Comments on Previews of PBS Vietnam Series

Gregory Laxer 

"Ken Burns Just Ripped Me Off!"

Bill Zimmerman

I saw more clips from the Burns/Novick film last night at a public screening in LA and participated in a panel discussion that came afterward.  I feel increasingly positive about what they have done and want to share some thoughts with antiwar comrades.

Burns and Novick did not make the film that I would have made.  There are scenes that I would have left out and others that I would have included.  A few things made me angry and disappointed.  But the film I would have made would never have gotten onto PBS-TV.  Burns' and Novick's film, I believe, goes as far as any film with a chance of being aired could go.  Overall, despite its few flaws, it condemns the war exactly as we would want to see it condemned.

The film's conclusion, implicit throughout but explicit in many places, is that the war was a massive strategic blunder motivated by the most venal political concerns.  With video and audio recordings, Johnson and Nixon are shown ordering Americans into combat fully aware that many would die in a war they already knew could not be won.  Their motivation — fear of not being re-elected.  The domino theory is debunked.   The clueless officer corps in Viet Nam is exposed.  The murderous bombing, the use of Agent Orange, the damage to Laos and Cambodia, the massive civilian casualties, the systematic government lies and deceptions are all exposed and ridiculed. 

The North Vietnamese are sympathetically portrayed, while the government in the South is seen as corrupt and without principal.  A fighter pilot who flew over 200 missions and later became the Air Force Chief of Staff, 4-star General Merrill McPeak, describes his respect for the patriotism of the North Vietnamese fighters and says that in the end we fought on the wrong side of the war.  Combat soldiers describe the waste and futility of what they were ordered to do.

Throughout the film the antiwar movement is seen as having been right all along.  We are not always portrayed in the most flattering light, although there is plenty of footage in which we are, but we are shown to be patriots who stood up to a government that was thoroughly and completely misguided and dishonest in its pursuit of the war.

So, as I said, this isn't the film we would have made, but this is a film that will further our overall analysis of the war and provide us with the best opportunity we have had in decades to provoke a useful public discussion of the issues involved.  We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Failing to embrace the major message of this film, while criticizing its minor flaws, would be a missed opportunity of tragic proportions because for the first time in years we will have a chance to raise many of the fundamental questions we have wanted to raise all along.

So, rather than being seen as attacking the Burns/Novick project because of flaws that the larger audience will see as trivial, we need to embrace the film in our public comments and celebrate the fact that it proves us to have been right all along.  Standing on that ground, armed with the claim that we saw the war and all the surrounding issues with far greater clarity than anyone else, as the film demonstrates, we can always take the time to correct the few flaws and the missing information.

In short, this film can be a major asset for us if we don't focus on its flaws and can step back far enough to see that, all things considered, it is the best mass-audience film we are ever going to get.


Marion Malcolm

Portland's "The Vietnam War" Pre-screening Event

Stefan Ostrach and I attended this event featuring Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on July 24th in Portland.  Held in a large concert auditorium, it was sold out.  Here are a few observations. 

We saw just under an hour of clips from the 18 hours of the series, so it is impossible to judge the whole or to know what was included or ignored.  Clearly, it is powerful.  And it does include Vietnamese voices and viewpoints.  The clips also briefly looked at the anti-war movement.  In the portions we saw, we did not see anything about the vets who became the most effective opponents of the war.  Maybe they are in the full version.  

The title screen, also used on the program, has a human figure above and below the title.  Above is a soldier with a gun, helicopter in the sky.  Below is a Vietnamese figure, upside down, with baskets suspended from a pole across his shoulder and a conical hat.  We weren't sure what the message was supposed to be, but contemplated how different it would have been if the figures were reversed, or if they were on the same level, approaching one another.

The title screen also states: "There is no single truth in war."  Burns claimed in his intro remarks that the series was not political and there was no agenda.  They tried to "get it right," to be honest and authentic.  But we think a political perspective is inevitable and are suspicious of claims that anything is apolitical.  And although there may be many "truths" or experiences of the war, it seems to us that the over-arching truth is that the U.S. had no right to be there.

We do not know if the same clips are used at all the pre-screening events.  General Merrill McPeak was prominent in the footage we saw.  He lives in Portland and was also on the panel with the filmmakers.  He's an interesting man.  He flew 269 combat missions during the war, and is proud of his service and his skill, which no doubt cost a lot of people their lives.  Many of his missions were up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail.  He acknowledged that the US was not able to block the movement of materiel on the trail. He spoke admiringly of the Vietnamese who trucked war supplies south and wounded soldiers on the way back, at night without lights – he didn't know at the time that some of the drivers were women, one of whom is interviewed in the film.  He also stated in the film and in the discussion afterward that the US supported a corrupt, undemocratic regime and said that, "we were on the wrong side."  He said that you can't build a successful military operation on a corrupt foundation, and that the US is currently committing the same mistakes again.  And yet he stayed in the military.  The moderator asked him about that and his answer was, "I'm a professional."  

After the clips, Burns asked Vietnam vets to stand, and everyone applauded them.  He then asked people who'd actively opposed the war to stand, and a much larger group stood, and we also were  applauded.  We wish he'd asked anti-war vets to stand, but that did not happen.  

A purpose of the film is supposed to be healing.  We aren't crazy about that as a frame, vs. learning the lessons.  Either, it seems to us, requires acknowledging that on the part of the US it was an imperialist war, with the Vietnamese as pawns in a cold war struggle for global hegemony.  

