I’ve blogged after watching Episode 1 and Episode 4 of Ken Burns‘s PBS documentary The Vietnam War. I’ve finished watching all 10 episodes, and I thought I’d share some general thoughts on the documentary.
- It’s technically extremely well-done and will please any fan of historical documentaries.
- Even when interviewees said things with which I disagreed, I felt I could respect or at least acknowledge their perspective. The exception to this is of course war criminal John Negroponte. Like other Burns documentaries, you are moved towards reconciliation.
- And of course Burns’s skill at #1 & #2 is the deadly flaw of this documentary: After 10 episodes, the documentary doesn’t editorially tell you how to react to contemporary USA wars. Like President Obama’s speeches, it gives viewers material with which they can arrive at conclusions suited to the preconceptions with which they began the film, although mellowed towards those who draw an opposite conclusion.
From p. 99 of Ta-Nehisi Coates‘s Between the World and Me:
But whenever I visited any of the [USA Civil War] battlefields, I felt like I was greeted as if I were a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books. I don’t know if you remember how the film we saw at the Petersburg Battlefield ended as though the fall of the Confederacy were the onset of a tragedy, not jubilee. I doubt you remember the man on our tour dressed in the gray wool of the Confederacy, or how every visitor seemed most interested in flanking maneuvers, hardtack, smoothbore rifles, grapeshot, and ironclads, but virtually no one was interested in what all of this engineering, invention, and design had been marshaled to achieve.
I tried to say something similar in my review of Robert Hicks’s The Widow of the South, but I failed to say it as clearly and succinctly. I guess that’s why TNC is the best-selling author and I’m blogging.
Updated April 21, 2015: Call for papers for panel addressing this and related issues.
I was in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday lobbying against SB 129, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act which would license individuals and businesses to defy government regulation to discriminate against others. While lobbying, I ran into a paid lobbyist asking legislators to restrict use of the College Board’s Advanced Placement United States History Exam. When I requested information from her about the exam’s defects, she provided this document, which I scanned. SR 80 is Senate Resolution 80, which the Georgia Senate passed and which its House may pass any day. I don’t have time to discuss all the scary ramification of this document and the movement it represents, but I wanted to pass this on to others ASAP. Continue reading