Review: Final episode of ‘The Vietnam War’ fails to deliver

(Video link)

Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s epic documentary, The Vietnam War, concluded on PBS last evening with a whimper, not a bang.

In publicity interviews before the series, Burns seemed to suggest that the nation remains conflicted over whether the war, which took the lives of 58,000 Americans, was worth it. The first episode last week seemed to promise to deliver an answer to that question.

It didn’t.

The question, actually, was never posed during the 18-hour film, opting instead for the assessment of one of the documentary’s handful of interviewees that the stated reason for the war was a worthy one. That was a disappointing, but not unexpected, cop-out from a film that had already delivered its gut punch: a deeper picture of the treachery of Richard Nixon and the thousands of American kids who died because of it.

Nixon, running for president in ’68, torpedoed peace talks between North and South Vietnam and the Viet Cong after President Lyndon Johnson tried to bomb North Vietnam to the bargaining table.

Nixon used an intermediary to convince a corrupt South Vietnam president to pull out of the talks before they could even start because it was just a few days from the election and Nixon, incredibly, had been marketed as a peace candidate. Peace before the election was not in his interest.

Nixon called President Johnson to insist that he had nothing to do with the diplomatic subterfuge (Burns/Novick had the recording of their conversation), but Johnson knew the truth; he had bugged the phones of South Vietnam’s government, but he couldn’t say anything because it would’ve revealed the U.S. had wiretapped its partner.

Later, once elected, Nixon started a secret bombing campaign in neutral Cambodia and Laos, but didn’t tell the American people or Congress. When the media — portrayed now as “the enemy of the people” — found out, Nixon ordered illegal wiretaps on journalists and generals.

The final episodeThe Weight of Memory — was far more tender than the rest of the series and didn’t really require an answer to Burns’ original question. History had already spoken, even if — as Fair and Accuracy in Media writes today — Burns couldn’t even bring himself to conclude the obvious: America lost the war.

There is a lot to unpack in this short passage, but it is accurate in its summation of Burns’ narrative focus throughout his film: that is, long on personal perspectives and documentary evidence of the chronological evolution, but short on broader conclusions about American foreign policy, or any real condemnation of the indescribable cruelty and dishonesty among policymakers who orchestrated it. In one telling anecdote, Burns confided to the New Yorker that his team debated saying “ended in defeat” in this section, but nevertheless chose “failure” instead.

Likewise, the film’s “begun in good faith by decent people” line doesn’t merely land like a false note, it deafens like a discordant symphony. As Veterans for Peace pointed out, Burns’ own documentary refutes this claim. Nearly every episode in the film offers up myriad examples of our elected officials, the military, or CIA willfully lying to the public (or each other) about the US’s involvement in Vietnam, often for personal or political gain.

The document, long on historical facts, was short on obvious context and relevance to America in 2017.

The parallels were unmistakable, however, including the ability of Americans to create reality of whatever they were and are told to believe, the facts be damned, creating an up-is-down country where a subsequent presidential candidate who served in Vietnam was framed as the coward, while his opponent who stayed home was the patriotic hero.

To that extent, another interviewee’s assessment of the Vietnam War last night was far more important and accurate.

“We never recovered,” Sam Wilson (Army) said.

Burns and Novick pulled their punches in their conclusion that meaning can be found in the stories of people who fought in Vietnam. “Stories of courage and comradeship and perseverance of understanding and forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation,” narrator Peter Coyote said.

“It makes me cry,” southern Minnesota native and author Tim O’Brien told the Washington Post this week. “I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop thinking of what a waste it all was.”

The film, partly funded by David Koch, gave O’Brien the last word, reading from his book, “The Things They Carried.”

They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. They often they carried each other — the wounded and weak.

They carried infections. They carried basketballs, Vietnamese – English dictionaries. Insignia of rank. Bronze stars. Plastic cards imprinted with code of conduct.

They carried diseases, among them malaria, dysentary. They carried lice and ringworm and leaches, paddy algea, and various rots and mold.

They carried the land itself. Vietnam. The place. The soil, a powderly orange-red dust, that covered their boots, and fatigues, and faces. They carried the sky, the whole atmosphere. They carried it. The humidity. A lot of feelings. The stink of fungus and decay. All of it.

They carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire. At night they were mortared. They crawled into tunnels, and led point, advanced under fire.

But it was not battle; it was just the endless march. Village to village. They march for the sake of the march.

They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bones. Simple grunts soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies. They crossed the rivers, and up again and down again. Just humping. One step and then the next. And then another. They made their legs move. They endured.

Cue the credits, a fade to black over the Beatles’ “Let it Be.”

Let’s not.

Related: ‘The American War’: You’ve watched all 18 hours of ‘The Vietnam War.’ Here’s what Ken Burns wants you to remember. (Washington Post)

  • Sam M

    “The document, long on historical facts, was short on obvious context and relevance to America in 2017.” I don’t think they needed to add more context and relevance…. to me it was pretty obvious. Also, the project was put together over a long period of time and will be viewed for even longer so adding in too much connecting to now in my mind isn’t necessary. I can understand how it left you wanting though.

  • MikeB

    Burns and Novick did avoid a declaration. They tee’d up several reactions from the interviewees, making the viewers conclude for themselves, or choose not to.

  • AL287

    It doesn’t seem to be in our make up to admit defeat. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    After years of fighting in Afghanistan, the simple solution to the troubles in that nation could have been solved with a few million dollars to rebuild schools, hospitals and build roads after the pull out of the Russians.

