“We live in a time where people seem to be re-embracing the corrosive notion that what we want to be true is more important than what is true.”
— Craig Mazin, the writer and creator of Chernobyl
This is what it took to claw my attention away from a board game I’m designing. After being convinced to give it a watch by The Critical Drinker from cocksucking YouTube (and I will continue to use some derogative adjective, even a half-assed one that might not even be considered an adjective, to describe that site until things change or until it burns to the ground to pave way for better sites like BitChute or DailyMotion or something), I gave it a watch. I can recommend it, but with some serious caveats. Hey, if they want to make something based on a true story, they’re going to eat a serious shit sandwich from me, and approved by Jill Valentine, for anything not historically accurate about it that ticked me off. Especially from an event as big and serious as this, which had the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise spawn from it, both the film and the game series, let alone Metro 2033.
The Vietnam War. Probably the most controversial war America has ever gotten involved in that has people bickering about it to this day. Why did we go in there? Was it ever winnable? Should we have ever gone in there? What were our initial intentions, and how did they change? What were the intentions of each individual high-ranking official in a position of power to influence the war? Do we have that much of a right to judge those who were involved when we are incapable of experiencing what they have experienced?
So I became interested with Ken Burns in particular after seeing his incredibly well-done Civil War documentary series from 1990. Both that miniseries and this Vietnam one were done on PBS. So I ended up getting this at Best Buy as an impulse buy. And for the first 7 episodes, despite a few slow bits here and there with emotional reflections put on by veterans and family members of dead veterans, I thought it was pretty good solid stuff. Like the Civil War documentary miniseries, it covered a good amount of historical ground, with events going as far back as 1858 leading up to the war, to the retreat of the French only to be replaced by the U.S., the political plays and disasters done by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, stories of the soldiers on the battlefield including Vietnamese from both sides, and so on. I felt I was getting my money’s worth…
… at first. But the thing is, when it comes to documentaries as ambitious as this, especially with Ken Burns involved, and with the tagline on the poster, my expectations tend to be high. And when they are high, I make double sure about the quality. And when it comes to documentaries, I am much more picky than normal about biases and context. There were a few things that I found a tad questionable, in that it seemed like some detail was being left out. For instance, the protests and calls for ending the Vietnam War in the United States, with many people, especially college and high school students, protesting the war, but not much given for those who protested against the anti-war protesters. The Kent State incident, how it seemed like there was more to it than the documentary was letting on (similar to how some details of Abraham Lincoln’s surprise re-election during the Civil War were left unsaid in the Civil War documentary). The testimonies of some Vietnamese, but not as much from the Southern side. The portrayal of Ho Chi Min as a saint who had no ill intentions whatsoever.
The final straw that made me want to take a look outside of the box came when the whole Jane Fonda thing happened, where it showed how she was not only against the war, but seemed to hold a hatred for American troops yet had sympathy for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Yes, it did highlight her voiced opinions on the matter, and how some (if not all) veterans felt betrayed by her (and rightly so in my opinion). She also called the POWs liars for claiming they were mistreated by their captors. However, there was/is a rumor that she did more than that, that she shook the hands of some of the prisoners, and one of the prisoners handed her some small paper scraps with the POW’s social security numbers, indicating that they wanted her to take the papers back to their families in the U.S., to let them know they are alive. But she ended up giving the papers to the prison guard instead, who then severely beat the POWs. Now, from what I’ve researched, this rumor is false, but it was one of the things that made me want to take a closer look. Sometimes, what a documentary shows is all there is, and the rest is baseless conspiracy theories. Stuff I’ve been careful of ever since wising up about 9/11 truthers.
However, there is stuff the documentary did leave out, that did really happen. First, Ho Chi Minh. The documentary portrays him as a somewhat peaceful man who desired a united and independent Vietnam country, and even quoted the Declaration of Independence by the United States. It states that he admired the message of the U.S., of their desire for all countries to be free and independent. How he didn’t really want a war, but it was really more of the prime minister’s doing for instigating the conflict in Vietnam, Le Duan. It basically puts Ho Chi Minh in a similar light as Gandhi, yet he was also a rebel when he needed to be, helping the Vietnamese against the French armies. However, the documentary completely overlooks how repressive his regime came during the mid 1950s (after successfully driving out the French, but remaining in the North half of Vietnam, similar to how there’s a North Korea). How due to the state of that portion of the country, he asked for assistance from communist Russia and China, began agricultural reforms, and became more brutal and oppressive as a result (Source). How brutal and oppressive? How about being responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of his own people (perhaps even hundreds of thousands)? In a Soviet-style land-reform campaign (Source). The fact that this was left out is unforgivable for a documentary series like this, especially when its tagline claims to be going over multiple truths in the war, indicating that it will highlight many of the grey areas. Besides, whenever anyone is portrayed as purely angelic or as pure evil, I become skeptical. I believe they should be portrayed as they were, as human. And humans are flawed beings, with some good things about them, and some bad things.
