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Be skeptical of Ken Burns’ documentary: The Vietnam War

by Terry Garlock

Some months ago I and a dozen other local veterans attended a screening at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta - preview of a new documentary on The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The screening was a one hour summation of this 10-part documentary, 18 hours long.

The series began showing on PBS Sunday Sep 17, and with Burns’ renowned talent mixing photos, video clips and compelling mood music in documentary form, the series promises to be compelling to watch. That doesn’t mean it tells the truth.

For many years I have been presenting to high school classes a 90 minute session titled The Myths and Truths of the Vietnam War. One of my opening comments is, “The truth about Vietnam is bad enough without twisting it all out of shape with myths, half-truths and outright lies from the anti-war left.” The overall message to students is advising them to learn to think for themselves, be informed by reading one newspaper that leans left, one that leans right, and be skeptical of TV news.

Part of my presentation is showing them four iconic photos from Vietnam, aired publicly around the world countless times to portray America’s evil involvement in Vietnam. I tell the students “the rest of the story” excluded by the news media about each photo, then ask, “Wouldn’t you want the whole story before you decide for yourself what to think?”

One of those photos is the summary execution of a Viet Cong soldier in Saigon, capital city of South Vietnam, during the battles of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Our dishonorable enemy negotiated a cease-fire for that holiday then on that holiday attacked in about 100 places all over the country. Here’s what I tell students about the execution in the photo.

Enemy execution by South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police, 1968

“Before you decide what to think, here’s what the news media never told us. This enemy soldier had just been caught after he murdered a Saigon police officer, the officer’s wife, and the officer’s six children. The man pulling the trigger was Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police. His actions were supported by South Vietnamese law, and by the Geneva Convention since he was an un-uniformed illegal combatant. Now, you might still be disgusted by the summary execution, but wouldn’t you want all the facts before you decide what to think?”

The other one-sided stories about iconic photos I use are a nine year old girl named Kim Phuc, running down a road after her clothes were burned off by a napalm bomb, a lady kneeling by the body of a student at Kent State University, and a helicopter on top of a building with too many evacuees trying to climb aboard. Each one had only the half of the story told by news media during the war, the half that supported the anti-war narrative.

Our group of vets left the Ken Burns documentary screening . . . disappointed. As one example, all four of the photos I use were shown, with only the anti-war narrative. Will the whole truth be told in the full 18 hours? I have my doubts but we’ll see.

On the drive home with Mike King, Bob Grove and Terry Ernst, Ernst asked the other three of us who had been in Vietnam, “How does it make you feel seeing those photos and videos?” I answered, “I just wish for once they would get it right.”

Will the full documentary show John Kerry’s covert meeting in Paris with the leadership of the Viet Cong while he was still an officer in the US Naval Reserve and a leader in the anti-war movement? Will it show how Watergate crippled the Republicans and swept Democrats into Congress in 1974, and their rapid defunding of South Vietnamese promised support after Americans had been gone from Vietnam two years? Will it show Congress violating America’s pledge to defend South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese ever broke their pledge to never attack the south? Will it portray America’s shame in letting our ally fall, the tens of thousands executed for working with Americans, the hundreds of thousands who perished fleeing in overpacked, rickety boats, the million or so sent to brutal re-education camps? Will it show the North Vietnamese victors bringing an influx from the north to take over South Vietnam’s businesses, the best jobs, farms, all the good housing, or committing the culturally ruthless sin of bulldozing grave monuments of the South Vietnamese?

Will Burns show how the North Vietnamese took the city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, bringing lists of names of political leaders, business owners, doctors, nurses, teachers and other “enemies of the people,” and how they went from street to street, dragging people out of their homes, and that in the aftermath of the Battle of Hue, only when thousands of people were missing and the search began did they find the mass graves where they had been tied together and buried alive?

Will Burns show how America, after finally withdrawing from Vietnam and shamefully standing by while our ally was brutalized, did nothing while next door in Cambodia the Communists murdered two million of their own people as they tried to mimic Mao’s “worker paradise” in China?

