Review of Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Vietnam Ken Burns Lynn Novick
Rating *****

I was fortunate to graduate from high school just as the war in Vietnam was winding down. So, while I was keenly aware of what was happening, I was also focused on other things. I now know from watching this excellent historical documentary series just how fortunate I was.

In earlier works by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, there was a substantial reliance on images due to the lack of video. That wasn’t the case here. Archival video is used throughout to aid in the storytelling combined with interviews, music, images, and sound recordings from the period.

My biggest takeaway after viewing Vietnam is the role those at the top of the government and military played in involving the U.S. in this senseless war. I always thought that it was President Kennedy who got us involved in Vietnam and that Lyndon Jonson inherited the problem. The truth is that while Kennedy made some early missteps, it was Johnson more than anyone who is responsible for escalating the war. Then comes along Nixon, who ran on promises to end the war, who made things worse in innumerable ways.

I don’t think you can watch this series and come away thinking that any period of the war was justified. I knew of some of the battles that were fought such as Hamburger Hill, but I was stunned to learn that nearly all of them were unwarranted. Who can justify fighting days and weeks and experiencing thousands of lost lives on both sides for a hill that is abandoned soon after it is taken?

For me, the best episodes were the last two. I especially liked the section that included John Kerry. His speech to Congress encapsulated all that was wrong with the war.

I empathize with the veterans who fought so that I didn’t have to. I am sorry that so many families lost loved ones. But while the Vietnam war cost us close to 60,000 American lives, the Vietnamese lost over two million. What did we gain? Elections have consequences.


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