Doing a little more research, I’ve also learned of incidents leading up to the first Indochina War (prior to the U.S. involvement). A good amount is covered, but a few significant events were left out. The miniseries did not cover France granting Cambodia independence in 1953 (Source), which at the very least portrays the French as less assholish and authoritarian-like when it came to their Asian involvement (though that doesn’t mean they should be left off the hook, it’s just better to have more facts like that to give more food for thought). Little to nothing is said of the Japanese involvement as well (and there-bye completely overlooking president Truman’s involvement in the war), which is something fascinating in of itself, that America would entrust Vietnam to the Japanese for a brief period of time within a decade after defeating them in WWII.
The documentary covers the riots and protests not just in the U.S., but also around the world; though it’s very frustrating to show the international riots yet give no mention as to what they were about or why they were happening; you know, for those of us not as well educated. International rioting aside, not enough detail is given regarding the U.S. protests when it came to the organized groups, like the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground. Since the documentary indicated it was going to show not just how the Vietnam War affected things culturally, but also how a wave of civil rights was going on at the same time within the country, you would think details like that would be a bit more important than another 5 minutes of some soldier reflecting on some emotional moment in his/her life (there’s more than enough of that as-is). Giving details as to what these organizations were, what their goals were, and some of the stuff they did. No mentions of blowing up buildings or shooting people, thus indicating these protesters did bad things outside of just trashing streets and destroying cars and damaging property (by breaking windows). Seemed too much in favor of the protesters. The film is very much on their side when it came to the anti-war portrayal. Hardly any time is given to vets and/or citizens who were against the anti-war protests, and thus not shedding any light on the perspectives of those who voted on certain gallup polls (which were mentioned) which was split on the protests, or mostly against them. If nothing else, I would go so far as to say there’s a hint of contempt for that majority who voted as such in those polls. The closest that I can remember regarding an alternate view is some woman saying something along the lines of, “I respect your right to protest, as that’s your free speech privilege. But if you come knocking at my door again, I’ll blow your head off.” And that’s it. Every other interview ranges from support of the protests, to “It’s amazing that this is happening.” That’s because virtually all the Vietnam vets that are interviewed for the documentary were a part of “Vietnam Veterans Against the War”. I sense bias.
Then there’s the Kent State shootings in May 4, 1970, where National Guardsmen opened fire on the students in the parking lot, killing 4, wounding 9. The documentary portrays it as a random act, letting the footage imply the guards turned and fired suddenly, as if alerted to something going on behind them. But other than the footage speaking for itself, the narrative seems more on the side of the protesters, implying that the National Guard was in the wrong, and that this was a sign of the government forces turning on civilians, calling into question the purpose of the government being for the people by the people, and asking what exactly were the soldiers in Vietnam fighting for if all this was going on. But the film never really goes into detail about the incident, such as how the National Guard felt they were in danger, becoming surrounded, cut off from escape by both the protesters and a fence, that several guardsmen had rocks thrown at them, and they felt firing was necessary because they felt they were threatened. The documentary also doesn’t mention that several of the guards fired into the air to scare off the campus protesters, while others actually fired into a group in the parking lot, thus indicating there was confusion amidst the chaos (Source). But the documentary did bring up an interesting point about how the burning of the ROTC building at Kent State by protesters, combined with the fact that the National Guard were anything but anti-military, implied that this created enough tension as-is, making a disaster like this borderline inevitable if the protesting continued on. Still, would’ve been nice to have more detail and grey area shown, which wouldn’t have been difficult if more narration was provided over the footage.
The documentary also doesn’t mention the Hmungs, among others, who also fought alongside U.S. troops to combat the North Vietnamese. It also doesn’t mention the atrocities committed against the Montagnards, Hmung, and Nungs after the war ended.
Richard Nixon is definitely portrayed as a worse individual than JFK and LBJ, despite the bad/stupid shit LBJ did (JFK though, if anything, was slightly overdone with his role in sinking the U.S. further into the war; yes, he did the stuff shown in the documentary, but it’s left unsaid some of the other things he did trying to prevent the U.S. from sinking so far into it). Look, the bottom line is that all politicians are assholes, they all lie, but they also try to do some good things too, even if that’s ultimately secondary to staying in power. This is more of a nitpick than anything else compared to all the other faults in the documentary, but it’s clear that Burns and/or Novick has it in for Nixon, going a bit beyond just stating facts when it comes to showing his faults (and very little of his successes, and even then underplaying them).