    It wouldn’t have mattered if the country were Christian or not. Our failure to recognize what the populace needed led to Al Quaida and the 9/11 attacks.

    I think President Obama recognized the Afghans desire to be allowed to determine their own destiny and that’s why he began pulling the troops out. If they want to maintain their traditional ways of living then let them.

    We lost the war in Vietnam. We WILL lose the war in Afghanistan because we haven’t learned from history.

    My way or the highway is not going to get the job done.

    The allegory of the wind vs. the sun is quite appropriate at this point. They had a contest to see who could get a traveler on the road to remove his cloak first.

    The wind blew and blew ever colder but the man just wrapped his coat tighter.

    The sun had his turn and with the warmth and light the man removed his cloak within minutes.

    The war in Afghanistan is no longer about winning. The question is will winning it make us any safer.

    We need to cut our losses and run away as fast as we can. There is no shame in admitting defeat.

    • Rob

      The war in Afghanistan was never ours to win. It was, is, and will be, a clusterf&!k for our troops.

      • AL287

        Just like it was for the Russians.

        • Joseph

          And the British, and the Romans….

          There is a reason the nation of Afghanistan has been known as “The Graveyard of Empires”.

          • QuietBlue

            I think you mean the Greeks rather than the Romans, but your point still stands.

  • Jeff

    I’m glad they didn’t state it was worth it or not. That wasn’t their job and I think would have made it less a documentary. I think they did a fabulous job of walking a line that was factual and encompassed a wide variety of views. Drawing a conclusion would have spoiled it for me.

    • I think it’s great if they don’t want to draw a conclusion but it’s disingenuous to suggest in your publicity tour that you’re going to address the questions that are still unanswered.

      It’s been 50+ years. Sooner or later history is going to have to acknowledge a truth or it’s going to be repeated over and over.

      • What questions were left unanswered? There were more than a few revelations presented that IMO the general public had not been previously made aware, e.g. most certainly the VC and NVA sides of the war.

        The series certainly provided more illumination to help answer the question, “Why/how did we lose the Vietnam War?” A few of Burns’ subjects certainly acknowledged that the US blew it, because of ignorance and incompetence.

        Maybe it had been mentioned in books I’ve read (“Bright and Shining Lie”, etc.) but I did not know that Ho Chi Minh was more a figurehead than the actual strategic commander, and that it was Le Duan who was eager to press for continued military conflict in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

        • Rob

          A huge question that the series never asked is: Would it even have been possible for the U.S. to win the war?

          There is an American Exceptionism mindset among our politicians, military leaders, historians and the media that the U.S. can/will win any war it chooses to get involved in, as long as it does all the things necessary to win. It’s a ludicrous notion.

          • Didn’t several of the participants interviewed state their opinions that the war was unwinnable? Wasn’t that also the general consensus of the secret study commissioned by McNamara, that became better known as The Pentagon Papers when published by the NY Times?

            Some of the details broadcast in the series were new for me, e.g. LBJ’s recorded statement in early 1968 that “I don’t think anything is going to be as bad as losing, and I don’t see any way of winning …”

            But, honestly, IMO there were plenty of other opinions expressed during the 18-hour series that expressed the view that the US was not going to win a war in Vietnam. Burns & Novick needn’t be the ones to tell us that.

          • Rob

            These opinions weren’t the dominant ones at the start of the war. What I’m saying is that this is the question that should have been asked and assessed mercilessly up front. It wasn’t, ‘cuz ‘merica.

          • “… the question that should have been asked and assessed mercilessly up front.”

            I believe it was. Just not publicly.

            The idea of an “unwinnable war” was evidenced early in the series but only briefly, before sliding into LBJ’s years at the helm, when the documentary mentioned that JFK had plans to withdraw US troops – certainly after the 1964 election (which he assumed he would win) if not starting before. Those plans, of course, never reach fruition after JFK’s assassination.
            Some other interesting background to that story, below:

            “Professor Galbraith is correct [Letters, NYR, December 6, 2007] that ‘there was a plan to withdraw US forces from Vietnam, beginning with the first thousand by December 1963, and almost all of the rest by the end of 1965…. President Kennedy had approved that plan. It was the
            actual policy of the United States on the day Kennedy died.'”


      • Sam M

        I don’t believe that just because you acknowledge a truth it means you won’t repeat.

        What acknowledgment do you want exactly? Is there really any debate about the war anymore?

      • Alex Church

        What questions weren’t addressed in the documentary? Maybe if you’re the type of viewer who wants conclusions and answers spoon-fed to you, it was a disappointing end of the series. If you’re the type of viewer who deeply paid attention to all of the stories unfolding in front of you, you could easily find all the answers you needed to the questions you might have still had.

        • I have my conclusions. You have your conclusions. I wanted to hear the historical documentations’ conclusions.

    • I agree. IMO Burns and Novick purposely left it up to each viewer to decide for themselves.

      • We lost 58,000 people. We (and the Viet Cong) slaughtered women and babies execution style. We took hillsides in which hundreds of Americans died, only to walk back down and hand it back to the enemy. We allowed treasonous actions by a presidential candidate. We had politicians who waged a secret war and lied to the American people. We illegally wiretapped the phones of journalists.

        And we can’t even answer the question whether it was worth it?

        I’m sorry, THAT’S insane.

        This film promised to talk about the things Americans haven’t wanted to talk about since Vietnam. And it couldn’t even talk about the most important question.