Note: There is a companion documentary, to be streamed online on September 15 and shown on Oregon Public Broadcasting on October 2nd.  It is called, "The Vietnam War Oregon Remembers."  You can learn more about it at  We wonder if other parts of the country are also developing documentaries.  From a quick look at the website, it appears that most of it is interviews with vets, and that there's also coverage of Vietnamese refugees in Oregon  There is some coverage of the anti-war movement, but the photos up on the website are from Portland or from Oregon State in Corvallis.  There doesn't seem to be anything about the anti-war movement in the Eugene area, which was militant, diverse, creative, and included anti-war vets.  


Christopher C. Jones

"The Viet Nam War drove a stake right into the heart of the country… We have never recovered"

On July 29th, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to view film clips and hear Ken Burns and Lynn Novick discuss their 10 part series on The Vietnam War, airing on PBS starting September 17. The huge auditorium was nearly filled with an enthusiastic crowd of Baby Boomers and a sprinkling of youths. 

Sponsored by our local PBS station and corporate sponsors such as Bank of America, about 50 minutes of clips from five or six of the shows was shown, followed by a discussion. The series took over ten years to craft and cost millions of dollars. Cinematically their work is gorgeous, powerful and fast moving. As the preeminent American documentarians they had access to an extraordinary crew, film footage and music of the time (130 pieces including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Yo Yo Ma). With the complete cooperation of the Vietnamese government, many Vietnamese, both here and abroad, were interviewed.

Their theme - "There is no single truth in war" - reflects their apolitical approach. They wanted to hear from folks who had first hand experiences, not celebrities, so no famous politicians, veterans or historians are shown except in newsreel.  Ken Burns said the war has so polarized America that we are still stuck in binary for and against positions and that the filmmakers' hope was that the war would finally be discussed. He said their goal was to create a vessel in which these different perspectives could co-exist and to let the audience draw their own conclusions. PBS will be sponsoring follow-up community meetings around the country for citizens to voice their reactions and views.

I was interested in comparing our film, The Boys Who Said NO! with theirs. Our approaches are similar in that we focus mostly on regular people and the experiences they had. However, there appear to be some important factual errors and omissions in the Burns/Novick series. 

There is no mention of Vietnam's thousands of years of oppression by colonial regimes, most recently the French before the Americans. The film erroneously describes the conflict as a civil war, not as a consequence of U.S. determination to create and prop up a client state in South Vietnam, starting with cancellation of the 1956 nation-wide vote that would have reunified the country - a direct violation of the Geneva Accords. While there is some riveting coverage of anti-war marches, I did not hear the GI Peace Movement, the erosion of morale and authority within the military, shown most dramatically by fragging or the Resistance Movement mentioned once. 

The story framed by the interviewees, both Vietnamese and Americans, was that the U.S. lost the war and left and that Americans have a hard time with losing and the Vietnamese with being abandoned. There appears to be no sense that the war ended, not only because the Vietnamese were fighting for their freedom, but also because of the GI Resistance Movement within in the military and without, the American Peace Movement and the Draft Resistance Movement.

Our film does not ignore the latter two important aspects and the Burns/Novick film series will be discussed on our website: as it appears. Clearly, BOYS will make an important contribution to more fully understanding why the war ended and the critical roles that nonviolent direct action, the Peace Movement and the Resistance Movement played.


Ron Young

Commentary on Previewing the PBS Vietnam War Documentary

At a preview of the PBS Vietnam War documentary, while filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick presented visuals and voices of diverse Americans and Vietnamese reflecting complex, different views of the war, I fear the film’s imbalance of voices and distorted historical framing of the war will keep us from learning essential lessons to help prevent future wars.   

In the preview, we hear the voices of Nixon, Agnew and Johnson defending the war but not the voices of Senators Morse and Gruening who voted against the1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This deceitful resolution effectively authorized the war, just as forty years later the false claim about Iraq having nuclear weapons provided the rationale for the disastrous U.S. invasion. The preview, and my guess is the film itself, doesn’t give us the voice of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Halberstam who got it right in his 1964 book, The Making of a Quaqmire, on why the American war in Vietnam was unwinnable.

In the documentary’s preview we hear agonized, brave voices of young American soldiers who fought the war, more than 58,200 of whom never came home, but not the voices of an estimated million or more who went AWOL or deserted or voices of soldiers who courageously resisted and risked imprisonment.

The worst distortion is Burns’ historically inaccurate statement that at the war’s end, “a country (South Vietnam) disappeared.” While Vietnamese had different political views then and do today, Vietnam was and is one country. This was recognized in the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended French colonial rule, temporarily divided the country into two zones, and mandated Vietnam-wide elections in 1956, elections which the U.S. imposed Diem regime refused. In truth, the war’s end marked Vietnam’s independence. The county was finally free from decades of foreign domination.   

The American war in Vietnam didn’t need to happen. On February 28, 1946 Ho Chi Minh wrote to President Truman informing him how the French were making preparations for returning French troops to Hanoi to make Vietnam a colony again. Ho wrote urgently, “I therefore earnestly appeal to you personally and to the American people.  .  .to support our independence.  .  .in keeping with principles of the Atlantic and San Francisco charters.” 
President Truman, blinded by Cold War ideology which pitted the U.S. against many anti-colonial nationalist movements, never replied. Instead, the U.S. paid 80% of France’s losing war costs. And then we spent $168 billion ($1 trillion in 2017 dollars) for the American War that robbed resources at home from the War on Poverty and Great Society programs.
Burns and Novick view their film as helping to create reconciliation over a war that generated deep divisions among Americans. As South Africans understood in creating their post-Apartheid commission, you can’t have reconciliation without truth-telling. The truth is the American War in Vietnam was wrong. It was a war, like the war in Iraq, that never should have happened.
During the Vietnam War, as National Youth Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Ron resisted the draft, led an interfaith/interracial mission to Saigon focused on repression, carried mail to American POW’s in Hanoi, and coordinated national peace marches on Washington, DC in November 1969 and May 1970.

