Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


1967 had 159 race riots all at least as bad as Ferguson and many far worse.

1968 had fewer race riots but still dozens. But it was worse in every other way, MLK, and Kennedy. The Democratic convention and the anti-war movement became violent. Even as a 9-year kid living in the suburbs in Evansville Indiana, I knew it was a terrifying time.

Overshadowing it all was the war. There was no question of reading the names of those kill in combat each week like the PBS Newshour, and ABC’s This Week does. You had read them in the newspaper.

More than 16,500 died in 68, 300 a week, or more US citizens that were lost this century, in all the war, plus 9/11, and shot by cops.

Trump is the worst President ever, but I’d rather live through a year of his stupidity, than any month in 1968. Now 1942 was probably a worse year, but in talking to the Greatest Generation, I think they were generally too busy and were kept in the dark about the war loses to be terrified of the nation disintegrating.

That’s my one criticism of the series, is that didn’t have any older boomers or greatest generation folks interviewed. There was a real sense that the country was a facing a civil war.


Earlier in the day yesterday I decided I would take a break from this series, too grim, too much of a reminder of those painful times. But I decided to watch for a little while and I dove in for the entire episode and I’m glad that I did.

Nixon and the aborted Brookings Institute beak in to try to find incriminating files on his effort to scotch the peace talks prior to the election. He outright called it “thievery” on the tape. Was there a more cynical president? Or one more obsessed with his “enemies”?

I remember when the veterans threw their medals at the Capitol, but I did not know that Nixon had a fence erected to keep them away from the Capitol.

Powerful episode.

I find the Karl Marlantes interviews mesmerizing. I think I may read his memoir.

“The first thing he did when he got there was to gather all the squad leaders together and say, ‘I don’t have a clue about how this works. You guys do. You keep me alive, and I’m going to do my best to keep you alive,’ ‘’ says Tim Rabbitt, a fellow lieutenant in Marlantes’ unit. “He really cared about his men and he took care of his men,” Rabbitt says. He was the real deal.”


Matterhorn is one of the three Vietnam book I recommended above. It’s “autobiographical fiction”. It’s also neither wallows in the usual “ELITE SPECIAL FORCES KILL GOOKS!” vein or “Wallow in Platoon PSTD misery” vein seen in most VN fiction (particularly seen in the 80s). It just is.


I finished up the second hour of Episode 10 this morning. I’m really glad I watched this in the original broadcast date. When Ken Burns’ The War was airing, I fell behind, and over a month or two watched five episodes. But I have never gone back and finished watching those last two episodes. It becomes hard to sustain momentum when you’re watching difficult material. When you sit down on a random evening and ask yourself, what do I want to watch, even if you’re in the mood for a documentary, it’s easier to go for an episode of Nova or documentary about how our food habits are shit, than it is to dive back into a difficult documentary about war.

In the last episode, it’s a real shame about how it all went down in the end. As I was thinking about how it was all going to end after Episode 9, my best guess was that after the American troops left completely, the North would come down in force, and the South would surrender to prevent further bloodshed. That is what happened eventually, but in between the South fought enough to get a lot more people killed, and for civilians to flee in terror towards Saigon, for them to fill barges in panic and drown, etc. It was all very depressing. And then they fought the Chinese off who invaded from the North. And then after the war, Vietnam had it’s own Vietnam in Combodia where they fought the Chinese. Crazy. All that was glossed over, but I’m sure that could make it’s own interesting documentary. The aftermath of the War was only touched upon in broad strokes. It was sad to hear that it took so long for the country to finally heal.

The section on the Vietnam War memorial was really nice. It was nice to see that even though opinions on the Wall memorial chosen were just as divided as the country was, that eventually all the interviewees who went to the memorial came around, and it seems the Wall Memorial is the one piece that came out of this that was unifying and healing.

I visited the Wall memorial in 1993 and 1994, and I have to admit, it’s really powerful. It’s a simple design, but very elegant, and even to someone like me who didn’t know the history of the war, seeing all those names on the Wall, it really makes you imagine and feel something strong when you’re there.


What a magnificent series. The part on the Vietnam Memorial was very affecting. My husband and I were both crying. It is simple and elegant and absolutely the perfect design.


I was thinking that memorial was the best thing to come out of the war. Last time I was in Washington, I didn’t get a chance to see the memorial, but it is officially on my bucket list now.


Incredible work by Novick and Burns. It felt as comprehensive as possible for the time it had. Gave explanations behind the many shocking images and stories from the war. It correctly puts the Vietnamese in near equal spotlight for the interviews and history. This was their war, we just dropped in.

