PBS - Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: Vietnam


7 part series

just started tonight

90 min

Peter Coyote narrating again

repeat of episode airing in a couple of minutes

already absolutely very fascinating




repeat episode one on again now

Ken Burns is a national treasure. I've seen just a little of this and am already impressed, as I expected to be.  



I thought I didn't want to watch this, but what I've seen so far has kept me engaged. Burns and Novick have done as good a job as Burns always does. It's full.

I recorded it last night. I plan on watching it tonight. I've been looking forward to it. It will go nicely with the class I'll be starting which is the history of the Vietnam War. I'm always interested in it since my dad was a gunner on the helicopters. He doesn't talk about it much so this is my way of seeing what he went through. 

Plus, anything Ken Burns does is amazing. 

I'm sure it''s good, but not sure if I want to see it. I experienced the war in real time - from here, luckily - had to take extreme measures to avoid being in the thick of it. I've studied it historically as well. I don't enjoy watching violence on the screen, so I'll prob. skip it.

I decided to try and watch this because the Vietnam conflict was such an important part of my coming of age. Things like what would I do if I got drafted and had to go, neighborhood teens I knew and friends with older brothers who went and either died there or came back screwed up in body and/or mind, and the fact that war was in my face nearly every day of my young life from the time I could remember paying attention to news reports; in this way the Vietnam conflict was a daily part of my growing up.
As early as middle school I remember the topic was everywhere and I took it upon myself to try and find out the whys and wherefores about it.
I am hoping the series may shed some light on those who benefited from the Vietnam conflict and were responsible for the insane death and destruction, but never paid the price for it; the real culprits, who literally got away with a system of mass murder and were never held accountable, because people were reluctant to "talk about it", as mentioned in the first installment last night. I thought a better phrase would have been that people were reluctant to "admit" that spurious American leaders of the military industrial complex and their political lackeys had perpetrated this atrocity in order to further their own monetary gain and power.
When I was growing up, until the late 60s, to even question the reasons for the Vietnam conflict or talk about whether the American people were being used and young people were being sent to sacrifice their lives, was considered unpatriotic. I'd like to see how far into this the series may go.
One example; Brown and Root, once a construction company from Texas, made huge sums of money from military contracts to build roads and other infrastructure in Vietnam. This is significant, because they financed a young LBJ in his successful bid as congressman. LBJ, in turn, helped them get contracts like this. Eventually Brown & Root were taken over by Halliburton, with which most people are familiar with now. These companies were just one small part of the machine that kept the Vietnam conflict going in order to gain profit and power. None of these people were ever brought to task for this. Probably because people were reluctant to admit that Americans were letting other Americans be destroyed simply for the almighty American dollar.
I hope the series will shed at least enough light on the processes of the war machine, that Americans will start to look at the people behind our wars and see them for what they  really are. Once Americans admit those with the most wealth and power are and have been running things to retain their position, even to point of war, then maybe Americans can decide whether war is good for America or not, if war is patriotic or not, if war is moral or not, and whether or not human sacrafice is what makes America great.

Well said, Mylar.

What we lived through here, the news we got, the news we didn't get, what we didn't know, boys working to stay safe at home (Greg, too, Surfdead), fear, anger, craziness... it was such a big part of our lives in the mid-sixties and later.

Watching the first installment last night gave me some history and background I didn't have. I have not studied the area, nor the war. Thanks, Mylar.


Let me guess, he's telling only one side of the issue or making the US look more innocent?

Turned 18 in June of '72. Registered for the draft. William, Barb Steadman tells me we're the same age. Do you remember your lottery number? I don't, other than I think it was in the middle 180 something, so at that point in the war there was little chance I'd get drafted. There was dinner table discussion about what I'd do if I did get  called. My mother is Swedish and one option brought up was for me to go to the University in Lund and stay with family there, although it was not really taken seriously as I recall. My big brother from another mother filed as a CO and joined the Peace Corps. That would have probably been the option I would've chosen. 

Dark and strange times indeed.   

