‘The Vietnam War’ Is A Powerful New Look At One Of The World’s Most Talked About Conflicts

September 11, 2017 by: Shauna O'Donnell

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

By Philip Sayblack

So much over the years has been written and created about the Vietnam War.  From books to feature-length movies to documentaries, the conflict in Vietnam has remained a hot button topic for generations.  Next Tuesday, Sept. 19, PBS will add its own new addition to the topic when it releases The Vietnam WarA Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  This in-depth documentary is easily one of the most comprehensive pieces ever presented on the conflict and just as easily one of the year’s top new documentaries.  That is due in no small part to the information presented over the course of the documentary’s 18-hour run time.  This will be discussed shortly.  The set’s packaging, which includes the doc’s episode listing, is just as important to the set’s presentation as its information.  It will be discussed later. The set’s bonus material rounds out its most important elements.  Each element is important in its own way to the set’s overall presentation, as will be made clear through this review.  All things considered, they make The Vietnam WarA Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novicka must have for military history buffs and history buffs in general, and one of the year’s top new documentaries.

The Vietnam WarA Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is easily one of PBS’ top docs so far this year and one of the year’s top new docs, too.  In the same vein, it is also a must have for military history buffs and history buffs alike.  That is due in no small part to the information presented throughout the course of this 18-hour run time.  Right from the program’s outset, the program reveals the true roots of the Vietnam War—French occupation of Vietnam during the late 1800s.  This is a piece of information that is rarely, if ever, taught in and out of any classroom.  The program reveals that the French, who had colonized Vietnam since the late 19th Century, treated the Vietnamese quite poorly.  It further adds that between their mistreatment at the hands of the French–and at the hands of the Japanese during World War II–led to the fight for Vietnamese independence.  Just as interesting to learn is that the conflict that happened following the nation earning its independence is what eventually led to the war between the North and South.  Understanding this much deeper history behind the war puts it (and other items) into a whole new perspective; a perspective that definitely needs to be more widely taught than it already is being taught.

The rarely taught roots of the Vietnam conflict are collectively just the tip of the iceberg in the information that makes this presentation so engaging.  Much later in the program’s run, audiences learn that the American military was not the only side that was impacted by the war.  Interviews with former North and South Vietnamese soldiers lead to some very powerful revelations including that the conflict likely could have been averted in the first place and that—as one former soldier noted—there are no winners in war.  There is also plenty of information about the conflict that boiled over here in the United States as a result of beliefs about the war including hindsight from some protesters that will surprise audiences as much as any other featured information.  When audiences consider this and so much more information shared throughout the program’s 18-hour run time, they will see clearly why that information is so important to the program’s overall presentation.  Staying on that same thought, the episode summaries presented as part of the set’s packaging is another key part of its presentation.

The episode listing included as part of this set’s packaging is integral to its packaging because it creates a solid first piece of information for each episode.  Case in point is the episode summary for the set’s second disc.  That summary notes that Diem’s increasing autocratic rule in South Vietnam increased the conflict in the peninsula while President Kennedy had to figure, as America’s leader, how intensely America should have gotten involved in the conflict.  In other words, this lone summary not only sets the stage for the episode but also tells in short yet another piece of the war’s history.  The documentary’s other nine episode summaries work much in the same fashion, showing clearly why they are so important to the set’s packaging.

On another note, the discs’ actual packaging solidifies the set’s packaging even more.  The set’s 10 total discs are split into two separate five-disc cases.  Each of the discs within the cases is placed on its own plate inside the case, including inside the rear of the case.  Not only does this help save space with on DVD (and Blu-ray) racks, but it also protects the discs from one another.  This, in turn, increases the discs’ life span and in turn shows even more clearly the importance of the set’s overall packaging.  Keeping this in mind, the set’s packaging is just one more of its key elements.  The bonus material included in this set rounds out its most important elements.

The bonus material included with The Vietnam WarA Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is an important part of the documentary’s whole because of the additional information that it reveals.  Audiences will be surprised to learn through the bonus material, the painstaking efforts taken to show not only the American side of the war but the Asian side, too.  That meant taking years to find former soldiers from North and South Vietnam willing to share their stories.

Just as interesting to learn through the bonus material is the psychological impact that war has on those involved.  That revelation is made through a discussion among a large group of veterans from various wars.  The deeply rooted emotions displayed by each veteran are so powerful even being experienced just on screen.  Hearing the pain expressed by the veterans is enough to bring tears to even those who have never experienced the horrors and the traumas of war.

The frank, honest discussion from Jack Todd on why he left the Vietnam War—with a group of young military cadets no less—is just as powerful as that discussion on war’s psychological impact among the veterans.  Todd’s thoughts on the draft, reconciling his own thoughts about war with what to teach his children and other items are certain to create plenty of discussion among audiences.  Those certain discussions show the importance of this segment and even more in whole, the importance of the set’s bonus material.  Whether through Todd’s discussions, the veterans’ discussions, the discussions on how the documentary came to life or other discussions, audiences will see time and again the importance of this documentary’s bonus material time and again throughout each discussion.  Every discussion will keep audiences fully engaged long after the doc’s main feature–and bonus material–ends.  Keeping this in mind, it becomes wholly clear why the bonus material included in this set is so pivotal to its presentation.  It is its own powerful look at the war that is not shown in the documentary’s main feature, and makes the overall program all the more engaging.  When this is considered along with the engagement generated through the main feature’s information and the aesthetic value of the set’s packaging, the whole presentation proves to be an impressive work that is a must have for history buffs and military history buffs alike.  It proves to be one of the year’s best new documentaries and one of PBS’ best documentaries so far this year.

The Vietnam WarA Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will be available next Tuesday, Sept. 19.  It can be pre-ordered online now via PBS’ online store.  More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:




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