The infamous footage/photo of that guy getting shot point-blank in the head and dying, it highlights the reaction, viewing it as a terrible thing, yet fails to mention why the guy was getting executed. It was because he killed the wife and 6 children of a police officer. No single truth in war, remember the tagline!?!?
While the miniseries does show the instance of that Vietnamese girl getting burned by napalm in that famous photo, and stating that she lived and later moved to Canada, it failed to mention that she moved to Canada to escape from the Communist regime of Vietnam, because they wouldn’t let her attend school or get a real job because they were more interested in using her as a propaganda piece.
There isn’t enough information given regarding the disparity of U.S. troops, as in how they acted. Not all U.S. troops acted as despicably as those in the My Lai Massacre, not all U.S. troops treated the Vietnamese like shit. There was a decent number of troops that acted as respectful as one would expect and hope, especially back in the day when we had this naive belief that we could do no wrong. On that note, and I believe I’m repeating myself a bit here, the documentary doesn’t really mention much of anything regarding how similar atrocities were done by the North Vietnamese (or the Viet Cong).
There is no mention of the role opium played. The only indication of opium is that a decent number of U.S. troops got addicted to it. There was more to it than that (something hinted at in the more recent TV show Quarry). That opium was utilized in Vietnam by U.S. forces (I would assume the CIA) to help finance not just the Vietnam war, but also the Korean war. And this financing eventually led to its spread into the United States (it wasn’t just the Colombians helping Americans getting hooked on that shit).
And lastly, the documentary doesn’t cover anywhere near the level of atrocities committed by the Communist regime after the war in Vietnam (or hell, even during the war; there’s more focus on the atrocities committed by the U.S. troops and by South Vietnam). The only implication we get is that they got a hold of classified information regarding those who helped the U.S., and thus created a “blood list,” a list of those for the Communists to hunt down and kill. It doesn’t mention anything beyond that implication, just that the war ended, China invaded briefly, and they suffered from trying out Socialism for 10 years with disastrous results before recovering and turning into a decent country.
This documentary is selective in its focus, lies by leaving out important details, and without a doubt has a bias extreme enough to cause a very tiny alarm in my head to ring at me when I saw that it was made by PBS. “But the Civil War documentary was also made by PBS,” I said to myself. “But that was 1990, not 2017,” I should have responded to myself. A lot can change in 27 years. The details it leaves out are focuses in a few specific areas, and the fact that they are focused in what is left out confirms my suspicions. It leaves out much of the atrocities the Communists wrought upon the Vietnamese (it’s mentioned to a small extent, infinitesimal compared to how much is focused regarding the amount of atrocities committed by the South Vietnamese and the Americans to the Viet Cong and civilians). It leaves out much of how North Vietnam and the Viet Cong were still able to function so well and in an organized matter despite the losses they were taking (such as by being supplied by the Chinese and Soviets). Most importantly, most of the Vietnamese that are interviewed are of Viet Cong or North Vietnam origin. The only bits dedicated to the South are of how corrupt their government has become, how poor their military conditions were, how much they disliked the Americans, and so on. Nothing is ever really mentioned of the “victories” the U.S. and South Vietnam achieved during the war (such as the Battle of Dong Ha Bridge); it paints a grim picture of constant ambushes and inability to hold taken ground without showing hardly any evidence to the contrary (aside from coverage of the battle portrayed in the film We Were Soldiers, and holding out against the Tet Offensive), plenty of which does exist.
This documentary is a glorified rehash of the defeatist zeitgeist of the 1970s. It paints the picture far too heavily on the traditional, “America fucked up by getting involved,” narrative without clearly displaying the fact that other countries were clearly involved as well. In essence, it was a sort of proxy war between the U.S. and the Communists, a proxy war we lost thanks in part to having no clear strategy other than body count, bad intelligence, bad military decisions made by politicians and due to pressure from anti-war protesters. That doesn’t in any way take away from the blunders and atrocities and levels of hypocrisy done by U.S. soldiers/generals/politicians, but it does show that this was a picture far less simple than the documentary lets on. On top of all that, the documentary from the very beginning is clearly on the side of the message that states that Vietnam was a war the U.S. had no chance of winning, a message many disagree with; it never even considers the alternative that there may have been a way to win the war, even when there are some books written on that very idea. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were right, but concluding from the start that the war was unwinnable leaves their opinions out of the picture, opinions that I believe are worth pondering. The fact that it is dedicated to its very core towards keeping the picture so simple is a shame.
