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Ken Burns's The Vietnam War
The War That Never Ends

The Vietnam War gets Ken Burns’s signature “docutainment” treatment, and the result is a worthy one, if not always up to full scholarly standards.

Published on: November 10, 2017
James Jeffrey is the Philip Solondz Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served as a U.S. Army officer for seven years including Vietnam 1972–73, and as a Foreign Service Officer for 35 years, including three years service in Iraq where he was Ambassador 2010–12. He also served as Deputy National Security Advisor and Ambassador to Turkey and Albania.
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  • AnonymoussSoldier

    I think it’s more or less garbage. Vietnam in HD by, I believe the history channel but maybe somebody else, is a multipart series basically going two years at a time. It’s much better. Even the first part covering 1964, 65 and 66 also does some justice to 1955 through 65, and it speaks to the anti-communist forces fighting with the Chinese-backed NVA for a decade before the marines landed.

    • KremlinKryptonite

      Yes the ARVN and their efforts are so often neglected. Their war against the communists lasted for a decade longer than America’s. Chinese-communist party sympathizers, like Kissinger and Nixon, pulled US support for the ARVN, while Mao and Zhou were still fully backing the NVA. Not just the troop drawdown. We are talking about the sudden and devastating cuts to financial backing and fuel and shells, etc., that the ARVN suffered. The NVA didn’t. The war was over as soon as Kissinger sat down with Le Duc Tho, and not for any particular military reason, but for a political and ideological one shared by Le, his backers in Beijing, and Kissinger.

  • D4x

    A thousand years after the Đại Việt went after the Champa Kingdom, forty-five years after the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment fired the
    final U.S. artillery round, the dominoes stand together in Danang, Vietnam, hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum CEO Summit 2017 https://apecceosummit2017.com.vn/ November 10, 2017 Family Photo: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eed75680ac6f964a8aa427a314ce10f3029049c965507d34587142a62c1302c6.jpg
    Front row from left: President Moon Jae-in, South Korea and his wife Kim Jung-sook. President Joko Widodo, Indonesia and his wife
    Iriana. President Michelle Bachelet, Chile. Preside Xi Jinping, China. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Bruenei. President Trần Đại Quang, Vietnam, and his wife Nguyễn Thị Hiền. President Donald Trump, United States of America. President Vladimir Putin, Russian Federation. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru and his wife Nancy Lange. President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico. Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano, Philippines and his wife Lani.

    Rear row from left: Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Australia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan. Rosma Mansor, wife of Prime Minster Najib Razak, Malaysia. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Papa New Guinea and his wife Lynda May Babao. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore and his wife Ho Ching. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, Thailand and his wife Naraporn. Special Representative James Soong, Taiwan.

    Channel90seconds newscom captures the more interesting Family Photo #2 on November 11, 2017, watch Trump and Putin chatting away in English for one minute, starts at minute 4:30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_u_B-uLbJr4 APEC summit 2017 Vietnam. family photo. President Trump Participates in a family photo. Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, Da Nang, Vietnam.

  • Martha Bayles

    Just for the record, David McCullough has “only an undergraduate degree.”

    • D4x

      Thank you – that did grate. Without McCullough’s “Brooklyn Bridge”, Ken Burns might have given up on documentaries and taken up potato farming in Hadley, MA. Without college dropout Shelby Foote, Ken Burns’ “Civil War” would have been too boring for Burns to get another chance.

      The irony is that I became most aware of postmodern revisionist history by noticing the odd reactions to my joking about my interest in dead white men’s history while reading the author of the four volume “The History of the Great War”, 1922. John Buchan, also “only an undergraduate degree”, but, also the creator of the spy thriller genre, with eight honorary Doctorates.
      Buchan must be weeping over what passes for history today.

  • Martha Bayles

    Vietnam in HD is pretty damn good, I agree. Thanks for reminding my of it. I may be reviewing the PBS one, and it’s good to have that point of comparison.

  • FriendlyGoat

    What Americans under 60 and over 60 must accept is that this war did not accomplish the hopes and the goals which were pinned on it, and a lot else was derailed and sacrificed in the process and the distraction.

    • Fred

      I doubt many people of any age would disagree with that. The real question is why it did not accomplish its goals and whether it could have with different execution. Those seem to me the important issues and the primary reason for studying the war.

      • FriendlyGoat

        When I was a young person during that war, I was not a protestor due to 1) Being a kid and being unsure I knew anything, 2) Being respectful to those who went and to their families, and 3) Having been raised conservative in a conservative place.

