Ken Burns' The Vietnam War documentary

AlpineZone

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 13
  1. #1
    Whitey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Suburban sprawl north of Boston
    Posts
    347

    Ken Burns' The Vietnam War documentary

    Maybe it's because I am viewing it in light of the accolades and adulation that Burns' Civil War documentary got, but I am kind of surprised that there isn't more discussion and praise for his most recent documentary about the Vietnam war. I just got done watching all 10 episodes, 18 hrs total. Took me about 2 weeks to get through all the episodes.



    Did anyone else watch it?

    I think it was really well done. It was long, of course, but it covered a remarkable amount of material. The juxtaposition of the US veterans and politicians and their South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese counterparts gave a more balanced view of the war. Most other Vietnam histories I have read or seen focused almost exclusively on the US side.

    It was also not just a "war documentary". The "stateside" view of the protesters and anti-war activists did a good a job of not just painting them as a bunch of drugged out hippies but recognizing that they played an important role in getting us out of the war and keeping the pressure on our government as it dragged us deeper into a morass. The families who had servicemen & POW's in Vietnam were well represented in the documentary. If you can follow the complete story of "Mogie" Crocker from upstate NY and his family and not shed a tear, you are a stronger person than I. If I ever meet Hal Kushner (POW), I'll buy him as many beers as he wants for as long as he wants.

    The tragedy of the war was, of course, the 58K US and 2-3M Vietnamese who perished and all of the wounded and maimed. But the documentary really drives home the point that the secondary and almost as mind-boggling tragedy was that every administration from Kennedy through Nixon understood that the war was unwinnable and yet we spent 10 yrs and all those lives and causalities because they thought the communists were marching to world domination. Hearing that now with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chinese being our largest trading partners, all you can think is "tragic".

    I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I think that if you haven't done so - set aside the time to watch this. But also - am I overestimating how well it was done and maybe that's why there isn't more buzz about it?

  2. #2
    Edd's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Newmarket, NH
    Posts
    4,485
    Ive watched the first 2 eps. Its beautiful and an important piece of work for Americans to watch, IMO. I was ignorant of French colonial history with Vietnam. The first ep alone is very enlightening but its a big download for the average American.


    Sent from my iPad using AlpineZone

  3. #3
    ALLSKIING's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    East Setauket,NY/Killington,VT
    Posts
    6,754
    I watched all of it and thought it was fantastic.

    Sent from my SM-N950U using AlpineZone mobile app
    Dave
    11/12 Season 13
    12/13 Season 17
    13/14 Season 22
    14/15 Season 30
    15/16 Season 24
    16/17 Season 32
    17/18 Season 10

  4. #4
    watched it all,as a Vietnam veteran I thought it was well done. If only our leaders would watch it and learn!!

  5. #5
    ALLSKIING's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    East Setauket,NY/Killington,VT
    Posts
    6,754
    Quote Originally Posted by darent View Post
    watched it all,as a Vietnam veteran I thought it was well done. If only our leaders would watch it and learn!!
    Thanks for your service!

    Sent from my SM-N950U using AlpineZone mobile app
    Dave
    11/12 Season 13
    12/13 Season 17
    13/14 Season 22
    14/15 Season 30
    15/16 Season 24
    16/17 Season 32
    17/18 Season 10

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by darent View Post
    watched it all,as a Vietnam veteran I thought it was well done. If only our leaders would watch it and learn!!
    Such a divisive period. My older brother is a VN vet too, USMC Infantry. He still has a hard time with the subject and could only watch brief segments of the Burns doc. All Skiing's reaction thanking Darent for his service is great. I never served, but have great respect for military members and worked with them as a civilian for much of my life. One of the tougher things for me was knowing a lot of vets (like my bro) who returned from VN and felt disrespect or hostility at home for doing their duty and risking their lives - another tragic aspect of that war. Something I think we've learned as a country since VN is that you can question the policies of our country, while still honoring the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers following the orders of our elected leaders.

    My brother sent this to me, not his writing, but it's a perspective on the Burns documentary and the VN War that he shares.

    “The Vietnam War”, A Different Point of View
    By Tom Esslinger, USMC

    As we have come to expect from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, “The Vietnam War” was well-made, entertaining and informative. It was also not the whole story, and not always accurate. I am here to set the record straight on a few important points.

