Institute for World Politics - The Burns-Novick Vietnam Film - A Different Perspective

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Institute for World Politics - The Burns-Novick Vietnam Film - A Different Perspective

Annotated Transcript of the IWP Panel Discussion

Dr. Lewis Sorley

Burns and Novick’s The Vietnam War is Profoundly and Fundamentally Wrong

In all the materials Burns distributes advertising the broadcast, he repeats the mantra: “There is no single truth in war.” But there is such a thing as objective truth, elusive though it may be. What we have here is preferred “truth” as seen through the Burns prism.
In the Newseum discussion, Burns was surprisingly upfront in describing his objective in making The Vietnam War and his methods in realizing it. They had not been interested in dry facts, he told us, “but in an emotional reality.” And, claiming objectivity, Burns insisted that in making the film they had not, as he put it, had their “thumb on the scale.” But only moments later he stated his conviction that: “We need to remind people of the cost of war.” Perhaps someday there will be a sequel reminding people of the cost of losing a war.
Finally, the idea that this deeply flawed version of the war and those who fought it might somehow facilitate “reconciliation,” as claimed by Burns, can only be viewed as fatuous. There is no middle ground, and the Burns film demonstrates, if nothing else, just how deep and unbridgeable the divide remains.

Professor Robert F. Turner

Burns/Novick/PBS "Vietnam War" Episode 1, What They Got Wrong

When I learned that Ken Burns was turning his remarkable talents to producing an18-hour documentary on the Vietnam War, I was troubled. Few conflicts in history have been more misunderstood than Vietnam, and I knew anything done by the beloved Ken Burns would influence the public perception of that controversial conflict for decades to come.
When I received an email expressing concern that the documentary might be filled with errors, I forwarded it to some fellow Vietnam veterans with a note that we needed to watch it carefully to spot and try to correct any errors. A few weeks later, Burns’ co-director, Lynn Novick, emailed me—saying a number of people had forwarded my message to them—and we later had multiple very cordial telephone conversations. Her basic request was as simple as it was reasonable: Please don’t comment until you have seen the entire series. I agreed.
I have now watched the series—portions of it more than once. As I expected, it is beautifully done—complete with original music by the legendary Yo-Yo Ma. But, sadly, it does little to help the viewer understand the Vietnam War.

Dr. Mark Moyar

What Ken Burns Omits from The Vietnam War

"This aversion to American exceptionalism and patriotism has pervaded too much of our society since the Vietnam War. For those of us who think the US is a force for good in the world, that our country is so good that we’d risk our lives for it, the accurate retelling of the Vietnam War is imperative. That’s why I think it’s important to let the country know just how fallacious the Burns series is."

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