Ron lives in Everett, WA and can be contacted at


Camillo Mac Bica 

July 20, 2017

The Legacy of the American War in Vietnam
For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester. The troubles that trouble us today – alienation, resentment, and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions; conflicts over ethnicity and class; lack of accountability in powerful institutions – so many of these seeds were sown during the Vietnam War.
  (from New York Times op ed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick)
While I believe Burns’ and Novick’s assessment of the state of our nation is accurate, what they seem not to realize is that this tragic legacy of the war in Vietnam can be explained in large measure not by a lack of patriotism or the failure of this nation to accord veterans the nobility and honor they so richly deserve. Rather, “the troubles that trouble us today” are a direct consequence of our reluctance to admit the hard truth of US criminality and the appropriation of memory to portray this nation’s involvement and our soldier’s behavior as honorable and noble. Nguyen observes,
Any side in a conflict needs . . . the ability to see not only the flaws of our enemies and others but our own fundamentally flawed character. Without this mutual recognition, a genuine reconciliation will be difficult to achieve.
Tragically, as has been the case, not only does this mythology prevent reconciliation, it may well be counterproductive to veteran healing by providing a refuge of sorts in which veterans may avoid facing the reality of their experiences – healing requires that we move beyond illusion and mythology. Just as tragically, it has allowed our leaders to ignore the lessons of Vietnam, to again portray militarism and war as palatable, to entice another generation of young people to enlist in the military, and to fight perpetual wars of choice in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

After much research as a philosopher studying the institution of war and even more soul-searching and introspection as a veteran striving to come to grips with the Vietnam War experience, I have realized that to restore the moral character of this nation and to achieve a measure of normalcy in my life – I hesitate to speak of healing as I am not at all certain that healing is possible – what is required is not more of the mythology of honor, nobility, courage, and heroism, as Burns and Novick suggests. Rather, we must have the courage to admit the truth, however frightening and awful it may be, regarding the immorality and illegality of the war and then to accept national (and perhaps personal) responsibility and culpability for the injury and death of millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian people. We can, as Burns suggests, finally stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and reconcile our differences, but only if we realize that there are not “many truths” and “alternative facts,” with which to make our involvement and our defeat more palatable. This is what history requires and what the documentary should work to clarify.

Despite the reservations I have expressed in this article, my hope is, of course, that, when viewed in its entirety, this documentary will prove more than propaganda and mythology intended to restore patriotism, this nation’s resilience, exceptionalism, and unity of purpose for further militarism and war. Regardless of whether my hope is realized, I will use this documentary in my course on war this fall semester, whether it is to provide insight and a historical basis for understanding the nature of war in general and of the Vietnam War in particular, or to demonstrate the manner in which historians and artists may contribute to the appropriation of memory and the distortion of truth in behalf of furthering the interests of the corrupt, the greedy, and the powerful. My hope is it will be the former.

Excerpt, full article here

Ron Young

Questions re: the Vietnam War Documentary Ad Campaign

So far, all the ads I’ve seen for the Burns/Novick  documentary
on the Vietnam War focus in one way or another on those who
went to the war as being real American heroes. As far as ads
I've seen, and I’ve seen at least one a day for weeks, there are
hardly any references in the ads to any persons who opposed
the war as being American heroes. Maybe this pattern will change,
but so far, by not including ads that positively and substantially
represent diverse anti-war heroes, the campaign frames the
documentary and the war in a very distorted way.

What about Senators Morse and Gruening, Senator William
Fulbright. What about Senators Senators Kennedy, Church, Cooper,
McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy.  What about the famous, baby doctor,
Dr Benjamin Spock. What about David Halberstam and other journalists
who opposed the war.  Halberstam, The Making of a Quagmire (1964).
What about Daniel Ellsberg?

What about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Caesar Chavez? What about
Muhammed Ali? Why have none of these persons been featured in
any of documentary’s ads as American heroes, expressing
their views on why the war was wrong. I assume some of these
are included in the documentary, but why not in the ads.?

Labor union leaders divided over the war. Why not an ad focused
on them, including vignettes of major AFSCME, UAW and other
labor leaders who opposed the war.

Why no ads featuring prominent Christian and Jewish clergy who
opposed the war, including, as examples, Bishop Paul Moore, Rev.
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Daniel and Phil Berrigan, and Rabbi
Abraham Joshua Heschel.

What about G.I.s who decided the war was wrong and took public
stands against it, risking imprisonment or an estimated million or more
who went AWOL or deserted. What about an estimated 500,000 young
men who evaded or resisted the draft, including several thousand
who served time in jail rather than going to the war. Will we see
ads for the documentary featuring them as American heroes? 

What about an ad highlighting how by the late 1960s a majority
of Americans were opposed to the war - perhaps with brief visuals
of different persons - a butcher, a baker and a candlestick-maker –
saying in their own words why they opposed the war.

And, perhaps most disturbing of all, why no ads honoring  Americans,
inspired by Vietnamese Buddhist monks, who immolated themselves
In 1965 to protest the war – Alice Herz (82 year-old Detroit grandmother;
Norman Morrison (31 year-old Baltimore Quaker dad); and Roger Laporte
(22 year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian).