    First, allow me to establish my qualifications to make the following observations and comments. I was a student at Yale University from 1961-1966. In December 1966, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and in September 1967, I went to Vietnam. I commanded two Marine rifle companies. First, Mike Company, 3d Battalion, 26th Marine regiment on Hill 881 South during the Battle for Khe Sanh from January -April 1968, and then India Company of the same battalion from April-July 1968.

    Burns epic pictures all of us Vietnam veterans as atrocity committing victims of the incompetent or evil politicians in Washington, DC, who then were against the war by the time we came home. Simply not true. Almost all Marines I know joined to serve their country and were proud of the opportunity to do so. We served honorably and even courageously in a difficult war against a formidable enemy. We committed many acts of great violence, but did not commit atrocities or war crimes. When our tour was over, we came home and went on with our lives. The much different image of us projected by “The Vietnam War” is the one created by those of our generation who wrote and controlled the social history of that troubled era of our history. They were able to do so because they had access to the media while we were off in the jungles of Vietnam, and they were anxious to control that narrative because they felt the need to justify their refusal to serve their country by declaring the war and its leaders as immoral. Their need for self-justification has created a false picture of us veterans that is demeaning and unfair. When they came back to the United States, Vietnam Vets were anxious to put the war behind us and get on with our lives. We did not seek to contest the image of us promulgated by those who protested and avoided service, because we thought that our honorable service spoke for itself. That was obviously a mistake on our part, because it left the writing of the story to those who had an interest in picturing us in a less than flattering light. We have been paying for that mistake ever since.

    The Marines I served with were the heart and soul of America, who joined to serve their country as had their fathers and grandfathers. It was a tremendous honor and privilege to be permitted to lead them in combat. They deserved, and continue to deserve, the honor and respect of the countrymen they served, not the disrespect and derision they received. The great majority did not come home and protest the war. In fact, I have asked more than a hundred of them whether they would do it all over again, even knowing what they know now. More than ninety percent have answered “yes”.

    A few more observations or comments:

    1. During my years at Yale, and after the war, as a Marine serving at the White House, I got to meet Presidents Johnson and Nixon, as well as Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy and Walt Rostow. These were all basically good men (even if more than a little arrogant and egotistical), who were trying to do the right thing for their country. They got involved in a situation they handled poorly, but they were not evil men.
    2. Clearly, American troops committed some atrocities. This was always a failure of leadership. Weak leaders like Lt. William Calley, were in positions of responsibility because their better educated fellow citizens who were probably better qualified to be leaders ducked that responsibility. When you and your Marines suffer multiple casualties from a booby trap that you know was set by some residents of a nearby village, you thirst for revenge. If permitted to do so by their leaders, many would probably have been delighted to torch that village, even if it meant innocent victims, including women and children. But their leaders understood that these very young Americans were soon going to go home, and would have to live with what they did in Vietnam for the next sixty years of their lives. So they restrained their Marines.
    3. Burns and Novick are critical of the fighting spirit and ability of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My Marines made the same observation. I told them that, whereas we could go home after thirteen months, our ARVN allies lived in a country that had been at war for generations, and figured to continue to be at war for many years after we left. From that perspective, it was easier to understand why they were not particularly anxious to die today.
    4. “The Vietnam War” makes it seem like war protests were an important component of the history of the Vietnam War era from the earliest days of the war. Not true. I was at Yale in the early and mid- 60s and never saw or was aware of any protests. Oh sure, a few radicals like William Sloane Coffin, Jerry Rubin and Doctor Spock made as much noise as possible, but they were largely ignored by their fellow citizens, including students. When I left for Vietnam in September 1967, the large majority of Americans supported the war. That changed dramatically in 1968 while I was gone. That is when the protest movement became a very important part of the Vietnam narrative.
    5. Burns and Novick repeat the oft-stated conclusion that black Americans suffered a disproportionate share of the casualties America sustained in Vietnam. Not true. According to the VFW Public Information Office, 12.1 percent of combat deaths in Vietnam were black Americans at a time when black males of military age made up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population.
    6. “The Vietnam War” did a good job of reciting the history of the creation of “The Wall”, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The building of that monument was strife ridden, but in the end, Vietnam Veterans built their own monument to themselves and their comrades who did not survive. Some like to pretend The Wall was built by America to welcome home Vietnam Vets. Not true. It was conceived, created and largely financed by Vietnam Vets. It has proved to be much more than another stone war memorial. It is beyond my capacity with words to explain its value to our generation of veterans.
    Thank you for the opportunity to present a fairer and more accurate view of the young Marines I am so proud to have served with.