To quote an Amazon.com review of the film:
A veteran is quoted at the end of the film saying, “We have learned a lesson…that we just can’t impose our will on others.” While that daffy aphorism sums up the documentary, in real life the opposite is true. Alexander imposed his will upon the Persian empire. Rome indelibly imposed its will upon Carthage. After the Civil War, the Federal government imposed its will upon the Confederacy. Following World War II, we imposed our will upon Nazi Germany and bushido Japan. In 1975, the North Vietnamese Stalinist government imposed its will upon the South Vietnamese. — Joshua Welte
If they really wanted to do a good job covering as much as possible with the war, it needed more focus. Part of that focus should have included what life was like for various Vietnamese in the North and South, before, during, and after the war. How their lives changed, what hopes they had at various times, if America was affecting those hopes in a positive or negative way, how they viewed Ho Chi Min and Russia and China.
There is more that is left unsaid with the documentary that should’ve been covered at least for the sake of trying to be fair and balanced, but I’ll leave that for those who want to research further into the subject.
Now, with that being said, all those bits of historical facts that are absent from this documentary series isn’t enough for me to completely hate it. There’s still plenty of good stuff to be had here. Like showing how Nixon secretly went behind many people’s backs to prevent a peace meeting between the North and South Vietnam from happening so that he would have a better chance at winning the election, something LBJ was aware of, and could prove it, but wouldn’t do it because he had acquired this information illegally. The documentary also goes into nice detail (albeit briefly, but justifiably so) of Vietnam’s history with the French leading up to the 1960s-70s war (though leaving out the bits with the Japanese). Despite the bias, I currently agree that this was a war America should never have gotten into, as it did much more harm than good (though some still debate to this day if it was winnable or not; though I wouldn’t deny that any chance of victory for the South was fucked from the start due to political corruption and dumb political decisions from both the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. government), it just didn’t need to be so biased and anti-war to get that message across. And it has a decent epilogue regarding the Vietnam Memorial (and how it came to be), and how our relations with Vietnam have improved since then, as we learn to make peace with the past. Regarding that last sentence though, it showed Bill Clinton going to Vietnam to instigate peace, and it showed Barack Obama doing the same, but skipped over George W. Bush making the visit during his term in 2006 (Democratic bias much?). So it is worth watching, but with a large grain of salt and with a critical eye. Don’t be fooled in to thinking this documentary gives enough perspective to be considered satisfactory.
While there is enough information in it to make it worthwhile despite the bias, I just can’t in good conscience give it more than a 2.5 / 5 score, considering the flaws. That being said, I’m going to search for another Vietnam documentary series that is less biased than this, and has more in-depth information. A few films aside, this search has led me to an old 1982 documentary series titled Vietnam – A Television History. Now while it has gotten a DVD re-release courtesy of American Experience, it has a serious problem. From what I’ve gathered, it trims down on the fucking interviews! It censors the original version and throws in more advertisements! And I fucking hate censorship! So now I have to track down a fucking VHS collection of the goddamn thing, watch it that way, likely download it onto my computer through Pinnacle/Dazzle (and I’m all ears for a better alternative than that software), and then put it in a safe storage space online somewhere so that it doesn’t get lost through the ravages of time. The censored American Experience (there’s an ironic name for a company in this context if I ever heard one) version can currently be viewed on youtube, but I’m sure as shit not watching it that way.
PS: For a fascinating yet gut-wrenching case study that gets right down to the horrors of war, atrocities committed by Americans at My Lai and how the effects carried on after the war, I know of two things I can recommend watching. It will show soldiers who have regret, and will make you wonder if they can be forgiven, when they can’t forgive themselves, and have instilled a permanent hatred amongst their victims. It is raw and powerful stuff, and I recommend watching them in this order: My Lai (by American Experience; yes, I’m recommending a documentary done by them after bashing them for censoring a previously made documentary), and Four Hours in My Lai (hosted by a show called First Tuesday). Back-to-back, it becomes more clear as to how decent American citizens can devolve from being decent soldiers to being capable of committing some of the most atrocious acts imaginable.
Edit: Ok, so Ken Burns is definitely a leftist, as made clear with a speech made at the 2016 Stanford Commencement Address, which is hypocritical of him giving the context of the rest of the speech, not to mention flat-out lying with some of his statements. A pity too, because he makes some really great statements in the speech. Guess it sums up some of the pros and cons of his more recent documentaries in a nutshell.