Rik, I didn't register for the draft right away. I found out there was 6 month grace period. When my father found out I hadn't registered, he insisted I do so. I had delayed until the beginning of 1973, when the draft ended, but my lottery number was quite high - 200-something. I had already explored various options, though, just in case. One of which was to move to Israel, which I did any way in December. I came back about 9 months later. Missed too many Dead shows.smiley

"The Politics of Heroin
CIA Complicity In The Global Drug Trade"

A guy named Alfred McCoy wrote this one in 1972 and has since updated it.  Basically he implies that the main function of the invasion of SE Asia was to muscle in on the opium trade.  I think it was in that particular book where I learned that the "Pepsi factory"  in Saigon was actually an opium refinery.

Anyway I was too young to get drafted,  but watched all the TV coverage on the nightly news as a kid.  My parents could never explain exactly why 'we' were over there,  although they could have lied and said "To fight Communism".


Ho Chi Minh is a heroic figure. Hope they give a good treatment of him.

Sounds like a tough time to live in the US. Vibes to all who didn't go. 

Got #24 in 1969. Two years student deferment, but I wanted out. Got a psychiatric professional to write a letter attesting I was mentally unfit for the military - I was! Second choice would have been Canada.

First husband got #366 in the first lottery (it included Leap Day) in 1969. We kept searching throught the list published in the newspaper, never thinking to look at the end of the list. He burned his draft card the same day.

Greg turned in his draft card to Alan Cranston, Senator, and was almost immediately told to show up at the induction center. He went through a lot of shit at the induction center; he thought he wouldn't pass the physical because of his back and red pee (had taken Pyridium), was acting crazy (with fear and apprehension) and psychiatrist eventually wrote note. There was more to it than that, but I didn't know him then and only heard about it later. He was thinking Canada, too.

Watching now. 

nice conversations, all. Thanks.

This is a 10 part series, not 7. Op needs to get his shit together.

While I was a young child during the Tet offensive, local Vietnam veterans were my closest High school friends. In didn't really fit in socially in hs, vets viewed me differently and gave me a chance because they were pretty much done with fitting in socially as well. I got first hand stories of jungle fighting, going into the jungles at night into the pitch blackness and accidentally killing fellow soldiers when running into an ambush, medics who were so scared that they couldn't tell if a soldier had a pulse because the medic himself was shaking so badly from fear and laden with guilt years later. One guy who was a master sargent in Vietnam who survived two tours, only to come home and get assigned the duty of going door-to-door and telling families that their son had died. He actually asked if he could do a third tour instead and was told, No. Many stories I was privilidged to hear first hand because they had a listening ear that was eager to hear and non-judgemental. I asked a lot of questions, some got answered, some didn't. I learned when to stop asking.  Most always, these stories would come out after quite a bit of beer and at times the emotions would get intense. These were young men who aged far too fast.

I am hoping to hear about troops guarding the rubber tree plantations (in S. Vietnam?) that the Firestone family had a serious vested interest. Episode 1 was highly educational, pertaining more to the rise of Ho Chi Mihn and the French oppression of the Vietnamese people for almost 100 yrs.  

And NO, Ken Burns doesn't do one-sided documentaries.  His work is top-notch and always has been.

imo, Ken needs to go to his local courthouse and get the paperwork started to have his middle name changed to Effn'...



I'm sure Mr. Burns has made a decent historical documentary, he spent 10 years and has 10 episodes to do so with miles of historical footage and so many iconic images and the film obviously also ties in much that was happening in America during the war. It was a very heavy time and 58,000 American troops died, an unbelievably staggering loss of life in the conscripted fight to continue an allies' colonial war. The tragedy of it all is unspeakable. 

I'm sure also that those with little or no knowledge of warp and woof of the Vietnam conflict can learn so much from watching it. I learned a lot from watching "Vietnam: A Television History" which came on PBS in the late 90s. It's on the internet. 

BUT is Burns going to tell the real story behind start and the continuation of the war and what was going on behind the scenes in the US? I highly doubt it and as these articles point out, no. It was not ever a civil war! 



