Overview and Conclusions

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Part IV. Overview and Conclusions

Other Essays on the Series as a Whole

Charles Hill: On "The Vietnam War"

Here is the underlying meaning of the declaration featured at the series’ outset that “Vietnam called everything into question.” The established narrative of the war, and the gloss on it provided by Burns-Novick’s inner theme, is that the Vietnam War represented not only Hanoi’s victory over the United States, but, more consequentially, the victory of all of the layers of social-political-cultural-personal revolution of the Sixties. To reaffirm the anti-war movement doctrinally is to lock in all the vast changes in the American character brought about by what the documentary sees as the truly greatest generation, the radicals of the 1960s. Thus the Burns-Novick film is as much, or more, about America in the twenty-first century as it is about the years between 1954 and 1975 in Southeast Asia. That was about a political-military conflict; it became and is now about a new phase of moral superiority.

Bing West: The Vietnam War Documentary: Doom And Despair

[Burns] script concluded with these words, “The Vietnam War was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable.” That damning hyperbole neatly summarized 18 hours of haunting, funereal music, doleful tales by lugubrious veterans, and an elegiac historical narration voiced over a collage of violent images and thunderous explosions. In this telling, the anti-war protestors in the States are morally equivalent to the American soldiers who fought the war. Indeed, while the grunts seem soiled by the violence, those who evaded the draft and spat upon those who fought had the added satisfaction of seeing Soviet tanks manned by North Vietnamese soldiers roll triumphantly into Saigon.

Stephen J Morris: morris

The great history of the Vietnam war is still waiting to be written. The considerable research efforts and brilliant visual presentation of Burns and Novick (and Ward in the companion book) have captured most of the story of the Kennedy and Johnson years. But they have failed to do justice to the years 1968-73, and thus to the war as a whole.
Even more importantly, they have failed to grasp the nature of the enemy we were fighting. Ho Chi Minh’s calculated plan to market himself and his Communist movement as primarily nationalist was effective both for naïve Vietnamese intellectuals and peasants and for naïve foreigners—even through to today. But Ho and his Communist comrades always considered themselves part of a world revolutionary movement, something much bigger than merely a revolution in Vietnam. They frequently referred to themselves as the outpost of socialism in Southeast Asia. (That is why after their victory in 1975, they provided captured American weapons to the Soviet Union for use in Communist insurrections in other nations, most notably in El Salvador in the 1980s.)
The problem is that it is difficult for most people who have never experienced one to grasp the nature of totalitarian movements based on an internationalist revolutionary ideology—and much easier psychologically to reduce it to the familiar, which is nationalism.
Five American presidents and most of their top advisers did not fall into this intellectual trap. But the producers of The Vietnam War did. After a century of experience of totalitarian movements and states, and more than 70 years of experience of Vietnamese communism, the time is long past for educated Westerners to be so duped.

Timothy Lomperis: Reawakening the Ghost of Vietnam

In brief, America’s engagement in the Vietnam War was not pointless or morally dubious, and the 58,000 names inscribed on the wall of Vietnam War Memorial did not die in vain. To imply otherwise does a disservice to the truth — and to the memory of my fallen comrades. (Article presented with permission of The Daily Times, Maryville, TN.)

Stephen Sherman: The tragedy of the PBS-Ken Burns version of the Vietnam War

My own views on the Vietnam war haven't changed much in the intervening half-century, since my assignment in Vietnam with Special Forces, but I am called, today, a "revisionist" by some who have never served our country. I have subsequently learned, thanks in part to Burns's history, that a "revisionist" is anyone who opposes the Communist Party line, so I guess I can live with that. Many of my fellow veterans have succumbed to a constant din of false history.

Mark Moyar: A Warped Mirror

The foremost reason is that Burns and Novick are not actually impartial referees, but instead use the documentary to promote an agenda, in ways glaringly obvious to veterans though not readily apparent to those too young to have lived through the war. Burns and Novick wish to show that America fought a war that was unnecessary and unwinnable, and that it did so out of national hubris.