This is so good, and might be their best work. I think it feels like required viewing for anyone that has questions about what happened. The parallels to the civil unrest and distaste of the government today are striking.


anything happened to the PBS streaming? I only get to see 30 second preview trailers now… last week all episodes where up for streaming, now only the first 2 episodes. Anyone knows what’s going on?


Yeah, something must’ve changed, I was up to Episode 6, everything streaming fine, and now it wants me to become a member and join PBS Passport to continue…


Same with me, except I only got to see the first two. It’s on Amazon at a ridiculous price ($6 or $8 per episode, something like that).


My local PBS station did start re-running the series again last night. They showed episodes 1-2. So you might still be able to catch-record the ones you haven’t seen.

But yea, it looks like streaming is now pay per view. That sucks as I was watching them at work.


They’ve done this in the past with Ken Burns’ stuff, and other things, so that was another reason I wanted to catch it as it aired and not fall behind.

However, PBS is pretty good about putting it’s stuff on Netflix fairly soon. As in, a few months from now, this series should be on Netflix, if you’re willing to wait.



That’s too bad. I was falling behind because it was too depressing to watch every night. I only got up to Nixon’s election.

Even without seeing the whole thing, I got a lot out of it. The most important thing for me was seeing how it played out over time for the people who lived through it. Having been born after it was over, I saw the events of 15 years as one thing. Now I understand better how people’s attitudes developed over the years.


“Mostly every movie is done by a white man. And this documentary is sort of the same perspective.”

It has the problem that it can’t make up its mind whether it’s going to be about the whole war or just America’s role in it. If it was going to be about the whole war, you would think they would spend more time talking to the people who it was fought over.

At least when they did talk about South Vietnam it seemed to be relatively fair. Letting actual Vietnamese who aren’t communists get any airtime at all is a big step up from what I expected. Maybe my standards are too low, but if I see any depiction of the Vietnamese people that’s more accurate than the ewoks in Return of the Jedi, I see it as a step forward.


Just as a viewer of the documentary, not knowing of events in Vietnam outside of what I learned in the documentary, I would agree with some of those comments. The South Vietnamese definitely got less air time in 18 hours than the Americans and the North Vietnamese. But what was there was pretty powerful, especially in that last episode after the Americans left.

As for the American soldiers whose story was told, I guess they definitely could have picked other soldiers stories, but the guys they picked were so good as story tellers, I have a hard time picturing which of them should have been cut to make room for others. Even at 18 hours, you still do have to make a lot of choices on what to cut and still tell a compelling story.


It’s interesting that the North South divide still exists today:

The Communists may have won the war, but the capitalists have won this cosmopolitan city that buzzes with entrepreneurial energy. Alongside the hammer-and-sickle flags are Chanel and Cartier boutiques. Young Vietnamese are as selfie- and Facebook-obsessed as peers around the world, and their focus is on how to take advantage of a growing economy.

“Ho Chi Minh City pays more attention to the economy than political issues,” said Nguyen Tuan Thanh amid the whir of blenders and espresso machines in Caztus Coffee, a small café he owns. The 25-year-old, with tattooed arms and a Bluetooth receiver in his ear, was inspired by books written by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to start a chain of cafés specializing in ice-blended drinks.

It would have been much more difficult to start his business — three shops so far — in the North, where personal connections and relationships still dominate the business landscape. “It’s much easier to get things done here than Hanoi,” he said.


PBS announced today that streaming will be available…

The Vietnam War
10-Part Documentary Series

Due to the overwhelming demand from our viewers, all 10 episodes will be available for streaming through October 15, 2017. Chronicle one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history.

Available now on your streaming device.


Making my way through this on the PBS site. Great footage, solid to good interviews, awful as a history.

I do wish Burns would stop trying to cover so much with so little and with such a weak grasp of his subject.

Would have been a masterpeice if he had simply selected groups of people , better balanced groups of people I should add, to interview over footage and give up on this fools errand of trying to tell a start to finish story of the war.


I took a class in college named “What history.” Nothing is perfect, everything is told from some angle, some slant, some perspective, nothing is totally black and white.

Of course, there will always be issues with any historical re-telling. Some people will feel slighted, some will say it didnt happen that way, some will say things were left out or not addressed as strongly as they should.

My wife watched this with me. She is a foreigner who knew nothing about Vietnam. Now, she knows the overall gist of the history and is more informed for it. If she wants to know more or get different perspectives, she can read various books on the subject.

I’ve read many books on WW2. After reading many more pro Western books I found a good read which chronicled a lot of the Japanese side of the story. Grreat read, great new perspective.

I just think people critisize too much about everything…this doc provided information and a base history of the conflict. I wish it was a bit shorter but overall I love documentaries and applaud any filmmakers who take the chance to put forth something for people to discuss.