to the south Vietnamese by our country.‘ remembers Colonel Stuart Herrington. who was helicoptered out of the American Embassy compound only hours before the fall of Saigon. ‘As I looked down i felt a terrible wave of shame.‘
This shame was expressed at all levels from lowliest grtmt to foreign secretary Henry Kissinger. but it‘s still tempting to portray the evacuation of Saigon in April I975 as a fundamentally heroic feat of military planning. Journalist John Pilger. who had covered the war for ten years. reckons it was one of the few moments in the war when America's rnachaniscd approach was suited to the situation. ‘This was a machines show.‘ he says.
l’ilger was one of the last members of the press corps sheltering in the embassy to hitch a chopper ride to a waiting aircraft carrier. though he was back in Vietnam within a week of Saigon's fall. ‘I always felt the last moment often encapsulates what went before and that was certainly true of the Vietnam war.‘ says Pilger.
John Pilger in Vietnam; ’the last moment often encapsulates what went before’
In the B BC film The Fall at Saigon. the symbolism of the embassy evacuation is emphasised. with
5 Ambassador Graham Martin portrayed as a queen
bee who is plucked from the centre of the hive by a swarm of army helicopters. The ambassador himself ; was one for noting symbolism. according to Pilger.
i who recalls Martin‘s reluctance to give the order for j a tree to be cut down to allow helipcopters to land in ' embassy grounds. ‘lle regarded the tree rather like
i America.‘ says Pilger. ‘Martin lost his own son in the l war nine years earlier which undoubtedly played a
l i - i I knew I was breaking the last of many . promises that had been made to the
3 south Vietnamese by our country. - i Colonel Stuart Herrrngton of the US Army ' large part in his feelings that it should not all be for nothing.‘
When it became clear that the Americans were l by angry Vietnamese literally minutes after the last group of marines were lifted off the roof. This was the end of the United States army's ignominious and I lengthy adventure. leaving nearly 60.000 G.l.s dead
and many more Vietnamese casualities on both sides
: deserting their fortner allies. the embassy was trashed
heating economy. "
Pilger remembers the last few hours had an almost surreal quality. as affluent south Vietnamese attempted to buy their way into the Embassy compound with suitcases of money. while staff burned $5 million in notes as part of a perverse ‘scorched earth‘ policy. ‘The Vietnam war was about a lot of things. including betrayal and greed.’ he says.
To mark the twentieth anniversary ofthe fall of Saigon. Pilger and long-time collabroator David Munro returned to Vietnam to make a film which would. they hoped. retrieve the story from ‘the contemporary historical distortions‘ which prevail in the Hollywood-dominated images of the war. Vietnam — The Last Battle is also a warning that the
. war has been reopened on a new front as Coca-Cola
culture threatens to swamp the country.
Pilger regards consumer capitalism as the napalm that threatens to ignite Vietnam‘s dangerously over- heir policy is to create a visible
consumer class and do everything that Mrs Thatcher
said we should.‘ he says. ‘The leadership has declared that “market socialism" is the way forward and that's the way it's going.‘
Nam-ark First: Vietnam — The Last Battle is an 'lia’srlay 25 April at [0.40pm on Scottish. The Fall of
i of the war.
Saigon is on Sunday 23 April at [0.40pm (m BBC].
Like Cheers, the latest hot sitcom import from the US Friends starts with an exterior shot. The location in which we’re going to meet our new buddies is not a downtown bar, but a coffee house and even the name’s a joke - Central Perk. Hey, corny pun alert! ‘What sold the show was six charatcers coming into a coffee shop, sitting for 25 minutes, and saying funny things,’ says Matthew Perry,
who plays the wise-cracking Chandler.
And that’s about the size of it. All six characters are single twentysomethings. The basis of their friendship is unclear from the pilot episode, but the group has the feel of a bunch of people who just get on, rather than sharing a formal connection like college or tai-chi class.
The friends are unashamedly middle- class, white and metropolitan. All the characters have their own set of neuroses about relationships, careers and family, but the differences between them are tiny compared to their basic yuppie similarities. Their idea of hangin’ tough is not having a trust fund or a credit card whose monthly bills are forwarded straight to
daddy. ‘We all have jobs so we can buy stuff,’ says Monica, the closest thing this ensemble show has to a lead. That’s living on the edge all right.
So bottom-line time - is it funny? Like any sitcom, it’s unfair to judge on the basis of a single pilot episode, but Friends has the hallmark of a show you could grow to love. Like the (slightly) more grown up thirtysomething, this is relentlessly aspirational lifestyle stuff; even when things go wrong in the characters’ lives, it happens in a cute kinda way. If you’re with your chums nothing really bad can happen, and that’s what Friends is for. (Eddie Gibb)
Friends starts on Friday 28 April at 9.30pm on Channel 4.
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