Oh God has it been too long since I’ve witnessed a film that gives me so much material to work with for my review. So eager to type down my thoughts. Oh, and if you’re wondering if there’s going to be spoilers, you bet your ass there’s going to be spoilers. I’m going to spoil the shit out of the 2017 film, the 1990 film, and the novel. Yep, I’ve been reading the novel too.
Oh, and by the way, I will be spoiling the shit out of this.
Note: See part 1 for more information on this film.
Analysis of the Film
The film is made in a Paul Greengrass style (ironic, considering that United 93 was released in the same year, as was Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center; 2006 was quite a year for 5 year 9/11 anniversary films), and as a result the best way to describe it is as a thriller. From the opening moments the film is gripping, the atmosphere relentless in its tension. And it stays that way throughout much of the runtime. The sequence of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in of itself is one of the most intense sequences in the movie, only topped by the devastating final act.
Some negatives I have, just about all of the CGI explosion bits. Granted, this wasn’t the highest budgeted miniseries out there, and this was made just as the golden age of tv shows was getting going (The Wire, The Shield, etc.), but regardless, the questionable looking explosions are still there. Thankfully, they limit the amount of explosions that happen, to where there’s only about 3 of them that prove to be distracting. Aside from that, this brief battle sequence in the desert had too much stuff going on in the distance, and too little action that could be seen thanks in part to shaky-cam and other tricks that were obviously made to disguise the fact that they didn’t have the budget to make a complex battle scene. Lastly, there’s some questionable cinematography at a few points, such as close-up shots of someone’s face. That aside, the rest of the film is very well made.
And considering that this is a dramatic retelling of historical events, which is the main reason this film got pissed on by the Clintons and banned by Disney due to political pressure, how accurate is the film historically speaking? The film says it’s based in large part by The 9/11 Commission Report (before those 28 pages of declassified documents were made public which showed that the Saudis funded the terrorists who hijacked the planes), but that’s not all it used as a resource. The 9/11 Commission Report does not go back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, it only goes as far back as 1998 when Osama Bin Laden became the main focus of the FBI/CIA manhunt. So to gather more information, a novel titled The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It by John C. Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller was used as a resource for making the script for the film, plus 2 other novels titled 1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI-The Untold Story by Peter Lance, and Relentless Pursuit by Samuel M. Katz. From what I’ve gathered, Relentless Pursuit stick with the whole process of pursuing and capturing Ramzi Yousef after the 1993 bombing, and the complications that arose during that process. The Cell is much more broad in its scope, covering as much as it could on the 1993 bombing (and various events prior to that) to the events leading up to 9/11. Unfortunately, this book leaves out Nancy Floyd, which is a big fault considering that she played a big role in working with the FBI’s Egyption informant Emad Salem. The Cell also leaves out the role of Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is an even greater crime. 1000 Years for Revenge is pretty much like The Cell, except it’s written more as a fiction thriller (while being non-fiction) and includes Nancy Floyd, who is one of three main characters the book focuses on (the others are Ramzi Yousef, the bomber, and a firefighter named Ronnie Bucca, who wasn’t included in either The Cell nor the film itself). 1000 Years for Revenge also tends to lean too far into conspiracy theory at times, so both it and The Cell have their pros and cons. I haven’t read Relentless Pursuit, but I’ve read The Cell, and am currently working through 1000 Years for Revenge.
In any case, as far as I know, the film is largely factual, and the liberties it takes are due either to lack of information at the time and/or time compression, or for dramatic flair. Honestly, as big as a 4 1/2 hour film is, that’s not enough time to cover about 8 years worth of events, so they do the best they can with the time they are given. The arguments I’ve seen against this film, all of them are pretty much unfounded, exaggerated greatly, or just pure grade A bullshit. I haven’t seen any other documentary or miniseries take as much shit from a political administration and their radical followers as this film has. It’s ridiculous, and the lengths people went to to attack this film have gone to ridiculous levels. There is one argument I know of that can be used against the film to a small extent. I’ve mentioned the American Airlines controversy in a previous post, but there are some others I feel like bringing up, just to give you an idea of what sort of liberties and time compression this miniseries utilized. They range from understandable to highly questionable.
* When the NYPD officer took that VIN number evidence from the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing, the film portrays it as clearly labeled with the ID numbers. According to that novel The Cell, it wasn’t that simple. There were a lot of hole indentures that made it impossible to tell what numbers/letters were displayed without going through a process that involved bending/twisting the metal, coating it with liquid and wiping it, etc., to eventually make out what those numbers/letters are. But again, simplification and time compression, the message still comes across that an NYPD officer went against orders removing evidence from the crime scene which got transferred to a crime lab that led to the arrest of one of the terrorists. That message isn’t muddled at all due to simplifying the event.
