Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


I haven’t watched the episode, but did you mean to write 1967 there? Or 1966, maybe?

I’ve only watched the first episode of the series so far, but it’s pretty crazy to think that things basically started kicking off there immediately after WW2, with the re-imposition of French colonial rule, and then 20 years later we Americans were in the thick of it (and we didn’t leave entirely until almost 10 years after that).


Yes, I meant, 1967, sorry about that typo.

@Quaro: So true. The Lyndon Johnson recordings are pretty amazing to hear as well.

Also, since Mogie was introduced, you sort of knew he was going to die. At first I expected it to happen in the same episode, but when it didn’t, I thought maybe Mogie was going to last a few years in the story. But sadly, no, looks like he died in 67.

The clash between the different “patriots” was interesting to see on the home front. The protestors against the war, and the supporters who wanted to support the U.S. policy through thick and thin. Overall I’m really surprised that the protests started so early. People were protesting even in 1963, when the U.S. was only sending advisers.

Of course, by the end of this episode in June '67, the protests were actually growing a lot bigger just as the draft was getting bigger.

I wonder if during this series we’ll hear about TV draft. That’s a crazy part I hadn’t heard about until this year on WTF podcast when Billy Crystal talks about the TV draft.


What drives me crazy is that my dad has still never gotten any adequate explanation of what the hell was going on. He was there during Lam Son 719. It was a conventional war, we were losing, and the decisive part of it wasn’t even in Vietnam, so it doesn’t fit into anybody’s narrative. I hope that before he dies, someone will throw out all the old myths and give him some straight answers. But I can’t expect this documentary to do that.

Anyway, I’m mostly liking what I’ve seen so far but I’m falling behind because I can only stand to watch about one hour a night. The filmmakers are too good at making me feel exhausted and hopeless.


I watched part three last night with my wife. It is probably the last part she will watch. The story about the kid enlisting in the Army was a little to much for her. She grew up near a huge naval air base and her family used to host airmen, who would end up in Vietnam. She saw them before and after in some cases, and watching that family was a little too much for her.

I do agree with the programmed overkill. I am not sure why they need to show these night after night.


Musgrave was already a great interviewee in the earlier episodes. Tonight in episode 5, we really got to the core of his Vietnam experience, and it was an amazing story.

The taking of Hill 845 was also a very interestingly told tale, with one eye witness from each side of the battle. It was interesting to see the details of that battle being shown to the American people by Walter Cronkite on the evening news in those days, showing people a model of the terrain in question. I had no idea the evening news went into so much detail about the War in those days.


The episode last night with the extended interview with John Musgrave was quite good. His retelling of his being wounded, medivaced and being triaged three times was harrowing.

I think that the interviews with Roger Harris of Boston (Roxbury) are particularly good.


It was nice to get a break from the series tonight. No new episode tonight or tomorrow night. But on Sunday, it looks like they’ll cover January - July 1968 during the 90 minute episode. The big attack they’ve been hinting at in Episode 5 will probably hit then. I’m guessing it’s the Tet offensive mentioned in Full Metal Jacket.


I’m watching episode 4 right now (apparently a 2-hr one?). So good.
I remember being a kid in the 1960’s, having been born in 1961. Some of my earliest memories of TV news (which my late father followed assiduously–just young enough to have not been in WW2, but enlisted right after high school in 1946 so he was part of the American occupation of Japan) are of Vietnam War coverage. In my childish imagination the war seemed to be something that had always been and would always be. I assumed that when I got old enough, I would be drafted and sent off to Vietnam as well.


Me too. Born 1960. I found out a few years after the war ended that my folks were discussing with our Toronto relatives to arrange sending me to live with them when I came of draft age. Don’t know what I would have done as I was ardently patriotic, but we watched a lot of news and the news was unrelentingly bad.


Here is some credit where credit is due. More about Lynn Novik.


Yes it is. They referenced that the name of the upcoming offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year in the last episode. Tactically a disaster for the North, but strategically it staggered the US and our allies.

Folks have been recommending books in this thread, I agree with afore mentioned titles and would add Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” to the list. Herr was a reporter for Esquire magazine and Dispatches served as some of the source material for Apocalypse Now.


The Tet Offensive was one of the most cynical campaigns in warfare history.

