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.

 

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July 2018 NPC Live Stream

July 21, 2018

July 21-22 is the fourth meeting of the current National Political Committee, taking place in New York, NY. DSA members can watch a livestream of the meeting, which will be put online in real time.

The Saturday session will be livestreamed beginning at 9AM ET/8AM CT/7AM MT/6AM PT and ending at 6PM ET/5PM CT/4 PM MT/3PM PT. The Sunday session will be livestreamed beginning at 9AM ET/8AM CT/7AM MT/6AM PT and ending at 2PM ET/1PM ET/12PM MT/11AM PT.

This stream will be limited to DSA members. To check that every person interested in watching is up-to-date with their dues, we ask that you RSVP for access to the livestream.

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New Member Call, July 22

July 22, 2018

July 22, 2018

9pm ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT

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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.

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Talking About Socialism: Create Your Own Rap

July 25, 2018

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9pm ET/8pm CT/7pm MT/6pm PST

This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA’s webinar or from other sources. Prepare for conversations about socialism that happen when you table or canvass. 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. 

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New Member Call, August 12

August 12, 2018

August 12, 2018

7:30pm ET/6:30 CT/5:30 MT/4:30 PT

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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.

Questions or Comments? Contact: 

info@dsausa.org

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