        • Burns and Novick aren’t bean-counters. It is up to us, the viewers, to total up the value/s based on what evidence B+N presented.

          Was it worth it? You can’t change the past. You can only answer that question objectively if you intend to use the lessons of the Vietnam War for the future. And, sadly and ironically, if the lessons are used in that sense, then, yes, sadly but ironically, it was worth it – but only if we don’t make the same mistakes ever again.

          However, looking at our history 2003-present, we don’t seem to have learned those lessons, have we? So, sadly, no. The Vietnam War was not worth it. We lost 58,000+ young US soldiers for nothing.

          We allowed ourselves to be duped by our own treasonous leaders, were lied to, etc., for jacksh’t. If you can’t learn from the past yada yada yada …

          And, then, you can have this very same discussion from the South and North Vietnamese perspectives, too.

        • Alex Church

          You sound like you know the answer to the question of whether it’s worth it. Anyone watching the documentary also learned the answer because the viewer is not just an empty vapid soul looking for someone to tell them what to believe.

          “And it couldn’t even talk about the most important question.”

          The documentary was entirely dedicated to talking about the most important question. You know what the answer is, I know what the answer is. A documentary telling you what the answer is cannot replace YOU knowing what the answer is.

    • The series opens with a conclusion. The Vietnam War was started by peopl ein good faith.

      That is a HIGHLY debatable point and yet they didn’t leave that for people to decide. So not to answer the question — war? What is it good for ? — while starting the film with a debatable conclusion as fact is a failure of the directors. In my opinion, of course.

      • Joseph

        To be fair, it was started by people in good faith who, acting on the information they had and their fearful biases, failed to recognize a moment of possible friendship with a new country gaining independence from European powers, and focused on the fear of communism spreading. Later on, the leaders were not people acting in good faith; they were acting to maintain their power, and ego’s. But way back in the beginning, it was good faith. Too bad those letters from Ho Chi Mihn were never delivered to the President.

        • MikeB

          If they acted on bad information and their own fears and biases, is that really good faith? To me that’s the opposite. I can’t give point for naive intentions, when those intentions led to absolute disaster.

          • Joseph

            They didn’t know they were naive intentions at the time : P

      • Jeff

        I don’t remember the exact context of the quote but it seemed to me from the beginning that it was the opposite of good faith. We went in to prop up the French who were there to defend their colonial interests, so yes highly debatable. Regardless I’m not sure I understand why that one line implies there is a responsibility to draw a conclusion at the end.

        • The claim is made that it’s not the filmmaker’s job to draw a conclusion. I’m saying the entire series started with a conclusion so clearly the filmmakers had no qualms about making conclusions in terms of it not being their job.

      • Rob

        Edwin Starr had a succinct, yet poignant answer to the question about what the Vietnam War was good for: Absolutely nothin’. Too bad Novick and Burns didn’t take their cue from him.

  • Maybe neither here nor there, but did I miss something, or were was the Hmong contributions to the war as US allies completely ignored in the 18-hour series?

    • Barton

      I’m only halfway through: I don’t recall any mention yet.

    • Joseph

      They sort of mention it in the segments about the Laos-overflow-war, but don’t go into detail. Tune in tonight on TPT 2 for a TPT documentary on Minnesotan experiences in the Vietnam war for much more detail!

    • KTFoley

      TPT is picking up the slack.

      • But, that’s a bit of a disappointment. The rest of the US should’ve become more aware of Hmong contributions. 🙁

        • KTFoley

          We agree.

    • Mike Worcester

      It did and I’d recommend the book A Great Place To Have A War, which thoroughly examines the American actions in Laos and how it played into the broader conflict in the region.

      • Which episode? Personally, I am familiar with the Hmong story (and for west metro people who don’t often venture east, there is an exhibit at the Hmong marketplace on Johnson Pkwy, St. Paul, of the “secret war”, including a large diorama of a mountaintop encampment).

        How many other non-Midwesterners are even aware why Hmong refugees arrived in such great numbers to the US?

        • Mike Worcester

          To clarify, it (the series) did ignore the contributions of the Hmong. And I still recommend the book. 🙂

          To answer your question — based on my personal experiences, precious few.

  • MrE85

    I watched it all, and I disagree with with your review,

    Then again I’m not demanding any answers. I’ve made up my mind on that war, and I suspect you have, too.

    They say history is written by the winners. Who won in that terrible war?

    • Joseph

      The same as in any other war – the dead. “Only the dead have seen the end of war….” – Gen. D. McArthur

    • Jay T. Berken

      I understand that you lived through it, but I didn’t. I want to know and have understanding why my parent’s generation helped come to a point to put a ‘Trump’ in office? Why do we have a representative government going to to our cities that is so polarized that they can’t agree on paying for things that we already spent money on? Why do our representatives not care to govern and do the things that should be right for the people? Don’t tell me it’s the internet. And don’t tell me because the youth doesn’t vote. This happened long before. Maybe put some blame on the Greatest Generation. Put blame on having guilt. Put blame on “Greed is good”.

      The Baby-boomers can and will never be able to do this. This Documentary proves it.

      “we have met the enemy and he is us”

      • MrE85

        It’s always wrong to paint any generation, yours or mine, with too broad a brush. I can’t explain how we got the Current Occupant, besides the fact that many of his supporters seem to perceive attributes, values and talents in the man that the rest of us cannot. Perhaps they feel threatened by a changing world/country. Perhaps they feel a need for change so badly they handed to keys to someone with no real leadership ability (or skills). Perhaps they are as dumb as a box of rocks.

