I would have thought that in my current frame of mind, watching a Ken Burns documentary might be the wrong thing to do. However, it's had quite the opposite effect on me. It is so enlightening and shows so much of the spectrum of humanity that I find myself glued to it every evening and last night I could not wait for a futurist to get off the podium at an event so I could get home and watch the next episode.
Ken Burns breathes life into the subjects he tackles. I have been enamoured with his work, having never heard about him until last year (I can't pretend I was there since the beginning). I started with a documentary he did on the Roosevelts that had me streaming with tears. Then last year whilst stuck for things to do in the evening on a ski adventure I tackled The West. After that I tore through The American Civil War sucking up as much of the history of the country as possible and felt at the end like I was starting to get a real grip on how the States formed into what it is today. I fell asleep too often on his Jazz and World War II documentaries that I think I finished neither.
Last week I saw that Netflix Australia had released The Vietnam War and of course I put everything aside to consume as much of this as possible in as short a frame as I could cram it in.
What a documentary! The soundtrack is just magic, the footage so much more dynamic than what could be mustered for The Roosevelts and The Civil War. Photo journalism and video that makes you privy to some of the most disturbing warfare that I have ever witnessed. The savagery of both sides, what human beings are capable of doing to one another, and the bungled judgements of successive US Presidents and their cabinet and advisers compounding the problem.
'There is a solution to everything but death" I was once told by an ex-girlfriend who quoted her father before he passed away unexpectedly. And in the case of Vietnam, the solution was that it was in fact unsolvable and unwinnable but still the US government pursued it's cause. Whether the domino effect might have come into effect had they gotten out sooner, nobody will ever know. But they didn't and since Macnamara knew the war was doomed from 1966 it is understandable how angry and upset those veterans are that saw the war continue to go on until 1975 (note combat troops left 73).
For me, having studied the Vietnam War in modern history at high school and having a teacher say 'now turn to the chapter titled Operation Rolling Thunder' was so limited. What Ken Burns and Lynn Novick do is to make it a tale that often feels like it is the documentary version of Forest Gump. Such wonderful music and such remarkable footage from both domestic USA and on the battle field and in the streets of Saigon. I just feel like I am finally getting the modern history lesson I did not get in high school.