Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda

Vietnamerica: Part II Propaganda – A Distinct Form of Documentary Film

by

Howard Adelman

In part I, I insisted that a good documentary should not be a propaganda film which brackets critical thought in favour of a single message pushing an ideological agenda on the public. When critical thinking is suspended, the documentary becomes a propaganda film. Today I will try to show how 10% of the Vietnamerica documentary that was ideological undermined the narrative of the suffering of the refugees who fled Vietnam.

Yesterday, I focused largely on the central core of the film and to some extend on one bookend, the success stories. Both happened to be military successes, one about the son of a refugee family who became the first Vietnamese-American general, and the other about the Vietnamese-American scientist who led the team that created the bunker buster bomb. This emphasis on militarism and a revisionist version of the Vietnam War opened the film. The film was transformed in good part from a view and record of the horrific experiences the Vietnamese had under the communists and in their efforts to escape, into an explicit propaganda film in defence of the theory that America betrayed its ally, South Vietnam. For it argues that the war had been effectively won when Kissinger was responsible for the stab-in-the-back, not only in abandoning Vietnam, but in refusing to re-equip the South Vietnamese army when China and the USSR were re-equipping the North Vietnamese. This thesis is dubious to say the least.

The film does not try to defend its extreme revisionist view, but simply to propagate the tale as a given. Quite aside from the questionable historical account, the effort to combine a historical propaganda film with a film of the experiences of the Vietnamese boat people allows the former to both undermine and detract from the latter.

There are the obvious readily challenged factual claims. A narrator says that half who fled Vietnam died in trying. If the numbers who fled were about two million, that would mean one million died in the effort to find freedom. But the film itself provides the generally accepted figure of 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. My studies indicate that the number was close to the higher estimate and North Vietnamese repression can be held responsible for at least half of those deaths. But not one million. Further, in the movie, there is no effort to resolve the contradiction in the figures cited. Similarly, assertions that 7 million died in the war are dubious. There is scant evidence to support such claims and virtually all authoritative sources cite a total of about 4 million dead and wounded on both sides, including 40,000 troops and civilians in The Convoy of Tears as civilians and military personnel fled the aggression of North Vietnamese armies as they moved against Saigon during March and April of 1975.

As far as atrocities and summary executions go, these were committed by both sides. The most famous was that of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the National Police, whose shooting of a handcuffed prisoner in the head with his 38 Smith & Wesson revolver became an iconic picture for the anti-war movement. The victim was Nguyễn Văn Lém, a member of the Việt Cộng captured in the Tet Offensive. Given the status of the photo, few knew that Lém was responsible for cutting the throat, not only of South Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Tuan, but his wife, six children and 80-year old mother. I do not know which side was guilty of the greater number of atrocities, but I suspect it was the Hanoi regime. Lém was captured beside a mass grave that held 34 civilian bodies.

It is easy to hold the Hanoi regime responsible for large numbers of deaths. After their victory over the French in the north and their breaking up the large estates and targeting large landowners, the Hanoi communist regime introduced land “reform.” that is, transferring all ownership of property to the state. Pacification followed. It is estimated that the Hanoi regime over four years killed almost 300,000 North Vietnamese citizens. In the period preceding the attack on Saigon, as suggested above, “Of the 200,000 refugees that fled the Highlands offensive by the North in March 1975, only 45,000 made it to Tuy-Hoa. Many of the 155,000 missing were killed by North Vietnamese troops; others were captured. Rebel highlanders also fired on the refugees, some were mistakenly bombed by government planes, and still others may have been run over by fleeing government vehicles. Some died by drowning and sheer exhaustion.” Of the death toll from one military advance over two months, Hanoi was probably responsible for almost half those deaths.

Thus, an estimate of those killed after the fall of Saigon of 100,000 does not seem so outlandish, especially if one includes in the total not only those executed, but those who were worked or starved to death in the so-called “re-education” camps. Some estimates go even higher. For a breakdown of civilians indiscriminately killed as a result of or consistent with orders from higher command, that is, democide, I use Bob Rummel’s publications in chapter 6 of Statistics of Democide focused on democide in Vietnam over 35 years.