        I don’t know. I can only explain why I vote the way I do, not my generation.

        • Jay T. Berken

          “It’s always wrong to paint any generation, yours or mine, with too broad a brush.”

          Baby-boomers have been doing this with later generations for years, whether my Gen X, Gen Y and now Millennials and beyond. Unfortunately, “No man is an island” in this argument.

          Let me ask you, had the Greatest Generation done this with the Baby-boomers? I love my grandparents, but I really don’t know them being to young.

          • MrE85

            If they did, none of us had time to worry about it. I grew up with different views and values than my parents. In part, I’m a product of my times, but also of what I was taught, and how I was raised.

            I was the first (and only) member of my immediate family to go the college. Had I stayed in the same place, working with my hands, I might of become different person than I am today. Or not. I can’t really say.

      • MrE85

        If you look at our nation’s history, we have elected a lot of bad leaders in the past, and likely will again. As Bob often points out, if you can’t name a single branch of the federal government or understand ANYTHING about the Constitution, you’re a pretty poor excuse for a voter and a citizen. Sadly, that’s exactly what many of us are.

      • Jay T. Berken

        We, I personally at least, have been waiting and waiting for the Boomers to get their shit together…maybe the next election, maybe this problem will unit us to get things done, but it has not come. Instead we get Boomer Presidents like Clinton (almost impeached by other boomers to get elected), Bush Jr. (two wars in IRAQ and Afghanistan on the credit card WITH tax cuts) and now Trump! Yes I will take Obama as a Gen X. He may have had faults but at least he meant well with intentions. Maybe it is time for the Boomers to retire in Government too.

        I am sorry if I rub people the wrong way, but it is not like you didn’t have the chance for bettering this country/world.

        • MrE85

          We will all die soon enough. I hope your generation makes better choices than we did, but I have my doubts. As the documentary shows, we Americans have a long history of screwing things up.

          • Jay T. Berken

            I don’t want you (Baby-boomer that is) to die. I want your generation to look past your noses.

          • MrE85

            We’re dying anyway. Some in my generation doesn’t seem to listen to me. Believe me, I’ve tried.

          • Jay T. Berken

            “We’re dying anyway.”

            I’m sorry, but that is what my dad would say. Why do you (your generation) feel that way?

          • MrE85

            Ask me again when you hit 60. There is something about having less time in front of you than you have behind you that brings out the fatalist in you. But maybe you’ll be different.

            Also, the recent death of my mom likely has something to do with my mood.

          • Has there ever been a generation that didn’t think the previous generation just needed to get out of the way?

          • MrE85

            I don’t think so.

          • Rob

            I think my own generation needs to get out of the way.

          • Personally, I can’t wait until I’m out of the way.

          • Jay T. Berken

            Why!? Why the Baby-boomers are so self-deprecating of itself. If you want to retire and relax, fine I understand. But we need your generation to step up, especially now. We need you to help mentor us.

            Now, my generation DOES need to step up too and get away from the “take it as is given to us”.

          • You treat “generation” as a singular. That’s absurd. As absurd as the constant stream of angst about “millennials”, as if they are one.

          • If you watched The Vietnam War series, you may have noticed that at one point, some Boomers were fighting in Vietnam, some Boomers were protesting in the streets, some Boomers went to Canada.

            That’s the thing about people in a generation. They do different things.

            I’ve worked every day of my life since the day I turned 16. I’m 63. I’m tired. The actuarial tables say in 15 years , I’ll be dead. I’m not going to spend that time trying to gain the approval of some other “generation.”

          • Jay T. Berken

            “That’s the thing about people in a generation. They do different things.”

            Yup and not disputing that. But your generation has this direness that things will not get better. That there was a better time if only we can have people see that and get back to that. Why!? Why not now being the time that we are building to. Now be the time that we are building on for next generations.

            As I said, my generation in ‘general’ has been the backseat passenger type and we do need to get in the driver’s seat, but we still need you to mentor us.

          • //Yup and not disputing that. But your generation has this direness that things will not get better. That there was a better time if only we can have people see that and get back to that.

            How many people do you think are in my generation right now? 130 million or so?

            The percentage of people who voted for Trump in my demographic was 52%. The percentage that voted for Clinton was 44%. What you’re describing, of course, is the Trump mantra.

            Surely you see the absurdity of characterizing an entire generation’s belief based on a difference of 8%.

            Your problem is with 52% of my generation.

            Why!? Why not now being the time that we are building to. Now be the time that we are building on for next generations.

            As I said, my generation in ‘general’ has been the backseat passenger type and we do need to get in the driver’s seat, but we still need you to mentor us.

          • Jay T. Berken

            People who voted for Trump is not the whole problem. It is why we got a ‘Trump’. Why did we the Alt-right sentiment back into the mainstream. Why did it become that science, government, teachers, unions and media is taking a backseat and being attacked as it has been. I saw in the documentary of why with lies and tugging at the strings of religion, race and patriotism to come skeptical. (I at one point did wondered. “why did my parents’ generation even thought of having kids due to this shit-storm during the 50s through 70s) But why such hate to come to this point in time.

          • “… some Boomers were fighting in Vietnam, some Boomers were protesting in the streets, some Boomers went to Canada.”

            … and a lot of Boomers were joining the work force. 😉

          • Jay T. Berken

            I’m sorry if you feel I am, but the Baby-boomers has been the common denominator of the whole kitten-caboodle. Plus, the documentary had a Baby-boomer centrist point to it being put together by two Baby-boomer (one -ish) directors and a Baby-boomer writer.

