VIETNAM IN HD
Review by Mark Wiechman
Stars: Michael Hall (narrator), James Marsden, Blair
Underwood, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Zachary Levi, Armie Hammer, Dylan McDermott,
Dean Cain, Adrian Grenier, and Edward Burns
Director: Sammy Jackson
Audio: Dolby 2.0
Video: Color 1.33:1
Studio: A&E Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: Two discs, 282 minutes
Release Date: December 6, 2011
“Now I have seen for myself what war is about. It is about how a farm boy from Iowa hangs onto a machine gun for eight hours so he can protect his injured buddies even though he is injured himself. Or how an African-American boy from Charlotte and a white boy from Houston decide they would rather die together than abandon the other in the midst of battle. Or is it about men who love their country, and even more than that, love one another.” Joe Galloway, field reporter in Viet Nam, 1964.
While the American Civil War did literally divide America, conflict over the Viet Nam war divided the USA more than any other event in the 20th century. It gave the so-called counter-culture its biggest impetus. It spilt countless families apart over whether to fight or not, and what to do when a young man came home in a box or was crippled for life. Every discussion about JFK mentions that he was the president who might have pulled us out of Viet Nam after he was re-elected. Lyndon Johnson ran as a peace candidate, then ramped up American involvement beyond anyone’s expectations. American troops won virtually every major battle and skirmish of the war, yet South Viet Nam was lost to the Communist North. To this day there is trepidation over every conflict in which America involves itself because of fear that it will become “another Viet Nam.”
As I write this, troops are returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan to a grateful and respectful nation. It would probably never occur to even the most anti-war American to be disrespectful to them, but the Viet Nam era was very different. Adding to the problem is that most documentaries and movies portray so many veterans as suffering from severe psychiatric trauma or physical problems unsympathetically, as though these are broken men who can never heal. The floor of the U.S. Congress has seen incredible accusations of baby-killing and other crimes allegedly committed by American soldiers, and portrayed in Oscar-winning films, even though the accusations were made by men who never saw the atrocities first hand.
It is time for a documentary that accurately portrays Viet Nam veterans as soldiers who performed their duty nobly. This new History Channel production is valuable because it is largely non-political and tries to depict particular important events from the point of view of the soldiers. It shares interviews with men who were there and includes footage that is sometimes very familiar to the viewer, but then much of it is not. We have all seen footage of the territory itself but we get to know the men in their camps and everyday life like a M*A*S*H episode. It is more in the style of a Ken Burns program that humanizes events and makes the viewer feel like they are part of the experience.
If the special has shortcomings, it may be that this only shows ground troops and some air support, though they of course saw most of the worst fighting. No navy accounts are given, though it is possible of course that none was found or that it was not as compelling as what is presented here.
Maybe the most moving section is the latter part of “Peace With Honor” in which we see POW’s finally coming home, and also family members receive letters informing them that their loved ones were missing or dead.
Disc one has the first two episodes, the second has the last four:
Episodes: (1) The Beginning 1964-1965, (2) Search & Destroy 1966-1967, (3) The Tet Offensive 1968, (4) An Endless War 1968-1969, (5) A Changing War 1969-1970, and (6) Peace With Honor 1971-1975.
A very good mix, entirely serviceable. The narration by modern actors blends well with the interviews.
Naturally none of the footage is in high definition except the modern interviews with veterans, but the footage presented is well-transferred and presents both the bravado and the horror of war. Much of it is hard to watch, and will make most films about the war seem superfluous. This is the real deal.
Features (zero stars)
This is a special that pays tribute to veterans who bravely fought for freedom in a very unpopular war. It is fitting that they are allowed to be seen in their young glory and to tell their story themselves with help from many top actors.