Ken Burns’s ‘The Vietnam War’

The Vietnam War is about to be discussed in ways which it has never been talked about before, during the 18 hour PBS documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The ten part series will air on ThinkTV, channel 16 between Sept. 17-21, and Sept. 24-28.

“There is no single truth in war” is the motto, as almost 80 people from every conceivable side of the Vietnam War experience give their testimonies. Those interviewed share their perspectives and personal stories as former American service members, family and friends of American servicemen, Anti-war activists, North Vietnamese soldiers, Viet Cong, South Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and politicians.

A difference from other war documentary series is the absence of historians and the voices of famous people. Only people directly involved in the war are interviewed and pieces of TV news coverage from the time are included.

Previously sensitive audio recordings from within the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations will play their part in exposing that which made the gears of the Vietnam War turn. Consequential events such as the series of incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to America’s escalation of involvement in Vietnam, will be discussed in a light made possible by over 50 years of reflection.

ThinkTV presented a screener event of “The Vietnam War” at The Plaza Theatre in Miamisburg on the night of September 9, which included a five person discussion panel of Vietnam veterans and a veteran’s ex-wife.

The veterans included an Army infantryman who earned the Purple Heart in an incident that cost him his right leg, and a helicopter pilot who is currently battling prostate cancer attributed to his exposure to the herbicide, Agent Orange.

After watching the series teaser, the panel expressed a unanimous feeling that the documentary will take time for them to process. The veterans were all able to outline their own experiences and offer their opinions of the war.

One idea shared by all four veterans was that America did not lose the war in Vietnam, but lost public support for the war.

The ex-wife on the panel was married to a C-130 cargo plane pilot. She lived in off-base housing in Japan during his service in the war, as he flew regular missions between Japan and Vietnam. She recalled memories of dinner parties with neighbors with whom she and her husband worked hard to avoid discussing his job or America’s presence in Vietnam, for her Japanese friends deeply opposed America’s involvement in the war.

With her ex-husband beside her on the panel and her current husband seated in the audience, she expressed the feeling of watching her loved one change as he flew supplies into Vietnam, and the bodies of dead Americans out.

Numerous stories like these will be told during the documentary series, along with big picture history lessons.

Ken Burns, who is known as “America’s Storyteller,” popularized the use of panning over photographs slowly to provide historical context. His previous war documentary series followed the Civil War and World War II.

The documentary took Burns ten years to make, and is ready for viewers during a time when Americans are again questioning the validity and progress of an ongoing war.

 

Will Drewing
Managing Editor

 

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