Will Burns show how American troops conducted themselves with honor, skill and courage, never lost a major battle, and helped the South Vietnamese people in many ways like building roads and schools, digging wells, teaching improved farming methods and bringing medical care where it had never been seen before? Will he show that American war crimes, exaggerated by the left, were even more rare in Vietnam than in WWII? Will he show how a naïve young Jane Fonda betrayed her country with multiple radio broadcasts from North Vietnam, pleading with American troops to refuse their orders to fight, and calling American pilots and our President war criminals?

Color me doubtful about these and many other questions.

Being in a war doesn’t make anyone an expert on the geopolitical issues, it’s a bit like seeing history through a straw with your limited view. But my perspective has come from many years of reflection and absorbing a multitude of facts and opinions, because I was interested. My belief is that America’s involvement in Vietnam was a noble cause trying to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, while it had spread its miserable oppression in Eastern Europe and was gaining traction in Central America, Africa and other places around the world. This noble cause was, indeed, screwed up to a fare-thee-well by the Pentagon and White House, which multiplied American casualties.

The tone of the screening was altogether different, that our part in the war was a sad mistake. It seemed like Burns and Novick took photos, video clips, artifacts and interviews from involved Americans, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, civilians from south and north, reporters and others, threw it all in a blender to puree into a new form of moral equivalence. Good for spreading a thin layer of blame and innocence, not so good for finding the truth.

John M. Del Vecchio, author of The 13th Valley, a book considered by many Vietnam vets to be the literary touchstone of how they served and suffered in the jungles of Vietnam, has this to say about Burns’ documentary:” Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game . . . From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will be by omission, not by overt falsehoods.”

I expect to see American virtue minimized, American missteps emphasized, to fit the left-leaning narrative about the Vietnam War that, to this day, prevents our country from learning the real lessons from that war.

When we came home from Vietnam, we thought the country had lost its mind. Wearing the uniform was for fools too dimwitted to escape service. Burning draft cards, protesting the war in ways that insulted our own troops was cool, as was fleeing to Canada.

America’s current turmoil reminds me of those days, since so many of American traditional values are being turned upside down. Even saying words defending free speech on a university campus feels completely absurd, but here we are.

So Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War promises to solidify him as the documentary king, breathes new life into the anti-war message, and fits perfectly into the current practice of revising history to make us feel good.

Perhaps you will prove me wrong. Watch carefully, but I would advise a heavy dose of skepticism.
-----------------------------------------
Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, GA. He was a Cobra helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War.
 

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Thank you for writing this. I will have to watch with a critical mind. Was really looking forward to watching this series, but I am glad you are pointing out the omissions and one sided narrative.
 

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I watched the first episode... I was not impressed.
 

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i'm always skeptical of ANY 'documentary' as most of the time it's a biased view of the subject being documented.

i was in Thailand when the war was in it's early stages in 1962 in an armed helicopter unit.

some of our helos were sent to VN to aid in the recovery of two of our green berets who were executed after being captured by the VC and participate in the first ill-fated helo assault by the ARVN at Ap Bac.

the MSM seems to always neglect the atrocities and brutality that the VC and those like them commit as a matter of policy...

one of the factor almost always ignored by the MSM is it's NOT the military, it's the civilian leadership that falls short!
 

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Having been stationed on Okinawa for 4 years while my father barracked at Cam Ran bay I have some mixed emotions about Viet Nam. I also remember being really mad when I was drafted and then told I would be stationed in Germany, that we were pulling out of Viet Nam. Now I believe we should have walked away in the beginning, that our involvement only made the problem worse for the South Vietnamese. This feeling does not make me anti-war. About the documentary, pretty good film in general. Don't care how it is spun.
 

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Yep, it has spin, what doesnt? We know it goin' in.
It also has presentation of facts that we, as a people, were not told at the time; ie, 'they' lied to us. No news there, either, I guess, but I've never got used to being used.......
And it is dredging up a bunch of mixed emotions in me, like watching a train wreck after having been in a train wreck.
I fear that the adage,'the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history' is too true.
God bless all and may you find peace.
 