Basically, it boils down to the NV leadership acknowledging the power of the Viet Cong. Like the Soviet partisans and STAVKA in WW2, the established NV government saw the Viet Cong as a potential rival. So they drove the VC into open warfare against the US in South Vietnam.

In doing so, the NV leadership achieved two victories: the US wiped out the problematic VC, but the US suffered losses in men and prestige. An NV victory all around.


When they introduced General Westmoreland in the first episode, the guy sounded pretty badass and the right man for the job to head the forces in Vietnam. But every time we see huge setbacks, and in every episode his solution seems to be to give him more troops, I’m starting to lose respect for the guy.


(I’m guessing your voice recognition was to blame for Wes Moreland instead of Westmoreland).

No kidding about him. His answer was always more more more, apparently. And the whole emphasis on “body count” was horrific.


Good book to read further on this is Gregory Daddis’ Westmoreland’s War.


I asked my dad if he was watching. He said he hadn’t bothered because he “didn’t want to see how many different ways there are that things could be misrepresented”. He’s so used to hearing nonsense like “we never lost a battle” or “peasants in rubber sandals defeated the US Army” that he didn’t even give it a chance. But I hope I can persuade him to watch because it’s pretty consistent with everything he’s told me.

The impression I’m getting from watching this is that Westmoreland kept hoping that he’d eventually be given permission to invade Cambodia and Laos. That seems to me to be the most crucial decision in the whole war. Westmoreland should have made it clear to Johnson that there was no way to win while staying inside South Vietnam’s borders. The strategy of attrition just gave him a way to dodge the question of whether we would expand the war or give up.

I’ve gotten through episode 5 now and I’m surprised that they haven’t mentioned mines very much. Maybe the communists didn’t have as many early in the war? Or maybe it’s just that they’re focusing on a few events per episode and it just by chance hasn’t come up yet.


I just finished the first episode and I have a question for all of you. When one of the vets is referring to a “shit sandwich” was the word shit censored out? In my recording it is and I was curious if the censorship was by the makers of the documentary or by someone downstream of them. I’ve had other programs recorded of live events where things are censored but I suspect if I’d watched it live it might not have been in the original broadcast.


There’s an explicit language version on the PBS website.


Episode 6 was graphic in a way that the episodes have not been graphic before. Just a warning for those with weak constitutions like me. I just saw my first on-camera death a few days ago when someone on Whatsapp sent me an image of a couple of convenience store clerks getting shot. It was the first time I’ve seen someone die. A snuff film, if you will. And now, I’ve seen it again in Episode 6. It’s strange too, first they’re showing it slowly, and they’re talking about what happens in advance. They stop before the actual death as the narrator who is telling the story in Vietnamese tells us what happens next as the man is shot in the head. I thought that was good, that they stopped the roll of the film, and just told us. But then they switch to a TV set showing the footage again, and they show the whole thing.

The rest of this episode was also extra graphic. During the Tet offensive, the images they show of dead North Vietnamese everywhere are really rough. Usually wearing white or black. Their shirts are completely red from blood.

After being in so many episodes, we finally get to see the battle stories of the black soldier who has been telling his story, and Erhardt as well. Erhardt’s story ends in a very interesting way, as he tells us he’s able to compartmentalize the killing, but not the sex act he performed.

The fighting in the city of Hue sounded particularly brutal, fighting house by house by house. It was also the site of a massacre that they got two North Vietnamese to admit to on camera, reluctantly.

It’s a tough episode to watch, but a good one I think. The first half of 1968 was pretty brutal.

After the episode, they re-aired an interview with Ken Burns and his co-director, and on the stage with them were two subjects from the documentary from the KC area, including John Musgrave. When he got a question from the audience about someone’s father who had refused to watch the doc, he said that the documentary had been eye opening for him, and he encouraged all his fellow veterans to watch it. He had watched all 18 hours, and he was beautiful in the way he recommended it. He seems much older now than even in the documentary, and in poor health. Sometimes I forget that they’ve been working on this documentary for 10 years now.


I agree the 6th episode is a really big change from previous ones in terms of presentation. I found it the most powerful, disturbing and emotional thus far, but the images are really hard to shallow indeed. I was shocked by the footage you describe above. First time I’ve seen anything like it.