I had the good luck to check out the massive Military Museum in Hanoi when I was there a few years ago, fascinating place. I had never been to anything like that in another country, much less one that the United States has been to war with. Lots of exhibits historically laid out and text in Vietnamese and English documenting their wars against the Chinese, French and United States, and a bunch of captured French and (mostly) American planes.



I am anxious to see his take on The Gulf of Tonkin incident. I assume will be on tonight's/next episode.

Finished watching episode 1 last night and listened to Trump speak at the UN this morning.


Yesterday's Red Scare is today's Radical Islamic Terrorists.  (Plus N. Korea, Iran, and Venezuela)

It's not too bad so far. One thing I've noticed are the many times this war was being second guessed by members of the government, including all the presidents.
Other than the stopping the spread of communism or sticking to the principal that America should not lose a war, I'd like to see some of the public discussions that were going on at the time that hypothesized about other reasons the government's resolve was to continue and even escalate. Especially the arrangements between war profiteers like Dow, Bechtel, Brown & Root (Halliburton), Raymond International, Lockheed, Raytheon, Monsanto, Morrison-Knudsen, General Electric, etc. and those who advised or made the decisions to stay and make war in a place where nobody wanted us.

I had a conversation about this series and the war with a close friend today. She's my age, graduated high school in 1967, lived in Michigan. I learned that her high school sweetheart decided to enlist so he could get the GI bill since there was no other way he could go to college. He joined to become a Warrant Officer and learn to fly since he'd always be able to get a job flying. He sounded very practical. She sent him letters and cookies and waited.
He didn't come back.

I didn't know anyone who enlisted or was drafted, only people who were conscientious objectors (I went to a Quaker high school) or who worked to be excluded from the military. I didn't know any young men of color who were my age, only adults, and I didn't know anyone who thought it would help them get the future they wanted.

My family had been active in many left-wing movements (anti-HUAC, anti-nukes, anti-war, civil rights) and I spent my teen years protesting the Vietnam war. Got stopped often by police and Sheriffs because of stickers on our car and also my husband's long hair. Remembering again.

I wept through most of last night's 2 hours, and even now as I'm typing... there were so many lies, so much carnage, so many lives lost (on all sides). The all-powerful military-industrial complex ... not so different from what's going on today in some ways. It seems we're trapped again, this time using the voices and votes of the Congress, and we're fucked.

Vietnam, as with WWII before it, was a U.S. Government Sponsored **Rich Man's Trick!

Deep down somewhere, everyone knows it to be true.


I will watch this. I have to be in the right mindset. War scares the hell out of me, Vietnam especially. Why that is I don't know. First with daily updates of dead and footage? I just dunno. I don't support war but anyone who can go through that has my respect for the most part. Equally so I respect the people here who had to survive in their own way. I have to watch these shows with one eye open. There have been many series about the war on the history channel and the like. My uncle survived, but was never the same. Family friend shot himself in the face to go home. Uncle told me as young man, if something like that happens again, he would take us to Canada. He said it just wasn't worth it. Anyway. So scary and real and I hope Burns does his best to be objective.


I will watch this. I have to be in the right mindset. War scares the hell out of me, Vietnam especially.<<<

I've always been fascinated by war movies / documentaries ... even when I was much younger growing up as a kid.   It's definitely not a function of "wanting to see violence", but more having to do with it being "real" in the context of a giant slew of sitcoms, dramas, etc. on TV ... as well as in relation to what we witness around us in "everyday life".  Having grown up in a place and time that has been relatively peaceful in comparison to most of world history, it seems many (including myself) have never been exposed to how shit goes down outside the "bubble" we've managed to erect.   

The body count philosophy was shameful. My brother was eligible but pulled a high number. My dad who survived WW2 was planning on driving him to Canada if he got called. It was 1970 and he saw too many kids come home in a box. He hated politicians and knew it was a pointless war by then. 

