TIME

THE WAR THAT BROKE THE COUNTRY

Ken Burns takes on the cataclysm of Vietnam
In October 1966, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jeremiah Purdie approached a wounded comrade on Hill 484 near the DMZ, in what would become an iconic image of the war. Photographer Larry Burrows was killed in 1971

YOU THINK IT’S BAD NOW? THERE WAS A TIME—not long ago, really, within living memory for perhaps a third of the country—when Americans attacking one another in the streets was a matter of routine. Bombs went off so often in some U.S. cities that a smaller explosion might not make the morning paper. The country was divided as it had not been since the Civil War, and the issue was not a President or an election but rather the ground beneath our feet.

Everything felt like it was buckling as the 1960s churned into the ’70s. And if the one constant seemed to be the war in Vietnam, it seeded strife like nothing else. The war began in one era, when U.S. military endeavors summoned unity and lasted, at most, four years. Yet as the war ground on and on, it encouraged almost every one of the divisions that changed the course of the nation, for good and ill.

We know this both from the gradually accumulated perspective of

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