The central issue of the propaganda element in the film is, however, not about numbers, but about the stab-in-the-back explanation of why Hanoi conquered South Vietnam. The propagandistic aspect of the film begins with two so-called authorities featured near the beginning of the film. One is Robert Turner, a Vietnam veteran and Associate Director of National Security Law at the University of Virginia, the university from which he earned his academic and professional degrees. Turner has been a national security adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and testified before numerous congressional committees. Studying his works offers some hint of the weaknesses of his academic input into foreign policy in the United States. His CV is very skimpy to say the least, largely consisting of op-eds, power-point presentations and submissions to government committees.

Turner is most famous for his defense of presidential prerogatives in military matters without the checks of Congress. In contrast to the vast majority of scholars, Turner has argued against the doctrine that “unchecked” presidential power is incompatible with democratic governance. He defends “unfettered” presidential power to be at the heart of the constitution, namely, that the power of the democratically elected “monarch” is unboundaried. This thesis is not accepted as a very serious perspective by the vast majority of established constitutional experts. Here is how he expressed his view. “Congress exceeded its proper authority in several instances related to war powers and intelligence.” Turner especially stressed the issue of intelligence and often cited John Locke’s doctrine (Two Treatises of Government) that success in war, described by him as a state of enmity and destruction, required unity of plan, speed, dispatch and secrecy

Turner is fond of quoting Chief Justice John Marshall on this issue. “By the Constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers, in the exercise of which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character, and to his own conscience…whatever opinion may be entertained of the manner in which executive discretion may be used, still there exists, and can exist, no power to control that discretion. The subjects are political. They respect the nation, not individual rights, and being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive.”

The problem is that secrecy in John Locke applied to implementation not to strategy and direction. The latter required a shared long term and even permanent conviction and shared by the executive, the legislature and the people of a realm. This required articulation and consent, not deceit and surreptitious behaviour. Strategy applies to long term existential threats. Tactics apply to the management and execution of opposing that threat. A State of peace among citizens requires consent. Conduct of a war against an enemy requires secrecy. The issue is always how you combine secrecy with consent and not have secrecy supplant consent. Interpreting the power of the purse and the approval of appointments very narrowly just does not cut how the dialectical dance works.

However, Turner’s interpretation of the last years of the Vietnam War, while influenced by that non-conventional doctrine, is, if that is possible, even more questionable and, I believe, outlandish. Those interpretations can be read in many of his presentations that presumably informed Nancy when she began making the film: “Reflections on the Vietnam War,” given to the Air Force Military Academy in 2010; “The Consequences of U.S. Abandonment of Indochina” given at the Fall of Saigon conference in April of 2010. For more recent references, see Turner’s power point presentations on the net entitled, “Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Indochina (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)” given to the National Press Club in August 2014; “The Vietnam War and Constitutional War Powers” (October 2014), “Myths of the Vietnam War,” (2015) and “Views on Vietnam: The Irony of the LBJ Library Vietnam War Summit” (April 2016).

All are part of a revisionist history narrative that is akin to the one Hitler offered to Germans explaining why Germany lost WWI. “I continue to believe,” said Turner, “that a misguided and horribly misinformed Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Indochina, leading directly to the slaughter of millions of innocent lives and the consignment to Communist tyranny of tens of millions more.” Why would you include the testimony of such a questionable authority in a film about the horrible experiences of Vietnamese refugees even if it was somewhat credible? The thesis on the fall of Saigon is a crucial debate and a conflicted issue requiring one form of documentary treatment. The portrayal of the suffering of those who fled is based on a very wide consensus. The cost to credibility of including a thesis about the reasons for the loss of a war in a film about human suffering is enormous.

This is also true of the narrative offered by Lewis Sorley, author of A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. His thesis is bought hook, line and sinker by Nancy Bui and, in the film, is offered in an abbreviated account. She expanded upon this thesis in my discussions with her after watching the film. The Americans and South Vietnam had defeated the Viet Cong, had allowed the South Vietnamese government to once again exercise its authority in the towns and villages, and the South Vietnamese army had by then been so well trained that it could carry the war forward without the use of American troops on the ground. However, Nixon and Kissinger sold out South Vietnam in the Paris Peace Accord of January 1973 and then double crossed the South Vietnamese by not resupplying them with arms and ammunition. This position has some justification, particularly the first of these two propositions. But the argument that in 1972, the Americans had won the war when General Abrams replaced General Westmoreland and shifted the strategy from the pursuit of the Viet Cong and body counts to a war to secure villages is highly questionable. Essentially, the thesis argues that the war had been virtually won by the American and South Vietnamese military and then the victory was squandered by the politicians and diplomats engaged in the Paris Peace Accords and its aftermath.

