The Ken Burns & Lynn Novick directed Vietnam documentary originally aired in the US on PBS last month is now showing on BBC Four TV. I’ve seen 6 of 10 so far, (though there is some confusion as to whether the BBC edit is the full version?)

The origins in 19th C French colonialism are well known, but Ho Chi Minh has an interesting background that I hadn’t known. Committed communist (obviously!) and well travelled in the 1940’s & 50’s (NY, Boston, London & Paris), it seems he was inspired by T E Lawrence (!) in the possibilities of guerilla war against an imperial army, and was really looking to the US to support his efforts for a peaceful transition to autonomy. Who knew how things would turn out. After the fall of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and another (!) temporary artificial partition, JFK and Nixon both involved on the ground in Trueman’s time, after the Soviet threat was amplified by revelation of their H-Bomb in 1959. From then on it was all about the cold war, local interests and promises were forgotten, a strategic chessboard with no prior understanding of the land …. and the rest is history.

[The numbskull Westmoreland. Mind-numbing shit happened. Excellent Geoffrey C. Ward scripted narration.]

For me personally, the despair in the summer of 1968 – when I was 12 – just one year on from the summer of love, black rights, the assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, the musical backdrop – all too easily brought to mind over that distance of 50 years. Both gripping and deeply affecting. How could it ever end well.

“The series is a masterpiece, an example of how to calmly assess episodes fraught with passion and sorrow.”

“The combat films are extraordinary; the recollections and reflections of combatants and others on both sides are even more so, featuring photos of them then and interviews with many of them now.”

George Will, Washington Post.


[Post Note:
Obviously examples of atrocities on both sides, despite equally obvious honourable intentions of most individuals involved, it seems worth sharing this link from last year. Mostly about WWII and Dresden, but “war dehumanises everyone it touches” (hat tip to Anita Leirfall). In fact more than one interviewee in Vietnam, then and now, expresses the real sense that they needed to dehumanise their enemy – even neutral, sympathetic civilians – in order to be able to act. ]

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