The Vietnam War was a defining event in our lifetime. It changed the nation. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the 1-hour screening of the preview of Ken Burns’ epic 18-hour PBS series on the Vietnam War in D.C. last week at the Wilson Center. My reaction was – STARTLING, POWERFUL, THOUGHT-PROVOKING. The production includes a complex narrative of history, horror, humor, pride, shame, politics, combat as viewed from civilian and military sides in both countries. Regardless of one’s views on the war, I predict you will experience a range of emotions from intense interest, to pride, to shame, to disgust, to utter astonishment. You will come away shaking your head and asking, “How could this have happened?” and you will learn some things you never knew before.
There were approximately 100 in attendance, retired military, Vietnam veterans, Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard (three Air Force Chiefs attended – McPeak, Welch and current Chief, Goldfein), former Ambassadors, State Department, POWs and some younger people who have been engaged in the current Mid-East wars. Producer Ken Burns introduced the film, and after the showing, a panel composed of Burns, producer Lynn Novick and General, USAF (Ret.) Tony McPeak (Air Force Chief during Desert Storm) engaged the audience in a discussion of impressions, opinions, viewpoints. Gen. McPeak was advisor to Burns and Novick during the production. He made one startling comment that I had never heard or thought about before: When we came out of the Vietnam War, the military was in sad sate. We realized severe shortcomings in our conventional war fighting capabilities. The military went to work to solve the equipment, procurement, training and tactics shortfalls we experienced in Vietnam particularly with night fighting capabilities, all-weather attack, lack of precision weapons, stealth, Electronic Warfare, ISR, Communications, Command and Control, and drones (unmanned combat vehicles – UCAVs). The USAF has now been in constant deployed combat for the last 25 years. During that time the Air Force has lost just six aircraft in direct combat – SIX – yes SIX! It appears our investments in technology have paid off handsomely. Gen. Goldfein made the point that our young people enlisting today have never known peace. Gen. McPeak made the comment that only the military is fighting our wars. Unlike WWII and Vietnam, we are a “draft-less” society and unless a family member is in the military, the civilian populace is essentially unaffected with only one-half of one percent of the population in the military. He shared his views on the value of a “national service requirement” (not just military) for all citizens.
My comment after seeing the preview was, “Any senior policy maker should be required to view this production before they send our kids and grandkids to war.” I highly recommend this astounding series that will begin airing in September. Advance orders for the DVDs can be placed this link
The Event Preview
Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, along with General Merrill A. McPeak USAF (Ret.) would like to invite you and a guest to a special screening on June 14th of highlights from THE VIETNAM WAR, a new 10-part, 18-hour documentary film series airing in September 2017 on PBS. This is an invite-only military leadership event, and will include a reception at 1830 and clip film preview to begin at 1900, followed by a Q & A with the directors at the Wilson Center located at One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004.
This film is an immersive, multi-layered epic about one of the most pivotal and divisive eras in modern American history. As with The Civil War (on which Novick was an associate producer) and The War (co-directed by Burns and Novick), The Vietnam War is a gripping cinematic journey that promises to be a major cultural event when it is broadcast this September. Over the course of 18-hours, Burns and Novick present a sweeping narrative that looks at the war from multiple perspectives – American combat troops, family members of combatants, anti-war protesters and North and South Vietnamese civilians and combatants. It will open up conversations—sometimes painful and long overdue—about the legacy of the war and what we can learn from it today. Look forward to seeing you there.
The theater in the Wilson Center, downtown D.C. on Pennsylvania Ave.
The Panel, Gen. (Ret.) Tony McPeak, Producer Lynn Novick, Producer Ken Burns