Mother Jones

INTO THE VOID

Ken Burns thought he understood the Vietnam War—until he started working on a film about it.
The 1966 funeral, in South Carolina, of a black soldier killed in Vietnam

NOVELIST ROBERT STONE once likened the Vietnam War to a piece of shrapnel “embedded in our definition of who we are.” Who better to extract that shrapnel than Ken Burns, America’s preeminent documentary filmmaker? Ever since his definitive 1990 series, The Civil War, attracted a record 40 million viewers to pbs, Burns has been tackling historical topics ranging from jazz and the national parks to World War II, often in collaboration with director Lynn Novick. Ten years in the making, The Vietnam War, Burns and Novick’s 10-part journey into the most divisive of our 20th-century conflicts, premieres September 17 on pbs.

The series, which relies on the latest historical accounts, scores of participants, and a wealth of archival materials, gives voice to Vietnamese combatants and civilians in addition to the usual American experts, policymakers, veterans, and protesters. The result is a work of dramatic sweep

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