The Vietnam War (TV series)

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The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War (TV series) title card.jpg
Written byGeoffrey C. Ward
Directed byKen Burns
Lynn Novick
Narrated byPeter Coyote
ComposersTrent Reznor
Atticus Ross
Country of originUnited States
Original languagesEnglish
No. of episodes10
ProducersSarah Botstein
Lynn Novick
Ken Burns
CinematographyBuddy Squires
EditorsTricia Reidy
Paul Barnes
Erik Ewers
Craig Mellish
Running time1035 mins (17¼ hours)
Production companiesFlorentine Films
National Endowment for the Humanities
Budget$30 million
Original networkPBS
Original releaseSeptember 17 (2017-09-17) –
September 28, 2017 (2017-09-28)

The Vietnam War is a 10-part American television documentary series about the Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.[1][2][3] The first episode premiered on PBS on September 17, 2017. The script is by Geoffrey Ward, and the series is narrated by Peter Coyote. This series is one of the few PBS series to carry a TV-MA rating.


Ken Burns about the series. Video from the LBJ Library

The series cost around $30 million and took more than 10 years to make.[4] It was produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who had previously collaborated on The War (2007), Baseball: The Tenth Inning (2010), and Prohibition (2011). The production companies were WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., and Burns' Florentine Films. It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The series features interviews with 79 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war or opposed it as Anti-war protesters, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both the North and the South.[5] Burns deliberately avoided "historians or other expert talking heads" and "onscreen interviews with polarizing boldfaced names like John Kerry, John McCain, Henry Kissinger and Jane Fonda." Instead, interviews were intended to provide a ground-up view of the War from the perspective of everyday people who lived through it.[4] The third episode features an interview with retired UPI reporter Joseph L. Galloway, who was awarded a Bronze Star with "V" device for assisting with the wounded in the Battle of Ia Drang.[6] Others interviewed include Vincent Okamoto, Karl Marlantes, and Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried, a popular collection of linked short stories about the war.

The researchers for the film also accessed more than 24,000 photographs and examined 1,500 hours of archival footage.[4] Within the series' 17-and-a-quarter-hours, there are scenes covering 25 battles, ten of which are detailed scenes documenting and describing the action from a number of perspectives.[7]


