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The Beachwood vs. Ken Burns' Vietnam

An e-mail exchange between our very own Tim Willette and Steve Rhodes.

Tim: I read that Dan Ellsberg is not in the Burns documentary.

If that's true . . . A 10-episode, 18-hour documentary about the war and Ellsberg isn't in it? Maybe LBJ isn't in it, either!

Steve: But John McCain's in it!

Tim: They're interviewing McNamara's hair now.

Steve: I wondered if they interviewed Bush, Cheney, Trump . . .

Tim: Holy shit! They're interviewing Rob Rheault (Coppola based the Kurtz character on him - so far they haven't brought this up). Wow.

Steve: Wow! I wonder if they'll interview Ron Kovics. Also, Peggy Noonan and Bill Kristol . . .

Tim: I expect Mark Halperin any time now. Also Shelby Foote to tell us the villagers loved the strategic hamlet program, and Wynton Marsalis to explain why all Vietnamese jazz after 1965 sucked. And of course George Will to point out the introduction of the DH ('73) led to the fall of Saigon.


Comments welcome.


1. From David Rutter:

One can watch Ken Burns' work on several levels. He's admirable as a basic storyteller technician but, in his typical quest to show "many truths," he eventually obscures the one necessary truth that withstands reinvention.

In the Civil War series (which I generally admire for technique) he lost track of the essential cause of the war and thereby obscured that slavery was the principle sustaining motive for the South's "lost cause." Slavery always looks more appealing when it's portrayed in sepia tones with aching violin solos as background. But it was a cruel, despicable motive for war.

In the Vietnam opus, he almost misplaces the essential that the war was never that nation's Civil War. It was an American extension of the colonial universe that France employed to bleed the country and which then the U.S. adopted.

South Vietnam was never a self-generated free state filled with "freedom fighters." It was created and sustained by U.S. intelligence operators.

I am not the first or most insightful (see Jeff Stein in Newsweek) to suggest the erroneous narrative of "Freedom Fighters against the Communist Horde" was conveniently adopted by American correspondents and sold to America as the reason we had to be there.

But that energizing narrative was never true. And before we are allowed to cleanse ourselves of what the Vietnam War did to us, we should at least see our sin clearly for the self-indulgent solipsism it was.


Posted on September 20, 2017

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