USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION
‘THE VIETNAM WAR’ DOCUMENTARY
Marines land at Chu Lai beachhead, 52 miles south of Danang in South Vietnam on Aug. 14, 1965.
JOHN NANCE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade is photographed after a morning firefight with Viet Cong patrol in July 1966.
NEIL ULEVICH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
University of Wisconsin students march Oct. 17, 1967, to protest the war in Vietnam and the recruitment efforts on campus of the Dow Chemical Company, which made napalm, a flammable gel that burned its victims. They marched again the following day.
about the Vietnam War, as writer Viet “You know: ‘Shh, we don’t talk about that.’ Thanh Nguyen has said, we think only Our country did that with Vietnam. It’s about ourselves. For our film, we did not only been very recently (that we) are finally want to repeat that mistake. We wanted to starting to say, ‘What happened?’” hear from our allies and our enemies — the For more than a decade, we have Vietnamese soldiers and civilians we fought immersed ourselves in this complicated, with, and against. epic tragedy and have tried to see the We got to know many brave and resilient war with fresh eyes and from many Vietnamese Americans who came to the perspectives. Nearly 100 ordinary people United States as refugees, having suffered generously shared their stories with us on the unimaginable loss, not just of families, camera: grunts and officers in the Army friends and comrades, but of their country. and Marines, prisoners of war, a fighter They spoke honestly about the brutality of pilot and a helicopter crew chief, a Gold Star the conflict, and their doubts about whether mother and the sister of a fallen soldier, a the Republic of South Vietnam under the nurse, college students, reporters, anti-war leadership of Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen activists, military analysts, spies and many Cao Ky had been strong others. enough to survive. “Thieu First and foremost, and Ky were corrupt,” we wanted to honor the Saigon native Phan Quang heroism and sacrifice of Tue remembered. “They those who served and those abused their position. … We who died. “It’s almost going to make me cry,” Army paid a very high price for veteran Vincent Okamoto having leaders like Ky and told us, remembering the Thieu.” infantry company he led To get to know soldiers in Vietnam in 1968. “Their and civilians from the loyalty to each other, their winning side, we made courage under fire, was numerous trips to Vietnam. just phenomenal. And you We were surprised to PBS DISTRIBUTION would ask yourself: How discover that the war ON BLU-RAY/DVD does America produce remains as painful and The Vietnam War is available young men like this?” unsettled there as it is here. on Blu-ray and DVD at While Okamoto and The victorious Vietnamese, shopPBS.org. The DVD and hundreds of thousands too, avoid speaking about Blu-ray extras include a of other Americans were what happened and have 45-minute preview program, fighting overseas, hundreds not reckoned openly with two special segments on the of thousands of their fellow the horrific price they paid. citizens back home were For Bao Ninh, a Hanoi-born contemporary lives of two of taking to the streets to try foot soldier who later the program’s participants to put an end to a war that became a celebrated noveland deleted scenes. The a majority of Americans ist, his country’s triumphal series is also available for eventually believed was narrative of the conflict digital download. unnecessary, unjust, rings hollow: “People sing unwinnable or simply not about victory … liberation,” in our country’s best interest. As anti-war he told us. “They’re wrong. … In war, no activist Bill Zimmerman recalled for us, one wins or loses. There is only destruction. “People who supported the war were fond Only those who have never fought like to of saying, ‘My country right or wrong.’ … argue about who won and who lost.” Those sentiments seemed insane to us. We As this wrenching story reminded us don’t want to live in a country that we’re at every turn, there is no single truth in going to support whether it’s right or wrong war. The questions we began with led to … so we began an era in which two groups deeper questions. What does it mean to be of Americans, both thinking that they were a patriot? Who was right? Who was wrong? acting patriotically, went to war with each Were the sacrifices in blood and bone too other.” high? Could it have turned out differently? In the 50 years since, the chasm that What meaning can be made from so much opened during the war has widened and suffering? deepened. So many of the troubles that Americans have argued about the beset us today — alienation, resentment, rectitude of the Vietnam War for nearly disillusionment and cynicism; mistrust of half a century. But if we can listen to each our government and each other; breakdown other with open minds and open hearts and of civil discourse — these seeds were sown allow more than one truth to obtain, we during the Vietnam War. Until we can talk, can finally have a courageous conversation not shout, across this divide, the virulent about this unsettled, traumatic event, and disunion that afflicts us will continue to learn some profound lessons about courage, metastasize. conscience, loyalty, resilience, forgiveness Far too often, when Americans think and, ultimately, reconciliation.