            It is the reason i am asking what you feel of the Greatest Generation? They started Vietnam and pretty much crickets of thoughts/feelings of how you and the documentary (whom lived through this period and by product of it) put you into this mess.

            // since I said “if you feel I am”, I guess I’m kind of sorry. 🙂

          • // what you feel of the Greatest Generation?

            You’re asking me to adopt your calculus of evaluating an entire generation which I’ve stated is mathematically flawed.

            Which members of the greatest generation specifically do you want me to assess… the ones who were for Vietnam? the ons who were against it? The ones who were for it and then against it?

            I’ve already given you my thoughts on Nixon. Is he the definition of the Greatest Generation? Is Peter Seeger? Martin Luthre King Jr.? Is my father or mother (who had different opinions of the war)? Who do you want to define the generation and then I’ll be glad to comment on the person you picked.

            What definition eXACTLY are you using to define the characteristics of one generation or the other?

            To me, as I said, this is all reminiscent of the constant braying against Millennials as if they are one. They’re not one. So pretending they are is as stupid as pretending any other generation is.

            There’s half of an entire Congress right now who are Baby Boomers. Half represent me. Half don’t.

            Which ones are you using to define a generation? More importantly, which ones are you leaving out?

          • Jay T. Berken

            I have not been one for labels too. Never tried to label myself even in high school. I should tone it down on the Baby-boomer stuff.

            Yes though, every generation has its tenancies. They still went through their twenties, which is the most influential time of your life I think, goes through the same cultural experience and influences and see the world through that prism, hence the tenancies.

            What expectations did your parents have on you? Your grandparents? Your pastor? What values did they ingrain on you and which did you reject? Why? Why did your parents not support or support the war? Why did New Deal and Great Society become to be, and how did they see it? Why did Nixon and Johnson have to lie to them?

          • Rob

            Let me walk my comment back; I’m with you. I want to be out of the way as well; I have nothing against my generation as a whole.

          • Jay T. Berken

            I do not know how I will be when I hit 60.

            Every year my mom would every year ask my grandma,’ Ma, how old are you?” And every year my grandma would reply, “27”. Until finally my mom said, ma, you were 27 last year. Really how old are you?” Grandma really didn’t know and until the day she died at the age of 84, she was “27” at heart.

          • Rob

            Life expectancy for dudes in the U.S. is a tad over 76. For women, it’s 81+. So when a dude hits his early/mid 60s, odds are he’ll be dead within a decade or so. So yeah, death is in the neighborhood. No use denying it.

          • // odds are he’ll be dead within a decade or so

            It’s kind of liberating. Unless you believe in that whole “hell” and “heaven” thing.

          • Rob

            Liberating is the watchword.
            Zimmie said it well: Beyond Here Lies Nothing

          • Jay T. Berken

            “we Americans have a long history of screwing things up.”

            I wholeheartedly agree, but between the 50s coming up to now, our beloved country is really f&%kedup. And the Baby-boomers have been in the drivers seat for most of that generation.

            Now it could be cyclical, we have had a Civil War, but that was because of slavery, plain(ish) and simple. Why now!?!?!

          • MrE85

            We Americans have a lot more in common than many think, but there are many who want to see us angry and polarized. We don’t have to take the bait, tho.

            When the young people start voting at the same rates we Olds do, than real change might happen. I hope it does.

          • Jay T. Berken

            “We Americans have a lot more in common than many think”

            Yes we are. I’m a lot like my conservative dad, friend, and co-workers, but I don’t want to “blowup” the government, much less relationships over trivial issues.

            I’m not trying to make this personal on you, MrE85. I respect your thoughts and values and have many of them myself, but you are a representative if you like it or not of your generation. Yes, my generation and younger needs to vote more, but yours (and mine with Walker) are trying to suppress voting to give less of a voice. Why not make registration of voting automatic? You are in power…

          • MrE85

            “You are in power…”

            If I was, personally, you would see some changes, and not all for the better. I have had some very dark and angry thoughts of late. I leave the reforms to better men and women than myself. If they step forward, I’ll support them.

        • Older people have always tended to be more conservative than younger voters. 52% of 45-64 year olds (only a small sliver of that constitutes Boomers) voted Trump. Trump also carried 40-49 years olds . They are not Boomers.

          The spread between 30-39 year olds was only 12%.. 10% among 30-44 year olds.

          The Baby Boomer generation is the one that helped end the Vietnam War. It’s also the one that kept it going.

          • Jay T. Berken

            I understand the “now” of Baby-boomers being older and tend to vote more conservatively. But they have not always been young. It is not like fuzzy science and math is new. The Boomers proud themselves for fighting for Civil Rights, Climate and Equality in the 60s. I see why through the documentary why they question government, but come on, let’s not blow it up.

          • MrE85

            The liberals thought they had won the Culture Wars of that period. Certainly I thought they did. But the conservatives never gave up the fight. It’s a bit like those hills in Vietnam we bought with our lives one day, only to walk away from them the next,

          • Jay T. Berken

            “bit like those hills in Vietnam”

            I got that in the episodes I watched. What is it with hills and Vietnam?! Was it the Generals (Greatest Generation) reflecting back on Imo Jima?

          • The reality is that the “Love Generation” was in the imagination of LIFE magazine and other mass media publications; Boomers did not constitute a monolith block of counterculture values.