* The film didn’t mention some of Yousef’s post 1993 bombing activities, such as assisting a Bin Laden guerrilla army that planned on making an Islamic state out of the Philippines. But, of course, some events have to be overlooked just for the sake of time alone for a docudrama series, let alone focus, since that had nothing really to do with the events that lead towards 9/11, or at the very least is very low on the priority list of what should be included.
* The film kinda time-jumps from 1996 to 1998. The reason for this is because the FBI and JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) were tied up investigating events that ended up having nothing to do with 9/11, the main one being the incident with Flight 800 and a couple other bombings that happened in 1996 and 1997. Understandable why these events were skipped, since they’re basically red herrings when it comes down to events that led to 9/11, at least compared to the other events that were included in the film.
* The film doesn’t mention Ali Mohamed, a guy who was a triple agent, who informed the FBI about bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but also informed bin Laden and Al Qaeda about the FBI, keeping them one step ahead, giving misinformation to the FBI, and stealing top secret documents. Hey was a key element in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the USS Cole attack, and 9/11 itself. I suppose the main reason he wasn’t included is because the information on him wasn’t entirely clear at the time, that it would add another layer on an already densely-layered and quick paced plot. Or it could just be that the film-makers just didn’t want the FBI to look that bad. In any case, for anyone who’s curious, he’s worth looking into.
* The film doesn’t mention Jamal al-Fadl, the main guy responsible for providing information about Al Qaeda and its workings, letting the FBI and CIA know just what they were dealing with. Really wish the film included him.
Those last two kinda hurt, but despite those omissions (which could’ve been for any number of logical/acceptable reasons), I still find this film to be a solid historical thriller that has historical lessons/information that are worth remembering. In fact, the film can encourage others to look up the information themselves for more information. The controversy surrounding this film certainly got me to do that to see if it deserved the thrashing it received prior to its airing, and from what I’ve researched so far, I’d say it doesn’t deserve hardly any of it.
Anyway, what’s the theme of the film? What lesson does it push forward? From the opening quotes and the closing images, seems to me that the goal of this film is to show events that highlight the pros and cons of U.S. anti-terrorism policies, and how it goes about following them, and the successes and failures done from 1993 to 2001, and makes sure to highlight the failures to plea for the government and the citizens to find a way to follow through on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report. As the film and the novels the film is based upon mention, there was a serious lack of communication, cooperation, funding, and efficiency when it came to getting the job done, along with higher-ups ignoring warning signs, or just not taking them seriously enough. Which made something like 9/11 seem inevitable in retrospect. But that’s the key point, “in retrospect”. While the film does question the decisions (or lack thereof) made during this time period, it tries not to associate blame at the same time (that’s pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and a few beholders saw blame put somewhere and attacked the film for that reason).
While many have complained that the film puts Bill Clinton in a bad light, they tend to ignore that the film does the same to Bush up to an extent (much less various FBI and CIA agents). As far as Bush goes, from what footage they do include of him, he’s portrayed as a guy who just seems ignorant and uncaring of what is going on outside of his personal life. His administration tends to act accordingly, in that they don’t see the importance and significance of going after terrorists, and thus downsize terrorist task forces (CIA and FBI branches dedicated to going after bin Laden) and focus on other priorities, which in hindsight was a very bad move. As for Clinton, he is shown as someone who does want bin Laden captured/killed, but political climate and foreign diplomatic relations tend to make him and/or the people he has in charge of anti-terrorism organizations second-guess his policies on terror, and thus never go all in or take risks that are necessary for getting the job done.
This leaves several FBI/CIA agents angered and frustrated at the obstacles put up by their own government and people at the top of various organizations that prevent them from getting the job done. They also mention the frustration that comes up with various laws in place which give off the effect of “protecting terrorists”, but also point out that these laws are in place for a reason, for better or worse. That being said, the film raises questions on whether or not laws should change for the sake of fighting this “new kind of war”.
Regarding the entertainment value, I found the miniseries to be investing and very entertaining. I am glad this was developed as a miniseries rather than a full-scale epic movie, because it can be exhausting sitting through this film. I don’t just mean the information that you get bombarded with in each scene (there is a lot of dialogue and information dumping and events that continually thrust the plot forward, but they never hit you with too much at once). No, I mean the shakey cam. Just think Paul Greengrass bad, in that it would be headache inducing if this wasn’t divided into 2 parts.
