Television critic Glenn Garvin sits down with the latest opus documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, The Vietnam War:
In their account of a conflict that nearly tore America in two and continues to reverberate through politics and foreign policies around the world to this very day, there are a lot of things Burns and his co-producer/director Lynn Novick do very well: They trace the war back to its origins, long before the first American soldier set foot in Indochina. They introduce multiple Vietnamese points of view. They deconstruct political flim-flammery in both countries and place it in—mostly—a coherent chronology. They resist many of the easy myths about the war that the Baby Boomer chattering classes have established as God's received truth.
But for all the documentary's merits, it does its best work in ferreting out the bite-size experiences of the grunts, not just the ones in uniform but the CIA officers, junior diplomats, peasant farmer and family members back home—the people didn't make policy but were whipsawed by it. Their stories are poignant, confusing, heartbreaking, maddening, blackly funny or cryptic, often all at once.