Over the past two weeks, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the hour (9:00 PM Tuesdays on KQED, that's tonight!) when PBS has been showing the 10-part Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I was quite young when the US entered the war in the 1960s, a war that we stayed in until 1975. Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s reports of the war were shown on the television news every night, as well as coverage of the protesters who were adamant that the US should not be there. I never really understood how and why the US was involved, and why this war was especially controversial. It was with this curiosity stemming from my youth that I watched the 18-hour documentary, which provided me many of the answers I was looking for.
After a century of French occupation, Vietnam gets divided into North and South Vietnam in 1961, at which point the Communists take control in the north and the US backs the south. This was during the Cold War when our country was determined to stop the spread of Communism. There is lots of footage of combat scenes, entire hamlets destroyed, soldiers traversing the dense jungle terrain, bombs exploding and yes, many dead bodies, all of which were hard to digest. I felt the strength of the program was the numerous profiles and interviews of individuals who witnessed the war, both North and South Vietnamese, along with US Veterans who served their time in the military. We follow these people from one episode to another to get a first-hand story of their experience of the war. For example, Dr. Hal Kushner, who was a POW in the north for over eight years, was subjected to walking barefoot through the jungle every day for a month for miles. All throughout the series there is a soundtrack featuring Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and many other music icons of the sixties.
The Vietnam War (Music CD)
The Vietnam War (Streaming Music)
There is a very comprehensive reading list, opens a new window prepared by PBS to complement the program. Below are a few select titles from that list that are available in our libraries.
Don't want to wait until each part of the series is aired on PBS? You can check out the entire series from the library and watch it on your own schedule.
The Vietnam War (DVD)
The Vietnam War (Blu-Ray Disc)
Are you watching the 10-part film? Tell us what you think in the comments below.