There are fewer eras in American history that are fraught with more controversy and consternation that the Vietnam War. It was a time of social and cultural change – most of it for the worse, in this author’s humble opinion. And even 40 years after it ended, the wounds of that era are still fresh for many.
This time period has also produced classic films that are revered today – Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and the like. This films, for the most part, have a definite slant on the war and it’s a mostly negative one that usually leans left.
This is what made me initially apprehensive about Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s latest documentary series, The Vietnam War. While Burns’ early works are indeed fair and balanced to the subject matter they study (specifically his magnum opus, The Civil War), his more recent films have been glaringly biased to the left, with the worst being 2009’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
I’m very happy to report that The Vietnam War is Burns’ best film in a while. It is a fair and comprehensive look at the war…to a point. Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick have crafted an excellent narrative of the events surrounding the war, providing much-needed context, set-up, and thoughtful analysis – allowing those who lived the war from all sides to have a say. However, the film still has some annoying biases, even though both Burns and Novick assured us there wouldn’t be any.
In The Vietnam War‘s narrative, all sides of the conflict were culpable in some way for its disastrous outcome. I believe the war began with sincere purposes and devolved into a quagmire. This is a reflection of the arrogance on all sides – the arrogance sometimes inherent in humanity itself.