Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


I’ve been enjoying it, even if it does raise some painful memories.


Really why do you say that? I think, Pete Coyote narration was a very fair overview of the war, and we heard from plenty of folks who had different perspectives.


For me I just kept saying “yes but…” or “really? you not gonna mention THAT?” a lot.

Burns seemingly couldn’t figure out which was more important, talking about the events or the individual stories. I think he should have stuck to the latter.

In terms of tone I thought it struck exactly the wrong note of both being too USA centric but also being way too kind to the North Vietnamese regime.

But I don’t want to give the impression its a bad series, it is not. Its good but it is carried by the footage and the interviews.


It’s a film made by a couple of Americans for American television. Of course it’s going to be “USA-centric”. As far as being “too kind” to the North, I don’t get that either. There are lots of segments that describe mistreatment of prisoners in graphic detail, as well as the general disarray and power struggles going on in Hanoi.


I think the PAVN terrorist campaigns against civillians and elected officials in the south are given no where near enough attention (so far anyway, I am up to the Tet one) as this was a major strategy of the north I think thats a rather large omission. The mistreatement of prisoners on both sides is relatively far less damning imho.

As for the “well it was made by Americans”, sorry but in a war where millions of Vietnamese died versus sixty odd thousand Americans thats not going to work for me either historically or morally frankly. He made an editorial choice by ommision and I disagree with it

Again I like it, Burns has a gift for selecting great footage and gets some good interviewees in place but I think my criticisms about its history are pretty well justified. That said if it starts a lively debate about the Vietnam war then I am pleased, it is a subject that deserves discussion.

edit: I just finished the Tet episode not even a mention of the Hue massacre? Ye gods.


It annoys me that they had a segment about the Phoenix program but they act like it’s something that just came out of the blue. If they just mentioned the communist assassination campaign and called it a “counterterrorist operation” it would make a lot more sense to younger people.

I remember them going into it. Maybe it’s in the next episode? Or I’ve already got a false memory after two weeks.


reminds me of a quote of a british filmmaker, there is no history, only historians … maybe this show is not the definitive retelling of the Vietnam war, but it is one version, lots of original video and audio footage at one place.


They spend about 40 minutes on Hue, I think, maybe longer.


Yeah I saw that as part of the Tet episode It was the omission of the massacre at Hue and the other executions the communists did once they took control in other towns during Tet that I was exasperated by.

To paraphrase LBJ, can you imagine if it had been the other way around?

I will gratefully concede my point if these atrocities are covered in later episodes but as it was so tightly linked to Tet & Hue it seems odd it wasnt covered during that episode.


I don’t remember when they were covered, but they were.

I noticed that throughout the series. Events were covered as they came out in the press, not when they actually occurred. So Hue was covered, and then the massacre at Hue was covered in the aftermath of Hue.

Similarly, the My Lai Massacre was not covered in the chronology of when it happened. It was covered in the chronology of when it was uncovered 20 months after it happened.


Got it, thanks! I am happy to withdraw my complaint.


The Hue massacre was covered in the episode about the battle for Hue.


Thanks. I will re watch it. Unless the episode on the PBS site is somehow different I guess I missed it. Strange. “Episode 6: Things Fall Apart” right?

Edit: found it. 58m in I guess I am an idiot :)

edit edit: Well its 3 mins long but still I shouldnt have missed it. See “I am an idiot” above :) Anyways, thanks!


There was some time devoted to the killing of South Vietnamese officials and citizens suspected of sympathy to the SV regime during Tet (it’s on the episode of the Tet offensive). Including a lot of very graphic photos of pictures of the victims of such executions. They even interview people who were involved in such atrocities in the VC side.

This was a part of the war I knew little about (I mean, I suspected stuff like that had happened like they do in these kind of insurgency wars, but this is by far the longest work on the war I’ve read/seen) so I’m pretty sure they cover it extensively since now I know much more about it. It made a pretty strong impression on me, so I think the coverage works.


I think that it is also important to note how much this was Lynn Novick’s documentary. Burns did not travel to Vietnam, and Novick did all the interviews.

Burns has always been the high level master of creating a narrative and through line of all of the content. From the interviews I have read about the creation of this project, Novick did a large amount of the heavy lifting here.


I watched episode 6 last night. The episode covered the assassination squads that killed people in Saigon during the TET offensive and about the massacre of 2,800 people in Hue by the NVA when they left the city. There were even interviews with North Vietnamese who admitted it was an atrocity.


I do think that this doesn’t have the feel of a Burns Documentary. Other than maybe the story of the 17 year old who enlisted and then died there is very little to me that makes me think of Burns.


The “please be careful about showing this” from the ex NVA guy was pretty chilling.


Yea, and the documentary just let it hang there.


Yeah, one of some very powerful moments I must say. The series is (rightfully & appropriately) very difficult viewing at times.