Colloquially put, the U. S. bugged out. Having gotten the North back to the bargaining table, Nixon and Kissinger cut a deal – the 27 January 1973 Paris Peace Accord – which allowed the North to keep its forces in South Vietnam. 80,000 North Vietnamese troops were permitted to remain in South Vietnam and this number was surreptitiously expanded to over 100,000 troops as Hanoi prepared for its 1975 offensive. The breach in the Accords was never really challenged by the U.S. or the world. At the time, of the 160,000 American troops once in Vietnam, down to 27,000 when the Accords were signed, under pressure from the anti-Vietnam War movement and a cowardly Congress, America cut and ran.

Further, Nixon refused to resume bombing to enforce the Accords. This enabled the North to use the cover of a cease fire to move more men and materiel into the South. Meanwhile, Congress, with bills like the Fulbright-Aiken Amendment, and extensive cuts to the military budget, pulled the logistical rug out from under the South. At the very time that the North was stockpiling arms, supplied by China and Russia, the South was having its supply of arms seriously curtailed. It was South Vietnam’s bad luck, at its hour of greatest peril, to be saddled with a feckless ally. Imagine having to depend on the U.S. for the logistical support which is your life’s blood at a time when it was being run by Nixon and Kissinger at the executive level and by folks like Ted Kennedy in the congressional realm. Sorley, and Nancy Bui in turn, lays much of the blame at the doorstep of the American political leadership.
Who else were the real villains responsible, in this revisionist version, for the fall of Saigon? The media focused on the protesters and the casualties (57,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War). A fickle public led by students and liberals opposed the war. There is no discussion in the film about the bombing of Hanoi, the efforts to destroy the supply lines, the refusal of the Saigon government to recognize the reality of the Viet Cong and the civil war (the Viet Cong are, to the best of my memory) never mentioned in the film.) and the widespread destruction in Laos, the failure to sustain a representative government instead of corrupt dictators or even a disciplined core of army officers – failures that would be repeated again and again for decades after the Korean conflict when America entered a foreign theatre to fight a war.

South Vietnam surrendered on 30 April 1975. America rescued 10,000 Vietnamese linked to the military effort and subsequently took in tens of thousands of others in the next three years, many or most of whom were linked with the American war effort. But in 1978, the Vietnamese government began a much wider and more oppressive regime that first targeted the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and then spread to all other middle class Vietnamese. The suppression was horrendous and it was in this period that Canada entered into scene to help resettle refugees fleeing communist repression and not just those who lost the war.

Did a film about oppression and flight of refugees have to be combined with an alt-right interpretation of failure in the war? Obviously not. Interpreting the reasons for the fall of Saigon deserves a separate film in its own right. The effort to marry the two related but separate topics gives the impression that the plight of the refugees is merely being used to advance an ideological viewpoint. An excellent and emotionally powerful film about the Vietnamese refugee exodus is, ironically, almost drowned in a propaganda film about the reasons the South Vietnam government fell. I personally was torn between the tears I shed at the horrors suffered by the refugees and the tears I metaphorically shed at this lost opportunity to create an award-winning feature-length documentary. Though a lost artistic opportunity to make a great documentary of the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people does not compare with the real tears I have shed over the years at the suffering of the Vietnamese refugees fleeing a communist regime, nevertheless I was torn between my sadness at the lost opportunity and the revival of my compassion for the suffering and the dead. The film is valuable for attending to the latter. But it is flawed and distorted by advancing a far out historical thesis. And that is a pity.

An Afterword

One final and minor but relevant academic point arose, not in the film, but in my subsequent discussions with Nancy Bui. Nancy contended that the Paris Peace Accord obligated the U.S. to resupply South Vietnam with military weapons. I argued that the Peace Accords only permitted the U.S. to make up for depletions. As I recalled, the Accords stipulated that the U.S. would stay out of Vietnam after the U.S. army withdrew in terms of supplying military troops or equipment, except to replace losses on a one-to-one basis. Nancy insisted that there was no provision forbidding America from resupplying the South Vietnamese Army. I was not sure if my memory was correct and I promised to re-read the Accords to check whether Nancy’s interpretation was more accurate. The point is obviously relevant to a thesis that faults the U.S. for the fall of Saigon in general and for the refusal to re-supply South Vietnam with military arms.

