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Vietnam: A Television History poster image
Aired May 26, 1997

Vietnam: A Television History

Film Description

The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular war in which Americans ever fought. And there is no reckoning the cost. The toll in suffering, sorrow, in rancorous national turmoil can never be tabulated. No one wants ever to see America so divided again. And for many of the more than two million American veterans of the war, the wounds of Vietnam will never heal.

Fifty-eight thousand Americans lost their lives.

The losses to the Vietnamese people were appalling.

The financial cost to the United States comes to something over $150 billion dollars.

Direct American involvement began in 1955 with the arrival of the first advisors. The first combat troops arrived in 1965 and we fought the war until the cease-fire of January 1973. To a whole new generation of young Americans today, it seems a story from the olden times.

In 1983, the unfolding of the Vietnam tragedy was the focus of an extraordinary documentary series broadcast on public television.

When first aired, the series was recognized immediately as a landmark. It had taken six years to make. Researchers had combed film archives in eleven countries and the result was a stunning record of the conflict as it happened. The original thirteen-part program was later edited to eleven parts and rebroadcast in spring 1997.

Program Notes:

Roots of a War (1945-1953)
The end of World War II opened the way for the return of French rule to Indochina. Despite the ties he had forged within the American intelligence community, and his professed respect for democratic ideals, Ho Chi Minh was unable to convince Washington to recognize the legitimacy of his independence movement against the French. French generals and their American advisors expected Ho's rag-tag Viet Minh guerrillas to be defeated easily. But after eight years of fighting and $2.5 billion in U.S. aid, the French lost a crucial battle at Dienbienphu -- and with it, their Asian empire.

America's Mandarin (1954-1963)
With a goal of stopping the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, America replaced France in South Vietnam -- supporting autocratic President Ngo Dinh Diem until his own generals turned against him in a coup that brought political chaos to Saigon.

LBJ Goes to War (1964-1965)
With Ho Chi Minh determined to reunite Vietnam, President Lyndon Baines Johnson determined to prevent it, and South Vietnam on the verge of collapse, the stage was set for massive escalation of the undeclared Vietnam War.

America Takes Charge (1965-1967)
In two years, the Johnson administration's troop build-up dispatched 1.5 million Americans to Vietnam to fight a war they found baffling, tedious, exciting, deadly and unforgettable.

America's Enemy (1954-1967)
The Vietnam War as seen from different perspectives by Vietcong guerrillas and sympathizers, by North Vietnamese leaders and rank and file, and by Americans held prisoner in Hanoi.

Tet 1968
The massive enemy offensive at the lunar New Year decimated the Vietcong and failed to topple the Saigon government -- but led to the beginning of America's military withdrawal from Vietnam.

Vietnamizing the War (1969-1973)
President Richard Nixon's program of troop pull-outs, stepped-up bombing and huge arms shipments to Saigon changed the war and left GIs wondering which of them would be the last to die in Vietnam.

Cambodia and Laos
Despite technical neutrality, both of Vietnam's smaller neighbors were drawn into the war, suffered massive bombings, and, in the case of Cambodia, endured a post-war holocaust of nightmarish proportions.

Peace Is at Hand (1968-1973)
While American and Vietnamese soldiers continued to clash in battle, diplomats in Paris argued about making peace. After more than four years, they reached an accord that proved to be a preface to further bloodshed.

Homefront USA
Through troubled years of controversy and violence, U.S .casualties mounted, victory remained elusive, and American opinion moved from general approval to general dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War.

The End of the Tunnel (1973-1975)
rebroadcast as The Fall of Saigon
South Vietnamese leaders believed that America would never let them go down to defeat -- a belief that died as North Vietnamese tanks smashed into Saigon on April 30, 1975, and the long war ended with South Vietnam's surrender.