If Burns and Novick were serious about how the war represented a big,
critical divide in our country, surely the ads for the documentary would
reflect that painful divide.  So far, the ad campaign doesn’t do that..

Burns is a good and important documentarian, but from what
i've seen so far, including his role in the panel with James 
Bennett of the NY Times as moderator, in this project, Burns’
aim seems to be to bring us back together by smoothing over 
the divide rather then critically entering and examining the divide 
and lifting up important truths and lessons to be learned.

Apparently, Burns views the war as a "virus" and the documentary
as a post-virus "vaccination" or healing salve. I fear the effect of the
documentary will be to help us swallow and digest the war, rather than
throw it up in a way that honors and reinforces popular, good sense 
opposition to the Iraq war and to other similar military adventures,
including, eerily reminiscent of Vietnam, current dangerous increases
in the numbers of US troops being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ron Young has served for several years as Consultant to thirty national Jewish, Christian 
and Muslim national religious leaders working together for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  
During the Vietnam War, as National Youth Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, 
Ron resisted the draft, led an interfaith/interracial mission focused on repression in Saigon, 
carried mail to American POW’s in Hanoi, and coordinated national peace marches on Washington, DC 
in November 1969 and May 1970.

Ron lives in Everett, WA and can be contacted at


Flyer prepared for distribution at a Seattle preview

The American War in Vietnam 
Didn’t Need to Happen 
58,220 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese 
didn’t need to die
All could be spared suffering from UXOs, Agent Orange, 
PTSD and suicides.
In 1944, President Roosevelt sent OSS agents, including Mac Shin from Seattle, to assist Ho Chi Minh’s forces in defeating the Japanese occupation, after which France tried to restore its colonial control.
On February 28, 1946 Ho Chi Minh wrote to President Truman.
On behalf of the Vietnam government and people, Ho informed the President that the French were making preparations for returning French troops to Hanoi to make Vietnam a colony again. Ho wrote,                “I therefore earnestly appeal to you personally and to the American people.  .  .to support our independence.  .  .in keeping with the principles of the Atlantic and San Francisco charters.” 

President Truman, blinded by Cold War ideology which pitted the U.S. against many anti-colonial nationalist movements, never replied. Instead, the U.S. paid 80% of France’s losing war costs. And then we spent $168 billion ($1 trillion in 2017 dollars) on the American War that robbed resources at home from the War on Poverty and Great Society.

SAY IT! The War in Vietnam Was Wrong!

This war (and the war in Iraq) 
Never Should Have Happened!

VPCC Newsletter  

June 30, 2017

The PBS series on the Vietnam war produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick premiers September 17th to 28th. All eighteen hours will be shown in daily episodes from Sunday to Thursday, then re-air in ten weekly installments October 3rd to November 28th.  (Online streaming in English, Spanish and Vietnamese are also available, details here)

Life and society changing events will be dramatically and emotionally recalled. Old arguments will be rekindled and new ones emerge based on retrospective interviews and already disputed academic research.

This will be a major cultural and political event, perhaps the last public hurrah of the Vietnam generation. Our children and grandchildren may be intrigued at how much we were shaped by the events portrayed, as well as gain perspective on their generations' wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

We write to learn if you have been involved in the roll out of the series, and to encourage you to become as fully engaged as possible.   
(Follow up form here.)

Many preview screenings have been held and others are still to come, see regularly updated list here.

Much of the impact will be spontaneous within families, between friends and in random encounters. Many PBS stations are also providing vehicles for community outreach and dialog. Interviews are already being conducted for later airing, based on personal experiences in Vietnam and in the local anti-war movement. More interviews will take place, along with public forums, at the time of the broadcasts.  
Please reach out now to your station to find out what they are planning and how you can take part.

The most common public narrative will be among and about veterans. Done well, it will reflect the range of their experience, including organized and covert, sometimes violent, opposition within the military and after returning home. Tales of personal courage and loss should not be divorced from recollections of harm done to innocent civilians and to the forces of the other side. Done poorly, it will pit a glamorized memory of the warrior against peacenik radicals who undermined and undervalued their service.
Too often overlooked in series based discussions, unless former activists insist, will be the era's intellectual, moral and political struggles to comprehend the origins and conduct of the war, not to mention the evolution of forms of opposition and challenges to traditional patriotism. The difficult choices for draft age men and their advisers, parents and friends, as well as costs in family relationships and life paths, may not be considered.  Sacrifices of resistance, imprisonment, exile and bad discharges plus the impact of amnesty, could be forgotten in a station's review and reassessment.

Burns and Novick outlined their goals in a New York Times op ed, available here.  Reactions by anti-war viewers so far have been mixed, and can be read here. The creators have cautioned audiences to withhold judgement until they see the full series.

At some presentations there was a decided tilt towards military veterans. They were asked to stand to be recognized. The same respect was not shown to veterans of the anti-war movement. Simplified divisions misinterpreted from the past were perpetuated instead of emphasizing interrelated aspects of a generation's experience.

Ken Burns said at a New York screening that the moral assumption of a right and wrong side of the war that informed his Civil War documentary was not part of the Vietnam programs. Viewers and discussants were to reach (or reaffirm) their own conclusions.  By engaging in this conversation, former activists can help the country understand the nature and consequences of the war and take responsibility for what took place.

We expect that the VPCC network and other veterans of the anti-war movement, civilian and military, will be active participants in the national opportunity created by this extraordinary project of Burns and Novick.


Terry Provance

Dear Friends,

VPCC is planning on engaging the public around the PBS Vietnam documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. 

