Vietnam: A Television History

Exactly why was America in Vietnam? This seven-volume series–six years in the making and originally broadcast on public television in 1983–tells the agonizing history of Vietnam’s lengthy conflicts with some of the largest powers on Earth. While the primary focus is on the United States’ miserable efforts to prop up a porous, anti-Communist government in South Vietnam as a bulwark against Chinese and Soviet expansionism, the series’ makers expend no less energy detailing important antecedents to America’s intervention. Of vital interest are the first two hours, which tell the compelling story of France’s 80-year colonial rule in Southeast Asia and the rise of a European-educated generation of Vietnamese intellectuals turned warriors, chief among them the architect of Vietnam’s prolonged revolt against the West, Ho Chi Minh. By the time a viewer comes to understand how and why America shrugged off Vietnamese independence after World War II, it is easier to grasp the tragic context for the disastrous military campaign of the 1960s and ’70s. The rest of the series covers the various expansions of America’s war in Vietnam through a succession of presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon, carefully explaining the sundry issues that drove each commander-in-chief to send more money, more troops, and more weapons into a seemingly unwinnable and dubious battle. The later volumes take the story into Laos and the horrible siege of Cambodia by a U.S.-supported Khmer Rouge, and examine the history of the antiwar movement in America. No stone is left unturned in this important project, which runs some 13 hours and should be considered one of the most important television series in history. –Tom Keogh

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