Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Vietnam War


If you have a chance to watch Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's 17 1/2 hour documentary about the folly of the Vietnam War, take it. I never thought I would watch that much footage about Vietnam, but my husband and I were riveted as we binge-watched the entire series. It was incredible to see the hubris, the ineptitude, the political self-interest and sheer lunacy of the war unfold in one vast sweep. We were educated, horrified and moved.

Ten years in the making, boiled down from interviews with hundreds of people - both Americans and Vietnamese - 24,000 photos, and 1500 videos. Through a feat of phenomenal editing, the series flowed smoothly, weaving together political machinations in Washington, battle scenes,  deftly chosen music from the era, and interviews with combatants, advisors, diplomats, protestors,  journalists and family from all four factions (Americans, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese.  Sometimes documentaries can be too clinical, and you don't even glimpse the human side. Others swamp you with mawkish individual stories without giving a sense of the big picture. This film was perfectly balanced between the two approaches, and they all blended harmoniously. It was a tour de force.

Vietnam was an ignominious war from the beginning, and this was highlighted in the ignoble flights of helicopters rescuing marines from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon. The end would not have been so shabby if it weren't for the obduracy of the ambassador who refused to accept the inevitable fall of Saigon and prepare for it. And so the end came as the war had begun and proceeded.

I thought the film would end with the pathos of the Vietnam memorial with the strains of Bridge over Troubled Water playing in the background. But it went on to show American vets reconciling with Vietnam vets back in Vietnam, this time with Let It Be as background. It's hard to hold on to that feeling of hope, as we watch the American political scene. Did you know that Nixon influenced the 1968 election by doing a back-room deal to get the Vietnamese to refuse to attend the Paris peace talks until after the election, promising they'd do better with Nixon as president? Plus ├ža change. . .

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