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Got this in an e-mail today - thought I'd pass it on, as this **** series is being shown to further support the snowflakes. With everything coming out on the fbi, cia, nsa - and it's been going on for a loooong, long time - hard to believe General Kelly voted for the beast and is now Chief of Staff. Hard to make out just where are we going?


Bing West; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bing_West


"Bing was in my plt at T&T Qt.

Was asst sect'y Navy under Reagan. Connected.

I get a kick out of the former RVN Marine who was shot several times, played dead, was shot again, but survived. He is still wearing his green beret, proud of his wounds and still cocky. I hope he is in the USA?

Bing West NAILS IT!!! NEW YORK POST Missing from Ken Burns’ ‘Vietnam’: the patriotism and pride of those who fought By Bing West September 19, 2017.

To understand Ken Burns’ 18-hour Vietnam documentary, listen to the music. The haunting score tells you this will be a tale of misery. Burns and his co-author Geoffrey C. Ward conclude their script by writing, “The Vietnam War was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable. But meaning can be found in the individual stories . . .” The film is meticulous in the veracity of the hundreds off factoids/stories that were selected.

Everything depicted on the American side actually happened. But that the chosen facts are accurate doesn’t mean the film gets everything right. Instead, the brave American veterans who are portrayed speak with a keen sense of regret and embarrassment about the war, a distortion that must not go unanswered.

The film implies an unearned moral equivalence between antiwar protesters and those who fought. Burns’ theme is clear: A resolute North Vietnam was predestined to defeat a delusional America that heedlessly sacrificed its soldiers. The film follows a chronological progression, beginning in the ’40s. Right from the start, harrowing combat footage from the ’60s is inserted to remind the audience that a blinkered America is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the French colonialists.

The main focus of the documentary is the period of fierce fighting from late 1965 to 1972. Against a gripping assortment of close-up photos and combat video, dozens of American and Vietnamese voices offer snippets of personal insights about history, geopolitics, families, ideologies, politics, battles, casualties and, above all, frustrations.

Most of the interviewees talk in the lugubrious tones of the defeated. We all know the story ends badly. But when it’s over, we aren’t told why we lost. The music is more memorable than the pictures, and the pictures are more compelling than the narration. Indeed, the North Vietnamese agreed in1972 to negotiate only because our B-52s have shattered their defenses and are pummeling them at will. We are deluged by sights and sounds but not enlightened as to cause and effect. An American lieutenant who fought there in 1965 is quoted at the end of the film saying, “We have learned a lesson . . . that we just can’t impose our will on others.”

While that summarizes the documentary, the opposite is true. Wars are fought to impose your will upon the enemy. If you don’t intend to win, don’t fight. Our civilian and military leaders were grossly irresponsible. At the height of the war in 1968, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford is quoted as telling President Lyndon Johnson, “We’re not out to win the war. We’re out to win the peace.” That is giving up.

Our senior leadership granted the enemy ground sanctuaries in Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam and bombing was severely restricted. The North Vietnamese were superb light infantry. The film points out that we grunts called the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) the ‘Dead Marine Zone’ because we were pounded from North Vietnam and forbidden to attack. The real lesson: Never fight on the enemy’s terms.

The documentary includes a modicum of footage about the South Vietnamese military. The South Vietnamese soldiers I fought alongside were brave and determined. Yet in 1973, sick of the war, Congress forbade any further bombing in Southeast Asia. Military aid to South Vietnam was slashed, while Soviet-built tanks and Chinese-made artillery poured into North Vietnam. It is moot whether South Vietnam could have survived had our aid continued. But the video of our panicked final pull-out in 1975 is flat-out depressing.

The film casts the antiwar movement in a moderately favorable light. Air Force pilot Merrill McPeak (who retired as a four-star general) is quoted as saying, “the antiwar movement itself, the whole movement towards racial equality, the environment, the role of women . . . produced the America we have today, and we are better for it.”