    Semper Fidelis, John T. (Tom) Esslinger, USMC
    Last edited by jimk; Oct 24, 2017 at 2:25 AM.

  7. #7
    Whitey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Suburban sprawl north of Boston
    Posts
    347
    Quote Originally Posted by jimk View Post
    Burns epic pictures all of us Vietnam veterans as atrocity committing victims of the incompetent or evil politicians in Washington, DC, who then were against the war by the time we came home. Simply not true. Almost all Marines I know joined to serve their country and were proud of the opportunity to do so. We served honorably and even courageously in a difficult war against a formidable enemy. We committed many acts of great violence, but did not commit atrocities or war crimes.
    I mean this with all due respect to his service and opinion, but I disagree with that view of the documentary. I actually thought that they did a good job of making the point that the nature of the war and how it was fought (no clear front-lines, difficulty distinguishing between enemy and the local population, massive bombing/artillery/firepower, constantly having to go back into areas where they had already fought battles and fight again, 18-20 yr olds from East Nowhere, USA being sent to an alien and exotic place that many had never heard of, etc) led to what "atrocities" were committed. But they were very clear that both the US troops and the ARVN fought with with bravery and honor with only a few exceptions. My Lai was covered in depth but that was a critical tipping point in the war and any history that doesn't cover My Lai would be lacking.

    They actually spent a decent amount of time covering veteran's frustration with the "baby killer" type stuff that they had to deal with and how unfortunate and inaccurate that was. They also note that during the Tet offensive and several subsequent offensives that the ARVN fought bravely and took tremendous losses. It is also clear that the ARVN were compromised by the corruption and lack of popular support the govt's of S.VN.

    The problem was, in my opinion, that the whole war was an atrocity. We bombed civilian targets and dropped an incredible "more tonnage than all of WW2 combined" bombs, we had helicopters hovering 200 ft above villages pouring machine gun and rocket fire into them, we used napalm and agent orange in mass quantities. Combine that with incidents like My Lai, add a couple of famous pictures like the guy executed by the ARVN officer and the young girl running away from a napalm attack and anyone who fought there gets painted with a broad brush and then they naturally come to resent that characterization. Sadly, the respect and appreciation that our veterans should have gotten was overwhelmed by the anger, confusion, and disgust that many came to feel about the war. Yes, we should have been better than that, we weren't. The documentary does a good job showing how divisive the war was and how emotional (unhinged?) many became about it. You also get reminded why so many veterans don't like John Kerry. His "in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan" testimony was way over-stated and really didn't serve any purpose other than to reinforce the "baby killler" stereotype. Too bad because absent that part of his testimony, the rest was a brilliant rebuttal of every reason we were there.

    Without being too much of a junior psychologist, I think the reason why the author of this letter thinks that the documentary painted the veterans like war criminals is that he is conditioned to. The veterans' experience has led them to be predisposed to look for that kind of bias in histories of the war and if you look hard enough for it - you will always find it.

    Just my opinion/thoughts.

  8. #8
    Fine follow-up post Whitey. To be honest I have not seen much of the Burns VN doc either, so I'd really need to do that to legitimately continue this discussion... and you may have motivated me to do that. There is much wisdom in the old adage, "those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

  9. #9
    bigbog's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Bangor and the state's woodlands
    Posts
    4,812
    Items for Sale
    EDITED...
    Thanks for creating this post Whitey. Indeed another masterful piece of work by all involved. I too thought the firsthand narratives of the North and South Vietnamese personnel were money. The pompous attitudes of the politicians, except for Fullbright, and the military leaders were unbelievable, as well were the mindless strategy/orders from Westmoreland and McNamera's domino theory...and their lack of study of the Marshall Plan's success. It's where the saying ~"Those who fail to learn from Past History...are doomed to repeat it" pretty much got started in this country...in the years following. The price that both the Vietnamese people paid from the 50s through the Vietnam War, along with American participants and families....unbelieveable.
    Last edited by bigbog; Nov 2, 2017 at 2:36 PM.
    SteveD

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by ALLSKIING View Post
    Thanks for your service!

    Sent from my SM-N950U using AlpineZone mobile app
    your welcome and I will say that everyone who served there had their own experience. I think vets will have many opinions on the Burns documentary related to their experience.

Thread Information

Users Browsing this Thread

There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
All times are GMT -5. The time now is 3:31 PM.