Ken Burns’ Vietnam War

By now most Americans interested have watched Ken Burns’ documentary of the Vietnam War…..I have read many critiques both pro and con….me?  I was there and do not need to be reminded of the stupidity or the insanity…..

But I read a peace in the New Statesman about the film……..

In his own remarks, Mac Owens mentioned an essay by Jim Webb, the decorated Vietnam combat veteran, writer, and former US senator. That essay, “Heroes of the Vietnam Generation,” pairs well with an earlier essay, “Peace? Defeat? What Did the Vietnam War Protesters Want?,” which was also published by the American Enterprise Institute, in 1997. Both are very useful, especially for those who didn’t live through the Vietnam era, for understanding some of that generation’s dynamics.

Webb discusses how it was really the first time in US history when a lot of people argued not going into the military was actually a good thing, and this sentiment has guided how a lot of people look at the Vietnam War. In order to justify not serving in the military at that time, many described the war as unjust, unnecessary, and unwinnable. While I can’t read Ken Burns’ mind, if you look at his documentary The Vietnam War, it certainly seems to support this mentality.

Of course when Vietnam is mentioned or debated there is always the subject of who won that war…..

To bring with that would nice to know what those asking and answering the question what their definition of winning and losing in war really means.

In order to know whether the U.S. lost the Vietnam war or not, it’s wise to go back and see why the Vietnam war started in the first place. Domino theory or containment was usually used as a  justification for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The fact is the U.S. failed to stop the spread of Communism throughout Vietnam which led to its spread to Laos and Cambodia in 1975. However, it is arguable that the effects of the war in Korea and Vietnam that the U.S. had involved in did help the rest of South-East Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore stay free of communism.

Military-wise, the U.S. arguably never lost any major battles. However, it could not stand the constantly increasing loss of American lives and the economic burden the war carried on its people and was eventually forced to leave Vietnam before the war ended. Without its direct support, South Vietnam surrendered to the North Communists and disappeared from the world map not long later.

In short, in the picture of Vietnam, the U.S. failed to defend South Vietnam against the North Communists and probably lost the war politically rather than militarily as Vietnam was far from the war of major battles. In the bigger picture of containment, the U.S. did achieve their initial goals to a certain extent.

This is a good piece for those interested in a by-gone war that most Americans had sooner forget

7 thoughts on “Ken Burns’ Vietnam War

  1. As you were there, I naturally defer to your experience and personal opinion.
    I did watch Burns’ series, and thought it was respectful to both sides, and very professionally made too.
    If he criticised or attacked anyone, it was mostly the politicians on both sides, and the regime supported by the US. As an outsider, it came over as a thoughtful and balanced documentary about that whole sorry war.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Who won the Vietnam War??? Let me fly to Richard Milhous Nixon City and ask the people there who won. They should know.

    I’m sure people who want to hate Ken Burn’s Vietnam will hate it. But they probably were personally involved in the war and lost a lot because of it. They have….”a very focused perspective”…and probably just get angry hearing anything about the damn thing…especially from people who weren’t there. I suppose that’s more than fair.

    As a “neutral observer” who intentionally chose to be born in Canada with flat, gay, feet with bone spurs…and far too late to get drafted….I “enjoyed” Ken Burn’s Vietnam. It was about as neutral, deep & professional as you can hope for with such a touchy topic. Fantastic for beginners & the classroom. I probably know more than most “neutral observers” (aka very little), but I certainly learned a few things. Among them:

    #1) There were far more people than I thought in the US upper echelon who thought winning was damn near impossible, if not completely impossible. Even Kennedy expressed serious doubts. Yet for some reason, he and the others still committed to what they thought was a losing battle. Why start a war you aren’t pretty damn sure you can win? And why keep it going when it’s clear you aren’t?

    #2) The level of meddling with -and troubles from- the leaders of the South was more than I had thought. And most of them…Jesus, they didn’t have a prayer without America…but thought they were hot shit. They should have known more than anybody what they were up against. But some acted like it was in the bag.

    #3) Hill battles. See the hill. Make huge sacrifices to take the hill. Abandon the hill. Move to next hill. Repeat. So much fucking “hamburger” for so little gain. No wonder so many of those poor dudes lost their shit. Taking defeat out of the hands of victory. Was this war run by modern Democrats or something?

    #4) The Vietnamese themselves, soldiers & civilians, were actually involved! Oddly, they’re the most forgotten folk of the Vietnam war. Both North & South come across “better” in this…and were shown as more complete human beings (good & bad)…than anything else I’ve ever seen. It was really interesting to hear their stories & perspectives too.

    #5) Everyone they talked to seemed to know they had to talk about it now…if only for history’s sake.

      1. Some of the people they talked to did join the anti-war movement…including a couple family members, if I recall. But you’re right. Most people involved in ANY war keep quiet out of mental anguish, fear of being called a traitor/pussy/war criminal, etc…and only open up when “their time is almost up”. It’s a seriously harsh burden they don’t deserve to be carrying. And it robs society of a learning opportunity. (Learnin’…Wat dat?)

        That’s why I was glad Burn’s aired those personal stories. It humanizes those involved. I especially like the follow-up Vietnam Vet stories that some PBS stations are still occasionally airing between shows. That catches a whole different audience than those who would tune in to the show itself. My local PBS station actually aired one right after Sesame Street! (Insert super-tasteless “The Body Count” joke here)

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