There is a saying that goes, truth is the first casualty of war. The Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, The Vietnam War, is a compelling and insightful exploration into the origins, conflict, ramifications and legacy of that war—a legacy that, like a specter, still haunts the American psyche 50 years on.
The juxtaposition of interviews of men and women who fought on both sides of that conflict reveal and reflect the humanity of all who were involved and who paid dearly with mind and body.
To paraphrase Ken Burns, The Vietnam War, a 10-year project, was not to provide answers but to ask questions, to debate and, yes, dissent when necessary. Our foreign policy over the past 20 years has ignored the lessons of what occurred in Southeast Asia five decades ago. It is a mistaken belief that history is in the past—it is always present. The Vietnam War is woven into our country’s fabric, imprinted in our collective memories—it is a wound, a scar, both seen and hidden. How we live with this trauma is what matters. The Vietnam War is also a reminder of the debt that this government owes to all veterans and their families, past and present, for their service.
This series will be difficult viewing for some and will bring tears to many. We will remember those past days, whether in support or in opposition to the war. Perhaps allowing tears of grief to flow again is a necessary act, to finally cleanse the lens that has obscured our collective vision for so long and, hopefully, to forgive our “enemies” and ourselves, to realize in full, the sacrifices made on both sides, and to try and move on—but to never forget.
It is time!
E. G. Singer lives in Santa Rosa.
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