Final Thoughts on @KenBurns #VietnamWarPBS: Will We Wait 40 Years for #AfghanistanWarPBS?

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.

  1. It’s technically extremely well-done and will please any fan of historical documentaries.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Moments from Burns’s Vietnam Episode 4 – Image, Sound and Narration Conflict

After watching the first episode, I wrote about my fears that the series would whitewash USA militarism. Here are some observations after watching Episode 4, “Resolve.”

Minute 34:

Narrator: Mogie’s combat commander, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Emerson, known as “the Gunfighter,” was courageous, implacable, relentless. A few months before Mogie got there, he had offered a case of whiskey to the first of his men to bring him the hacked-off head of an enemy soldier. They did. [Emphasis added. Dennis Crocker was nicknamed Mogie.] Continue reading

Will @KenBurns “The Vietnam War” Whitewash USA Militarism? @PBS

I’ve only watched the first 30 minutes of the first episode, so I can’t answer this question. I do say that these first 30 minutes leave me suspicious. The opening narration begins at 6:20 in the online video. Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall plays in the background.

6:20 Narrator: America’s involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended, 30 years later, in failure, witnessed by the entire world. It was begun in good faith by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War miscalculation. And it was prolonged because it seemed easier to muddle through than admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions, made by five American presidents, belonging to both political parties.

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