Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


I was 13 in 1968, so episode 6 was a part of my “childhood”. I remember for years after that every time a TV show was broken into for a special news report my first thought was “Who has been shot?”.

There is a book “1968: The Year That Rocked the World” by Mark Kurlansky that is an excellent read. He covers various topics in the book but it is amazing how much happened in that year.


Truly an awful year. The only good thing was this. The Apollo 8 broadcast on Christmas eve from the moon. As one woman said they saved 1968.


I was 15 (turning 16). I vividly remember coming home and finding my mother in the doorway in tears the day Kennedy was killed.

I wanted to go to Chicago that Summer, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Some rebel I was!


Another good book that covers the culture of the times pretty well is Perlstein’s Nixonland. It covers the war some but it does a good job of giving you an idea of how much turmoil was going on.

Am I the only one who thought the treatment of Jane Fonda in episode 8 was kinda … creepy. I guess they had to mention her but why choose to do it the way they did it.


I’ll second the recommendation for Nixonland. It’s excellent.

I’m tempted to jump ahead to episode 9, since I’m curious as to how Kent State will be addressed.


I really hated Jane Fonda after watching Episode 8. Now that I think about it, there was no real opposing viewpoint presented there. But what could justify that?

I would NOT recommend Nixonland. It is the most boring book I’ve ever tried to get through. For example, after watching the Lynn Novic documentary, I tried getting back into the book, and by coincidence the first thing they mentioned after I got back into the book was how the U.S. had installed Diem over there, who was a corrupt dictator basically. But I was annoyed at how little detail he went into and how much he glossed over. The whole book is like that, where he focuses so much on certain minutiae but ignores other details and big picture stuff, and in the end the whole thing feels really hard to grok and actually get through.


I loved Nixonland. I like it as an overview where you can learn something about the stuff you either had forgotten or didn’t know about. Basically the book is about the rise of modern conservatism so the book isn’t going to explain every detail, but if somethings makes you want to learn more there are other places you can look.

Perlstein goes into the social and cultural events of the day that were shaping America, and most people today don’t realize how much went on. I don’t know how many idiots have tried to tell me how bad race relations are now and how close to revolution we are, and then they admit to knowing nothing about the 60s and 70s.


Maybe I got my numbers wrong and Fonda was in Episode 9, cause they have already covered Kent State from a couple angles in the documentary by then.


Yeah, looking at my posts above, Kent State was Episode 8, Jane Fonda was Episode 9.


I may have to skip Episode 9, then. I can’t even watch Jane Fonda. She’s the only living American for whom I would support immediate execution.


They only give her and the others who visited North Vietnam about 5 minutes, but the way they deal with her I found very strange. The marine, Musgrave, talks about how she represented “day dreams” for them and they clips of Barbarella. Kinda weird.


Salon’s Patrick Lawrence has a very critical take on the documentary.

He interviews Christian Appy about the documentary. They are both critical of the role the documentary will have on America’s collective memory about the war. About how Burns once again pushes American Exceptionalism even in this documentary instead of it being a perfect case for refuting American Exceptionalism.

They are especially critical of the lack of voices in the documentary from anti-war activists. An interesting take. It was interesting to read this morning to get an additional take on the culture and the history, and how the documentary handled it in their opinion.


I thought the documentary was pretty damning of the American Presidents and government, of the military and of the South Vietnamese government. I thought the documentary covered the anti-war protests pretty well, even including protests by returned veterans.

I don’t think anyone willing to sit through the entire documentary walks away from it thinking Vietnam was about American exceptionalism instead of American failure. It was a humbling experience for the American people, although the American people have very short memories.


It’s a reflection of something that changed. I’m starting to read about the “Revolutions of 1968”. Don’t really have a full picture worldwide but still working on it (trying to get a handle on France right now). But there is no doubt that what changed is a shift from political to moral. What bothers that writer about Ken Burn’s documentary is

In other words the author has that absolutist view of morality that seems so prevalent among millennials (whether he himself is one or not), which started around 1968 (imo as a shorthand date and transition to a new, post-modern view of the sociopolitical, and as an intellectual movement since obviously millennials weren’t even born); the Vietnam War Was Wrong. Full stop. Don’t be on the wrong side of history. Stand up and declare it to be wrong, then sit down. Simply reporting on events is not only not enough but is misleading. We need to be Told how we should evaluate an event morally and not doing this makes you complicit with the immorality of the past.


How can one view history thru absolutes?


Haven’t you seen or read modern social media’s take on basically all of history? :)


I must admit to being “modern social media” ignorant. I don’t do social media, of any kind, unless forums like this count.

I was on Broken Forum for awhile (I was banned once, allowed back in and eventually asked Lum to just delete my account) and that might represent the mind set you are referring to.

I haven’t read much of the modern history treatments. Probably has more to do with the subject matter and my time though than any conscious attempt to avoid them.


We do it all the time, with WWII being the most obvious example.


It would be interesting to bring on Noam Chomsky and ask him why he was saying back then that Pol Pot’s victims deserved it. It’s tragic that the voices of attention-seeking white academics were silenced in favor of people who actually were involved in and knew about the war.



I think that certain people are going to be very, very frustrated that all the years they spent trying to forge a certain narrative about Vietnam have been rendered much less effective by a popular documentary.