Uncle Bardie’s Creator Spotlight: Ken Burns & The Vietnam War

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Ken Burns and his magnificent 10-part documentary series, “The Vietnam War” (2017):

The Vietnam War

By Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns 637 Pages Publisher: Knopf September 5, 2017

It seems to be ancient history now. But it’s only forty-four years since the fall of Saigan when the last Americans left. Ken Burns in his ten-part documentary and his book with Geoffrey Ward have parted the curtain that divides then and now. And America left behind a country and a war that costs the lives of over fifty-eight thousand Americans and three million Vietnamese. And countless others who were injured and crippled.

Unlike his other series, this is a series about a disaster. And Ken Burns reveals just how much of a disaster. A disaster that lasted for twenty years from 1955 – 1975. Why didn’t the United States just have the good sense to get the hell out?

First of all, it was over dominoes. President Eisenhower believed that if Vietnam fell to the communists of North Vietnam, it would be the first of a series of Southeast Asian countries–Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, maybe even India–to fall to communism like dominoes.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon knew that it was a no-win proposition. So why didn’t they just get out? Because they didn’t want to be the first Presidents to be straddled with losing a war. And the generals were like the generals of World War I. They didn’t have a strategy to win.

Without a strategy to win, their mantra became “More. More. More.” Give us more troops. More toys. More time. We’ve got this devil under control. Till we had a half million troops in Vietnam and had spent billions, almost bankrupting the country. And the American people said, “Enough is enough.”

If the American strategy was “More,” the South Vietnamese strategy was “leave us the hell alone.” Just give us the support we need to win what we see as a Civil War. For the North Vietnamese, it was a war of national liberation. They had kicked out the French. And they were intent on getting the “Yankees” to go home. Their strategy to accomplish this was “Adapt. Adapt. Adapt.”

Ken Burns begins his story with Ho Chi Minh. In 1919, before he was a communist, he went to the Paris Peace Conference, asking that Vietnam be independent. Mostly his request was ignored. Only the French commented and their comment was “No.”

From then on, he gives us a narrative filled with primary sources and interviews from all sides. From American diplomats and decision makers. From Americans who served in Vietnam. From the journalists who covered the War. From the anit-war protesters. From the South Vietnamese who lived and fought it. And from the North Vietnamese. And like Ken Burns’ document series of “The Civil War”, the viewer–and the reader—get a perspective of the War we may never have had if Burns had not tackled it.

I had not seen the series when it first appeared on PBS. I wasn’t ready to grasp the confusion, the horror, the divisions of the War. Recently I’ve been working on a Sixties project for work, and I thought it was time I made the effort.

In the past, I have only watched the Burns’s series. This time I thought it might be a good exercise to read the book while I watched the series. I am glad I did. Much of the book was the same as the documentary. But there were times when the documentary presented things that weren’t in the book and vice versa for the series.

For instance, the Tet Offensive was covered in depth in the documentary. But the narrative of the Offensive in the book made much more of an impact.

So I highly recommend that this exercise be tried. Not only for the Vietnam War, but also for other Burns series.

It was a process that took me a month. At the end of the whole process, I walked away from the War with four feelings. The first was I wanted to know more. The second was a feeling of tremendous sadness. A third, the impact of the Wall in Washington, DC, not only on the veterans and their families. But also on the anti-war protesters.

One of the lessons that came out of the series, for me, was the veterans from both sides who had forgiven their enemies. It made me realize that there is only one way forward. it is not hate that will save us all. It is friendship and forgiveness.

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Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Gabriela Montero

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the pianist and composer Gabriela Montero:

Gabriela Montero knows how to boogie. And she knows how to boogie all sorts of music.

Gabriela Montero is a classical trained pianist from Venezuela. But she doesn’t just perform classical pieces the way they are normally performed. Often she improvises those pieces the way a jazz musician improvises and perhaps the way some of the composers improvised. Often she asks for suggestions from the audience or the musicians in the orchestra.

Here she is performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor Op. 48, Nº 1:

And here’s a documentary of her piece: “Ex patria”:

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: The Appalachia Santa Claus Special

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight is the Appalachia Santa Claus Special and the folks who support it:

In these rough and tumble times, it’s always great to hear a bit of good news about our fellow Americans. So today’s Spotlight is given to you in the Christmas spirit. To shine a little light on something that reflects the holiday spirit. Here’s hoping your Hanukkah and your Christmas are wonderful. And that your New Year is the best. Blessings, my friends.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Angel City Chorale

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the Angel City Chorale:

I saw this choir on America’s Got Talent this year. They were deeply moving. It’s amazing how beautiful the human voice can be.

Made up of 160 people, they come from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures. Founded and led by Sue Fink, they do all sorts of material from folk to jazz to gospel to pop. And they show us how music unites us all.

Here they are performing “Baba Yetu”, the Swahili version of “The Lord’s Prayer”.

Hope you enjoy.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Heart

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the rock band Heart:

Sisters Ann (on vocal) and Nancy Wilson (on guitar) are the heart of the band, Heart. They turned out some of the best rock music in the late 1970s.  But they didn’t stop with the seventies. They drove their sound into the 1980s and 1990s, selling truckloads of records and continue in the 2000s. They were deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Along with the Runaways, Ann and Nancy showed the world that women could kick butt and take names. They proved women had the chops to be considered the real deal to play Rock and Roll. Ann’s voice and Nancy’s guitar licks give all their songs that something extra that makes Heart special. And through the years, they have just got better and better.

Crazy on You.