I watched yesterday Burns interview on Face the Nation which I thought was a little wishy-washy.  But, I found nothing objectionable about the 30 minute preview on Sunday evening.  And noticed how staff were impacted by Kent State and most emotional at that moment.  That was their reaction to covering it but that is not the same as what is in the film.

But, once again, Burns and Novick talked frequently about how the film may heal or may even be a/the purpose of the film and that this remembering and relooking at Viet Nam comes at a perfect moment, needing so many years from it to see the war differently and perhaps "move on."
So, I started to think more about "healing" which actually began first with the thought that this is going to be highly promoted and millions of people will be watching it.  Just given that I thought how large a space there is created with the film and how that creates such a big organizing opportunity.  So maybe we could do something around healing and to anticipate the question that many may ask, "What can I do to help heal the wounds of Viet Nam?"

We could put forth something like this:

1.  Agent Orange:  people could write Congress to insist that funds be kept and increased to attend to the medical and physical problems of Agent Orange.  They could also donate directly to the appropriate organizations.  Help heal Vietnamese people while healing ourselves about Viet Nam.

2.  PTSD:  heal the wounds of Vietnam Veterans.  Make sure DoD recognizes this medical problem and provides all insurance coverage for it.  It is almost like the NFL and CTE.  The NFL refused so long to recognize it and still drags its feet.  You send an athlete into football and they get CTE.  You send a soldier into war and s/he gets PTSD.  Demanding funds and appropriate medical treatment and reconsider all past cases which were denied.

3.  Come forth:  is there a way we could invite military soldiers/leaders to make public their actions?  But something about being honest and accountable strengthens healing.  Might the film open up the possibilities of more honest revelations and admissions, a cleansing of "hearts and minds"?

4.  Affirm the rights to demonstrate, protest, whistle-blowing:  maybe some type of petition or even expression in Congress.  Asking the media to be more courageous, independent and genuine in war coverage and more scrutiny about what Pentagon and government say.  Media access to foreign interventions.

5.  Now it is pretty much up to US people to deal with the US side/participation but it might be politically helpful (correct?) if there could be something we could ask Vietnamese to do at the same time.  I don't think there are any more MIA/POW issues but I could be wrong.  But what about a statement, I dare say apology, to the Buddhist community in Viet Nam? This is probably very unlikely but I put this out to raise the general category about what would be possible for us to say about Viet Nam without alienating Vietnamese and being arrogant/presumptuous.  Maybe this is too Quaker-like if you know what I mean.  And maybe nothing said is better given the probability of misinterpretations.

See what you think.  We could mobilize this on Facebook where there will probably be discussions and sharings.  As well as other ways.  It can also provide some handles for local people and engagement with PBS locally.

Hope this helps start some discussion.  Thanks, Terry

Responses to Terry's letter

Bob Musil

I have not seen the Burns film trailers or previews, so I will withhold judgment until then. But I fear that healing may too easily slide into remembrance and then appreciation. The current militarized version of Memorial Day is a potent warning. I would prefer to think of some version of Truth and Reconciliation. The United States and public consciousness has yet to acknowledge that we carried out a neo-colonial war of aggression based on lies, committed numerous crimes of war, and killed millions.

I don’t really think there can be healing without admitting, as a nation, our atrocious deeds. Again, as a warning, it is only now that Americans are beginning, in a small way, to face the realities of the Civil War and to begin to undo the big lies of the Southern Lost Cause and all the statuary and battle flags, and states’ rights myths that go with it.

Another warning is how hard it has been to offer an alternative, truthful recognition of the United States deliberate and needless atomic bombings of Japan that targeted civilians and workers in Hiroshima to better increase terror.

There are, of course, “tragic” narratives of all these events – that war is tragic and sad and should be memorialized. But getting to the truth is far harder. That is what I think those of us who resisted the war in Indochina (and Central America, and Afghanistan and Iraq and all the others), need to go beyond tragedy and sadness and healing.

I write as Operation Rolling Thunder roars through Washington and POW/MIA flags fly high. I commend Terry and all of you for keeping after a counter-narrative for Vietnam. But I do think we will need to push harder and deeper to penetrate and undo the current tragic, and even sometimes triumphal, narrative of the U.S. role in Vietnam and in our seemingly endless wars.


Heather Booth

I very much like the idea of your points 1 - 4
Thanks for raising it Terry.

Bill Ramsey

Thanks for your thoughts on how to address the Burn film's theme of healing.  Joyce observed the South Africa and Canada (indigenous people and European settlers) truth and reconciliation processes and helped to organize truth and reconciliation process for the Greensboro 1979 Klan killings between between victims' families and survivors and KKK members who executed the attack.  She might have some thoughts on how to proceed with a truth and reconciliation process that comes decades after the original offense and injury. The Guatemalan and Colombian processes could also offer us some ideas?
I like Bob Musil's idea of a truth and reconciliation process and have some questions.
How would we make sure it addresses the core issue of Vietnam as a colonial war unless the Vietnamese play a major role in designing and participating in the process? 
Was the division and hurt that arose between sectors of the U.S. public deep enough and remembered well enough to merit its own truth and reconciliation, in the shadow of a more profound examination and acknowledgement of the nature of the war itself?  Are they two different T&R processes
To offer a public response to the Burns film that builds on the space it creates
in the minds and hearts of US citizens is one thing.  To mount a full-fledged truth and reconciliation process is another.  Do we have the resources to do it?
I am spending the afternoon of this day of remembering editing a narrative of my participation in the October 21 March on the Pentagon and will send it to you when it is complete.
Thanks for all your work on the the 50th year events.  Bill

Frank Joyce

While I greatly appreciate the spirit and mostly support the specifics of Terry's thoughtful suggestions, also couldn't agree more with Bob.  Please indulge me for quoting myself in the context of truth and reconciliation with regards to racial healing:  there is no doubt that white people want reconciliation.  What they don't want and mostly can't handle is the truth part.    Which is part of what worries me about the Burns series and his stated goals for it.  I'm reminded of an interview quote from him in an earlier thread that the series would prove that "all three government failed."  If that doesn't give new meaning to the concept of the white man's gaze,  I don't know what does.  Did the government of Viet Nam also fail when it repelled the Japanese,  French and multiple Chinese invasions?  Anyway,  I hope we are all making the most of this day devoted to obsequiousness to all things military and the deeply embedded idea that our "freedom" is directly dependent on our willingness and capacity to kill other humans. 


