Prepared by Paul Lauter, Professor Emeritus, Trinity College
(with help from his friends)
The Vietnam War, even after half a century, remains with us. How we think about the war powerfully affects how we think about America’s role in the world today. How we understand the impact of the anti-war movement continues to shape how we carry forward conflicts between government policy and citizens determined to change it.
Nothing better illustrates the war’s continuing relevance than the reception of the epic Burns and Novick PBS series about the Vietnam War. Shown on PBS in ten episodes over two weeks, it attracted millions of viewers and sparked passionate debates over its accuracy, its biases, and its conclusions about those who pursued the war as well as those who opposed it.
Because the PBS series is seen by many as a “definitive” documentary about the Vietnam War, and has been donated to 25,000 schools with a study guide, it is essential that its narratives be examined for their truthfulness, partialities, and assumptions. We designed the “Ten Questions” linked here as a starting point to help viewers and educators think through the issues the series -- as well as hundreds of books, articles and other films -- continue to raise about how and to what ends America should deploy its colossal military power, and the role of citizens in a democracy to question or even challenge the rationale for military engagements.