Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


This is something I want to see, but will wait until I can stream it all in sequence I think. My mother is watching it as it airs, though. I too am one of those late baby boomers, born in '61. My father fought in Vietnam, during Tet, was wounded, got the Bronze Star, and never quite recovered, physically. He died in 1978, in part due to complications from his injuries there. During the war, we would get audio tapes, old reel-to-reel things, he’d send from Saigon. I was terrified to listen to them, or to watch TV coverage; I sort of had this superstition that if I did he wouldn’t come home.

He never really talked much about his experiences, and as he died when I was 16, I never had the chance to wait for him to find the right time if he wanted to. The one time he did talk was when Carter pardoned the people who evaded the draft. He was distraught, mostly because in his view the privileged men who had the resources to avoid conscription should have been the leaders on the battlefield, and he felt the average soldiers were cheated of the best possible officers because people avoided service. He was an officer himself, ROTC not West Point, and he always, wherever we were spend enormous effort making sure the enlisted people under his command were taken care of. I think he expected that of everyone else, and was often disappointed.

I used to have a pen from Hubert Humphrey, who visited Vietnam while my father was there and for whom my father’s outfit had some security responsibility. Apparently Humphrey distributed pens to people as tokens of his, ahem, esteem.


All episodes are available online at PBS’s site.


Your father sounds like he was a good officer. Respect.

I expect many of us in life often go through a similar bout of cognitive dissonance when we look at leaders in other areas too. Leadership is hard and too many see it as a position of privilege rather than a position of service.


On PBS’s website they feature a version that is censored and a version that isn’t. I thought that kind of strange as I noticed the same thing you did.


1968 was a really fucked year, in general. I’m dreading that 2017 will be viewed the same way.


My father was in the Pacific in WW2. In a non-combat role (SeaBee) but he was on islands where fighting was still taking place. He never talked about it, other than a few, mostly humorous events.


This is why I’m against censorship. “It was a shit sandwich” has a different meaning than “it was a … sandwich”. That second phrase is what the subtitles show on episode one, and the audio is blanked out. Thanks to context most of us could put together what the guy was saying. But without that context the meaning turns practically nonsensical.


I’m actually ok with keeping coarse language out of public discourse. The phrases “a shit sandwich” and “a [beep] sandwich” seem functionally equivalent for purposes of understanding.


Well, I think any functional aware adult probably knew the phrase. Maybe it is something that various PBS stations are not in agreement over and so two versions are made.


I do wonder if the non explicit language versions will censor some of the visuals of episode 6 or if they are going to keep censoring “shit” and “fuck” and show graphic violence and on-camera killings as if that’s a-ok…


FWIW, I feel that the language of interviews needs to be kept intact. I see little to no value in masking the coarse parts, and lots of downside. The accuracy of the content and emotions in my mind outweighs anyone’s personal sensibilities or sensitivities. Just my two cents worth.


Having just watch the PBS version, that was suitably graphic I can’t believe that they are beeping curse words though. There are very few, but what does it matter?

That was a hard episode to watch.


Episode 7 last night was… complicated. The show is very complex, and not afraid to tackle topics that are not easy to explain. But it does make for a muddled retelling if I’m ever to try to explain the stories from this documentary to someone in conversations. It’s episodes like this that will just make me give up and say “well, it’s complicated, you just have to see it for yourself”.


Also, how crazy is it that Mogie’s sister was back in the story? And also that other soldier who was at Hill 1335 and Hill 845, or whatever those numbers were. I think his name was Halloway. He was in the story again in a big way in last night’s episode too. And I thought we’d seen the last of these characters in the story.


I know this might not be the exact right thread for this but I figure you all might be interested. If you have Amazon Prime, this book is currently free to read in Prime Reading:


So, wow, what an episode last night. There’s just so much jam-packed into these two hours. It makes me question, somewhat, the structure of the series, which is to go forward in time. So covering a lot of 1969 means covering a really broad range of things. The anti-war movement and Nixon got quite a bit of screen time last night. I’m surprised though that unlike LBJ, they haven’t playing any Nixon tapes yet. There was another battle over another numbered hill near Cambodia with lots of dead on each side. I forgot the number already, because they called it Hamburger Hill. Also Nixon invaded Cambodia, kind of.

There was the shocking story of the My Lai Massacre. I’d heard that name tossed around before, but seeing what happened was just truly shocking, and I had tears flowing on seeing the images. Like they said in the documentary, civilians die all the time in wars due to bombings or collateral damage. But to hunt down the elderly and children, to rape the women and execute them, deliberately. It’s just a whole other level of evil. And to discover it in the documentary 2 years after it happened? To find out that the Army knew and had covered it up? That Nixon’s reaction was to be angry not at the soldiers who did the killing but at the “jews” who finally leaked it to the press? Man, that Nixon was a real dick wasn’t he?

Another really memorable sequence was this long recounting by this blonde North Vietnamese guy. We’ve been seeing him throughout the series so far, but he has a really long commentary in this episode about how the NVA lived and survived. How they dealt with the same kind of depression and anger as the Americans, but also had to constantly deal with hunger and near starvation, always trying to salvage for food. How NVA soldiers would often “desert” their army and go home to their mothers, and then come back to the Army and start fighting again. it was really detailed and affecting.

And then, of course, on the anti-war movement, there were lots of powerful stories in this episode, but one that really caught me off guard was the Kent State Four, where the National Guard Reserve soldiers had loaded live ammunition in their weapons and fired at and killed four people and injured 17 others. Again I couldn’t stop the tears from coming at this story. I’d never heard of this before, and I just couldn’t believe that 68% of Americans responded in polls that the Reserve were justified and those people deserved to be shot. It kind of brought me back to the present day, and I was thinking, man, a lot of Americans were assholes even back then too.


I have tried to explain to those younger than me who have no memory (or who haven’t read) of the 1960’s and early 1970’s about how the turmoils of today are really nothing new and are for the most part nothing compared to the violence and division in the country back in the 60’s.

I think you are learning that lesson thru this series. I wish more would.


I see what you did there.


Episode 9 - Wow, lots of Nixon tapes on this one. The cynical nature of the conversations between Kissinger and Nixon really are kind of shocking. The whole point was to not have Vietnam be a defeat before the election. After the election, they didn’t give a shit what happened.

Also, Jane Fonda, WTF?

The Vietnam Veterans against the War throwing their medals away was really powerful.

It was depressing hearing that one Marine say that the country got divided at that point, and that it’s still that way to this day. That rang so true. Such a depressing thought.


I use to collect political buttons. Hands down my favorite button every was

[A picture of a screw]
“Don’t change dicks in the middle of a screw.
Re-Elect Nixon in 72.”

Never figured who made that little gem. But yes, Richard Nixon richly lived up to his nickname of tricky dick.