What Can We Learn from Last Days in Vietnam?

In Iraq, ISIS threatens the Baghdad airport. Meanwhile, in the U.S, theatergoers get to watch people frantically scrambling to be on the last flight out of Vietnam.

Not everyone is eager to relive America's last great foreign policy disaster—even cinematically. But Rory Kennedy's new film, Last Days in Vietnam, offers a stunning history lesson as it depicts the anguish at the end of a badly waged war. The documentary revolves around the last chaotic days before the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.

In 1973, under the Paris Peace Accords, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all its combat forces. In turn, North Vietnam agreed to "respect the independence" of South Vietnam.

Peace didn't last long.

U.S. President Richard Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government he would rush in support if conflict resumed. But, with Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, North Vietnam decided to test Washington's resolve, launching a major incursion into the central highlands. When Congress refused to support additional aid, the invasion expanded rapidly south. By May 1975, enemy troops closed in on the capital.

Wanting to show a brave face of support for the South Vietnamese, Graham Martin, the American ambassador in Saigon, pushed off evacuation planning until the last minute. Even then, the official policy was to remove only U.S. citizens, leaving behind many thousands of Vietnamese officials and their families who worked closely with the Americans.