The 10-part, 18-hour documentary that features interviews with 80 "witnesses" to the war has the potential to return Vietnam to the center of American consciousness, as Burns did with the Civil War in an acclaimed 1990 documentary.
Burns co-directed the Vietnam production with longtime partner Lynn Novick. Writer Geoffrey Ward, who worked with Burns on his previous PBS documentaries, wrote the script, narrated by Peter Coyote.
The Vietnam film will have a different look than the Civil War series; Burns and company had access to a huge trove of film, most of it in color, rather than black and white photos, writer David Kamp says in a preview in the current Vanity Fair.
American and Vietnamese soldiers give testimony about their battle experiences, Kamp reports. Vietnam veterans who faced disapproval when returning home told Kamp they felt vindication in talking about their experiences.
I was puzzled by Kamp's comment that much of the film lacked sound, not explaining that gap in 1960s video technology. Burns says he recorded rifle fire to accompany some of the battle scenes, which struck me as a a bit duplicitous. Much of the show will have a soundtrack of 1960s songs, and Yo-Yo Ma contributed original music.
While the Vietnam War has faded from national memory, the war's divisions continue to drive our political conflicts and cultural battles. Military policy remains haunted by Vietnam's failures.
After the massive resistance to the Vietnam War, the country's long involvement in Afghanistan and escalation of troops to defeat Isis receive little scrutiny. The Congress cedes war-making authority to the president, who transfers his commander-in-chief powers to the military.
April marked the 42nd anniversary of the war's end. Like its big-brother neighbor China, Communist Vietnam thrives after adapting capitalist trappings and boosting trade with the United States.
Kamp emphasizes that Burns sought balance, talking to Americans with opposing opinions on the war, as well as North Vietnamese soldiers. Despite his efforts to achieve objectivity, the show is likely to stir up old passions. While John Kerry and John McCain advised Burns, neither appears on the show, their views deemed too polarizing.
As the Vietnam generation begins to pass away, many Americans have no memory of the war. Burns told Kamp that he wanted to record a definitive history of the war while a large number of participants remain. While the film won't settle old conflicts, it will affirm the valor of those who fought.