Series Review: 'The Vietnam War' is complex & heartbreaking

Ten years in the making, this epic documentary series is the most definitive and emotional attempt to make sense of one of history's greatest conflicts

08 October 2017 - 00:00

Perhaps no event of the second half of the 20th century has had such a lasting effect on the shaping of US society and psychology than the Vietnam War. More than 40 years since the end of the conflict, the divisions it created within the US and between the US and the rest of the world are still embedded in the socio-political landscape of the globe today.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the reaction of the world to them were coloured by the US's greatest military misadventure and the angry and passionate reactions it inspired at home, both in those who opposed it and those who supported it. These wars have arguably created the heated political climate that most recently gave rise to Donald Trump on one side and Bernie Sanders on the other.
Vietnam taught Americans a lesson about arrogance and the hubris of democratic imperialist interference that it unfortunately has still not taken completely on board.
Culturally, it produced reams of insightful and soul-searching examinations of the war and its consequences, from Michael Herr's Dispatches to Robert Mason's Chicken Hawk, Neil Sheehan's A Bright and Shining Lie, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathiser.
On the silver screen the war has been a vital creative instigator for everything from The Deer Hunter to Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Killing Fields, Casualties of War, Jacob's Ladder, Rambo and even The A-Team.
It gave the world the protest songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Country Joe and the Fish and Jimi Hendrix.

For almost 30 years documentary makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have served as the US's most ambitious and dedicated visual historians - documenting in painstaking detail and through enviable archival research their country's unique and sometimes perplexing obsessions and pivotal moments from baseball to jazz, the country's national parks, New York, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Civil War and World War 2.
Whenever there's a Republican in office, fights break out about the funding for the Public Broadcasting Service of which Burns is one of the main benefactors and for good reason, for while Burns is a patriot and a more middle-of-the-road liberal than radical, he has demonstrated a particular talent for the production of bottom-up, sweeping, ambitious history that gently but intelligently provokes Americans into asking questions they would rather not have to answer.
Ten years in the making at 18 hours long and featuring almost 80 interviewees from both sides of the conflict, The Vietnam War continues Burns's project of prodding the US out of its collective amnesia and reminding it of the sins committed in its name and the dreadful consequences of those not only on the people who carried them out but on the nation as a whole. It is, even more than Burns's seminal Civil War series, the darkest series he's produced.
WATCH the trailer for The Vietnam War..

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