Ken Burns' The Vietnam War on PBS


I think you could argue that WW2 represents probably the most written about war in history, and that if you so choose you could find authors writing about specific items from several angles and nationalities.


Cross post from the Ebook Bargains thread, in case anyone’s interested:

If you saw the Burns/Novick documentary Vietnam [], you might remember interviews with Tim O’Brien.

One of O’Brien’s books, The Things They Carried [], is on sale at Amazon right now. If you get it, the audiobook narrated by Bryan Cranston will be available for $7.49.


This came on Netflix Australia recently and I am around half way through it, previously knowing little about the details of the lead up or execution of the war.

I am really enjoying it, and the presentation and narration of the material is very impressive. There is some extraordinary footage shown. What surprised me most, however, is how effective the interviews with the vets are. Usually in documentaries the interviews are the least interesting part to me, but here they are very moving. It must have been hard for these guys to relive their experiences so thoroughly for the documentary that their emotions and distress come to the fore. Not only that, they are often quite insightful as well, which I suppose can only come from lived experience in a war.


It’s Burns best work. So much qualtity video and audio recordings of the president.


One of my few disappointments in the series is they hardly touched on the South Korean, Anzac, Philippines, and Thai contributions. Which I first learn of from playiing the boardgame Vietnam 1967-1975. I mentioned the SEATO treaty recently in the military thread. While it primarily used as not a particulary good justification of the war in the case of the US, it did end up dragging the rest of SEATO countries into the war, with the exception of France, and UK who decline.

I got a chance to talk to one Aussie Vietnam vet while visiting there, but I’ve always been curious about the impact. It seem that Australia reminds a streadfast US ally, while New Zealand became a pacifist country, and I’ve always been curious if that was backlash to Vietnam.


That’s true Strollen, all that I can recall from the series (thus far) is a very brief blurb about other countries sending soldiers too.

In reality, the Vietnam War affected these other countries significantly as well. Australia had a draft birthday lottery and my dad’s birthday was one day away from being picked. My wife’s parents fled south Vietnam after the war on a refugee boat and resettled in Australia. So, the war’s ramifications have affected my life significantly as well!

That’s another thing that I think the series underplays a bit (at least the first half of the series), the genuine sentiment among a significant number of south Vietnamese not to be ruled by communists. At least that’s what my wife’s parents tell me.


S. Korea effectively ‘bought in’ to the right to immigrate to the US via their Vietnam War contributions - I’d imagine it’s the same for the other countries as well. The timing of the 1965 immigration act isn’t a coincidence.


I think one of the things that was so great about the series is that it really went in depth to tell the south and north vietnamese soldiers and citizen’s stories. That is something we never covered in history classes.


Missed this thread the first time, because I never left the Games forum for whatever reason. Anyway…

I thought the documentary was fantastic. And yeah, I realize that it doesn’t touch on everything, and there were many stories I would have liked to have seen covered. But I was born in 1968, and was really too young to understand what was going on even when we left Saigon. My only real memory of the time is my uncle was over there, and brought back a wife and three kids from Vietnam (he worked in Saigon - don’t remember as what, but he wasn’t in the field). So my first ‘exposure’ to anything related to Vietnam was ‘First Blood’, where people were shown still treating vets like crap. So that more/less informed my view of Vietnam. So for me, the documentary was fantastic - especially the episodes on the lead up to that shit show. And I very much disagree that this still tries to showcase American Exceptionalism (or whatever the phrase was). I came away thinking how many times the US had a chance to not take the completely wrong path, and did it time after time. So while I’m sure it wasn’t perfect - how can it be when it’s ‘only’ 18 hours - I know a lot more about that war than I did going in.

Also, I lost a lot of respect for Jane Fonda. The trip in and of itself was understandable. Even the picture on the AA gun was, to me, understandable. But when she said US POWs should be executed as ‘war criminals’? That was way over the line.


I worked next to someone this last year whose family left Vietnam on a refugee boat when she was 7. She told me some terrible stories about the refugee camp she ended up in, in Malaysia. Her family eventually ended up in the SF area where they ran a few restaurants.


Yeah what they went through to leave is pretty amazing. One day my wife and I would like to turn her dad’s experiences planning the escape, escaping, and then surviving on the refugee Island for months into a book. The escape story is like an action thriller.

Its also pretty amazing that the Prime Minister of Australia who decided to allow in many Vietnamese refugees was from the conservative political party. You wouldn’t see that today from the same party, in fact these politicians would have sent them all back to Vietnam.


I didn’t know that very interesting.


Ever since this documentary aired, I think about it a lot. It left a really big impression.

One episode I think about a lot is the exodus episode at the end, when the war was ending and all the South Koreans were trying to get out.

And the other moment I keep thinking about is the Kent State shooting, where the National Guard shot those protestors dead. I still can’t get out of my mind the fact that America wasn’t immediately outraged by it. The hatred against hippies in general must have been so strong among “the silent majority” that shooting them dead was ok. I mean, I suppose that could still be true these days, if the protestors were Black. But white protestors? There would be a huge outrage nowadays right?


I didn’t watch the whole series, but were they South Koreans? ;-)


Yes the South Koreans did send a large contribution to defend South Vietnam, all told more than 300, 000 South Korean fought in the war and more than 5,000 died. I was surprised to learn that South Korea troops stayed until the end of the war even after the US troops pulled out (thank you wiki) but did leave in 1973 before the collapse. Not too surprisingly Burns only mentioned the Koreans in passing in the series. IIRC, the last episode was about all the South Vietnamese and remaining Americans. I don’t know if South Korean were still around at the end.

*I bet you didn’t expect a semi-serious answer to a snarky question.


I stand corrected, then, thanks. I suspected auto-complete was the reason, but now I know.


I did mean the South Vietnamese, obviously. Contributions from South Koreans, Anzac, Philippines and Thai were only mentioned here by Strollen slightly upthread.


I work with a woman who was a South Vietnamese refugee and spent time as a child in Malaysia, if I remember correctly. Her stories of the camp are terrible. But her family ended up doing very well in America.