Ken Burns’ brutally in-depth account of the Vietnamese War

Hovering U.S. Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into the tree line to cover the advance of South Vietnamese ground troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp 18 miles north of Tay Ninh, northwest of Saigon near the Cambodian border, in March 1965 during the Vietnam War. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

Monday night saw the first two episodes of Ken Burns’ ten part series: ‘The Vietnam War’ air on BBC Four. Ten years in the making, this immersive series tells the epic story of the Vietnam conflict, bringing the fighting and the chaotic epoch it encompassed viscerally to life.

After a long and brutal war, Vietnamese revolutionaries led by Ho Chi Minh end nearly a century of French colonial occupation. With the Cold War intensifying, Vietnam is divided in two at Geneva. Communists in the North aim to reunify the country, while America supports Ngo Dinh Diem’s untested regime in the South.

President Kennedy and his advisers wrestle with how deeply to get involved in South Vietnam. As the increasingly autocratic Diem regime faces a growing communist insurgency and widespread Buddhist protests, a grave political crisis unfolds.

Particular attention is given to the Vietnamese perspective, with a vivid portrayal of the rogues who clung to power in the south after the Viet Cong retreated above the 17th parallel, transforming a struggle for independence into a civil war. Particularly compelling was the ghastly Madame Nhu, sister-in-law of the nominal leader, Ngo Dinh Diem; she accused the Buddhist monks who set themselves alight in protest of using imported petrol.

The next episode is available out on the 2nd October at 10pm. Catch up on iPlayer here.


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