Why are the protesters the real heroes here? What about the valiant US soldiers, 75 percent of whom were volunteers? This documentary succeeds in vividly evoking sadness and frustration. But that is not all there was to the story. “The Vietnam War” strives for a moral equivalence where there is none. The veterans selected to speak are sad and detached for their experience, yet 90 percent of Vietnam War veterans are proud to have served. So there’s a large gap between what we see and the attitude of the vast majority of veterans.

Their sense of pride — so vital for national unity — is absent from the documentary. And that’s a glaring omission. Bing West served in Marine infantry in Vietnam. He is the author of “The Village,”which has been on the Marine Commandant’s reading list for 45 years." http://nypost.com/2017/09/19/missing-from-ken-burns-vietnam-the-patriotism-and-pride-of-those-who-fought/
 

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by Terry Garlock

Some months ago I and a dozen other local veterans attended a screening at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta - preview of a new documentary on The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The screening was a one hour summation of this 10-part documentary, 18 hours long.

The series began showing on PBS Sunday Sep 17, and with Burns’ renowned talent mixing photos, video clips and compelling mood music in documentary form, the series promises to be compelling to watch. That doesn’t mean it tells the truth.

For many years I have been presenting to high school classes a 90 minute session titled The Myths and Truths of the Vietnam War. One of my opening comments is, “The truth about Vietnam is bad enough without twisting it all out of shape with myths, half-truths and outright lies from the anti-war left.” The overall message to students is advising them to learn to think for themselves, be informed by reading one newspaper that leans left, one that leans right, and be skeptical of TV news.

Part of my presentation is showing them four iconic photos from Vietnam, aired publicly around the world countless times to portray America’s evil involvement in Vietnam. I tell the students “the rest of the story” excluded by the news media about each photo, then ask, “Wouldn’t you want the whole story before you decide for yourself what to think?”

One of those photos is the summary execution of a Viet Cong soldier in Saigon, capital city of South Vietnam, during the battles of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Our dishonorable enemy negotiated a cease-fire for that holiday then on that holiday attacked in about 100 places all over the country. Here’s what I tell students about the execution in the photo.

Enemy execution by South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police, 1968

“Before you decide what to think, here’s what the news media never told us. This enemy soldier had just been caught after he murdered a Saigon police officer, the officer’s wife, and the officer’s six children. The man pulling the trigger was Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s Chief of National Police. His actions were supported by South Vietnamese law, and by the Geneva Convention since he was an un-uniformed illegal combatant. Now, you might still be disgusted by the summary execution, but wouldn’t you want all the facts before you decide what to think?”

The other one-sided stories about iconic photos I use are a nine year old girl named Kim Phuc, running down a road after her clothes were burned off by a napalm bomb, a lady kneeling by the body of a student at Kent State University, and a helicopter on top of a building with too many evacuees trying to climb aboard. Each one had only the half of the story told by news media during the war, the half that supported the anti-war narrative.

Our group of vets left the Ken Burns documentary screening . . . disappointed. As one example, all four of the photos I use were shown, with only the anti-war narrative. Will the whole truth be told in the full 18 hours? I have my doubts but we’ll see.

On the drive home with Mike King, Bob Grove and Terry Ernst, Ernst asked the other three of us who had been in Vietnam, “How does it make you feel seeing those photos and videos?” I answered, “I just wish for once they would get it right.”

Will the full documentary show John Kerry’s covert meeting in Paris with the leadership of the Viet Cong while he was still an officer in the US Naval Reserve and a leader in the anti-war movement? Will it show how Watergate crippled the Republicans and swept Democrats into Congress in 1974, and their rapid defunding of South Vietnamese promised support after Americans had been gone from Vietnam two years? Will it show Congress violating America’s pledge to defend South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese ever broke their pledge to never attack the south? Will it portray America’s shame in letting our ally fall, the tens of thousands executed for working with Americans, the hundreds of thousands who perished fleeing in overpacked, rickety boats, the million or so sent to brutal re-education camps? Will it show the North Vietnamese victors bringing an influx from the north to take over South Vietnam’s businesses, the best jobs, farms, all the good housing, or committing the culturally ruthless sin of bulldozing grave monuments of the South Vietnamese?

