Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War is available for streaming on PBS.org
By Jeremy Koffsky
Ken Burns is the most effective historical storyteller currently living. His long-form documentaries enhance history into relatable and fascinating stories. His documentaries on the Civil War, the Roosevelts, and the game of baseball are all incredible in the their own right and contain an underlying appreciation and admiration for American culture. In contrast to this, his new Vietnam War doc, much like the event, paints America in incredibly dark shades of grey and asks thought-provoking questions.
When is it morally right to go to war? Are we any better than the colonial powers we overthrew long ago? When we say we are fighting for freedom, do we truly mean it? Or are we really just fighting for our best interest and not the forgein people we claim to be fighting for?
All these questions do not have simple answers. I can only imagine how those who lived in the time of the war needed to mull these thoughts over. Mr. Burns focuses on these difficult realities through his sharp portrayal of the events that took place.
Too often the events in Vietnam are overlooked to make a point for political gain. “Vietnam was bad because of X, Y, and Z.” “Vietnam was good because of X, Y, and Z.” Here, Burns says: “The Vietnam War happened. Here’s how. Here’s what the fighting entailed. Here’s why the politicians made it happen. Here’s what the American people thought about it at the time.”
It is incredibly satisfying to finally understand this dark chapter of American history. Vietnam is too complicated to be taught in a textbook, too long to be read about on Wikipedia, and too complex to simplify into rights and wrongs. Ken Burns has finally portrayed this event honestly, and it’s a riveting watch.