Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?

Emmy nominations are ongoing. Veterans For Peace recently announced it will place this full-page ad in Variety urging an Emmy not be awarded to the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, The Vietnam War. The Hollywood Reporter has refused to run the ad. Here, Vietnam veteran, Doug Rawlings, adds his voice to why the filmmakers should not get a Best Documentary award.

By the time I reached Episode Four in this ten-episode film, I concluded it should not be touted as an Emmy Award winning documentary.

Episode Four “Resolve,” is the story of 1966, a year that the producers of this film have designated as the time when doubt began to worm its way into American troops. This doubt sows the breeding ground for what we now call “moral injury.”

The American soldier in Viet Nam begins to realize that his job of killing others, or supporting those who are carrying out the killing, is not divinely ordained. He is not in a just war. In fact, he is being used by others who have much more pedestrian motives – rank, saving face, gaining political favor, selling weapons.

This is three years before I even set foot in country, into a war much different than early 1966. In 1969, we trudged into that muck and mire as reluctant cynics. We were intent on surviving, not attaining some fanciful glorious victory over the demonic communists – but not so for the 173rd Airborne in the Central Highlands in mid-1966.

So, let’s assume that Burns and Novick et al are somewhat accurate in setting off 1966 as the “turning point” in our slow awakening to the truth. So what?

First off, this would have been a good point for the auteurs to work in the aforementioned concept of moral injury.

As that term begins to be thrown around in popular culture, losing any real meaning, it is important to note that it was intended to mean a slow, remorseful process of recognizing one’s complicity in what most religions call “evil,” combined with a soul-shaking sense of betrayal.

You realize that there is no excuse for your unwillingness or inability to stop human degradation as it unfolds before you as your deeply held moral codes wither away. And now you must accept the consequences of that debilitating malaise that worked its way into your head.

Some of us have deflected that responsibility by attacking the commanders and officers and politicians who told us to follow their orders. But that excuse wears thin over time. Even as the filmmakers worked for a decade on their enterprise, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. The filmmakers do not overtly acknowledge this concept, but its presence begins to cast shadows on their narrative.

As I watched the faces of the soldiers caught up in the moment or moments that will change their lives forever, those acts of quick reflex to survive or to avenge the deaths of buddies, I cringed. Doug Peacock, a medic with the Green Berets for two tours, captures “the horror, the horror” of it all in his memoir WALKING IT OFF when he…

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