Will Burns show how the North Vietnamese took the city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, bringing lists of names of political leaders, business owners, doctors, nurses, teachers and other “enemies of the people,” and how they went from street to street, dragging people out of their homes, and that in the aftermath of the Battle of Hue, only when thousands of people were missing and the search began did they find the mass graves where they had been tied together and buried alive?

Will Burns show how America, after finally withdrawing from Vietnam and shamefully standing by while our ally was brutalized, did nothing while next door in Cambodia the Communists murdered two million of their own people as they tried to mimic Mao’s “worker paradise” in China?

Will Burns show how American troops conducted themselves with honor, skill and courage, never lost a major battle, and helped the South Vietnamese people in many ways like building roads and schools, digging wells, teaching improved farming methods and bringing medical care where it had never been seen before? Will he show that American war crimes, exaggerated by the left, were even more rare in Vietnam than in WWII? Will he show how a naïve young Jane Fonda betrayed her country with multiple radio broadcasts from North Vietnam, pleading with American troops to refuse their orders to fight, and calling American pilots and our President war criminals?

Color me doubtful about these and many other questions.

Being in a war doesn’t make anyone an expert on the geopolitical issues, it’s a bit like seeing history through a straw with your limited view. But my perspective has come from many years of reflection and absorbing a multitude of facts and opinions, because I was interested. My belief is that America’s involvement in Vietnam was a noble cause trying to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, while it had spread its miserable oppression in Eastern Europe and was gaining traction in Central America, Africa and other places around the world. This noble cause was, indeed, screwed up to a fare-thee-well by the Pentagon and White House, which multiplied American casualties.

The tone of the screening was altogether different, that our part in the war was a sad mistake. It seemed like Burns and Novick took photos, video clips, artifacts and interviews from involved Americans, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, civilians from south and north, reporters and others, threw it all in a blender to puree into a new form of moral equivalence. Good for spreading a thin layer of blame and innocence, not so good for finding the truth.

John M. Del Vecchio, author of The 13th Valley, a book considered by many Vietnam vets to be the literary touchstone of how they served and suffered in the jungles of Vietnam, has this to say about Burns’ documentary:” Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game . . . From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will be by omission, not by overt falsehoods.”

I expect to see American virtue minimized, American missteps emphasized, to fit the left-leaning narrative about the Vietnam War that, to this day, prevents our country from learning the real lessons from that war.

When we came home from Vietnam, we thought the country had lost its mind. Wearing the uniform was for fools too dimwitted to escape service. Burning draft cards, protesting the war in ways that insulted our own troops was cool, as was fleeing to Canada.

America’s current turmoil reminds me of those days, since so many of American traditional values are being turned upside down. Even saying words defending free speech on a university campus feels completely absurd, but here we are.

So Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War promises to solidify him as the documentary king, breathes new life into the anti-war message, and fits perfectly into the current practice of revising history to make us feel good.

Perhaps you will prove me wrong. Watch carefully, but I would advise a heavy dose of skepticism.
-----------------------------------------
Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, GA. He was a Cobra helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War.
As you so elegantly point out, there are always two sides (or many) to a story so screwed up as this one. (navy pilot 1962 - 1968).
 

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My father served 6 tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He was a soldier's soldier and retired from the army as an O-6. He was an American hero and most kids today have no idea what would motivate such a man. He lived in a world where character was indeed king.
 

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Thannk you for writing this article, I've been watching this series and remeber many things differently than was shown . I found it interesting how many times the same people who were obviously antiwar were interviewed instead of giving voice to the many people who participated in fact not prejudice
 

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Here's another review:


Ken Burns’s ‘Vietnam’ Is Fair to the Troops, but Not the Cause
The antiwar narrative could have been lifted from PBS’s last effort, which aired in 1983.
Mark Moyar
Oct. 6, 2017 5:07 p.m. ET

For the past several years, American and South Vietnamese veterans awaited Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War” series with gnawing fear. Would Mr. Burns use his talent and prestige to rehash the antiwar narrative, which casts veterans as hapless victims of a senseless war? The program’s final episode has aired, and it is safe to say that worries about the portrayal of veterans were somewhat misplaced, while those concerning the war itself proved justified.

