This Fucked Me Up: Ken Burns's The Vietnam War

By On July 26, 2018

This Fucked Me Up: Ken Burns's The Vietnam War

What to Watch on NetflixThis Fucked Me Up: Ken Burns's The Vietnam War

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All 18 hours are streaming on Netflix.

Growing up, my parents believed in the film rating system. PG-13 movies were for kids 13 years and older; anything R rated was strictly off limits. Nothing with sex, nothing with swearing. Violence was an issue tooâ€"that is, unless it was a war movie, in which case, it was required viewing, no matter how gory or grisly.

My family is Vietnamese. My parents were from the South, and they fled the country after the fall of Saigon. So my dad made a point of showing me every Vietnam War movie out there. Our old-school Netflix queue was comprised of The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and P latoon (his favorite), the DVDs arriving by mail one after the other. It was an education, of sorts, though I wonder how informative it was really. Every movie was critical of the war, sure, but they were also all from the American perspective. Honestly, my dad was being a dad, showing me the kinds of movies he loved.

Anyway, this is a lot of throat clearing to tell you that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s very ambitious (and very longâ€"10 parts, spanning 18 hours) documentary, The Vietnam War, is worth the investment. (The entirety of it is streaming on modern-day Netflix, if that helps.) And this isn’t 18 hours of “the Ken Burns effect”â€"ie. slowly panning into photographs and old-timey music. The Vietnam War was so well documented that the entire thing is comprised of archival footage and talking heads, soundtracked by an impressive era-appropriate playlist of classic rock. It’s totally captivating, and you might forget you’re watching a history less on. If you can’t commit nearly a day of your life, a few of the episodes are self-contained enough that you can just watch them individually, in which case I’d do episode one, five, and seven.

Still, the remarkable thing about The Vietnam War is how much camera time it dedicates to Vietnamese people from the North and the South. Sure, we’re regaled with war stories from U.S. marines and infantry, who question why they were there in the first placeâ€"it’s basically the point of view of every Vietnam War movie. But it’s even more resonant to hear from the Vietnamese people who understood exactly why they were there. Sometimes I ask people what they called the Vietnam War in Vietnam. It’s obvious: the American War.

Even the most studied will find so much here. A thing I learned, among the many things I learned from the Ken Burns doc: the Vietnam War was the first Big Data war. Americans were, for the first time, relying on computers and heavy d ata collection in combat. The government used it for two reasons: one, to better strategize the placement of troops and resources, and two, to brag to the American people about how many Vietnamese they’d killed. In particular was a metric called a kill ratioâ€"how many of us died versus how many of them. How many of you versus how many of me.

And though the Vietnam War, in hindsight, is considered a loss for Americans, through the lens of kill ratios, it is almost certainly a win: 58,000 American soldiers were killed. There is a wide range of estimates as to how many North, South, and civilian Vietnamese were killed, but the conservative one suggests 1.1 million, though experts generally lean on the higher figure: 3.2 million. Less a war, more of an atrocity.

Watching the doc, the pain I felt, like Vietnamese pain has always been, was invisible. It was not a sharp or acute pain, not one you feel in your heart. It was not a soulful one either, if you believe in a soul. It was a lingering pain, the kind you feel in your bones and your jointsâ€"one I’d felt all my life, generational trauma passed down that was suddenly flaring up like an inherited disease.

The doc isn’t easy to watch, even if you’re not Vietnamese. I committed to The Vietnam War last year with three friends, watching it over coffee on Sunday mornings last fall. You’d think it would make terrible social viewing, but that turned out to be untrue. Between episodes, we’d unpack what we just saw, then play a few rounds of Tetris as a palate cleanser. And then we’d dive in again, together.

Not long after I’d finished the doc, I was at a party where I met one of the hosts of, what I was told, was a very popular podcast about “the Dirtbag Left.” It was loud and we were drinking. He complained about “the Regular Left” for about 20 minutesâ€"I remember putting my palm over my plastic cup to make sure none of his spittle would land in my drin kâ€"before moving into a tangent about how no one should watch Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War, though it wasn’t clear why we shouldn’t. Something about American imperialism.

I said that I’d seen all 18 hours of the series, and that I thought it was well done. It turns out he hadn't actually seen it. As I explained how meaningful the doc was to me as a Vietnamese American to hear from Vietnamese people, the podcast guy pulled out his phone and began checking Instagram, which is basically how most white people react when we talk about our experiences.

Anyway, like I said, The Vietnam War is streaming on Netflix. Watch all 18 hours of it. Or watch a few episodes. Or look at your phone instead.

Source: Google News Vietnam | Netizen 24 Vietnam

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