Todd Gitlin

Speaking for myself, I have no interest in healing. Or rather, I have negative interest. The Vietnam war was not an illness or a wound, it was a crime. Your suggestions 1 & 2 are apropos, because there are wounded people on both sides who need, & deserve, care. I would happily contribute to efforts to address them both. Obviously nothing can be expected from the current American regime to acknowledge responsibility for any of the crimes. That Kissinger continues to be respected, indeed revered, tells us everything we need to know about the moral black hole that continues to suck up light.

I want to clarify that I’m enthusiastically for face-to-face meetings between people who used to be enemies and are no longer. We have much to learn from each other. The healing I object to is national-level healing absent a clear understanding that the war, on America’s side, was utterly wrong.

I'm not sure what follows from this, but just wanted to react.

Best to all, Todd

David McReynolds

Thanks for the post (and greetings to the others on this list, old friends in the long march). I'll send this to my disarmament list.
We can't expect PBS to say what should be said or what we might say, but the film will provide a chance for us, as veterans of that period to help give the discussion a direction.

Gene Carroll

I traveled to Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) in January 2016 as part of a labor delegation.  Powerful, humbling, revealing.  One night over dinner my warm and wonderful Vietnam union comrade (who, unfortunately, reminded me too much of the Soviet-era labor union minders who hung on me like glue during on my visits there in another life) asked for my impressions of his country thus far.  Among other things I mentioned that I’d seen very few old and elderly citizens.  He paused for a second or two and then reminded me that “three million died in the war.”  I said, “yes, of course, I knew that…”
Having two older brothers who fought in the war and returned home safely, and cousins who were killed in the war, I am not sure brother Gitlin’s negative interest in healing is the first thing that comes to my mind.    But Todd is quite correct and I appreciate his bluntness: the war was a crime and a crime it remains; it’s reach continues to expand.  So many of the homeless are Vietnam vets, and they’re getting pretty old.  They are still searching for a healing.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

I think at a deeper level there may not be a contradiction. The healing of America might come only from the shared healing of the  US & Viet victims of the crime.

Imagine —  Could we create an equivalent of the Vietnam War Memorial in DC (with its 55,000 names making one Great Name) with the Vietnamese names —MANY MANY more — but somehow?

Could there be a Day of Contrition, Atonement, At-One-ment? 

At The Shalom Center we have focused a good deal of attention on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech/ sermon, which came just this past April.

We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of his death next April 4, which will also be the 51st anniversary of the speech. There are likely to be many forms of memorial. Could one be a day to evoke Contrition, Atonement for the crime & shared sorrow for the deaths & maimings, physial & psychic? 

Could Americans (not the govt, clearly) raise money for an MLK Hospital or Old Age Home in Vietnam for veterans still suffering from the war? 

Shalom, Arthur

Vivian Rothstein

Here's an alternative idea for how to approach the upcoming series.

Our country is in turmoil right now with hundreds of thousands of people attempting to fight back against Trump and his reactionary policies that threaten the health and welfare of the nation, if not the world.

Our firsthand knowledge and experience is about the anti-war movement, how to build and sustain an opposition movement, and how to persevere by broadening the movement's base.

If we define that movement to include all the people who took a stand, sometimes at the risk of their lives, to oppose the war including. soldiers, journalists, religious congregations and leaders, students, academics, ordinary citizens, government employees, and security personnel, we would be able to present that history in a way that could inform and inspire the current movement of resisters.

This would also be a way of healing the wounds of the war in that the anti-war movement has never been acknowledged for how broad and deep it became and how it ultimately, along with the extraordinary efforts of the Vietnamese themselves (who valued the movement tremendously), helped bring the war to an end.


P.S.  I don't think the divisions that now exist in the country necessarily mirror the divisions that existed around the Vietnam war.

Ed Hedemann

Along the lines of healing – in addition to the Vietnamese people and veterans -- there are also those who resisted the draft, were jailed for that or other actions, lost jobs, were ostracized, alienated from family.


Judy Gumbo

Thank you Vivian. And also Rabbi Waskow. Thanks also to Terry Provance who helped organize the very successful Vietnam Power of Protest Conference in 2015. We, the anti-Vietnam war movement, may still be unrecognized for our efforts but in the long run we succeeded: we helped stop a war and end the draft. I visited Vietnam in 1970 while the war still raged and again in 2013 to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords. Vietnamese we met, including Mme. Binh, were unequivocal in telling us how grateful they still are for our efforts. Representatives from the Vietnamese Embassy spoke both at Power of Protest and at the recent 45th anniversary of Mayday, the largest mass arrest in US history. Perhaps those representatives could be asked for input. In any event, If Terry is volunteering, with our help, to organize events based on suggestions made on this list, I think we should support that effort, don't you?

