Burns, Novick, and their team committed years of research to thisworthwhile project, expressed in 10 episodes. If I had to sum up myexperience in watching 5 episodes thus far, I would say that thisprogram is casting a glaring light at how little I knew about this war. Just as bracing as the war imagery is the multiplicity of interviews...Burns and Novick wisely feature all sides to speak forth. The recall ofcombat experience is expressed by soldiers (both sides), families,POWs, journalists, and activists. As might be expected, some of whatthe soldiers express is horrifying. The tape recordings of several US Presidents and their war advisors arean essential part "The Vietnam War". As is necessary, this program usesan abundance of war film clips. But be advised that many of these clipsare woven together, acting as a backdrop to referenced battles andspecific locations. The approach of utilizing a collage of (possibly)disparate film fragments might water down the label "documentary" forthis film. The soundtrack is quite apt, yet predictable at times. Seeing that mostviewers will be PBS supporters (who tend to be center, andleft-of-center), these songs will not only be familiar, but remind usof the musical guideposts which informed our lives. On a somewhatrelated note, I'm curious how conservatives will perceive the tone andapproach of this film. More than a few viewers will ask themselves "can a film like this bepresented in a genuinely objective manner?" For many years now, thewide majority of people would agree that this war should not havehappened, and it's a difficult task for any director to not infuse afilm with their personal viewpoints. As another reviewer noted, it'sobvious that the sentiment of this film is most assuredly against thewar. Finally, I'll leave you with a quote:"It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieksand groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, moredesolation. War is hell." - General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-91)
The first episode of this ten-episode documentary by Ken Burns and LynnNovick sets the table with a history lesson spanning 1858 to 1961. Acomprehensive and insightful accounting, it begins with the Frenchconquest of Indochina and ends about the time that JFK is elected.Viewers are led through the complexities of Vietnamese history in a waythat highlights the pivot points that resulted in the conflict we callthe Vietnam War. This includes the partitioning of the territory intonorthern and southern states separated by a demilitarized zone.Episode two details developments through the Kennedy presidency.Numerous American failures are iterated. At this point, the death of 47Americans (total) was considered a failure.It remains to be seen how subsequent episodes will present the war andfracturing American sentiments at home, but so far the narrative feelsfairly objective and without political agenda. I will return to updatethis review as the series continues.I am looking forward to more first hand accounts and evocative periodmusic.
As much of a fan I am of Burns Civil War, as well as his (underrated?)Jazz documentary, it's hard to not notice how there is due to theperiod its about that there's a distinct lack of footage to drawn upon.The Vietnam War is the opposite, as Burns and Lynn Novick draw upon amassive plethora of footage from all sides, from the combat bolex 16mmphotographers to footage from the Vietcong and in Hanoi to theprotesters and (thank goodness) lots and lots of juicynever-before-heard (or little heard) audio tapes from Johnson andKennedy and so on. But at the same time if it was just that it wouldmake for some compelling viewing and still only be as far as that, somegood footage showing us things about Vietnam most of us don't knowabout or may have forgotten since school (or if one does know a lotabout, like I've seen in social media, there may be holes to poke, butI digress).No, what gets this the full 5-stars is that its master storytellers ata peak: this is the story of Vietnam from all of the conceivableangles: the hundred year or so lead-up to how the French were finallydriven out of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh (who quoted from US *theDeclaration of Independence* in his speech after the French were goneto his people) to the years in the 50's when that divide between Northand South sewed the seeds of all the problems that were to come, andthen how the very first Americans died in *1959*, and then all of theperspectives: the US Military; the presidencies; the anti-warprotesters; the soldiers recounting back on the US side AND theVietnamese (especially the Vietnamese); the parents and family membersof service members; locals and civilians in Vietnam, north and south.Every step of the way we are drawn in through the step-by-step processand how it was kind of inexorable; the US could have gotten out atmultiple points, but due to the Cold War, Communism, a gargantuan senseof pride as WW2 and Korea had come in the recent consciousness, theywere stuck in a civil war that they should have not been a part of.In other words, Burns/Novick are charting all of the history that canfit into ten hours, and I'm sure if there are Vietnam war buffs they'llsay this or that is missing. For those who only know so much they layit all out in such a way that is harrowing and achingly personal (lookat episode 3 with the story of the teenage boy who feels it's his dutyso much to get into combat that he runs away for four months until hisparents say it's okay... and you realize this is not going to turn outwell, but you try not to think of that while his story is told),through all of the interviews with real guys who fought and came backand the stare is still there after over forty/fifty years. There'sregret, there's trying to put things into context, there's more regret,there's footage that shows more than one might expect about thetrepidation of the soldiers then (a hard-assed marine captain whoadmitted in an interview he wished he could have 200 of the Vietcong asthey were "good soldiers").There's so much to wrestle with here about American Imperialism - ifnot the beginning of it, then the crystallization of it - theentrenchment of politics through combat (Johnson doomed himself throughnot going more for peace and instead digging in to his advisors - andthen of course Nixon, good lord that walking-talking curse word) - andthen how real people, citizens being fed from the trough ofanti-Communism (and on the flip-side how the Americans were exactlylike the French, like there were no differences at all, asWestern-European invaders), and it's both dense and easy to follow. I'mnot even done with it yet and I'm tempted to say it's the best thingBurns has done.