A (South) Vietnamese-American Perspective on the Burns/PBS Series

First of all, the authors of this article would like to call the readers’ attention to the fact that throughout the 10 episodes of the film shown for 18 hours on PBS, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick only addressed the American audience while the narrative was exclusively about the Vietnam war. The entire people, the ARVN, the government of South Vietnam were used simply as a background with a very limited amount of time spent on that background. And any time the film referred to the people, the ARVN, and the government of South Vietnam; one could only hear negative narratives and see detestable spectacles. Not only does this attitude refute historical truths, but it also insults the people, the ARVN, and the former government of South Vietnam, who had fought shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers against the Communists. It insults more than 1.5 million people of South Vietnam, who, defying death, challenged the rough seas and escaped the cruel, oppressive and dictatorial Vietnamese communist regime.

A (South) Vietnamese-American Perspective on the Burns/PBS Series - Vietnamese Version

Trước tiên, xin đề cập sơ qua đến việc hai nhà đạo diễn Ken Burns và Lynn Novick chỉ nhắm đến khán thính giả người Mỹ suốt toàn bộ phim 10 đoạn được trình chiếu trong 18 tiếng đồng hồ trên đài truyền hình PBS. Nhân dân, quân đội, và chính quyền miền Nam chỉ được dùng như một hậu cảnh với một số thời giờ rất giới hạn. Và khi cuốn phim nói đến nhân dân, quân đội, và chính quyền miền Nam, người ta chỉ nghe thấy phần lớn là những điều tiêu cực đáng ghét. Thái độ này không những vừa chối bỏ sự thật vừa nhục mạ nhân dân, quân đội, và chính quyền miền Nam đã cùng chung vai thích cánh chiến đấu bên cạnh những quân nhân Hoa Kỳ, vừa nhục mạ hơn 1 triệu rưỡi người miền Nam đã liều mạng sống vượt biên, vượt biển để tránh sự hà khắc, gian ác của chế độ độc tài cộng sản.

Why did the Vietnam War polarize our society?

Why Ken Burns "Vietnam" on PBS Matters

“A good deal of the disunion … we experience today really metastasized in Vietnam,” says filmmaker Ken Burns. A creative genius, Burns is America’s greatest storyteller since Mark Twain. Unlike Twain, Burns does not admit to fictitious works. He has perfected manipulating human emotions. He selected veterans whose war stories bring one to tears, anger and even hate.[2] Ho Chi Minh said America’s policy was “burn all, kill all and destroy all,” using “napalm bombs, poison gas and toxic chemicals to massacre our compatriots and ravage our villages.”[3] Burns fills the screen with the orange fires, bloody slaughter and destroyed hamlets — that do not fit the narrative’s timeline. No matter. An ugly America is repeatedly depicted waging an illegal, immoral, unjust, racist and unwinnable war. You see, America “misreads” the war as fighting communism. Burns quickly passes over Ho’s 20 years as a paid agent of the international communism and his receipt of massive Soviet and Chicom weaponry.

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."

PBS' "The Vietnam War" Miseducates America

A View from the Left: Professors Debate Burns Version of Vietnam War

"Can a popular documentary that is intended to inform a wide range of Americans about the war and how different Americans saw the war at the time do what a critical history book can do?" he asked. Could a documentarian “make both films at the same time," one that is critical and moves a broad range of Americans?


Can anything be done about it? [to be added]

Suggestions for Further Study

If you sat through 18 hours of Ken Burns and went through the material on this website, obviously you are a glutton for punishment and won’t be satisfied without more. Just for people like you, we have a website at www.Viet-Myths.net that gives you 36 hours of video, twice as much as Ken Burns’ effort, but not as professionally presented. This is from a 2004 conference that we put together which became the foundation of our group, Vietnam Veterans for Factual History. VVFH has another website at www.VVFH.org which has a lot more information that we hope you will also find interesting. We are in the process of producing a series of books on the Second Indochina War. We have published eight of the anticipated 13 volumes as of October 2017 and the series is available in paperback at https://www.vvfh.org/index.php/books/special-offer and as e-books at https://www.vvfh.org/books/e-bookstore and at amazon.com (Search “Indochina in the Year of”)