Diane Horwitz

Thank you so much for keeping me on this list.  If I can help any way here in Chicago, please let me know.  For starters, I have contact with people who work with h.s. students (The Chicago Teachers Union, The Chicago Freedom School for example), and would be happy to share your resource with them.  I am sure this resource will be valuable to teachers in high schools and colleges.

Bonnie Raines

Perhaps there can be a focus on the troubling response of the government - particularly Hoover's FBI - to the protests against the war. Citizen's rights to dissent were trampled on and nonviolent civil disobedience was punished. Resistance to the draft was punished, and citizens were lied to about the true cost and brutality of the war.

Don North

I share everyones interest in the Ken Burns Vietnam series. I have always found Burn's work consistently journalistically sound and the large budgets he is used to working with usually brings out the best results of whatever topic he tackles. I understand his in depth research has unearthed new and unseen war footage which will be a relief from the same old scenes used over and over in most Vietnam documentaries.

I sometimes bridle at Burns high volume and discordant promotion and selling of his work but high viewershipassures his docs full funding I guess. Burns is using 12 of my photographs and a 1:30 commentary I madeat the U.S. Embassy the morning of Tet '68. I can only trust it has been appropriately edited from the original 2 hours. I also hope he has given the Peace protest appropriate weight and time. I was a senior producer onthe TV series "The Ten Thousand Day War" produced in 1980 and widely seen the world over, including Vietnam, all 13 half hours used without censorship. There is rare discussion or review of the war these days in Vietnam and if Burns series can be shown there it will would I think be highly appreciated. 

The New York Times series commemorating the wars 50th anniversary of 1967 is certainly worth watching.Seems they run at least two opinion spots each week. I have an article on the U.S. Marine base at Con Thein scheduled for July 2nd. The Times seems to seek a great variety for this series and I think it would be a goodopportunity for our experienced protest friends to write some articles. Research for the Newseum's exhibit last year "Reporting Vietnam" harshly criticized the majority of mainstream media in the U.S. for not taking the protest movement seriously and diminishing their effects.

I have just received an early copy of "Hue 1968" by Mark Bowden. Its just short of 600 pages, deeply researched and well written. I think it will take its place along with other great Vietnam books like "A bright shining lie."

George Lakey

Thanks to everyone contributing to this thread and giving us a sense of what's going on to mark this hugely important thing on multiple levels, including our lives.

Just wanted you to know that the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, historically a center of flag-waving and support for the empire, asked me to come to be a major presenter on how peace activists regarded the Vietnam war.  I'll have two hours with college students to share, with emphasis on our action and strategy as well as critique. 

Marion Malcolm

In Oregon, by the way, we still have a very active CALC chapter.  We've done a number of significant Vietnam-related events in recent times, and though we're very focused on current challenges, we don't forget our CALCAV origins.

I have a question.  What is the interface between this group and VFP's Vietnam Full Disclosure?

I'm on their Google docs list and they are paying a lot of attention to the Burns series -- with a great deal of skepticism and with response plans.  If there is not already a tight connection, it seems to me to be essential.  You can find them at  I can also forward some of their posts if you can't readily locate them.

Regarding Terry's several point proposal: I agree with Stefan that is not appropriate to be suggesting to the Vietnamese what they should do.  Bad history about that.  Not our place.  Especially not asking them to apologize to the Buddhists or the Third Force. Madame Ngo Ba Thanh, jailed by Thieu as a prominent member of the Third Force, was asked by the Communist government to be a key architect of Vietnam's constitution.  I was honored to meet her in Vietnam in 1990 and to accompany her when CALC invited her to the US. 

Thanks for all the work and thought!

David Rensberger

I'm writing this right after returning from the preview screening of Ken Burns' forthcoming documentary, while it's still fresh in my mind. This was clearly an event designed for Vietnam veterans, not for a broad or general audience. Before the screening, a young representative from the Bank of America (which bankrolled the film) spoke, and emphasized their support of military personnel and veterans. Lynn Novick, co-director/producer of the documentary, also expressed something similar in the way of gratitude for veterans. I was under the impression that there was going to be some audience Q&A afterward, but there was not, only a rather pointless (given the subject matter) interview of Novick and Sarah Botstein, a co-producer, by someone from GPB that mainly focused on the making of the documentary itself. At one point, the veterans in the room were asked to stand, at which point almost every man our age stood up.

Thus the excerpts were likely tailored to that intended audience as well. Though part 1 of the documentary apparently begins in 1858 (that's what I saw, not 1958!), the excerpts started with (part of) the introduction to the film, and then jumped to part 4. What was presented was very much from the point of view of the combatants, not the political leaders or the objectors--on either side. To me, the most striking thing was the interviews with former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, who were given full scope to present both their pride and their skepticism (including about their own government's lack of truthfulness about what was happening). It seems that Vietnam has not fully come to terms with the war either, mainly because the "winners" have no incentive to do so. (One of the former North Vietnamese soldiers said that the only people who talk about someone winning are the people who did not fight.)

In the excerpts, there were a few clips of U.S. political and military leaders, but not a lot. Presumably the entire documentary includes much more. The same is presumably (indeed, professedly) true of the antiwar movement as well. There were a number of references, but only one significant segment about the opposition, focused on the October 1969 moratorium demonstration. It was given good coverage; but the conclusion was about Nixon's successful P.R. countering it. The final word seemed to be given by Spiro Agnew, in a fairly substantial clip of a speech he gave expressing his willingness to trade all the opposition (focused mainly on far-left political groups) for a platoon of soldiers. He gets a big ovation in the clip.

