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Vietnam War film may soothe wounds

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

Anti-war demonstrations roiled college campuses in the late 1960s and early '70s. Students marched in front of the North Texas State University administration building on Chestnut Street, chanting, "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many boys did you kill today?"

Americans who supported the war pasted "Love It or Leave It" bumper stickers on their cars and trucks to show disdain for Vietnam War opponents.

Today's chasm between the political right and left -- red states versus blue states -- pales in comparison to the nation's agonizing, decade-long debate over U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

By the time victorious North Vietnamese forces marched into Saigon in April 1975, the U.S. had lost more than 50,000 soldiers.

They had been told they were fighting the spread of communism. The truth, however, was that Ho Chi Minh and his army were nationalists hell-bent on reuniting North and South Vietnam after years of French colonial rule and America's pursuit of its national interests.

The Vietnam War, a 10-part documentary, starts at 7 p.m. Sunday on Channel 13, the PBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth-Denton. Ken Burns, who has become the nation's pre-eminent documentary filmmaker, leads viewers on a tumultuous tour of a war that shaped the last half of the 20th century in so many ways.

Memories of those days will come flooding back: napalm, Agent Orange, My Lai massacre, Viet Cong, daily body counts, Hanoi Hilton, Tet Offensive, Kent State, Gen. Westmoreland, draft dodgers, Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And so many more.

If you fear that Burns and PBS will attempt to feed viewers 18 hours of left-wing propaganda about the war, don't worry. A New York Times review describes the film as more of a lament than an indictment.

Burns and his scriptwriters are not trying to find scapegoats or villains to blame for the long national nightmare that Vietnam became.

Now, more than 40 years after the war, they are looking for a healing salve to apply to the wounds that still exist.

Their film serves as a form of psychotherapy through the art of the documentary.

More than anything, we hope the film brings catharsis to an estimated 800,000 Vietnam veterans still living. Most of them, now in their 60s and 70s, returned from the war and adjusted well to civilian life.

Many are proud of their service. Some never readjusted after concluding they had fought in a senseless war that achieved nothing.

We are not in the habit of touting television programs. We want you to spend time reading the newspaper. But The Vietnam War promises to be must-see TV -- a community campfire around which Americans can gather and come to a greater understanding of how and why we shed so much blood and spent so much treasure on such a grand misadventure.