            The best proof of that might be to examine the voting demographics of the 1972 election, the first year 18-years could vote:

            52% of the under-30 group voted for Nixon in 1972 vs. 38% in 1968.


          • D.l. Hannah

            I am a born in 49 baby boomer. I can only speak for myself of course but growing up in the 50’s in early 60’s the sense of victory in WWII was still in the air. Fighting for america was an honor and was expected by all. I think I always new at some point I would be doing my part. Do remember, every swinging dick as they said was drafted to do their part. That by itself changed the landscape as much as anything. to think you were not going to be part of the doers was not thinkable…at least for the vast majority of us. so yes…we did not embrace conflict but knew we at some stage would defend america..that still is a part of us all, honor. We are still nationalist by and large today because of that I think …since the drafts demise the attitude has changed…not all for the greater good. JUst my opinion.

          • MrE85

            I’m swimming against the tide. Damned if I know why, but I am.

          • Rob

            Because your little gray cells are working better than the cells of those who are swimming with the tide. Plus, you get more exercise going against than with.

          • AL287

            Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were not Boomers. Neither was McNamara or Westmoreland.

            The Greatest Generation kept the war going. The Silent Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation fought the war.

          • Did I say the politicians were boomers?

            The notion that one generation was responsible and one entire generation believed something else is absolutely absurd.

          • AL287

            The Greatest Generation fought WWII. The politicians of that generation lied to the American public and the Boomers suffered the consequences of that lie. 58,220 of them to be exact.

            I thank God every day that my brothers never had to go to Vietnam because of failed medical exams and sheer luck of the draw.

        • Trump is not a Boomer. He is of the “Silent Generation”, born between 1925-1946.

  • Joseph

    Bob, I think they do say whether it was worth it or not throughout the documentary; by showing how the political leaders did not believe it was winnable, the soldiers believed it was unwinnable, and by showing the massive misunderstanding that led to the war in the first place; war of independence, vs. communism and domino theory. Heck, if the US had actually listened to and worked with Ho Chi Mihn, (even if he was a communist!) we could have avoided that entire war.

    And I also like how the documentary didn’t just end with the war; it continued on with Vietnam’s history, including how Vietnam and the USA became friends, finally.

    • Peter Coyote’s final assessment (I realize he’s only reading the words he was given) was some REALLY bad writing. We have a thing in the news business where we avoid “the future remains to be seen” conclusions. They’re trite. And so was this penultimate moment. It concluded the war was complicated etc. etc BUT the stories of the soldiers are full of gallantry etc.

      THIS is the message of 18 hours of work that was supposed to help lead to a national healing? NONE of that is new. NONE of that inspires a conversation that people have been avoiding.

      It was as if they got to the end and didn’t know how to end it.

      • Joseph

        Nobody knew how to end Vietnam — even this long after. What sort of ending were you looking for? Kum-bai-ya we now live in peace and love? A sober recognition stated clearly from a senior administrative official of the era that all that was for nothing? (Genuinely curious — not sarcasm)

        • // What sort of ending were you looking for?

          Well “no” would have been a start.

          The Baltimore Sun’s reviewer’s pre-series review warning us not to expect much from the series was right on. Burns wanted it to spark a national dialogue. It hasn’t.

          But in the 27 years since “The Civil War,” the media landscape and American society have changed in ways that make a national conversation about any cultural production seem impossible. It is not just the fragmentation of the media landscape that’s to blame; the profound fissures in American life have driven us into ideological silos where we make snap decisions about the politics of a film or TV show and then tune in or out based on whether we think we will agree with its viewpoint.

          That assumes it had a viewpoint. Did it?

          • Rob

            Also interesting that an Alternet piece, noting all the corporate funding for the series, warned that we shouldn’t expect any conclusions or POVs that would rile Koch or the other establishment sponsors.

          • Jeff

            Aren’t we having a dialog?

          • We’re having a dialog on the film.

      • Jeff

        Yes, trite. Correction: Geoffrey Ward was the writer, Peter Coyote the narrator.

      • Rob

        Right? I felt like all the time I’d invested in the series turned out to be for naught. The series was essentially hollow at the center. Very disappointing.

  • Barton

    I didn’t need them to come to a conclusion: it wasn’t worth it. It is obvious.

    But the documentary did bring awareness of the war to my generation of Americans (born between 1970 and let’s say 1985). We knew about the war, but we were never taught about the war. This documentary explained so much to so many that I know. I think in that, it succeeded.

    But, I also know quite a few of my contemporaries who were unable to get through the whole thing: people who had no trouble slogging through Burn’s Baseball or Civil War. And that reason was the emotions. It was one thing to hear an actor read the letter home of a Union soldier. It’s another to see a soldier talk about what he went through when he was 19. It was too hard to watch, so they turned it off. That seems to be a big problem with our country as a whole right now.

    • Joseph

      Also for those of us who are millennials — we are barely taught anything about the war, and it is always left to the last week or two of school before summer break, so the teachers, and students, are burned out, distracted, and only given a VERY brief overview, at most. If you want to learn about Korea/Vietnam/Grenada/Panama/Gulf War/Iraq/Afghanistan — you gotta do it on your own. : P

      • Jeff

        If it’s any consolation, back in my day we barely made it to the Korean war. The Vietnam War was current events.

