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The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll


The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll

U.S. Marine stands with Vietnamese children as they watch their house burn after a patrol set it ablaze after finding AK-47 ammunition, Jan. 13, 1971, 25 miles south of Da Nang. (Photo: HJ/AP)
Nick Turse

While most American soldiers approximately 12 months serving in Vietnam, the civilians of that nation lived the war week after week, month after month, year after year, from one decade into the next.


My most most shocking recollections of the run up to the “Gulf War” in 1990, and the 1991 occupation that followed was how the media saturated us with the newly introduced concept of “collateral damage” to sanitize the metrics of non-combatants being displaced, injured and killed.

After more than a decade of demonizing those of us who helped end the Viet Nam occupation, and demonizing anybody who questioned anything related to military spending, getting Murkins to feel good about the “Gulf War” and the series of occupations that continue nearly three decades later was the next logical step in the media campaign promoting and sustaining eternal occupations and wars that continue to enable ever growing and eternal revenue for the military industrial media infotainment complex (MIMIC).


I had a feeling this documentary would be inadequate. You often can’t count on PBS to give broad, objective coverage when it comes to war.


" But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that."

The war profiteers made untold $$$$$$$$$$$$ off the Vietnam war…but never mentioned? LBJ, Nixon and many others should have been indicted as lying, war criminals and for condoning the deaths of millions of Vietnamese civilians! And for using the patriotism and bravery of some 57,000 American soldiers, who perished in Vietnam, for their own personal, nefarious, motives…never mentioned?


Thanks for this. Part of the demonization you talk about in the Novick/Burns TV series takes on anti-war activists. In a recent episode concerning demonstrations in DC, they accurately portrayed a “May Day” event when vets threw medals back on the steps of the Capitol. I was there, though I was not a veteran. They said this action consolidated anti-war feeling in the U.S. That is a lie. It was widely ignored and broadly hated by the U.S. public that knew about it, even by 1971 when all had gone to shit. And, of course, they repeated the lie about protestors spitting on veterans. Vietnam veteran Jerry Lembke debunked that one long ago.

Then they really took the lying deep by saying that the “militant” May Day actions that followed the veterans’ action undermined the sympathy that they had gained – and were conducted by “crazies.” This Koch-financed “liberal” take on those years is exactly why I say liberals are the more effective evil. Rather than lying outright, they twist truth, which is really a more effective form of propaganda.


For a close-up look on what Turse is talking about read this all the way through (if you have the guts).



The real truth: that what imperialist amerika did was a 10 year terrorist destruction of a nation, of an environment! Imperialist amerika has been the World Leader in terrorism since 1620!


Every American should be forced to read this article and listen to the voices of the Viet Namese people who are quoted. There is no way that we can understand the horror of their lives, but we can try. And work to end the current wars that have ruined so many countries and their people! I am still crying.


Burns and Novick gave a passing glance at the invaluable and very vital contributions of nurses in Vietnam without whom many more lives would have been lost. A tragic oversight. They, too put their lives in harm’s way and suffered PTSD…but were not recognized for their efforts until over 40 years after the debacle. And did they get "combat pay, " hell no. Yet another crime to be added the long, long list of crimes against humanity committed in VietNam.


Exactly. And there are some who are documenting the voices in Southwest Asia, Palestine and Africa who now suffer similar attacks from the “exceptional” United States permanent war machine. Turse does it well, as do Anne Jones, Robert Fisk, John Pilger, Ali Abuminah and many others. But they are largely shut out from both the corporate and lib/prog media. Hell, Walter Cronkite would be silenced and marginalized today. Or he would “embed” which is many magnitudes worse.


I will say that the parts I did watch I did think were well done…that doesn’t mean that this “documentary” is not a fairly gloss, pathos-infused sound-track of the Vietnam war, rather than a gritty, free- spoken testimony to all its horrors. So I don’t give Burns and “A”, certainly, but I do give him a C+ for at least giving some voice to those NVA soldiers and regular Vietnamese citizens who might otherwise be forever seen only as slanty-eyed, in-human “Gooks” and “Charlie”


Great comment. The film is a moral failure.


I got it. I got the toll on civilians. Etched in my memory forever. Thank you Ken Burns for showing this so clearly and unmistakenly.


I suspect representatives of TPTB told Ken Burns in no uncertain terms that he will refrain from telling the whole story or he won’t tell the story at all.


Ken Burns knows where his bread is buttered from. What else do you expect when the funding includes the Koch Brothers and Bank of America.


34 to1 – for every 34 Viet Nam deaths there was one U.S. death. 58,000 divided by 2 million. This is a slaughter. The U.S. still deploys soldiers to 800 outposts in 80 nations. The Nation magazine has a good article. We out-spend the next 8 nations in military spending. We send our soldiers to Afghanistan, for what? 34 to 1, Viet Nam. Read the article Tulse links to.


I watched it on tv every day/night for the year my husband was there in 1967-8. I cannot watch it again.


The Vietnam War Combat Medics had some of the worse cases of PTSD to A man that I witnessed-
One friend of mine was A combat Medic and told me about how he had seen injuries where he could look right through A person and see the ground and they were still alive- As A drug dealer, one time I asked him if he was worried about getting busted and he then told me that what they had already done to him was more than they could ever do …


John Pilger’s “The War You Don’t See” was an excellent documentary- The documentary “Searching For Steele” was A grizzly account of Iraq’s US-funded sectarian interrogation units- One horror of A film- General David Petraeus, James Steele, and Colonel James Coffman are 3 sadistic soldiers that are more than responsible for the creation of ISIS…


Not only did the Burns/Novick series omit important information and truths, it committed half-truths and outright lies. It is certain to sweep the Emmy awards and tears will flood, etc. while the permanent war machine continues to grind on, destroying people, nations, our species, and other species.