Home | About | Donate

Does Vietnam Even Matter Any More? Does Ken Burns?


Does Vietnam Even Matter Any More? Does Ken Burns?

Robert Freeman

"There's no scoping out," the author writes. "That is intentional."

A U.S. B-66 Destroyer and F-105 Thunderchief dropping bombs on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder on June 14, 1966. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)


An honest Viet Nam memorial listing not just the 70,000 American dead but also the six million Viet Namese victims would stretch for miles through Washington.


Absolutely! I’ve thought the same for a long time. That would really put things in perspective. Maybe some learning would finally occur…


Oh children, yes Viet Nam still matters. You no longer have to worry about being drafted. With a draft do you think we would still be in Afghanistan? Do you think we would have invaded Iraq on such flimsy evidence? On a lesser level, children can now affect the course of our national debate. You won the right to vote at 18.

Burns’ series is at best revisionist history that told us nothing we did not already know.


The “right to vote” in elections in which a loser is made a winner, like, say, if 3 millions more were to vote for candidate G over candidate P, but G would still lose to P? Embedded in a political system in which a major political party that lost two critical presidential elections within 16 years in exactly this way, winning the popular vote both times but then losing the election due to the intricacies of the “vote,” such a party would do not a thing to change or even complain about this way of doing things, content to lose with a broken system while claiming to hold the mantle of real change? In a system like that (disclaimer: this description barely scratches the surface)? Now what a “right to vote” that is!


An excellent article which nails two points - the self-serving reason Burns avoids telling the truth, and this:

“The U.S. invaded and destroyed another country because that other country wanted a form of government different than the one the U. S. was willing to allow it to have. To prevent that country from exercising the “consent of the governed” that the U.S. deifies as the highest political expression of civilization, the U.S. killed six million Vietnamese, most of them civilians.”


Yes, Vietnam still matters! I thought the lesson was clear in episode one, when Burns showed US presidents KNEW Ho Chi Min would win the planned elections, as their communist hero, who beat the colonist French.
Lesson 1: US NEVER allowed that democracy, to save face in our battle with communism.
Lesson 2: People would rather fight & die than have foreigners rule them
Lesson 3: US foreign policy is ALL about catering to US business & we LOVE dictators who buy in to that.
Yes, Burns did not put those lessons in bold letter headings. Perhaps to cover for the rich donors but I thought it was to allow people to see the obvious conclusion.
Was the protest of US dictators by the burning monks not painfully clear?
Was it not clear US stopped the election of Ho.
If we had learned those lessons long ago perhaps nowadays we would not have assassinated elected communist Allende in Chile. We still did business with women hating Taliban, to build oil pipelines to the Caspian Sea, with no regard for democracy or women’s rights, UNTIL we prefer to invade their country for the so-called Think Tanks of Rumsfeld Bush fascists to rule a “New American Century”.
I don’t think it is Burn’s fault if anyone missed the mess we made & continue to make


Yes, excellent highlighting. Ho Chi Minh was courted by the U.S., supported by the Office of Strategic Services–until the U.S. realized he was interested in independence, not subservience. Communism was not the major thrust of Vietnam before the U.S. war–independence was, and by democratic means.


Yes, Burns gave all the context and “scoping out” that he could and still get conservatives to avoid trashing and not watching. Episode One was my favorite. I learned quite a bit of detail.


What an excellent, instructive article for the US audience. The rest of the world, already knows (rationally or intuitively) all this. Thank you CD for this quality work.


I’ve been one of the ones somewhat defending Burns on these pages for his latest, but it often takes me some period of reflection to actually understand what I’ve witnessed. That period of reflection has now sunk in and I completely agree with Freeman’s criticisms here. It is because America’s war on Viet Nam touched so many of this nation, and continues to reverberate with many that it really should have been used as a vehicle for teaching - is what Freeman is saying.

Several episodes in the middle of Burns offering, even while I was watching it, seemed just like so much war porn.

And now, a fortnight later it seems like one popular band doing a cover of another popular band’s tune, just 'cause they had nothing better to do. It is not a brilliant interpretation of the original chart, and it is completely forgettable.


