The Vietnam War: Episode 1 review

The Vietnam War by filmmaker Ken Burns is the story of an oppressed colony ruled by a foreign empire which rises up against a vastly superior force in a fight for their freedom and independence. (Screenshot from episode one)

The Vietnam War by filmmaker Ken Burns is the story of an oppressed colony ruled by a foreign empire which rises up against a vastly superior force in a fight for their freedom and independence. (Screenshot from episode one)

Most Americans think they are familiar with the story of the Vietnam War; a doomed American effort to contain the forces of communism and prevent the fall of Southeast Asia to the enemies of democracy. Filmmaker Ken Burns presents us with a different story, one that American audiences are also very familiar with: a story of an oppressed colony ruled by a foreign empire which rises up against a vastly superior force in a fight for their freedom and independence. The struggle of the Vietnamese people was one that America knew all too well and was one that we should have respected and aided, yet our red glasses of the Cold War impaired our judgment and caused us to view the revolutionaries, not as our brothers in a historic struggle for freedom, but as the “other side” in a struggle between western democracies and the influence of our former Soviet allies-turned-enemies.

Burns has proven himself time and again to be one of the foremost voices in telling the story of our nation’s history with such classics as The Civil War, The Roosevelts and Baseball.

Once again, Burns has created a film that will be remembered for generations to come. In portrayals of the Vietnam War, we often receive an America-centric view of events highlighting our involvement in the conflict and reducing the North Vietnamese to an unseen enemy. One of this film’s great strengths is that it provides both perspectives, giving us the context of the war and the misunderstanding between nations that led to the tragic events.

One of the most recognizable features in any Ken Burns film is his expert use of music and images to make the viewer invested and draw them to the time being presented. He uses these skills to great effect here, using stark imagery to showcase the brutality of the period and bypassing the typical pop music of the period in favor of a haunting, ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which creates a feeling of despair over the whole episode.

I highly recommend this show to everyone. It breathes new life into history and makes it accessible to all audiences. The show is available for free on PBS.com. This is not an event to miss. I look forward to seeing the continuation of this story through Ken Burns’ masterful telling.


Rating: 5/5


Evan Burns is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.