Point-Counterpoint: Rory Kennedy’s Oscar Nominated Vietnam Doc
by Frank Snepp, January 26, 2015
On January 26, David Mattingly who had served aboard the U.S. evacuation fleet operating off in April 1975 wrote a much appreciated response to my cautionary posts about Rory Kennedy’s documentary, “Last Days in Vietnam” in which I appeared as a “talking head” and as an ex-CIA strategy analyst in Saigon. I quote from Mattingly’s message and offer some thoughts about it.
“… I enjoyed reading your unique perspective on the ground in Saigon. I think Rory Kennedy did tell a very small part of the story of what happened in 1975.
“My ship the USS Midway is having a reunion in April to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the fall. The Vietnamese community including many that were on the ship attended the 35th anniversary…
“If ever passing thru the DC area it would be great to meet you.”
Those of us who came out of Saigon on April 29, 1975 are forever indebted to those of you who served with such commitment aboard the evacuation fleet and in the extraordinarily perilous final airlift.
But Rory Kennedy didn’t title her documentary “The Saigon Evacuation as seen from Shipboard” or “The Defense Attaché’s Office To the Rescue,” and her errors and omissions are not harmless or, I believe, coincidental.
She fixed on a story line shaped by her fascination with her key interviewee Henry Kissinger, certain military sources and newly available footage from Pentagon archives, and eliminated what didn’t fit.
One of the reasons I wrote to you specifically is that I had read your account of the evacuation and was grateful that you had mentioned the involvement of the CIA’s Air America. Except for my own brief reference in the documentary to the Air America helicopter in that famous rooftop photo in downtown Saigon, Kennedy omitted everything I had told her and written about CIA pilots carrying the brunt of the final airlift up through the early afternoon of April 29.
Similarly, while giving Kissinger an unchallenged opportunity to speak his mind, she ignored the fact that what he said on camera about trying to negotiate a two-Vietnam stalemate as part of the Paris accords was at odds with now declassified Nixon White House tapes. In these recordings Kissinger can be heard declaring cynically that he was hoping simply to preserve the Saigon regime through the next U.S. election cycle and then meant to blame South Vietnam’s collapse on its own incompetence.