The First Casualty is Also Last Laugh

War games are notoriously one-sided as a general rule, and couple their themes with gameplay that usually boil down to slaughtering mass amounts of your foes, they’d be the last place I’d go to for a nuanced look. Yet a great place to start for my first post here!

With that in mind, I just noticed an upcoming release for PC on Steam just this morning and as both a gamer and a former-historian, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write a bit about it. Simply put, Air Conflicts: Vietnam boasts one of the most incredible store pages I’ve ever seen.  

“Fight for freedom!” calls the video, though the freedom they speak of doesn’t appear to be the freedom from foreign rule that Vietnamese nationalists fought decades for. Maybe they meant it more philosophical, like freedom from the burden of choice. Or perhaps existentially, freedom from this mortal coil.

“As Democracy and Communism collide!” I guess the game makers were not aware that the US directly put a stop to democratic elections in Vietnam because they knew what the outcome would be and didn’t like it. Instead the US championed an unelected regime they installed which adamantly refused to allow a vote based on American insistence. Provincial chiefs were replaced almost entirely with military officers obedient to a man from New Jersey.

“Prepare for mind-blowing flight simulation with exotic landscapes,” that you destroy and leave permanently marred I presume, for that’s what the US did when it dumped chemical weapons on the beautiful landscape of Vietnam and carpet bombed the nation. Speaking of carpet bombing, the video loudly and proudly assures us you will be able to do that.

Beautiful landscapes... for you to destroy!

"The Vietnam War, one of the most explosive and violent wars of all time. You are Joe Thompson, an intrepid and patriotic pilot fighting to uphold the values of his country.” What a line! And what values! No, what values? Keep in mind the US was not in Vietnam to champion democracy, they did everything in their power to prevent democracy. The full weight of the worlds richest and most powerful state was brought to bear upon some Asian peasants to make sure a democratic outcome was not achieved.

Perhaps freedom from colonial rule like the US did in their own War of Independence? No to that too, as the US forced pre-Communist China to hand back over the country to France, whom it then supplied over 80% of the funding to fight the Vietnamese nationalists. That was all before the US stepped in to install its own unelected colonial regime, led by a Catholic out of Jersey to rule over a Buddhist nation.

Uh no, not quite.

You wouldn’t know this from the developers it seems, as their own page declares that the US “decide[s] to support South Vietnam in the fight against the communistic Vietcong troops.” Fair enough on second thought, the US would choose to support it's own puppet regime, right?

I’ve begun to wonder if the whole thing is a joke. Or a bait and switch, and maybe when the game comes out it’ll pull a trick on us all and manage to show a view of history that’s not completely deluded. Maybe the developers will have a bit of a laugh at us come launch day. As of right now the promotional material has set this game up to make all the first-person shooters out there to look incredibly deep and balanced by comparison.

It’s not out for another two weeks so there’s few answers for me to give, yet the promotional material for the game alone is awe inspiring, in the same way an avalanche is: From a distance.

In the academic field of history, even supposedly professional historians are usually heavily predisposed towards their own countries war narrative, yet the Vietnam war lives on as a controversial one in American history. Even American historians have acknowledged that the fight for independence that started with Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a nationalist one, and not by any stretch of the imagination a vanguard of world communism.

While at the time, US government analyst, Douglas Pike, studied the “communistic” nationalists and concluded that they were not warriors, but simply organizers first, who were teaching autonomy to the villages that were so long ruled from across the world by European powers.

It’d do the game makers of today well to remember that instead of painting them as typical game fodder.


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