PBS Bibliography vs. Our Bibliography

The books we recommend depend on the reader for whom they are recommended. The mentality of young high school students in American History classes who don't know Vietnam from Vanuatu & don't care is radically different from the mentality of senior history majors in a competitive university. For that reason this bibliography is divided into 3 levels of reader interest &/or mental development. All these books are compatible in some way with our revisionist interpretation of the war. Books that are not were omitted. This list was compiled by James McLeroy


  • Vietnam Insights; Griffiths, James; Vantage Press; NY; 2000.
  • The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints; Bender, David; Greenhaven Press; St. Paul, MN; 1984.
  • The Aggressors; Catino, Martin; Dog Ear Publishing; Indianapolis, IN; 2010.
  • Whitewash, Blackwash: Myths of the Vietnam War; Del Vecchio, R.J. and Laurie, Bill; [self-published]; 2006.
  • Vietnam War Almanac: Summers, Harry; Facts On File; NY; 1985.
  • The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War; Jennings, Phillip; Regnery; Washington, D.C.; 2010.
  • The Vietnam War For Dummies; Frankum, Ronald and Maxner, Stephen; Wiley, NY; 2003.
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Vietnam War; Maga, Timothy; Alpha Books; 2000.
  • Vietnam War: Battles and Leaders; Murray, Aaron (ed.); DK Publishing; NY; 2004.
  • Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War; Summers, Harry; Houghton Mifflin; NY; 1995.
  • Unheralded Victory; Woodruff, Mark; Ballantine Books; NY; 2005.
  • Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes; Murphy, Edward; Ballantine; NY; 2005.
  • Great Battles of the Vietnam War; Carhart, Tom; Bison Books; NY; 1984.
  • Vietnam: The Decisive Battles; Pimlott, John; Macmillan; NY; 1990.
  • North Vietnamese Army Soldier, 1958-75 (sic); Rottman, Gordon; Osprey; Oxford, UK; 2009.
  • Viet Cong Fighter; Rottman, Gordon; Osprey; Oxford, UK; 2007.
  • US Army Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965-73 (sic); Osprey; Oxford, UK; 2005.
  • The NVA and Viet Cong; Conboy, Ken and Bowra; Osprey; Oxford, UK; 1991.
  • Portrait of the Enemy; Doan Van Toai and Chanoff, David; Random House; NY; 1986.
  • America and Vietnam; Marrin, Albert; Viking; NY; 1992.


  • Background To Vietnam; Newman, Bernard; The New American Library; NY; 1965.
  • Why Viet Nam?; Trager, Frank; Praeger; NY; 1966.
  • Communism; Pipes, Richard; The Modern Library; NY; 2001
  • Communist Revolutionary Warfare; Tanham, George; Praeger; NY; 1961.
  • Hanoi's War; Lien-Hang Nguyen; The University of North Carolina Press; Chapel Hill, NC; 2012.
  • Inside the VC and NVA; Lanning, Michael and Cragg, Dan; Ballantine; NY; 1992.
  • Lessons From the Vietnam War; Scruggs, Leonard; Warren Publishing; [n.p.]; 2009.
  • America In Vietnam; Lewy, Guenter; Oxford University Press; Oxford, UK; 1978.
  • Vietnam At War; Davidson, Phillip; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1988.
  • Green Berets at War; Stanton, Selby; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1985.
  • The Rise & (sic) Fall of an American Army; Stanton, Shelby; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1985.
  • The 25-Year War; Palmer, Bruce; The University Press of Kentucky; Lexington, KY; 1984.
  • Summons of the Trumpet; Palmer, Dave; Presidio; San Rarael, CA; 1978.
  • A Soldier Reports; Westmoreland, William; Doubleday; Garden City, NY; 1976.
  • This Time We Win; Robbins, James; Encounter Books; NY; 2010.
  • A Better War; Sorley, Lewis; Harcourt; NY; 1999.
  • The Secret War Against Hanoi; Shultz, Richard; HarperCollins; NY; 1999.
  • Phoenix and the Birds of Prey; Moyar, Mark; Naval Institute Press; 1997.
  • Stalking the Viet Cong; Herrington, Stuart; Presidio: Novato, CA; 1982.
  • The Vietnamese Gulag; Doan Van Toai and Chanoff, David; Simon & Schuster; NY; 1986.
  • A History of the Vietnamese; Keith W. Taylor; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; 2013.