        • We didn’t go into much detail re: the Korean War during my high school US history class ca. 1972. But, what we did learn could be summarized in one day:

          1. North Korea invades South Korea in 1950, catching the US and ROK by surprise.
          2. US forces retreat down to peninsula to single toe-hold area around Pusan (Busan, nowadays).
          3. The USSR abstains from voting, allowing the UN Security Council to “unanimously” vote for a United Nations counterforce to be organized.
          3. MacArthur plans and his forces successfully execute a landing at Inchon, effectively surrounding the DPRK armies.
          4. North Korean forces are driven back up the peninsula to the Yalu River.
          5. China enters the war, and UN/US forces are forced back down to the 38th Parallel.
          6. Stalemate.
          7. Armistice signed in 1953.

          • Jeff

            8. Summer Vacation!!!

            I guess we learned the lesson that with concerted effort we can stop commie expansion and take it to them the next time they try it. If only Vietnam was a peninsula?

          • … and if the USSR/Russia was to abstain from using their veto power at the UN Security Council, as happened in 1950. 😉

          • Jeff

            Curious, how did that make much of a difference? Wasn’t it still largely an American war?

          • Security Council votes have to be unanimous, at least among the five permanent members (now including China but was Nationalist China in 1950).

            There were two important UN resolutions that the USSR boycotted (since the beginning of 1950, to protest Nationalist China vs. “Red China” being seated on the Council):

            Resolution 82 identified North Korea as the aggressor.

            Resolution 83 authorized “members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore
            international peace and security in the area” – in effect, giving the US-commanded forces an international authority (much like Desert Storm in 1991) to go into combat to defend South Korea. Other nations did participate, as some did in the Vietnam War, but were more numerous by country and force strengths than 15 years later in SE Asia:

            Combat forces

            South Korea – 590,911
            United States – 302,483
            United Kingdom – 14,198
            Thailand – 6,326
            Canada – 6,146
            Turkey – 5,453
            Australia – 17,000
            Philippines – 1,468
            New Zealand – 1,385
            Ethiopia – 1,271
            Greece – 1,263
            France – 1,119
            Colombia – 1,068
            Belgium – 900
            South Africa – 826
            Netherlands – 819
            Luxembourg – 44

            Humanitarian aid (not counted in total above)

            Denmark (the hospital ship MS Jutlandia) – 600
            Italy (Ospedale da Campo n° 68)
            Norway (NORMASH)

          • Jeff

            I’m supposing though we would have continued the war with or without the UN.

          • That’s debatable, I suppose. Korea was considered to be, before the DPRK invasion, outside of US national security interests; it was a backwater, even after the onset of the Cold War. Congress’ authorization of Truman’s request for $12 billion to defend Korea happened before ROK and US forces were pushed all the way south to the “Pusan perimeter”. There’s a whole lot more of military and political detail; suffice it to say any thought of victory was not certain until the Incheon landing, two months after the start of war (and we all know how the story ends).

            The blue-colored area was all of Korea that the ROK and US held at the end of August 1950 until after the Incheon landings in September 1950:


          • I’d have given ANYTHING for just one history class in high school OR COLLEGE (I minored in history) that went past the Teapot Dome Scandal.

            [insert obvious joke here]

  • MrE85

    I started crying when they did the piece on the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. I was at its dedication on May 27, 1983, and here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about it, five years later.

    “Like many of the people around me, I was in uniform that day. Unlike them, I had never served in Southeast Asia — the war had been over for five years when I joined the Army. As I moved closer to the Wall, a veteran handed me a small medal pin, a reproduction of the service ribbon to all of those who went to Vietnam. Somewhat embarrassed, I tried to explain that I hadn’t earned the right to wear the medal. But he gave it back to me, saying “Today, we all stand together.”

    Off all the awards I was to receive during my years in uniform, I was never as proud as the one I wore that day. Like the war, much of the bitterness and resentment has passed. Now, 10 years after the end of the war, we all stand together once again.”

    • I loved the part where the righteous guy was saying what an insult the design was to the soldiers.

      I also love that the design came from the daughter of immigrants.

      • MrE85

        I was pretty worried about how the crowd would react. There had been rumors of a KKK march in the same area that had triggered some violence just a few days before.

        What happened was stunned silence.

        Then the sound of sobbing.

        • Jack

          Perhaps you can help with this question that came to mind as I watched. Were the American troops staying out in the battle areas overnight or where they taken back to the bases? It didn’t seem like they were carrying enough with them to be staying out in the field. Thanks anyone for insight on this.

          • Trevor Henry

            They sat there, surrounded by an enemy that knew the land in the dark. They endured mortar rounds all night. Sometimes, a man on point could hear the enemy breathing all around him. He waited, paralyzed by fear, while the enemy moved around him.

            Worse, a soldier’s superiors may attempt communication by radio. Now the soldier is stuck there with noises emanating from his radio.

            Dawn brought no relief. Obviously. 24 anxiety inducing hours to every day for entire tours.

          • Annette Cibelli Yasso

            Hi We stayed out in the Field,at the last LZ of the Day. Very rarely did I go to a fire base. C rations where dropped out to us.The next Day
            We would go out on search and destroy missions to make enemy contact. Water was obtained in the field most of it River water we used iodine tablets but they Rarely worked.To be Honest we Rarely had more
            To eat then I can of C Rations a day who is Hungry.
            I was a Grunt with the 39th Battalion CO D 9th inf Division 1968/69
            I spent 16 months in the Hosiptal recovering from my wounds when
            My Palatoon was overrun.

          • Jack

            Thank you so very much for your answer and your service.

  • KTFoley

    Maybe not wholly on topic, but when covering a historical era where living witnesses and electronic media archives exist alongside the more conventional historical artifacts, it must be a real challenge to assemble a story that fits into even 18 hours/10 episodes.