In addition, the last 30-40 minutes of the film are definitely going to leave you emotionally devastated. It’s infuriating, intense, horrifying, and sad all at the same time. The whole film builds up to the tragic event almost like it was an inevitability with the lack of cooperation and the decision not to take terrorisms seriously that caused it to happen, and you can just feel the emotion and the devastation and the shock that everyone felt on that day, whether they were actually there, or turning on the television to witness it. It’s a true gut-punch of a finale. It also shows some of the higher-ups from earlier, who felt it best to interfere with the earlier attempts to stop the terrorists, as they look at the television screen as the attacks are happening on 9/11, making them realize how wrong they were.
So do I recommend this film? Of course I do! This is probably the best 9/11 film out there! The Path to 9/11 is the definitive docudrama film that stands tall above all other films on the subject, in my opinion. It’s good enough to where I think it should be shown in history classes (Scholastic even considered that until the controversy erupted). The head of ABC at the time hinted at the idea that he planned on having the film broadcast every 9/11 anniversary, like how TBS annually plays A Christmas Story every Christmas. Well, that didn’t happen. And I’m fucking pissed about it. I’m pissed at the cocksucking politicians who rallied against it, I’m pissed at Disney for fucking caving into the pressure, and I’m doubly fucking pissed that this isn’t officially available in any video format anywhere within the U.S. (I hear the U.K. and Canada actually have DVD copies of it, because they don’t give a rat’s ass about what U.S. politicians demand; good for them in this case).
So how can you watch the film aside from going to Canada? Well, you could either try to torrent it, or you can do what I did and purchase a copy on eBay. Either way, there are multiple reasons for watching it. Telling Disney to suck it, telling the Clinton administration to suck it, or just wanting to watch a solid historically relevant film that encourages our government to get their shit together. Interesting note, the film even briefly brings up cyber security.
The Path to 9/11 was originally released as a 2-part miniseries in 2006 on ABC, produced by ABC and Disney, written by Cyrus Nowrasteh. It’s a docudrama that recreates/dramatizes the events from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which itself is dramatized in a made for tv HBO film titled Path to Paradise) to the actual 9/11 incident itself, connecting the dots between both events in the process. Here’s why all of those are significant. Cyrus Nowrasteh also directed The Stoning of Soraya M., and was one of the screenwriters for that film; that film became banned in Iran. That film was made in 2009. This film, The Path to 9/11, is currently banned in the United States. Poor Cyrus has a bad habit of getting involved in films that tend to get suppressed in one fashion or another. I mean, granted, that was only 2 times as far as I know, but that tends to be something controversial that draws a lot of eyes.
Anyway, The Path to 9/11 had a budget of $40 million, starred Harvey Keitel and Donnie Wahlberg, got nominated for 7 Emmies, and won an Emmy for Best Editing (something that will be a bit ironic as you soon will see), only aired once for its 2 night premiere in September 2006, and has never aired again or been released on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, or in any official digital format, whether it be Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. Disney lost a lot of money due to that decision.
So that makes one wonder, how can that be? How is it that a film/mini-series financed by Disney ABC, an emmy nominee and winner, and a film that received a respectable amount of viewers upon airing despite being on at the same time as Monday Night Football, be locked in the Disney vault never to be officially aired/released up to today?
Politics, and politicians claiming the miniseries flat out lies and fictionalizes the events depicted in the film, and the mainstream news supporting this claim and spinning the story in that way, that’s how. All of this before the film even aired for its 2 night premiere.
There’s a documentary that pretty much tells all, fittingly titled Blocking The Path to 9/11. This blog entry is basically going to condense the information that documentary provides, but it’s worth tracking it down and watching it. It can be purchased on this website.
The controversy started immediately after a pre-screening of the film in Washington DC at the National Press Club, but they could only show the first part of the miniseries. You know, because the entire miniseries ends up running at around 4 1/2 hours, which is too much time for a pre-screening. So they just showed part 1, which ran 2 1/2 hours. Now, here’s why this is significant. Prior to the film airing on ABC September 10, 2006, the amount of pressure put on ABC more or less forced them to make cuts/alterations to the film. I have seen both the edited and unedited versions of the film, and the only cuts/alterations I can find are in part 1. Part 1 of the miniseries focuses on the Clinton Administration time period, part 2 focuses on the Bush Administration time period. So, after finishing the pre-screen viewing, Richard Ben-Veniste, a Clinton attorney, and a 9/11 Commission Reporter, began verbally attacking and criticizing the film and the crew, stating how the film is historically inaccurate and portrays an unjustly negative view of Bill Clinton. Note that this is opposite of the reaction many 9/11 families had towards the film at that same showing. From there on, things got more and more insane and ridiculous until it came to a peak when a letter was written by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator Charles Schumer, and Senator Byron Dorgan, who demanded that ABC either not show the film, or make cuts to the film. Failure to do so, then they would go after ABC’s broadcast license, which was slated for renewal at the time. None of them have seen the film, or so they stated publicly on mainstream news broadcasts.