It's pretty good but it reminded me of being a child when Today's War News was on the TV every day.  Details of battles etc are mind-numbingly boring when heard over and over. 21 killed today in fighting somewhere.  Tragedy as wallpaper.  I am kind of surprised that the military didn't wise up to start limiting reporter access once they realized that this stuff was not playing as well as fighting panzer tanks.  Got really pissed off hearing Johnson talk about "Heck, we aren't going to win but we don't want to look bad" while DRAFTING people to fight.  That is some stone cold bullshit right there.

Interesting the way the March on the Pentagon was portrayed, as it being sort of an organic attempt to get the crowd to do something more militant.  Comes across as a proto-black block event, "Come on, let's go to the Pentagon" and their real intent was to enter and commit property damage.  However, I was always under the impression that it was a planned civil disobedience event, planned by the organizers of the rally at Lincoln Memorial from which they marched.

Was JFK eliminated so that the CIA & the Military Industrial Complex could go forward with their Southeast Asia scheme Unimpeded ?

These last chapters of the film have consistently taken me back to those days, times I would never choose to repeat. That's true about the whole series.

The filmmaker's use of music, new original compositions created for the film and the music of the times is masterful. I saw an interview with Ken Burns where he noted that the music ran the show during editing, that they edited the film footage to fit the music - and so well.

So many lost, so many young men killing other people. For what? The government... liars lying. So fucking sad. I'm very angry and very moved.

Trying to catch up in watching, not sure which episode I'm up to now (wife controlling the remote on this one!).

What is terrifying are these spaces where if you close your eyes and listen to it, they could apply to what's happening today (e.g. blind allegiance & faith in country, eyes turned away from fact that the poor and the black community were the early sacrificial lambs, operating with WW2 tactics just because they worked back then, ridiculous concerns about our "standing" in the world, bald faced lies & machinations to drive public perceptions, etc.).

The main takeaway I always had from my history courses in primary and secondary educations was that we study it in hopes of not repeating mistakes. Yet, we clearly don't follow that thought in practice (go into Vietnam after clearly seeing that the French failed -> going into Afghanistan after clearly seeing that the Russians failed, etc.).

The above was all with, generally speaking, no "dotards" in charge. We now face challenges with a lunatic responsible for making decisions. Nothing to worry about right?

^^ agreed, Judit....especially the last two episodes...


kent state, and last night all the Nixon/Kissinger discussions,...i, we, have all seen it so many times, but once again, Ken Burns (and whole team) moved me in a way unlike anything previous. Once again, his documentaries not only entertain, but teach us, and raise emotions in us, like no others.

 >>>>>as with WWII before it, was a U.S. Government Sponsored **Rich Man's Trick!

Nope - we had to fight Germany and Japan. Every war since then, however...

I am recording this series but missed the first 2. I hope they repeat it immediately after it finishes. Can't wait to watch it.

Wasn't going to watch it but changed my mind and am binge watching (on demand). Half way through now.

Bringing back some difficult memories. Grammar school, probably '67, the whole class was given pen pals who were serving in Nam.

I was also in the draft lottery of '73 and drew a number that surely would have had to go if the draft hadn't ended.


its good, watched the 1st two, but I know the history well. my sig. other, not the histrory buff so is more interesting to her.

>>>Nope - we had to fight Germany and Japan. Every war since then, however...


Incorrect.  As has been declassified for years & is universally recognized today.. the United States Government/Power (in league with the international Banking cartel) secretly funded & backed the German campaign & strategy --- so as to play both sides, firmly establish the military industrial complex & maximize Profit$ --- before the patzy Hitler & for the duration of the phony war. 

If all those years ago.. you were to have peeked under the hoods of the German 'Nazi' tanks.. you would have found a good ole 'made in the USA' manufactured FORD engine/motor.


The real Nazis were operating out of our very own NYC.



i'd recommend The Devil's Chessboard 



good back story to fascist corporate industrial control and yes, nazis.


lost the book before i could finish it though.



watched all ten episodes...18 hrs went by fast.  I think they could've done 180 hrs and not covered it all. Very well done, imo. The many interviews from both Americans and Vietnamese showcase what Ken and Lynn are masters at: making the viewer understand that these are human endeavors and not just facts from a history book.

