Ken Burns’s Vietnam War

I watched the first episode of the PBS Vietnam War series and thought it was good so far. I don’t think anything was said I didn’t already know, but a lot of it was stuff most people don’t know.

I was a bit dismayed to find people on social media trashing it, some of whom apparently didn’t even watch it. One person decided to not watch it because one of the sponsors was Bank of America, and she was certain it wouldn’t be any good. Others assume it will be a whitewash of U.S. crimes and refuse to watch.

I left a comment somewhere that the first episode (which covered the beginning of French colonialism to 1961) was accurate, and got a response from someone named Doug Zachary — “Barbara you are the perfect fascist citizen. fall in line. smile, really BIGLY!” I take it Doug has Issues.

Of those who claimed to watch it and who dissed it as propaganda, my impression is that they won’t accept anything that isn’t an anti-American polemic. The problem with that is that they seem to want to think that Americans in the 1950s and 1960s went to Vietnam just to napalm Vietnamese children for kicks and grins, and don’t want to hear how mostly well-meaning people talked themselves into thinking that the war was the right thing to do, even though it wasn’t.

To me, that last part is the most important part of the story, and the part of the story that people need to understand. Because that’s how evil works. Most people who do wrong things don’t recognize they are doing wrong things at the time. They persuade themselves they are doing the right thing. We keep doing wrong shit because people get worked up into thinking that the wrong shit is righteous and necessary, and then when it all goes bad nobody wants to look back try to understand how they could have been so mistaken. Well, here’s a chance. Those of you who are too young to remember Vietnam could apply this same lesson to several more recent misadventures, like Iraq.

Tonight’s episode covers 1961 to 1963. I expect to see the corruption of the Diem regime and Kennedy’s signing off on Diem’s assassination. This article in Newsweek contains some pans of some of the episodes that haven’t been shown yet. So we’ll see.

See also “What Trump Needs to Learn from Vietnam.”