One of the things that surprised me the most about Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Vietnam series was how similar the war was manned on both sides. In America we had a sort of rich people get of jail free deferments. If you could afford college, and if you were accepted into a college, you could possibly be exempted from serving in Vietnam. If you had no such prospects, you could expect to be called up almost as soon as you were out of high school. The result was poor white and poor blacks ended up on helicopters in a battle zone. Those who might become doctors and lawyers stayed here.
On the North Vietnamese side there was a similar system. The rich were in politburo, the Vietnamese Communist party. These apparatchiks were able to find deferments for their children, for their brothers and sisters and cousins. So the poor and working class North Vietnamese went to war and everyone else was either in a school a prep school, or in a job at home.
The other thought to share here is that the film is often difficult to watch because the North Vietnamese Commanders they interview are full of glee that they were on the winning side in a bloody war against us. As wrong minded as I believe the Vietnam debacle was, it is hard to watch people who presided over the systematic torture of US POWs gloat over their win.
At the end of the day, the North Vietnamese won a pyrrhic victory. They were now under the purview of a strain of Communism that was toxic: indoctrinating everyone who strayed three inches from the proper path. Many of the South Vietnamese officers who surrendered to the NVA were put in “re-education camps” for decades. Let’s call them what they were: prisons.