The documentary covers many aspects of the war, as one might expect from a series that lasts about 15 hours.
However, you get about as much from the ten times shorter documentary ‘Dear America: Letters home from Vietnam’, which is also somehow more of a thrill to watch, better edited. Burns has certainly watched this documentary because some of the footage reminds us all too obviously of some excellent shots of ‘Dear America’…
A lot has been written about the new documentary already, so here you can just get some short observations of what the docu leaves out.
1. It doesn’t mention that 300,000 South-Koreans were also sent over to fight against communism. Nor does it mention the contribution of some 60,000 Australians. It does mention the contribution of the South-Vietnamese a bit more than in most other documentaries.
2. At the time the war cost the US about 173 billion dollar. Who got all that money? Cui bono? Who benefits? The docu doesn’t mention that as the killing went on some businessmen must have made a killing. War is that extremely lucrative process in which tax money flows into the pockets of those who control the military industry… It would have been nice to see which companies grew rich off the back of the Vietnam tragedy. War is just great business to some people.
3. Though it does mention how horrific the violence was, it does underestimate just how indiscriminately the US and its allies whacked anything that moved. A mention of Nick Turse’s groundbreaking book ‘Kill anything that moves’ would have been nice.
4. It suggests the mental damage Vietnam vets suffered, but doesn’t come even close to show just how bad the mental cost was. About 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. Did you know that about the same number killed themselves?
5. It shows what a lying hypocrite Richard Nixon was, but it leaves out some of the most damning evidence against the man. Who is Ken Burns trying to spare? There is audio material available in which we hear Nixon dimiss killing 200,000 Vietnamese as just not big enough a move… Ken Burns intention seems clear. He wants to portray the Vietnam war and America’s actions as ‘good intentions gone sadly wrong’. I think the truth is that the US had only one change to win the war, and that was by killing every single North-Vietnamese. It came dangerously close to doing just that… And a courageous man such as Daniel Ellsberg, the Edward Snowden of his day, who leaked the truth about the war to the press, also deserves more attention.
All in all I’m rather more positive about it than one my favorite journalists, John Pilger, whose article about it you can read here.