I remember seeing news reports on the television when I was a child.Vietnam was one of those places my parents didn't want me to see. Sooff went the television during the six o'clock news reports. I was toremain sterile to the death.Ken Burns has made some very important documentaries and one of myfavorites was about Baseball. He is a thoroughly complete producer ofhis projects and his team of researchers try to leave no stonesunturned. The efforts are not always perfect but they are more oftenvery detailed.The Vietnam war has been a long and blood road of destruction for allof those who attempted to control the land from southern China to theS. China Sea. It was invaded by the French over one hundred years agoand in 1986 underwent reforms to unify the country.Ken Burns covers a lot of pre-political subjects showing how mistakeson both sides eventually leads to the deaths of millions of people. Awar which is not needed but is desired by those who seek power andcontrol with their greed.America is eventually brought in to the fight under false pretenses oftrying to stop Communism. How many times would this war have beenavoided if underlings of the US Government would have passed alongletters of intent from one leader to another? Simple acts of ignoranceand stupidity by CIA agents or secretaries who make decisions for anentire nation?While some might find this series less than desirable, it attempts tobring forth the reality of a situation with open eyes. It attempts toshow a timeline of events with all the different contributors of chaos.Viewers need to step aside from thinking of any nation as being thejustified. Even the Vietnamese killed Vietnamese and destroyed theirland and murdered their people in an attempt for complete control.
I love Ken Burns and his documentary style. He has the rare gift ofbalance in his presentations, with cinematography, script, survivorsand tempo. In the first episode I have watched, we are treated to anobserver style history of the treacle that was the Vietnam War.We find out how the involvement became a morass for the US and howideologies overran the original purpose. That purpose was by no meanshonourable, with the French Colonialists trying to re- establish theirelitist rule over Indo- China with brutal intensity. To the occupiers, the Vietnamese were only one step above beasts ofburden (this was, however, the attitude of all colonialists AND theattitude of the US elite towards what they felt were "lesser" races intheir own country) Of course we didn't know anything about theVietnamese struggle to guide their own destiny and by the time it madethe mainstream media it had morphed into a fight against communism. Mr Burns does a great job of explaining this history to us in emotionalscenes that only he can create. It's hard not to cry at the harrowingexperiences recalling families being wiped out or parents shot dead infront of their kids. The way in which he displays the stupidity andcallousness of carpet bombing villages and forests shows how easy itbecame for the US troops to run out of control. I mean what use is itto send a group of twenty or thirty men through a rice paddy field todestroy mostly innocent bystanders in a bamboo hut village? It just builds more hate yet it carried on unchecked for many years. And that's why I like Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's approach, they arenon-judgmental and have you asking yourself questions as to how thingslike this happen in the world. The leaders are usually at the mercy oftheir advisors and their advisors are quite often a group ofideological nutters who know nothing about world affairs, I don't haveto elaborate on the outcome of decisions coming from meetings of thesetypes of minds! So in the first episode, one of those fateful decisions is made (and byone of the Presidents I admire the most.. Harry Truman)and we'reimmediately in that treacle.We're in a war we can't win and it's a war we shouldn't be involvedwith.... how do you get out? Well, getting out is the easy part, it'sgetting out AND saving face that we're going to learn about as we getto the end of this marvellous documentary