I've heard a number of reactions from Boomers to the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick film, "The Vietnam War," currently playing on PBS television stations. Some folks are watching it with a sense of deja vu. Others feel uncomfortable investing the time in a documentary that revisits a painful chapter of their lives.
As a piece of film-making, "The Vietnam War" is monumental -- 10 episodes, 18 hours. It took over 10 years to complete. I for one find it quite compelling, less so because of the inevitable violence and gore of war. Some scenes leave me sickened and, I admit, make me hesitant to continue viewing additional episodes. Still, I find the behind-the-scenes story of the war fascinating, as told via previously private presidential tapes, excerpts from hearings, and reporting on the growing war resistance movement. Perhaps most of all, the personal interviews woven throughout the film (including rare commentary from North Vietnamese soldiers), along with the vignettes of those who participated in the war, have a lasting impact. The story of "Mogie" (Denton) Crocker, for example, a young patriot who, despite being underage, joins the Marines and eventually gets killed, dramatizes the very personal and devastating effect of the war on American families.
The Vietnam war was the war of the Boomer generation. It was also the first war that invaded our living rooms on a nightly basis. Whether you were for it or against it, whether you served in the armed forces or were a committed protestor, the war remains inextricably linked to our lives as Boomers. For many of us, the war upended our lives when we were the most vulnerable. For some of us, it ended our lives prematurely.
Yes, "The Vietnam War" is a film that may cause a considerable amount of discomfort as you relive it on television. But it is an important moment in history we cannot and should not forget. It has an eerie relevance to the war in Afghanistan, and also to the lack of faith we continue to have in the leaders of government. When one looks around our world today, there seem to be plenty of Vietnam-like conflicts that remain. As Edmund Burke said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."