There is some truth in this. Nixon did evidently secretly promise President Thiệu both that America would be able to maintain its logistical advantage and that if North Vietnam breached the agreement, the U.S. would resume bombing the North. However, chapter V, article 15(d) of the Paris Peace Accords provided that North and South Viet-Nam shall not join any military alliance or military bloc and shall not allow foreign powers to maintain military bases, troops; military advisers, and military personnel on their respective territories, as stipulated in the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet-Nam. Article 2 of Chapter II specifically stated that, “the United States will stop all its military activities against the territory of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam by ground, air and naval forces.” This was interpreted as excluding the Americans from acting militarily in any way on behalf of South Vietnam.

Further, the Case-Church Amendment approved by the U.S. Congress in June of 1973 endorsed this interpretation and explicitly prohibited further U.S. military activity in Indochina and at a time preparations were underway to impeach Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. When North Vietnam resumed the war and launched the 1975 offensive, the U.S. refused to offer further military assistance and certainly refused to bomb the North. The North Vietnamese succeeded in defeating the South Vietnamese army, not primarily because North Vietnam was being supplied by Russia and China but America was not re-supplying South Vietnam, but because morale in the South Vietnam army had disintegrated, because corruption had eaten away at its soul and because most officers fled the field and abandoned their troops as the North Vietnamese advanced. The North Vietnamese did not have to fight very much to win the war. Replacing equipment was irrelevant when the South Vietnamese army was collapsing and the North Vietnamese were seizing more and more American arms and equipment.

Whether South Vietnam lost the war or the war was lost because the American people and the Congress betrayed and let down their partners is at best a matter of controversy. Dogmatic assertion on one side produced a propaganda film that undermines the documentary on the suffering of those who fled the new totalitarian order.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Rebellion: A Review

Rebellion: A Review

by

Howard Adelman

Two hundred years ago, Britain defeated Napoleon and the British Empire dominated the nineteenth century. One hundred years ago, that empire began to unravel. The Easter rebellion broke out in Ireland. Britain squashed the rebels in the ensuing battle, but lost the war; by 1922 Ireland, dependent on Britain for over seven centuries, had won its independence. Brits did not know how to translate the ruthlessness of war into the forgiveness of victory. Almost exactly one hundred years ago today, the highly decorated British General, Sir John Grenfell Maxwell, ordered the trial and execution of hundreds of rebels. Great Britain lost, no longer simply the struggle for home rule, but the war for Irish independence. Two years later, with American help, Britain won the war against the Germans. Then lost that peace as well. John Maynard Keynes (The Economic Consequences of the Peace) rightly predicted that the Versailles Treaty would lead to financial collapse and chaos, a position echoed and elaborated upon in a broader canvas by the great Canadian historian, Margaret Macmillan, in Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. I suggest the adumbration of that disaster was foreshadowed by how the British handled, or mishandled, the Irish rebellion.

Yesterday evening in a single marathon session on Netflix, we watched all five episodes of the special series commemorating the Easter rising in 1916 called, appropriately, Rebellion. Written by Colin Teevan and directed by Aku Louhimies, a Finn, the series was not well received by many critics. Major criticisms focused on historical inaccuracies and viewed the series as a family soap opera against the background of the Easter rebellion. Ed Power dubbed the series as “more damp squib than explosive triumph.” Pat Stacey of the Irish Independent called the dialogue “egregiously stilted” and dubbed the direction “flat.” As well as muddling events, Maureen Ryan for Variety described the series as lacking “a sense of excitement and momentum” as well as failing to provide a historical context for the events. Most of the characters never acquire “a modicum of compelling depth or complexity.”

I think these writers have misplaced their criticisms because they misread the film as being primarily about a political rebellion by the Irish against the British when it is really about a feminist rebellion against both the paternalistic patronizing British as well as the condescending attitudes of the leadership of the Irish rebellion. It is about a battle lost by women in the short run not won (eventually) by political rebels.