Not really surprising, but more so disgustingly amazed at how callously LBJ, Nixon and Kissinger talked about the war in aspects of election years, getting reelected and voter confidence. Did any of them realize that the shit they were spewing was being recorded? Or did they consider their banter as business as usual? Just confirms what I've thought about powerful men in places of privilege my entire life....ordinary people are completely disposable....and they know there will always be more to fill any cause they create. And Westmoreland was a fucking monster.

Same shit, different day.




I heard the tapes, too and can hardly believe how callous LBJ and McNamara or Kissinger and Nixon were, but you must realise that early in the War, the VAST majority of Americans supported intervention in Vietnam.

If LBJ had tried to get out in 1965, he might have been impeached. Anti-Communism was a sickness that needed (needs) to be put into context. It was hysteria.

good point, Redneck. I forgot how fresh the Cuban missile crisis was in people's minds.

Still, though, saving face instead of saving lives? It's amazing how well fear mongering works, even today.

It was also interesting to hear some of the thoughtful, soul-searching questions LBJ asked of others around him concerning his doubts early on about our involvement over there.

hard to believe it was the same person...

I'm just reading this article about the approach to the music included in the film - great article so far. Among other things,

Importantly, the directors didn’t simply pick the songs themselves, but enlisted the subjects of the film to provide their own personal soundtracks. “At the beginning of the project we had everyone that we interviewed send us a list of the songs they remembered from the time,” Novick explains. “The amazing thing was, whether they were over in Vietnam fighting, or at home protesting, or even if they were from North or South Vietnam, a lot of them had the same songs. That told us that we were on the right track, but that we were going to have to work extra hard to avoid those clichés.”


^Beatles and bodies during the aftermath of the Tet Offensive: absolutely crushing.


We've been watching the series, but taking longer breaks as we get into the late '60's.  Overwhelming at times.

The soundtrack is tremendous.

Yay.  They are starting over again tomorrow night. Now I can finally watch it.


>> Episode 1 was highly educational, pertaining more to the rise of Ho Chi Mihn and the French oppression of the Vietnamese people for almost 100 yrs.  

Was able to stream Episode 1 last night. Very educational indeed.

Mdono1 - That's what my wife and I were talking about. 

I appreciate the personal stories here...

I had 3 uncles that were in Vietnam. Never heard them say one word about it, even to each other.

Christmas and other family gatherings always seemed superficial like there was an undercurrent and usually would end up with everyone getting pretty drunk. Still I never heard a word.

Fuck War!

Finally getting around to watching this after getting a copy of the DVD box set.  I haven't had tv plugged in for years, which has it's pros and cons.  I'm generally a fan of Burns' productions (though I thought his Jazz series was a little lacking), and am enjoying this one, watching one episode a night. 

Watched the third episode last night, which included the widening of our involvement under LBJ.  The first regular combat troops were sent into secure the airfield at Da Nang in early March, 1965, just a little over a month after I was born.  With no family members serving in the military, I don't recall the war factoring too much in my childhood.  I suppose I would see photos in Life Magazine, but I have much stronger memories of coverage of the Space Program than of Vietnam.  By the last years of the war, we were living outside of Washington D.C. and I had started to pay more attention to the front page news via The Washington Post, but I remember the Watergate Scandal and Nixon's downfall dominating the headlines at that time.  I guess Vietnam wasn't a popular topic.  We were getting our asses handed to us in a demoralizing fashion.

I am struck by the beauty of Vietnam, as well as the resiliency of it's people.   It's hard to fathom from a 2022 perspective how a fear of an international Communist threat blinded our political leaders from seeing that the Vietnamese desire to throw off the shackles of colonial rule and foreign opresssion mirrored our own birth as a nation.  

The Vietnamese fought this war for 20 years, four times the length of our Revolutionary War.  They lost over a million casualties.  Independence and self-rule was so important, that they would have kept at it for as long as it took.  The will of the people should never be underestimated.  The Russians are facing this now in the Ukraine, just as they and we did in Afghanistan.

