Review: Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War”

 Review: Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War”

 By Maurice Isserman

Say what you will about the Vietnam War, it had a great soundtrack. Feature and documentary filmmakers have, of course, long appreciated this—cue “The End” by the Doors for the unforgettable opening sequence of 1979’s Apocalypse Now, and, about a decade later, Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” for a long, wet, and ominous combat patrol sequence in HBO’s documentary, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987).

The 1960s bred a generation of musicians with an ear for prophetic gloom, their songs seeming all the more inspired as a backdrop to the unfolding horror in Vietnam. Even a whimsical ditty like the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” took on new and unintentionally sinister meaning (“The magical mystery tour is dying to take you away/Dying to take you away, take you today”) when played over Armed Forces Radio in Saigon in 1967, as reporter Michael Herr reminds us in his own dark masterpiece about the war, Dispatches (1977).

 

Ken Burns’s twenty-ninth historical documentary, The Vietnam War (2017), co-directed with long-time associate Lynn Novick falls within this tradition of depicting the war. Burns’s work—28 documentaries since his debut with The Brooklyn Bridge in 1981—is usually known for celebrating America’s iconic things (the bridge), pastimes (baseball), places (national parks), and people (Lewis and Clark). He has, of course, tackled wars before—The Civil War series (1990), which made his reputation, and a Second World War series in 2007 (The War). But those are at least considered nationally redemptive wars—for all the death and sacrifice and less-than-perfect worlds that followed when the guns fell silent, the union was preserved, slavery was ended, fascism was defeated, and all under the leadership of men who have since been celebrated as national heroes—Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower.

 

If Burns tends to gravitate toward lighter topics, the Vietnam War is decidedly not one of them. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to binge-watch the eighteen hours of The Vietnam War. Despite an occasional and, to my ears, strained suggestion that the war was in some ways the product of good intentions gone awry, this series is Burns at his bleakest. Unfortunately, this perspective is applied somewhat indiscriminately, to include antiwar protesters as well as policymakers. . .

 

Read the complete review here.

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

New Member Orientation Call

February 25, 2018

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved. 

Sunday February 25th

9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

Click here to RSVP

Webinar on Compliance and Endorsement Process

February 28, 2018

Click here to RSVP

The National Electoral Committee is sponsoring the first of a series of webinars on electoral organizing. This session will focus on compliance issues and chapter endorsement processes.

This call in on Feb 28th at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT

Click here to RSVP

Talking About Socialism Webinar

March 06, 2018

Click here to RSVP.

Join Steve Max, a founder of the legendary community organizing school, the Midwest Academy, to practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table or canvass. This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources. Questions? Contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org607-280-7649.

This training is at 8:00pm Eastern, 7:00pm Central, 6:00pm Mountain, 5:00pm Pacific, 4:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time.

Click here to RSVP.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

March 14, 2018

Click here to RSVP

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA, and Peg Strobel, Chicago DSA and national Socialist Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 1.5 hours. 9 pm PM ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing. You need a computer with good internet access to view the PowerPoint slides, but you may participate by audio only.

Click here to RSVP