No. Episode Original air date Running time
1"Déjà Vu" (1858–1961)September 17, 2017 (2017-09-17)1 hour 22 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
After a long and brutal war, Vietnamese revolutionaries led by Ho Chi Minh end nearly a century of French colonial occupation. With the Cold War intensifying, Vietnam is divided in two at Geneva. Communists in the North aim to reunify the country, while America supports Ngo Dinh Diem's untested regime in the South.
2"Riding the Tiger" (1961–1963)September 18, 2017 (2017-09-18)1 hour 24 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
President Kennedy and his advisers wrestle with how deeply to get involved in South Vietnam. As the increasingly autocratic Diem regime faces a growing communist insurgency and widespread Buddhist protests, a political crisis unfolds. The Viet Cong score a major victory at the Battle of Ap Bac.
3"The River Styx (PBS)/Hell Come To Earth (BBC)" (January 1964 – December 1965)September 19, 2017 (2017-09-19)1 hour 54 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
With South Vietnam in chaos, hardliners in Hanoi seize the initiative and send combat troops to the South, accelerating the insurgency. Fearing Saigon's collapse, President Johnson escalates America's military commitment, authorizing sustained bombing of the North and deploying ground troops in the South.
4"Resolve (PBS)/Doubt (BBC)" (January 1966 – June 1967)September 20, 2017 (2017-09-20)1 hour 54 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
Defying American airpower, North Vietnamese troops and material stream down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into the south, while Saigon struggles to 'pacify the countryside'. As an anti-war movement builds back home, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines discover that the war they are being asked to fight in Vietnam is nothing like their fathers' war.
5"This Is What We Do" (July 1967 – December 1967)September 21, 2017 (2017-09-21)1 hour 25 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
American casualties and enemy body counts mount as Marines face deadly North Vietnamese ambushes and artillery south of the DMZ and army units chase an elusive enemy in the Central Highlands. Hanoi lays plans for a massive surprise offensive, and the Johnson administration reassures the American public that victory is in sight.
6"Things Fall Apart" (January 1968 – July 1968)September 24, 2017 (2017-09-24)1 hour 24 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
On the eve of the Tet holiday, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launch surprise attacks on cities and military bases throughout the South, suffering devastating losses but casting grave doubt on promises from the Johnson administration that there is 'light at the end of the tunnel.' The president decides not to run again and the country is staggered by assassinations and unrest.
7"The Veneer of Civilization (PBS)/Chasing Ghosts (BBC)" (June 1968 – May 1969)September 25, 2017 (2017-09-25)1 hour 47 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
Public support for the war declines, and American men of draft age face difficult decisions and wrenching moral choices. After police battle with demonstrators on the streets of Chicago, Richard Nixon wins the presidency, promising law and order at home and peace overseas. In Vietnam, the war goes on and soldiers on all sides witness terrible savagery and unflinching courage.
8"The History of the World (PBS)/A Sea of Fire (BBC)" (April 1969 – May 1970)September 26, 2017 (2017-09-26)1 hour 49 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
With morale plummeting in Vietnam, President Nixon begins withdrawing American troops. As news breaks of an unthinkable massacre committed by American soldiers, the public debates the rectitude of the war, while an incursion into Cambodia reignites anti-war protests with tragic consequences.
9"A Disrespectful Loyalty (PBS)/Fratricide (BBC)" (May 1970 – March 1973)September 27, 2017 (2017-09-27)1 hour 49 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
South Vietnamese forces fighting on their own in Laos suffer a terrible defeat. Massive US airpower makes the difference in halting an unprecedented North Vietnamese offensive. After being re-elected in a landslide, Nixon announces that Hanoi has agreed to a peace deal. American prisoners of war will finally come home, to a bitterly divided country.
10"The Weight of Memory" (March 1973 – Onward)September 28, 2017 (2017-09-28)1 hour 47 minutes (PBS)/55 minutes (BBC)
While the Watergate scandal rivets Americans' attention and forces President Nixon to resign, the Vietnamese continue to savage one another in a brutal civil war. When hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese troops pour into the South, Saigon descends rapidly into chaos and falls. For the next 40 years, Americans and Vietnamese from all sides search for healing and reconciliation.


Photographs and additional details about the interviewees can be seen on the [1] PBS website.

Home media[edit]

The Vietnam War was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 19, 2017. Extras include a 45-minute preview program, two segments on the lives of two of the series' participants, and deleted scenes.[8] The series is also available for digital download, and can also be seen on Kanopy.


Accompanying the series is a 640-page companion book, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. Containing an introduction by Burns and Novick, it was published by Burns’ long-time publisher, Alfred A. Knopf,[8] and released on September 5, 2017.[9]


Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the series an approval rating of 96% based on 49 reviews and a weighted average score of 9.36/10. The site's critical consensus states, "The Vietnam War revisits a dark chapter in American history with patience, grace, and a refreshing – and sobering – perspective informed by those who fought."[10] Metacritic, another aggregator, gave the series a normalized score of 90 out of 100 based on 19 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[11]

Washington Post opinion writer George Will noted that the series is "an example of how to calmly assess episodes fraught with passion and sorrow." He continues: "The combat films are extraordinary; the recollections and reflections of combatants and others on both sides are even more so, featuring photos of them then and interviews with many of them now." Will concludes his column by declaring the series a "masterpiece".[12]

James Poniewozik of The New York Times wrote, "Will break your heart and win your mind."[13]