Afterward I made my way forward to talk briefly with Lynn Novick. I said I realized they were making a film about the war, not about the opposition to it, but wondered whether the film itself took the same stance as Agnew. After somewhat patronizingly telling me to take a deep breath, she assured me that once I saw the entire documentary, I would see that the presentation is balanced, that Agnew is not given the last word, and that the antiwar movement even comes off as "heroic." (I told her I was not interested in "heroic," only in being accurately represented.)

On the whole, I was not assured on this point at all. Obviously we can't know what's in it until it airs. But if it does present a balanced picture of the controversy about and opposition to the war, then the excerpts presented in the preview screening must not be representative of the documentary as a whole. But why would they show excerpts that skew the perspective in that way? I don't know.
It was a somewhat peculiar evening overall, and I felt a lack of objectivity in the selection of excerpts to present. Yet the presentation of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong perspectives was startling and strong, which suggests real courage on the part of the filmmakers. Likewise for the presentation of battlefield violence and its result, which walks right up to the very edge of what PBS is going to let on the air. As my wife Sharon said afterward, those scenes in themselves are the best argument that could be made against this or any war.

Thanks for continuing your activism! BTW, of your 5 suggestions, I was most intrigued by #5. A little Quaker-y, yeah, but I'm a Mennonite and I get it. :-) I think dialog with Vietnamese people--former soldiers or prisoners who are still there, and refugee families in the U.S.--would be important in the aftermath of the documentary, especially given that interviews with some of them are included in the film; but also that nothing public should be said or done without the prior participation of Vietnamese.

Nancy Jane Woodside

I would completely support #1 on this list but I do not believe it goes far enough.  I believe we have to follow the money.

We have never documented the corporate research and development of chemical and biological weapons tested and used to destroy the land and people of Vietnam, leaving so many on all sides with life-altering mental and physicalhealth issues that remain hidden from the world.  The only way forward for peace and reconciliation and the healing of wounds is to actually do the open the wound with truth. For me. the Burns film, while very moving, does not do this work.

A few years ago, I was in touch with Madame Binh who I first met at the international Paris Peace conference, along with Ambassador Bruce, and then General Chu Van Tan in North Vietnam, a close ally of Ho Chi Minh. If these people are still alive, they might want to be part of what I believe needs to be a historical truth telling.  I would like to help make if possible for our work to be a full-circle healing to include people from Southeast Asia and America who fought the war and those who fought for the peace. 

I know, for example, that here on the Cape, there is a very active group of women who belong to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom who would want to be part of this work. Also, we need to be in touch with the Vietnamese communities who have settled here in the US and learn what they remember this time in history. Where did they come from and why?  And how do we include our vets who still live with their wounds today? For me, the Burns documentary falls far short of historical truth but could be a beneficial way to open dialogue and sow the seeds for a new movement in this country.  One does want to ask Burns “why now and to what end?  Did you really want to wake up some old giants?

I also think we need to consider the implications of not including Laos and Cambodia in our references to this region, permanently changing and damaging the cultural face of what was once “Indochina.” One last note, we must find a way to acknowledge the ongoing US reparations to restore the eco system that are taking place ….who/what but our taxes are paying for this and in what ways may they be profiting from  work.  I want to know which companies are atoning and which ones don’t give a damn.  I don’t use Reynold’s wrap for a reason.

P.S.  When I get a chance I will send out a copy of one of the poems I wrote about Vietnam that appears in a book I recently published called “Sea Glass.”    Along with my private mediation/arbitration practice, I also conduct writing groups for women who are in drug/alcohol recovery.  Writing and speaking their truth empowers their recovery. They teach me every week.

Bill Zimmerman

I have seen the entire 18-hour film.  It is a thorough and “balanced” presentation of the military side of the war.  It includes historical and contemporary perspectives of political, military and civilian personnel on all sides of the conflict.  Overall, the film very effectively lays the blame for all the waste and carnage squarely at the White House doorstep of every US president from Eisenhower to Nixon. 

Ken Burns did not set out to present a nuanced and comprehensive picture of the movement to stop the war.  So, while the antiwar movement does play a role, the film’s very comprehensive nature necessarily leaves the treatment of the antiwar movement brief and lacking in depth.  If we want to make use of the film as a teaching opportunity, we would do best to try to fill this gap. 
I don’t think an overall critique of the film will get us very far.  We lack the communications resources to compete.  However, the film is likely to provoke at least some curiosity about the antiwar movement from both the public and the media.  If we try to meet this curiosity with detailed information about why we initially opposed the war, the various stages and strategies that the movement passed through, what worked and what didn’t, and how the movement finally succeeded in ending the war, we can be of service to a mass audience now searching for the tactics and strategies needed to build a new resistance movement.

By focusing our efforts in this direction, and supplying the missing information in depth, we will benefit from a more receptive public, and we will be less likely to trip over our own private disagreements.


Howie Machtinger
What is the appropriate response to the banality of the Op-Ed: “Vietnam’s Unhealed Wounds” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick  in the 2017 Memorial Day edition of The New York Times? Such a trite pronouncement is surely destined for the dustbin of history. But already accompanied by much media hype, Burns and Novick are set to launch their PBS documentary: THE VIETNAM WAR, a ten-part, 18-hour series in September 2017. The series will be accompanied by an unprecedented outreach and public engagement process, providing opportunities for communities to participate in a national conversation about what happened during the Vietnam War. The series will, for better or worse, set the terms for this national conversation. Therefore it is incumbent upon those with an antiwar perspective to articulate a clear and compelling alternative perspective.
Full article here with responses by readers


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