    Nevertheless I am disappointed that the sole mention of Green Beret Colonel Bob Rheault came during an early episode rather than when he made headlines, or when he was developing (ground-breaking at the time) Outward Bound programs for Vietnam vets with PTSD.

    That program continues in a straight line to Mike Heaney, who appeared in the last episode and who has worked with the latest incarnation of that same OB program for returning vets from Iran & Afghanistan. (Mike is wearing an OB t-shirt in a photo from his return visit to Vietnam; there is no other reference to his work.)

    • I spent this entire series with a smartphone in my hand, Googling names and events as each came up during the series.

      • KTFoley

        Wow! I spotted the logo last night and re-watched that part of the episode immediately after to catch the name, which didn’t register when it was first displayed.

      • Clair Mydanick DiNapoli

        I did too!

  • Dusty Roads

    As a veteran I say no! We shouldn’t have fought in Vietnam, or Afghanistan! Both were a terrible waste.

  • Ryan Johnson

    “Worthy” is an ethical and moral judgement.
    “Worth it” is an accounting conclusion.

    So I am posting this in the third paragraph, because language matters.

  • Rob

    That’s Democratic Party, not democrat party.

  • Cathy Kelley Jimerson

    I read this synopsis, because after watching every
    episode I became more and more depressed by its content. My Daddy
    served in Vietnam. My husband is still 100% disabled from Vietnam,
    after suffering a TBI and loss of an eye. I don’t know what I was
    expecting; I felt I knew an awful lot about Vietnam, but after watching
    this series, I felt like I knew nothing. One of the first things I said
    to my husband, was GOSH, I just can’t believe how SHAFTED you guys

  • Alex Church

    The hard hat riot was mentioned. It was mentioned at the beginning of the episode after the Kent state episode.

  • Rob

    Not likely.

  • ken wilson

    I think Burns did a commendable job on an impossibly difficult topic. The series could have been 3 times as long and it would still leave many questions unanswered. There were many poignant moments not the least of which was the woman apologizing for her anti-war statements after she realized that most of the troops thought they were simply doing their duty. The blame belongs with the politicians.

  • Bobo Bolinsky

    This was as fine and comprehensive series as could be done on such a long and very complicated disaster as could be done in a few episodes. Obviously many things had to be overlooked or omitted. There is valid criticism on that. I watched all the episodes fairly dispassionately until the last, that one finally broke through built up layers of walling that stuff off. An actual flashback nightmare, haven’t had that in many years. I am curious, what do other combat vets think, was this a net positive, personally? I would say for me yes, but not easy to relive.

    • There was actually a series a few years ago that did essentially the same thing. I thought it was an excellent Series that never really identified whether it was intended for people who knew about Vietnam or younger people who didn’t.

      It’s very difficult to do both .

      Burns, who is 64, said in the process of doing the project, he gained a new perspective and understanding he hadn’t had before.

      There were no new facts uncovered in the series, so I’m curious what that new understanding is. His closing line seemed to suggest otherwise.

      I think people who paid close attention to the hype around the series for the last year, the expectations of revelation among older people who lived the period were unreasonably raised as far as history is concerned.

      In terms of a piece of art and culture, I think Burns/Novick hit it out of the park.

  • Mark Vigario

    Of course this is hind sight, however the Japanese were considered by military experts to be some of the most formidable soldiers the world has ever seen. Now Japan complains about over crowding in her islands, so instead of demonizing Japan, why didn’t The United Nations or America submit to Japan’s rule of Vietnam? With the addition of the land Japan’s over crowding would have been solved, and in all probability that would have motivated them to get along with the Vietnamese. The Japanese dominated Russia in the War of 1905, and this acquisition of Vietnam could have given democracy a balance of power, if Japan was treated as a tool for the free world.

    • KTFoley

      I’d say that’s because the last time Japan decided that mainland Asia was the solution to its problems, they extended their reach to Pearl Harbor.

  • L Jones

    Collins and Burns both have a pathetic recollection of the Viet Nam war and likely because of their personal politics. A far more rational history of Viet Nam and the war can be found at “”. It is a multiple series of articles far closer to reality than anything the MSM would ever publish.

    • Rather than throw spitballs about other people’s individual reflection, why not try engaging in a calm, rational, intelligent and adult conversation and share YOUR perspective?

      My reflection on the series and the war is just that: MY REFLECTION . It’s not an executive order. It constitutes an invitation to other people to share their own. Granted, a lot of people on the Internet don’t know how to do that anymore, but around here, people generally have found a safe haven . Don’t be afraid. Open up.

      Unless you’re just trying to gin up some page views for a website that really has nothing to do with the discussion, in which case, move along.

      • L Jones

        If you actually want to reflect on the series try looking at before you comment. I fought in that war with the 101st abn and what I have ever heard on MSM including MPR has never reflected my experiences. What I hear was what the book “Stolen Valor” addressed. It was the Congress of the US, mostly the democratic party, that abandoned the South Vietnamese and that congress should be damned for what they did by leaving the Vietnamese to be butchered by the communist north. You will not hear those stories and hear that information on Burns series or your comments. Read the source I provided and you will hear the whole story.

        • KTFoley

          Did you watch the Burns series?

        • Rob

          Forget the website. If the PBS series and MSN don’t reflect your personal experiences in the 101st, tell us what your personal experiences were, and how they differ from the “pathetic recollections” of Burns and Novick.

  • Rob

    Post a photo of yourself protesting.