The only female rebellious leader, Countess Constance Markievicz (Camille O’Sullivan), the military commander of the battalion that occupied the Royal College of Surgeon’s Building as a base from which to capture Stephen’s Green, is only given the tiniest part, and then only to portray her (accurately) primarily as a leading suffragette and campaigner for the rights of women, but also as a cold-hearted killer who sets off the rebellion by killing an unarmed guard who refuses to open the gates to Dublin Castle. It would have helped the film to know that, although she, like the other male leaders, was convicted and sentenced to death, she was not executed, but went on to serve in the Irish Parliament as the only woman in Eamon de Valera’s cabinet. She was there to witness de Valera suppress women’s rights just as much or possibly more so than Ireland’s imperial predecessors.

The real leads in the series are all women. May Lacey, played by Sarah Greene, Frances O’Flaherty (Ruth Bradley) and, most importantly, Elizabeth Butler (Charlie Murphy). May works at Dublin Castle, the headquarters for the British administration in Ireland. She is the secretary of Charles Hammond, the British Chief Secretary as well as her lover who gets her pregnant, much to the consternation of Hammond’s beautiful wife, Vanessa (Perdita Weeks) who suddenly arrives from Britain just as the rebellion is starting. May is not a separatist, but gets involved in and compromised by the rebellion when Hammond’s wife arrives and Charles shunts her to the sidelines. May steals a secret document, a key element in the advance of the plot, for it is the paper that purportedly fingers all the leaders of Sinn Fein. The Gaelic League and the other Irish-centred organizations.

Frances is a teacher at Patrick Pearse’s St. Edna’s School, a Gaelic and English private school that plays such a prominent part in the series. She is a front line fighter. In comparison, Elizabeth Butler, a daughter of a prominent and wealthy Anglo-Irish banking family, is both an ardent feminist as well as a hard-line exponent of the Irish independence cause. At the very beginning of the rebellion, she becomes a runner in her wedding dress, and, just when the wedding ceremony is about to begin, she abandons her betrothed, Stephen Duffy Lyons (Paul Reid), who happens to be a British officer. She joins the rebellion and the true and hidden love of her life, the rebel socialist leader, Jimmy Mahon (Brian Gleeson), one of the few leaders of the rebellion who is a realist rather than a romantic poetic visionary. Elizabeth is a medical student and leading member of Countess Constance Markievicz’s battalion. All three of the above female roles are fictional to the best of my knowledge.

So is the important role of Ingrid Webster (Sophie Robinson), who arrives from Belfast just as the rebellion begins and, refuses to return as ordered by her fiancé, George Wilson (Andrew Simpson), who as a barrister is conscripted by the army to lead the prosecution of the rebels that will reveal itself to be a legal farce. Ingrid ignores his orders and learns to be a nurse of those wounded in the uprising. Another important character is the feisty mother of Elizabeth, a proto-feminist, Dolly Butler (Michelle Fairley), who is anything but a doll, though she is certainly stately and ladylike in her dress and attitudes. Gradually, she comes out of herself to reveal the independent streak inherited by her daughter. Another powerful minor character, Peggy Mahon (Lydia McGuinness), is Jimmy’s sister-in-law, the brother of her husband, Arthur Mahon (Barry Ward), a British fusilier who needs the position in the army to support his family. As expected, he has a falling out with his rebel-leader brother. But the real source of their eventual separation is perhaps the most moving part of the series, but I will not be a spoiler. I will claim, though, that the award for acting excellence in the series should go to his long-suffering wife, Peggy.

So the drama does not take place primarily in the political and military battles. They serve only as background. The interpersonal and intrapersonal struggles, mainly but not exclusively, of the women, provide the foreground. That seems to be why many of the critics put the series down and depict it as a soap opera. But it is far more than that. For the series puts the women at the home front as the centre of war and conflict, and not the men doing most of the fighting.

