Feature-length documentary film featuring real-life letters written by American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines during the Vietnam War to their families and friends back home. ... See full summary »
J. Kenneth Campbell
A unit of American military advisors in Vietnam prior to the major U.S. involvement find similarities between their helpless struggle against the Viet Cong and the doomed actions of a ... See full summary »
Lt. Col. Iceal "Ham" Hambleton is a weapons countermeasures expert and when his aircraft is shot over enemy territory the Air Force very much wants to get him back. Hambleton knows the area... See full summary »
Perhaps you have to be foreign to judge another country's version of history. Americans naturally have problems with rather infamous parts of their past, as do Germans or Turks. On the other hand, they should also have greater insight, but that requires more courage and honesty than is common. Peter Davis' "Hearts and Minds" sets a pretty high standard.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have generated new interest in the Vietnam era, "one of America's most mysterious wars". I agree. But this 1980's series does little to solve the mystery, despite its closeness to the events it describes. What it does rather well, especially from today's point of view, is turn not-so-distant reality into "documentary" fiction. You'll look in vain for the wide spectrum of peace and protest movements the Vietnam war created, fueled by a "youth revolution" that stretched across the globe, and it doesn't demystify the strategic planning behind the "domino theory", the perceived communist threat to such post-WWII allies as the Philippines, Thailand or Japan. It doesn't expose the Gulf of Tonkin incident as the staged event it was (to be fair, maybe unknown at the time). It lacks perspective because it doesn't discuss the aftermath of the war, namely the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, to which the American bombing heavily contributed, or the long-term effects of Agent Orange we see even today. It all but disguises the fact that war with Vietnam continued in economic guise after the reunification, seriously hampering the rebuilding of a country ravaged and depopulated by decades of war - instead, we are left with parting images of happy, healthy Vietnamese children, followed by an entire episode to grieve for and with the poor, maltreated American veterans - now where have I seen that before?
Curiously, the interviews with the soldiers in last episode offer some of the best glimpses of the true face of any war, attitudes and confessions that are usually turned into Hollywood myths or abstracts, especially by a warlike "superpower" that hasn't experienced war at home for almost 150 years. After all, it's over, why offend anyone. But they're the life blood of history and the main reason why war has such a bad reputation. The series avoids mutilated bodies and common war crimes by both sides, other than the My Lai massacre, but excluding most of the iconic pictures that sparked the Vietnam protests.
That's not to say it's all bad. Although it leaves out far too much and looks surprisingly modern in its superficiality, it offers a general war time line as well as nowadays rare interview footage of the political players. To fill in some of the gaps, I recommend "Secrets of War: Vietnam" (1998, narrated by Charlton Heston) and "Sir! No, Sir!" (2005) on the Vietnam GI Anti-War movement. The measuring gage, of course, is "Hearts and Minds" (1974), and not for its grisly images, but for the variety of snapshots from the era it has to offer. Documentaries are not only made to explore, but also to shape the perception of the past.
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