Oh, and of course Bill Clinton had some negative say about the movie he had never seen as well. Just in case that needed to be pointed out. In fact, much of what Bill Clinton himself did to attack and attempt to destroy The Path to 9/11 is documented in this book Clinton in Exile, written by Carol Felsenthal.
Anyway, that’s just some of the political pressure ABC faced, along with attacks from other organizations that have ties to the Clinton Administration in one form or another. The pressure didn’t quite get bad enough that ABC was willing to not air the film and lock it up before anyone could see it (through mainstream broadcast anyway), but it did apparently get ad enough to where they made 2 edits to the film.
Edited version of first altered scene:
Unedited version of first altered scene:
Controversial sequence where they were aborted on their mission to capture Osama Bin Laden:
I should also point out that Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, a former White House national security adviser, also spoke out against the film on CNN. He’s that guy depicted in one of those clips above, the one who cut off video feed. Now, here’s the thing. Prior to the film controversy, he faced charges of “intentionally removing and destroying copies of a classified document about the Clinton administration’s record on terrorism.” Source 1 Source 2
Anyway, Scholastic, you know, that teaching/book company, was initially planning to encourage and endorse the use of this movie, The Path to 9/11, as a teaching tool for school classes, but later bowed out due to pressure from the political left.
Oh, right, and you must be wondering, what about Bush? What was the Bush administration’s view on the movie? What did they do? As far as I know, they didn’t take a stance. They did nothing. I’m also pretty sure they bitched less about Fahrenheit 9/11 than the Clintons bitched about The Path to 9/11. But I do believe George Bush actually said that he wanted more face-time on The Path to 9/11, even though part 2 of the miniseries didn’t exactly favor his administration favorably.
Anyway, so of all these complaints about the film being historically inaccurate… Actually, let’s talk about that for a minute. How many docudramas out there are historically accurate? How many are inaccurate? How many just flat out falsify events for the sake of drama? I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to conclude that most of them are probably less accurate than The Path to 9/11 is. I mean, they’re docudramas. If they wanted to aim for 100% historical accuracy, they would be documentaries. That being said, the film-makers have stated time and again that they not only tried to be as historically accurate as possible and minimize the amount of liberties taken for the sake of dramatization, but this film has an unprecedented amount of fact-checking and oversight to make sure things were gotten right. They had members from the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and Air Traffic Control, among others, who were on set to make sure everything was historically accurate.
“The fact-checking on THE PATH TO 9/11 was of the highest standards. I would gladly put its veracity up against any docudrama ever made. In fact, over Labor Day weekend Disney/ABC brought in outside counsel to double-check the factual basis for the script (all 350 pages of annotations and their sources), and they concluded that it was rock-solid.” — Cyrus Nowrasteh
That being said, there is one thing that I know of that the docudrama did get wrong, which they admitted to in the Blocking the Path to 9/11 documentary. At the beginning of the film, one of the hijackers attempts to purchase a American Airlines ticket at the New York airport on September 11, and an alert comes up on the screen, saying that this man is potentially dangerous. But they let him have his ticket and let him go on his way despite this. That didn’t happen, at least not on that day at that airport. This happened on the same day at an earlier time in Portland, Maine for a regional airline flight that had a partnership with American Airlines. In any case, American Airlines decided to speak out against the film for this error.
But aside from that, which, come on, that’s a small error, and the message was still there that the warning signs were around but they went unheeded; aside from that, the film is fairly accurate with the events.
So with all the controversy, all the political backlash, all the media bias, all the personal attacks (you should really see the Blocking the Path to 9/11 documentary for more details), the 2-part miniseries aired on September 10, and September 11, 2006. It aired commercial-free both nights. The ABC president went from intending to air this film annually every September, to never again. This film has never aired again, has never been released in America on VHS, DVD (I heard Canada might be selling), Blu-Ray, has never had an online digital distribution (an official one anyway), there has been nothing of it since. Disney refuses to release it, or sell it to a distributor who will release it. The 10th anniversary of the film’s one and only air date comes September 10, 2016. The 15th anniversary of 9/11 comes September 11, 2016.
What about the quality of the film itself? Is it good? Is it bad? Was it worth all the controversy? Or is it just not that entertaining, and thus it would be better to read a book on the events rather than watch the 2-part miniseries? Well, that is something I will cover in the next review. Spoiler alert, you should track it down and watch it.