Ken Burns and Vietnam

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Those of you who are Netflix subscribers have no doubt seen the description of the Vietnam War documentary on there. Ken Burns created it, and although I had seen the “link” for it dozens of times, I never bothered to delve into it.

A couple of weeks ago I did, however, and I was absolutely hooked. This is a massive documentary, coming in at something like 14 hours in length, and I don’t have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to do it justice. The writing, editing, sequencing, archival footage – – it is absolutely splendid, and I heartily recommend its viewing to anyone with a pulse.

Indeed, when I was a kid, I used to consider teachers who showed the class videos to be kind of lazy, but I would honestly wish upon this nation that every single student were shown this in history class from end to end.

I’m a little surprised it took me so long to give this documentary a try, not only because I’m crazy about documentaries, but also because Vietnam is sort of “my” war, since I was born in that era. My earliest memories are of returning P.O.W.s and homecoming celebrations televised on the nightly news. For whatever reason, I stalled for months, but I say once again I cannot recommend it any more strongly.

What I learned and experienced from this 14 hours is far too much to put into a post, but let me at least offer up a few tidbits that spring to mind:

  • Jane Fonda – We’ve all heard of “Hanoi Jane”, and all these years I figured she went over there, which was enough to offend Americans seeking solidarity. But, umm, no……the things she said were jaw-droppingly shocking, including declaring that the American P.O.W.s should be executed. I’m kind of stunned we let her back in. It made me furious to hear her. What a traitor.
  • The Inept Leadership – From the military to the politicians, what a bunch of short-sighted, bungling fools. The endless promises that victory was just around the corner from the likes of Westmoreland look, in retrospect, like the ravings of a lunatic.
  • Girl Fleeing Napalm – Surely one of the most famous photographs in history, there is so much more behind this photo than most people know. I saw the footage preceding this event (some moron pilot was dropping napalm on his own people, thinking they were the enemy), and – – sorry about this – – I was particularly troubled to see a dog running with the family before they were hit. Yeah, I’m the sort where I get more worked up about the dog than the people. Anyway, the famous young girl who was naked, burned, and screaming, and shown as an adult with her own beautiful child. The scars, of course, cover her body.
  • The Lies – My fondness for Nixon as a historical figure pretty much fell to pieces. The shameless lying that he and Kissinger did for their own political power surely guarantees them both a place in hell.
  • The Interviewees – Throughout the documentary, there were about a dozen individuals who told their personal stories. Most of them were vets (from all sides), and a handful were family members. The producers did an absolutely flawless job selecting people for this task, particularly since they were the threads that held the story together.
  • Memorial Wall – The final episode is largely devoted to the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, whose affect on veterans surpasses anything I would have ever guessed. They consistently describe the wall’s existence as an unequaled healing force.

I’m not sure what else to say except………….watch it.

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