Look at how the major leaders of the rebellion are portrayed. Of three of the co-founders of the Irish Volunteers. Patrick Pearse (Marcus Lamb), the Irish teacher, orator, poet, barrister and primary author of the proclamation of independence, as well as teacher of Gaelic and founder of St. Edna’s School, is the only one that has a prominent, though minor, part in the series. Thomas MacDonagh the gregarious poet and Gaelic champion, who was a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers and led the 2nd battalion Dublin Brigade in the battle or Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, does not even appear. Thomas (Tom) Clarke (Lalor Roddy), with a thirty-year history of bombing British locations and serving many years in British jails, who was charged with the military planning of the rebellion, does make a very brief appearance. All three were executed by a firing squad after being found guilty of treason in a secret military trial. Yet as much time is spent revealing his condescension towards women as on his role as a leader of the rebellion.

The rebel military commander and head of the Irish Citizen Army – as distinct from the volunteers – James Connolly (Brian McCardie), who, like Pearse, had a significant role in the series, was killed by a firing squad while sitting in a chair on the final day of the executions while suffering gangrene in his shattered ankle. His death in particular led to a dramatic shift in public opinion. From largely opposing the rebels, the Irish masses began to hold them up as Irish heroes. But the political background of his differences and disputes with Pearse are left vague at best.

On the other hand, there are two outright villains – the Dublin head of detectives and the British general leading the repression of the uprising. The latter, General Maxwell, arrived in Dublin on 28 April 1916, the day before the battle against the Irish Republicans was won. He declared martial law, and, contrary to his performances in the Boer War, in particular as Military Governor of Pretoria, in Ireland he was directly responsible for the execution by firing squad of fifteen rebel leaders, with the first execution taking place one hundred years and one day ago on 3 May 2016. But he does not appear in the film.

Steve Wall, playing Detective Coleman, does appear in every one of the five episodes, but he is never more than a one-dimensional hard-headed and hard-hearted cop. In contrast, whatever their shortcomings in the treatment of women, the leaders of the rebellion are likeable romantic visionaries. In his November 1913 article, before he was supposedly committed to militancy, Pearse in a very ironic article in retrospect entitled, “The Coming Revolution,” wrote,

“As to what your work as an Irish Nationalist is to be, I cannot conjecture; I know what mine is to be, and would have you know yours and buckle yourselves to it. And it may be (nay, it is) that your and mine will lead us to a common meeting-place, and that on a certain day we shall stand together, with many more beside us, ready for a greater adventure than any of us has yet had, a trial and a triumph to be endured and achieved in common.”