Mr. Burns and co-director Lynn Novick should be commended for giving veterans a central role in the series. In the interviews, American veterans explain they were driven to serve mainly out of patriotism and admiration of veterans in their communities. They denounce the caricature of veterans as deranged baby-killers. Several South Vietnamese veterans are featured as well, a welcome change from earlier productions.

The treatment of the war itself is much less evenhanded. The documentary corrects a few of the mistakes that have been common to popular accounts, for instance acknowledging that Ho Chi Minh was a full-blooded communist, who pulled the strings of the ostensibly independent southern Viet Cong. Yet the show mostly follows the same story line as the last PBS megaseries, “Vietnam: A Television History,” which aired in 1983.

The documentary’s 18 hours highlight the worst military setbacks incurred by the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, while spending little time on the far more numerous battles in which the North Vietnamese suffered decisive defeat. Most of the combat scenes involve one or two Americans speaking somberly over gloomy music while the screen displays images of American troops who are dead, wounded or under fire. The interviewees then explain how the trauma and futility of battle led to their disillusionment with the war. On the few occasions when we hear of the excitement, camaraderie and pride that are as much a part of war as the fear and sorrow, the words usually come from the mouths of North Vietnamese veterans.

Some American troops did become disenchanted, joining the likes of John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and they deserve to be heard. But they do not merit the disproportionate airtime they are given in this series. Even by the most generous estimates, Vietnam Veterans Against the War never represented more than 1% of Vietnam veterans, whereas 90% of Vietnam combat veterans said they were glad to have served, and 69% said they enjoyed their time there, according to a 1980 survey conducted by the Veterans Administration. Yet about one-third of the American military veterans in the show otherwise espoused antiwar views, and few of the other interviewees expressed pride or satisfaction in their service.

Among those surveyed by the Veterans Administration, 92% agreed with the statement that “the trouble in Vietnam was that our troops were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington would not let them win.” This subject seldom arises in the on-camera interviews or in the narration, presumably because it doesn’t fit the narrative of an unwinnable war. The audience does not hear of the bitter disputes in Washington over the use of U.S. ground forces in Laos or North Vietnam. Nor does it mention revelations from North Vietnamese officials acknowledging that such measures would have thwarted Hanoi’s strategy.

The documentary disregards most of the positive achievements of America’s South Vietnamese allies. Viewers are told that South Vietnam’s strategic hamlet program—which sought to stem communist influence in the countryside—destroyed itself by alienating the rural population. Never mind that numerous North Vietnamese communists have admitted the program hurt them until it was disbanded after the American-sponsored coup of November 1963. The remarkable improvement of the South Vietnamese armed forces after the Tet Offensive receives less attention from the filmmakers than the Woodstock Festival.

After some initial discussion of America’s strategic rationale for the war—the fear of Asian countries falling to communism like dominoes—the series goes silent on geopolitics. The audience isn’t informed of facts that demonstrated Vietnam’s strategic importance, such as the fervent support of America’s Asian allies for the intervention, or the role of American intervention in averting a communist takeover of Indonesia in late 1965.

Historical perspective is also lacking. The narrator and several subjects suggest that the lies of successive U.S. presidents invalidated the American cause. There is no denying that John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon lied repeatedly about the war. The same could be said about Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but no one argues that their dishonesty discredited their wars.

Numerous interviewees contend that the ineffectiveness and corruption of the South Vietnamese government showed that the U.S. supported the wrong side. But America’s allies in South Korea and Taiwan, who were less effective and more corrupt than their communist rivals, survived because the U.S. did not abandon them. South Korea and Taiwan eventually became two of the most prosperous and vibrant nations in Asia, while their foes remain dour police states that still pose serious threats to international peace.

Mr. Burns has said he intended to produce a definitive account that would bring Americans together. He could have pulled it off, but he chose instead to make it another partisan harangue that is certain to keep Americans divided.

Mr. Moyar is the author of “Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965” (Cambridge, 2006).

Appeared in the October 7, 2017, print edition.
 
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