  • The American Experience in Vietnam; Sevy, Grace (ed.); University of Oklahoma Press; Norman, OK; 1989.
  • The Elephant and the Tiger; Morrison,Wilbur; Hippocrene Books, NY; 1990.
  • Communism in South-East Asia; Kroef, Justus van der; University of California Press; Berkeley, CA; 1980.
  • No More Vietnams; Nixon, Richard; Arbor House; NY; 1985.
  • On Strategy; Summers, Harry; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1982.
  • Strategy for Defeat; Sharp, U.S.G.; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1978.
  • Many Reasons Why; Charlton, Michael and Moncrieff, Anthony; Hill and Wang; NY; 1978.
  • Why We Were In Vietnam; Podhoretz, Norman; Simon and Schuster; NY; 1982.
  • Triumph Revisited; Wiest, Andrew and Doidge, Michael (eds.); Routledge; NY; 2010.
  • Betrayal in Vietnam; Fanning, Louis; :Arlington House; New Rochelle, NY; 1976.
  • An American Amnesia; Herschensohn, Bruce; Beaufort Books; NY; 2010.
  • The Key to Failure; Hannah, Norman; Madison Books; NY; 1987.
  • Viet Cong; Pike, Douglas; The M.I.T. Press; Cambridge, MA; 1966.
  • Dereliction of Duty; McMaster, H.R.; Harper Perennial; NY; 1997.
  • Looking Back On the Vietnam War; Head, William and Grinter, Lawrence (eds.); Greenwood Press; Westport, CN; 1993.
  • Assessing the Vietnam War; Matthews, Lloyd and Brown, Dale (eds.); Pergamon Brassey's; Washington, D.C.; 1987.
  • Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War; McMahon, Robert (ed.); D.C. Heath; Lexington, MA; 1995.
  • The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam; Duiker, William; Westview Press; Boulder, CO; 1996.
  • Black April; Veith, George; Encounter Books; NY; 2012.
  • Vietnamese Communism; Turner, Robert; Hoover Institution Press; Stanford, CA; 1975.
  • The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War; Moore, John and Turner, Robert (eds.); Carolina Academic Press;
  • Light at the End of the Tunnel; Rotter, Andrew (ed.); St. Marin's Press; NY; 1991.
  • Triumph Forsaken; Moyar, Mark; Cambridge University Press; NY; 2006.
  • Lost Victory; Colby, William; Contemporary Books; Chicago, IL; 1989.
  • Power Beyond Reason; Hershman, Jablow; Barricade; Ft. Lee, NJ; 2002.
  • Big Story; Braestrup, Peter; Presidio; Novato, CA; 1983.
  • Vietnam Under Communism; Nguyen Van Canh; Hoover Institution; Stanford, CA; 1983.
  • The Necessary War; Lind, Michael; The Free Press; NY; 1999. Durham, NC; 2002.
  • Mao On Warfare; Mao Zedong; CN Times Books; NY; 2013.
  • Vietnam: Explaining America's Lost War; Hess, Gary; Blackwell Publishing; Malden, MA; 2009.

The Burns/PBS Reading List can be found at http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/resources/reading-list/full-list/

We are not impressed with this, particularly some of the titles we feel are very poor sources. We will try to get around to listing some of these titles here and explaining the reasons for our disapproval.

Continue to Part V. The Vets Strike Back

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