Home Rule was insufficient, even though the British Parliament had passed such a bill but suspended its implementation until after the war. But we are not told that fact in the series if my memory is correct. I would very much like readers to check if they watch the series, for I only saw it once. I believe viewers were not informed adequately of any of the following:
• That 54% of those killed (270) were civilians; we see many bodies of what look like civilians, but the series only alludes to this fact or the background just war principles behind the ethical dilemmas in fighting wars in crowded urban settings
• 40% of the civilian casualties were children under the age of sixteen and only two of them served the rebels as message runners, something depicted in the movie but without any ethical context
• The British army and constabulary suffered twice as many casualties as the rebels, but we neither know this fact and we are certainly not given any explanation why from the series. For example, there is no depiction of the stupid frontal assaults on the rebels holding the Mount Street Bridge over the Grand Canal, a direct repetition of the blunders in fighting in France. As a result, there were only four volunteer casualties, but at a cost of many British Foresters dead and wounded (two thirds of British casualties took place in the Mount Street Bridge battle) when the British could have used another route across the canal and attacked the rebels both from the rear and the front
• Most British military casualties and all constabulary casualties were Irish
• The difference between the political home rule party and the militants fighting for independence is alluded to, but not explained, unnecessary for the Irish home audience probably, but certainly crucial for non-Irish viewers if the story of the rebellion is being accurately portrayed
• There is no exposure of the cultural aspect of the war versus the political and military ones, except for the effort to make Gaelic at least survive as a living language; W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory are not in the series, though we anticipated their presence from what we all learned if we ever took an English course at university
• The difference between the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish volunteers is not explicated and is confusing
• The differences between the civilian and military British leadership is certainly part of the fore-story, but it comes across as a muddle
• As in Canada, especially in Quebec, mandatory conscription was a source for strengthening the rebel cause; it is alluded to but not elaborated upon in the series
• The series suggest that the rebels were not guilty of treason but framed themselves to become martyrs when the historical evidence overwhelmingly points to the militants’ plans and efforts to collaborate with the Germans; the series does bring out that a German shipment of arms, including (20,000 rifles, a million rounds of ammunition as well as a great deal of explosives), was intercepted just before the rebellion broke out, but the German captain scuttled the ship before it was captured
• A small part of the problem was that the rebels failed to guide the ship to land; they failed to show up
• We are told, however, that the Brits did not want to reveal that they knew about the shipment lest the Germans learn that the British had broken their codes, just as they would do so again with Enigma in WW II
• No clarity is offered to the differences between the Irish political and military rebel leadership, though there are a few hints that would go over almost any viewer’s head watching the series
• It is never made clear in the series that the document, the Castle Document purloined by May when she was Hammond’s private secretary and mistress, was one that she had likely been “allowed” to steal since it was a forged document by the British military to gain the support of Irish moderates and allow the British army to round up leaders of the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin and the Gaelic League
• Nor is it made clear, though this is hinted at, that the rebels knew the document was forged, but went along with assuming it was real to rally more Irish to their cause, but the series never makes clear either the British or the rebel strategy behind the use of the document
• Nor are we told anything about the treachery among the Irish rebellious leaders, such as between Eoin MacNeill, the expert on Gaelic and Irish nationalist, and the seven-man military council
• We do learn that the order for the uprising was countermanded because the rebels would not have sufficient arms for the volunteers expected to join them; defeat would almost be certain
• The impression given is that the rebellion went ahead, but largely only in Dublin, and only by some of the militants in the romantic notion that the battle was for hearts and minds first of all, not for territory and freedom from British rule, so defeat was expected, but it was viewed as a better choice than prison without even a fight
• Though the fight very early appears futile in military terms, especially if we had learned that the rebels had failed to capture the two main railway stations and the port, and becomes even more futile when far fewer volunteers join the uprising than expected, the series takes the position that this was the result of contradictory orders from different quarters and a romantic vision of the way the rebellion would succeed, plus the failure of the rebels to recognize that the British would bring in large number of reinforcements that would certainly doom the rebel cause
• The defensive nature of the rebellion, the effort to last at least three days to earn international recognition, in particular, the signal battle at the Dublin Post Office, the reading by Pearse of the proclamation and the failed battle at Dublin Castle, were all well portrayed, but with little suspense or excitement since everyone knew, the rebels, the British and the viewers, that defeat was inevitable
• Dublin City Hall used as a base to lay siege to Dublin Castle, was a very weakly defended position, and was sometimes alluded to, but, for film economy in telling the story, such sites were mostly not portrayed
• The confusion of the British response at the beginning was communicated
• There is no explanation for the spate of looting, except suggesting that mob behaviour takes over when the looting took place only because the British ordered the police constabulary back to quarters; there were strict orders by the rebels not to kill the police who were, in any case, both Irish and unarmed
• Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount Wimborne, Baron Ashby St. Ledgers, a grandson of John Spencer Churchill and cousin of Winston Churchill, is portrayed as the dumb contradictory incompetent that I believe he was
• The conflict between Hammond, the Under Secretary, and Wimborne, is depicted with reasonable accuracy, though the TV series makes no reference to the fact that Wimborne was held not to have had any responsibility for the uprising by a Commission of Inquiry, even though the series portrays him as stubbornly unwilling to act on the basis of army intelligence to head off the rebels
• I do not know why the series did not portray the use of artillery on ships that was so responsible for destroying central Dublin, killing many uninvolved civilians and alienating the Irish
• It was not clear whether the main battle depicted was the British assault on the Mendicity Institute, but I believe it was that battle.

There are many more historical instances that would make, and do make, historians apoplectic. But, for me, these are just an indication that the rebellion was not the primary story, but the background to a domestic drama about the fight for equality by women and the indifference of rebels in history as well as establishment political leaders to pay heed to the emergence of women as individuals. Further, the battle for Irish independence and the stupidity of the way the British handled the crisis offered part of an explanation of why, over the next thirty years or so, the British lost its empire.

As I wrote, this is not primarily a political or military series, but a domestic series between men and women over gender rights. Some critics think that this makes the series a light melodrama. I regard the series as a very well produced and directed drama against the background of a rebellion. Alter you experience a gestalt, you may want to watch and appreciate the series.