        (I know it would be hard for you to believe I ever kept my trap shut, but there was a time that I did.) A lot of Americans, though, who served and survived or were killed or wounded—–and a lot of Vietnamese—–would have been better off if more of us had respectfully protested and sooner.

        • Fred

          Shocked as I’m sure you’ll be, I disagree. When you consider the aftermath of the war, from the Cambodian killing fields to the “re-education camps” (essentially government torture/murder centers), the genocide of the Hmong, the tens of thousands of “boat people” fleeing, and often dying, in leaky ships trying to escape the horrors of life in communist Vietnam, I think the hippies and other protesters have an awful lot of blood on their hands.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thing is, the hippies are not the reason we didn’t have a better military outcome. We had up to a half million men in country at a time, and the objectives could not be met. If the thing was “winnable” and winning was seen, there wouldn’t have been the growing protest.

          • Fred

            The objectives could not be met by Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” strategy measured by body count. It could have been and almost was by Abrams’ strategy of clearing villages, hamlets and towns of Viet Cong and NVA and establishing local forces along with economic and educational assistance to keep the communists out. Don’t forget, the ARVN beat back the Easter invasion in 1972 with American air support and resupply. And even though the South Vietnamese were defeated in Cambodia, it was such a pyrrhic victory for the NVA, that it took them three years to recover enough to mount their final offensive. And had the ARVN had the same American air support and resupply in 1975, the result would have been the same as in 1972. We absolutely could have won that war. In fact, Lewis Sorley argues we did win it by 1970 and then threw it away for political reasons.

          • FriendlyGoat

            “Winning” that war might have looked like the West saying “We want to do whatever we can to help your country and your people. We want your communism, if you’re going to have it, be partly capitalistic and not repressive of people to extreme degrees” (like China is learning to do now). We didn’t know how things could or would turn out decades later.
            Instead we thought “military” was the right answer—–when it wasn’t. I know I’m engaging here the benefit of hindsight, when it wasn’t common in foresight then. But now that this is history, we might as well be honest about how it could have been much better history.

          • Fred

            Well, it is true that today Vietnam is less savagely brutal than it was in the 1970s and 80s. It is, like China, pretty much a nominally communist crony capitalist dictatorship. Still, a Korea-style division of Vietnam would have saved literally millions of lives in the 70s and 80s and South Vietnam may well have evolved in the same politically democratic and economically prosperous direction as South Korea, in which case they would be much better off even today.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, but, with a similar military mindset we have now left a situation with DPRK which isn’t over and isn’t good. I am not trying to just be critical of the American government approach to both in the times, yet it doesn’t hurt us to muse in retrospect about how to engineer better outcomes. We will have more “situations” in the future, after all. What are we supposed to do after reflection on prior events and their outcomes?

          • MarkM

            Had we reacted in 1975 and supported South Vietnam, things would have been very different. The between 1 to 2.5 million South Vietnamese who were captured and moved to the so-called “re-education camps” would have clearly had better lives (estimates say around 165K of those folks died in the camps). Another group 750,000 to over 1 million Southern Vietnamese would not have been forcibly relocate to uninhabited mountainous forested areas (where 20-155K of them died). 2 million southern Vietnamese would not have become “boat people” — where another 200,000-400,000 of them died while trying to escape. When you include the carnage in Cambodia and Laos, there are estimates that 7.5 million people died as a result of the decisions of the Vietnamese government after 1975. So, had we supported South Vietnam in 1975 like we did in 1972 with similar results, it is entirely likely that would have been sufficient to engineer a better outcome for many people in south east asia…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Maybe so. Whatever happened in 1975 and after was built upon what we did or didn’t do in 1965 and prior. As I told Fred, I’m not in this to just gripe about America or its decisions from government in the era. All we can do now is look back on so much which turned out badly in Vietnam and in America and hope to use the experience for better ideas in the future.

  • Pierre Dujardin

    Having watched all 10 episodes, I can only say it’s a great documentary. And I wish to differ in opinion with the author of this article. Mister Jeffrey goes a long way in explaining that the strategy behind the Vietnam War was containment of China and Communism. That may be so; the fact is that all along it was sold to the American public as a war that would eventually bring victory. Ken Burns explains this tension between Washington politics and the people’s hopes and frustrations. Ultimately, the public was lied to by every administration. To say that Ken Burns fails in explaining that the Vietnam War was about containment is beside the point because it was never sold as such to the public. Both sides get their say in this documentary and is therefor well balanced. The reality of the Vietnam War is that it was a tragedy for all sides and that the USA should never have gotten involved in the first place.

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