Ken Burns anticipated politically motivated criticisms of the film from both the left and the right: "After The Vietnam War I'll have to lie low. A lot of people will think I'm a Commie pinko, and a lot of people will think I'm a right-wing nutcase, and that's sort of the way it goes."[14]

San Jose Mercury News writer Tatiana Sanchez reported that some American and South Vietnamese veterans were "angry, [and] disappointed" with the documentary. They characterized it as a "betrayal". She writes: "veterans of the South Vietnamese military say they were largely left out of the narrative, their voices drowned out by the film's focus on North Vietnam and its communist leader, Ho Chi Minh. And many American veterans say that the series had several glaring omissions and focused too much on leftist anti-war protesters and soldiers who came to oppose the war."[15]

Historian Mark Moyar published a review in which he criticized the series.[16] Moyar felt that Burns and Novick overemphasized American battlefield defeats during 1966–1967 while glossing over the many victories. He also felt that Burns did not properly explain why American generals ordered their forces to fight so fiercely for seemingly meaningless hills; Moyar feels that engaging the Viet Cong in sparsely populated areas was a superior option to letting them draw near populated cities, where American airpower and artillery would require more careful use. Moyar also contended that Burns and Novick should have more strongly emphasized the amount of foreign aid that the North Vietnamese received from the Chinese and that both Vietnams were not entirely self-sufficient. He also believed that Nixon, a mercurial president who expressed many contradictory opinions, could not be taken entirely seriously in the tape excerpts used in the documentary wherein he appears to express a desire to cut South Vietnam loose immediately after the 1972 elections and the Paris Peace Accords, while the documentary let the excerpts stand as seeming fact.[16]

Scholar Thomas Bass criticizes the film for its "urge toward healing and reconciliation, rather than truth".[17] Bass's main objection is that the film perpetuates the narrative of the two Vietnams that justified U.S. involvement, arguing that "Southern Vietnam was never an independent country" and that Edward Lansdale played a role in that U.S. creation. He notes the prominent feature of Duong Van Mai Elliott in promoting this view, and the absence of a Daniel Ellsberg interview. Bass contends that this, together with the film's reliance on architects of the war such as "former generals, CIA agents and government officials, who are not identified by rank or title, but merely by their names and anodyne descriptions" is deemed as evidence of the film's "conservative credentials". Newsweek echoed Bass's objection that the movie obscures facts about the root causes of the war and its framing by the United States.[18]

University of Chicago historian Mark Philip Bradley gave the mini-series a mixed review, saying "it is mainly unsuccessful at evoking the complexities of Vietnam’s past... We never hear a discussion of how American empire and the broader political, economic, and cultural complexities of the making of twentieth-century American global hegemony were bound up in the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Questions of race and racism are only lightly addressed." But Bradley argued that the series was successful in telling "powerful individual stories that bring us into the quotidian dimensions of the American war in Vietnam in far more compelling ways than I have seen many other documentaries or books on Vietnam do."[19]



Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, current members of the band Nine Inch Nails, were tasked to score the series, and provide both original music and a compilation soundtrack of popular songs.

Soundtrack album[edit]

The PBS website describes the series as featuring "more than 120 iconic popular songs that define the era",[20] including songs by then contemporary artists. Of these, 38 songs were selected for the series' soundtrack album, which was released on September 15, 2017.[21]