Only America can forget its wars. We had to forget Vietnam before we felt comfortable with someone like Burns defining it for us.

No other country except the very warlike USA can end a war and put it behind them like can the physically separate USA. America with the one single exception of Pearl Harbor has never had to feel the damages of modern war. The last time America physically suffered the effects of a war, we fought amongst ourselves - north and south. Since then two oceans have allowed us to fight all of our many wars somewhere ‘over there’ but never here at home.

Burns’s docu-history was written not as tribute nor condemnation. His work was to educate mainly those who only knew of Vietnam by hearsay. Thus whatever lessons are to be learned by such a work, are teaching out of a textbook little different than learning about WWI or WWII for those who weren’t there. America doesn’t get invaded. We never get scores of bombers destroying our cities nor troops advancing upon us behind an artillery bombardment. America doesn’t really feel the wars it wages except through the memorials to our fallen. No cities destroyed, no bridges down etc. only we are free from the effects of war and that means that given enough time after a war forva couple of generations to pass, we can define a war like Vietnam anyway we like.

In America first we need to forget a war and only then can we start to remember it.


Robert Freeman nails it right up there on the wall with this article, maybe his best!


A honest memorial? I agree about the second wall with six million Vietnamese victims, but to be honest, I would like to see a third wall that lists the names of all the war criminals and cheerleaders ( like the N.Y. Times) that were guilty of condoning and enabling the murder of so many people in Vietnam.


Vietnam matters as a place with a long history, filled with peoples and cultures. This title is obscene, racist, and typically exceptionalist - as if “Vietnam” (like all of the other nations and peoples that the U.S. has been destroying as it conquers the world on behalf of global capitalism) is simply a creation of the U.S. imperial imagination.

That said, the piece is excellent and I doubt that Freeman wrote the title. Whoever did should drink a cocktail laced w/ Agent Orange scooped from Vietnam’s soil. S/he will learn what matters.


Does Vietnam even matter anymore?

Evidently, not to Ken Burns, because all he really documented was: WAR IS HELL! WAR IS HELL! Never, why the Vietnam war was fought and the trillions of $$$$$$ the war profiteers made during the Vietnam war.


Burns uses the misleading canard, " you cannot criticise the soldiers ( who are merely following orders ) but you can disagree with the policy of the leaders “. So, Burns tells the story of deliberate American genocide against the Vietnamese, through the narrow aperature of the personal. This really allows the American civilian populatioon to shrug, and walk away, washing their bloody hands and bloody brains of this country’s murderous, self-destructive and coldhearted ways. Still unchanged since we are, like Trump, telling the world we’re mostly a bunch of non-repentant psycho killers. But, since we have lots of nukes and even more money, no one will attempt to bring us to trial and find our American Exceptionalism guilty on all charges. Concerning our actions since the end of WWII, in regards to our destruction of the people of this planet, simply because someone or something can make a buck by doing so. The take it and like it philosophy of concentration camp commanders and prison wardens, the world over. Shocking? Not so much when you’re allowed to reflect on it.
” The business of America is business " could also be said of the drug cartels and the Cosa Nostra as in, " the business of selling drugs is our business ( regardless of it being immoral, illegal and tethered to premeditated murder, often times ).
Burns is rather like George Will in his treatment of American foreign policy and history. He uses the one rotten apple theory so he can justify throwing out the whole barrel and cutting down the tree on a faulty pretext. Reductionists in service to wealthy elites and the status quo can afford this luxury.
Unfortunately the Vietnamese, and increasingly the majority of this planet’s population, cannot.
Burns and Will would serve this country, if they must continue to do so, by sticking to telling us all about the other American pastime, baseball. There the personal is the story and usually everyone gets to go home without being murdered.


This review…given the many briillant points made in a " relatively" short essay is one of the most compelling pieces of opinion it has ever been my priviledge to READ!


Folks in the Aleutians would disagree with you.


We’re not going to do anything about this. So, the question is then, what do we do? The best I can come up with is to keep a little flame alive, passing it from one to the other, while the thing collapses of its own contradictions. And it is: the US is being hollowed out, the environment that we depend on is caving in beneath us. But it won’t be any utopia that comes out of that collapse. It will just keep on going like this.