I like how the interviews in this series are centered around the everyday participants instead of more famous talking heads.  It really gives a clearer sense of how the average person on both sides of the conflict was trying to make sense of what was going on and figure out how to do the right thing.  Much respect for the soldiers on both sides, the Vietnamese people, the families and loved ones of service members, and the students and their teachers who questioned and rallied against the senseless violence.

My oldest brother turned 18 in 1973, just missing the draft.  I wonder how the members of the Grateful Desd avoided service?  I know that Garcia had already been discharged from the military early in the 1960's after not fitting into the military lifestyle,  I can't recall if Phil Lesh discussed this topic in his autobiography.  Bob Weir turned 18 in 1965.  His birth father was a serviceman.  I'm curious what his story is on how he avoided the draft.  Some of the Pranksters, like Ken Babbs, served in Vietnam.  They were slightly older than the Hippie generation, possibly the last generation that believed in their government.




Heavy heavy stuff, Burns is the man. 

I was too young to go, had family members who did, they don't talk about it but it changed em. Had family that didn't go, those stories are for another day.

What I've been noticing lately, since the invasion of Ukraine I don't care to watch war stuff like I used to. I used to eat up that shit up, always some new twist to learn,  now with people still killing people with no end in sight,  I'm too disgusted with it all. 

Ain't gonna study war no more

Watched it unfold in real time on the nightly news - don't really care to delve into it again. Had to sign up for the draft at 18 in 1969. Got a low number - 24 - so would be heading to Vietnam if I didn't go to college. Had a hard time w/ Uncle Sam looking over my shoulder the whole time. I had no desire to shoot or be shot at by Asian folks with whom I had no quarrel. Plan A was get out on psych. grounds, Plan B was Canada, Plan C was prison.

I got a psychiatrist my mom knew - she was a social worker - to write me a letter saying my psychedelic voyaging made me unfit for service. It was true, in a way. Had to bring the letter to the induction center shrink and talk to him - he finally signed off on it. Done with that.

Really, none of the middle-class kids I grew up with had to go. We all got out one way or another. Some blue-collar kids in my town did get drafted, and some enlisted, and some didn't come home.

I just reread my posts in this thread. Those days...

Watching this series was gut punch after gut punch, and so sad.

The music was so well done!

I graduated from high school in 1983.  Growing up around Washington D.C. with parents who instilled an interest in History, Civics, Government, and Politics in my siblings and myself, I was well studied in U.S. History.  I visited most of the major Civil War battlefields.  George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, Virginia, was a mile from our house; my first hourly pay gig as a kid was working at the snack bar at the estate.

I liked stories, and U.S. History was a fascinating open book to me.  I got the only 5 (top score) on the A.P. History exam in my high school Senior class, which rewarded me with 8 college credits before I'd even enrolled.  My teachers never taught us about Vietnam in depth.  It always seemed like after months spent studying the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, and World War I & II, the school year would end before we could get around to studying it.

I hope this has changed, and it is now part of the standard curriculum for public school History instruction.  Maybe the memories of Vietnam were too raw in 1983, just eight years after the war had ended, for my teachers to confront.  

Just finished episode 4 tonight, focused on 1966 into 1967.  I'm incredulous that the war continued until 1975 when our leaders knew it was a flawed mission and unwinnable by the end of 1966.  This series is filling in a lot of gaps for me.  I was oblivious and shielded  from appreciating what happened as a child.  For those of you older who lived through these events more aware and directly impacted, I am beginning to appreciate the horrors you witnessed and the trauma that ensued.



Thanks, Bss (not sarcastic). I watched it a couple of times and then another version, and my heart hurts

yep. I appreciate you all sharing your experiences and perspectives judit

I'm not old enough to have lived any of this, so mostly I learned about vietnam through music. And full metal jacket.

I think i will check out the ken burns stuff.

Do it BSS. You won't regret watching it.

Yeah. That is the song I heard first in 1974. Been a huge Prine fan ever since.