The Vietnam War: The Soundtrack (Disc One)
1."A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"Bob Dylan6:52
2."Hello Vietnam"Johnnie Wright3:05
3."It's My Life"The Animals3:09
4."Eve of Destruction"Barry McGuire3:35
5."Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)"The Byrds3:49
6."Masters of War"The Staple Singers4:38
7."Mustang Sally"Wilson Pickett3:01
8."Smokestack Lightning"Howlin' Wolf3:08
9."Backlash Blues"Nina Simone2:28
10."The Sound of Silence"Simon & Garfunkel3:05
11."One Too Many Mornings"Bob Dylan2:37
12."Ain't Too Proud to Beg"The Temptations2:36
13."Are You Experienced?"Jimi Hendrix4:15
14."I'm a Man"Spencer Davis Group2:56
15."Green Onions"Booker T & The MG's2:56
16."Strange Brew"Cream2:46
17."Waist Deep in the Big Muddy"Pete Seeger2:55
18."A Whiter Shade of Pale"Procol Harum4:08
19."The Lord Is in This Place"Fairport Convention1:58
20."For What It's Worth"Buffalo Springfield2:33
Total length:66:30
The Vietnam War: The Soundtrack (Disc Two)
1."Don't Think Twice It's Alright"Bob Dylan3:37
2."Piece of My Heart"Janis Joplin4:13
3."Magic Carpet Ride"Steppenwolf4:31
4."Tell the Truth"Otis Redding3:11
5."The Letter"The Box Tops1:52
6."Bad Moon Rising"Creedence Clearwater Revival2:21
7."Soul Sacrifice"Santana6:37
8."Okie From Muskogee"Merle Haggard2:42
9."The Thrill Is Gone"B.B. King4:02
10."Psychedelic Shack"The Temptations3:50
11."Ohio"Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young3:03
12."Get Together"The Youngbloods4:39
13."Gimme Shelter"The Rolling Stones4:30
14."Tail Dragger"Link Wray4:49
15."America the Beautiful"Ray Charles3:35
16."What's Going On"Marvin Gaye3:52
17."Bridge Over Troubled Water"Simon & Garfunkel4:53
18."Let It Be"The Beatles3:50
Total length:70:07

Episode overview[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE VIETNAM WAR, A New Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, to Air Fall 2017 on PBS". PBS. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  2. ^ "Ken Burns on the legacy of the Vietnam War". CBS News. August 23, 2015. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  3. ^ "Ken Burns returns to PBS with 'Vietnam War'". USA TODAY. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Schuessler, Jennifer (September 1, 2017). "Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Tackle the Vietnam War". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Watch Full Episodes Online of The Vietnam War | Broadcast Version on PBS, retrieved September 18, 2017
  6. ^ 'The Vietnam War Episode 3' preview, PBS Tuesday, PBS, Ken Burns, September 19, 2017. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  7. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (September 1, 2017). "Shot by Shot: Building a Scene in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's Vietnam Epic". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Two Soundtracks Announced For Ken Burns 'The Vietnam War' Doc". uDiscoverMusic. August 18, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  9. ^ "The Vietnam War: An Intimate History". Penguin Random House. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  10. ^ "The Vietnam War: Miniseries". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  11. ^ "The Vietnam War: Season 1". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  12. ^ Will, George (September 15, 2017). "'The Vietnam War' is a masterpiece — and a model for assessing our history". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  13. ^ Poniewozik, James (2017-09-14). "Review: Ken Burns's 'Vietnam War' Will Break Your Heart and Win Your Mind". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  14. ^ Parker, Ian (September 4, 2017). "Ken Burns's American Canon". The New Yorker.
  15. ^ Sanchez, Tatiana (September 29, 2017). "Veterans angry, disappointed following PBS' Vietnam War documentary". The Mercury News. Retrieved October 11, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Moyar, Mark (20 October 2017). "A Warped Mirror". City Journal. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Bass, Thomas A. (July 2017). "America's Amnesia". Mekong Review (8).
  18. ^ Stein, Jeff (September 17, 2017). "Vietnam War: New Ken Burns Documentary Dismisses the Origins of the Futile, Disastrous Conflict". Newsweek.
  19. ^ Bradley, Mark Philip (2019-02-01). "Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War". The American Historical Review. 124 (1): 164–169. doi:10.1093/ahr/rhy579. ISSN 0002-8762.
  20. ^ "About The Music | The Vietnam War". About The Music | The Vietnam War. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  21. ^ "Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross detail their score to Ken Burns' new Vietnam War documentary". Consequence of Sound. August 20, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.

External links[edit]