Dialogue still vital to unite divided nations

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We shouldn’t be surprised that the PBS series Vietnam, by Ken Burns and Kim Novick has stirred up old feelings and controversies many of us have forgotten or never experienced.

It would be interesting to see how Burns’ earlier landmark PBS series, on the Civil War, would be received today in light of recent controversies over the Confederate flag and removal of monuments to Confederate heroes in the South.

With America still divided over our Civil War, is it any wonder residents of Vietnam, while recovered economically, still bear scars. Vietnam is one of only four nations officially communist and began thriving only after embracing capitalist principles and engaging western economies.

Earlier episodes of the PBS series were especially enlightening as to how the United States became involved. Ho Chi Minh — only the last of a number of names he used — was actually saved by American medical care as we sought his fighters’ help against the Japanese during World War II.

He had hoped America would support his efforts toward Vietnamese independence from France following World War II, but turned to the communists after the United States backed the French.

Audio tapes show presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon had their doubts about victory in Vietnam, but Kennedy and Johnson, especially, were forced to escalate involvement to avoid being viewed as soft on communism in upcoming elections.

And the final episode reveals how Watergate sealed South Vietnam’s fate when Nixon was removed from office, along with his personal promise that U.S. airpower would be used to prevent a communist takeover.

It would be hard for those who fought there or lost loved ones to hear from North Vietnamese army and Viet Kong fighters, as well as draft-dodgers who went to Canada, but it was American Vietnam veterans who took the lead in normalizing relationships with our old enemies.

Like the war itself, Ken Burns’ and Kim Novicks’ series has raised questions America has yet to fully answer.

We hope that doesn’t prevent us from continuing to ask those questions and seek the answers.


If you aren’t able to view the series over the air or on cable, PBS Passport makes it and more than a thousand other shows available online and over streaming devices for a minimum donation of $60 a year or $5 a month.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: