Revisiting the ‘Ten Thousand Day War’

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Made for Canadian television in 1980 and later syndicated to American stations, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War is an almost twelve-hour documentary about the history of Vietnam from the end of WWII through the fall of Saigon in 1975. Time Life has just issued the series in a 4 DVD set.

Future CNN war correspondent (and Canadian) Peter Arnett wrote the narration and conducted the interviews for the series and the Richard Basehart narrates the documentary, something that might be disconcerting for anyone who recognizes his voice as the narrator of Knight Rider.

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Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War was a sensation when it was first broadcast in the days before 24-hour wall-to-wall news coverage: most people only had their memories of what they saw on the evening news when it came to the United States experience in Vietnam. Few knew much about the long war between the French and North Vietnam that predated a significant American presence by over a decade.

The filmmakers use their long form format and the fact many of the important players were still alive to explore as many angles as they can: they interview military and government officials from France, the United States and both North and South Vietnam. Those are supported by a massive amount of  newsreel and television footage and interviews with the men who served in the war.

Anyone looking for advocacy here is going to be disappointed. While the film takes an unvarnished look at the cultural assumptions and military short-sightedness that complicated (and possibly doomed) efforts to win the war, it also features interviews with North Vietnamese officials who say news footage of the anti-war protests back in the United States was a great morale booster for their people and helped motivate them to continue their fight.

The first episode is an hour-long overview of the United States’ history in the country which sets the stage for those too young to remember the war. The series then goes back to World War II and begins to explore the history in greater detail.

Back before they discovered how much money they could make off the Ice Road Truckers and American Pickers, the History Channel used to fill hour upon hour with documentary shows that played like low budget versions of this series. Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War is a relic of an era when news organizations believed they could deliver a definitive story. No matter your experiences during or after that era, this documentary provides both valuable insight into the war and into the era when it was made.

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15 Comments

  1. Josh Hugoi says:

    “Vietnam, The 10,000 Day War” was unlike anything that came before it. One might say it could be the “World at War” equivalent that the Dad’s of Vietnam Veterans had. I am 46 now. I saw this entire series at the Connecticut boarding school I was living and studying at. There was an Audio Visual Library in the Schoolhouse Building where I watched the entire series from beginning to end. I remembered the day we got out of schooland our Cub Master Mom told us on the way to Scouts “The War ended today.” We looked at each other, “What War?” I wondered that until I saw this series. A year later I was serving in the US Air Force.. I wanted to know about more about this murky war that grownups didn’t seem to want to discuss-that is except for my twin uncles serving in the Navy on an Aircraft Carrier and the other on a LST going up the Mekong. I saw the series images and could talk to the people there-and was old enough to learn. My own sergeants in the USAF were Vietnam Veerans, even Korean War, my CMSgt telling me about the Chinese “Human Waves” that came at him. Well, people will critique the series for different reason-“Peter Arnett is a Canadian Liberal, yada, yada, yada. This is an excellent series which in New England had been on PBS’s “Frontline.” It’s easy to watch now and examine the series with our almost three decades since, but when this was released it was like drawing aside the curtain and seeing something no one wanted to argue about now. I’ve wondered about the series, where it went. I served in Desert Storm and knew of Peter Arnett quite well for his exploits there. He is a brave man to have been to where this series takes you. Give it a watch. I’m going to buy it. It altered the course of my life forever. After I saw the whole 12 hours I knew I would follow the Family tradition (a Southern Tradition) and pledge myself to the nation, fellow citizens, and our military. There can never be another series made like this about this war, when it was becoming okay to discuss after almost a decade of healing. The interviews with almost the The Principle figures are there-Westmoreland, Gen Djap (sic), US Enlisted and Officer Personnel, and the opposition as well. Instead of watch it critically, watch it and remember that it was a different time when the war was fought, and another time when the series was made. It’s a “Must See’ for any Journalism or Military Historian. Josh Hugo, TSgt. USAF Ret.

    • J. Field says:

      Well said all the way around. It’s interesting seeing your perspective on that “murky war”. I haven’t been able to see the whole thing (not sure I want to) but tripped over it a few times. Didn’t get a lot of grief but after six years in the Army and two years in ‘Nam I mostly got the ” you’ve had a bad case of a S.T.D., but you’re over it now and we won’t talk of it further” treatment. Great comments, gave me more depth into your generation than I had before, thanks — John

  2. D M Waggoner says:

    We all want to know. I watched it when it first aired. Don’t take it at face value. They got it wrong. Nobody has gotten right, yet. It might fall to a future generation after all of us are gone. My experience is that one has to look at everything from every angle, and read every book ever written. Everybody argues about different aspects, but one thing becomes abundantly clear, the U.S. betrayed and abandoned South Vietnam. We were wrong to do that. Very, very wrong.

  3. Mondo says:

    What they didn’t mention was the Operation Texas Star, and the Ripcord A O, 101st Airborne Division 1970.

  4. quan says:

    on this period that I remember about the past, I just love the main shock soldier soldiers honestly kind fought hard for the fight and eventually realizes he has been tricked sold short, there is an arrangement of this war “unfortunately”

  5. galloglas says:

    This book is a crock of anti war sentiment and was written to make the United States look bad.

    It is Biased liberal bullshit and a re writing of History to fit the agenda of the authors.

    I read it then took it out and dropped the book in my manure pile.

    Don’t waste your time or money watching or reading this trash.

    • Inks says:

      @galloglas, it might prove useful if you had detailed some of the reasons that you found the series and accompanying book to be a “crock”. I was an adult during the period and was serving in the US armed forces, but not in VN.

      From memory of the series, I didn’t find any glaring break from what transpired as heard from vets and documents that I’ve read.

      Frankly, it wasn’t the US’s finest hour. It might have been the finest hour of many who served there, but not the nation.

  6. Brandon says:

    I remember watching this on the history channel and anything else that that had to do with Vietnam. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL in the jungles every time I watched the footage. It would be very interesting to see it revisited with more of the classified information now made public like in the history of SOG books, Navy SEAL books and the like. The super quiet CIA helicopter and such.

  7. Diego says:

    I have watched a series on the Vietnam war but cannot remember who put it out. it came from a military backed company like the VFW or American legion.

    it was about 12 discs and very informative yet I would like to see this also. My cousin flew f-4’s during the war and the plane had no guns just bombs. He flew NAVY, The Air force had f-4’s with either a Mini or two 30’s I think it was the mini in front just like the A-10 has now. Which they did not have either in Nam. For a while anyway. He described for me remembering dropping and running, They shot down a lot of our boys over there with Ground to air rockets and the NAVY not having the fore site to put guns on the F-4 were in my opinion IDIOTS. The migs were quite bothersome also, Mostly flown by Russian pilots. Realizing of course the cold war was in it’s infancy and we didn’t want a nuclear war with them so what to do? There was one pilot Capt. Steve Ritchie, He was the first ACE but the NVR shot down as many so did the Chinese. It was not good as far as air to air combat was concerned. By today’s standards it would be unacceptable. And it was then too. Well I could go on but I guess we all know the outcome, The toll of disembodiment after the war and how the men were treated. it makes me sick.

  8. D C Stone says:

    I would suspect that there are almost as many opinions and perspectives of the Vietnam War as there were participants. Mine is this: It was the same as our Middle East wars right now. The names of places are different. The weaponry of today is more advanced, as are the troops. But as it happened 40 years ago, so will it go today. America will not win our present wars just as we did not defeat our enemies then.

    We will not be defeated militarily in Iraq or Afghanistan; we will lose politically. We forgot the lessons of Vietnam; our enemies today learned and retained them. America’s enemies have always understood America better than Americans. Our enemies know that notwithstanding our superior military arsenal, America is weak because of its citizenry and, most especially, because we elect the worst among us. Our civilian leadership today is as inept and corrupt as ours of the 1960s and 1970s. While our military achieves all its objectives, those successes are squandered and negated by our politicians.

    Sometime in the early 1960s Ho Chi Minh was asked how he could possibly withstand the might of the U.S. military. He responded to his interviewer by saying that he knew full well the Americans would kill ten, 100, or maybe 1000 Vietnamese for every American lost in the coming war, but in the end Vietnam would prevail. After the war General Vo Nguyen Giap too was interviewed and was reminded that by all measures of warfare the U.S. came out on top. His response was to say “What does it matter?”.

    We will lose in the Middle East not on the battlefield, but in the streets of America and the halls of congress.

  9. Joe Henderson says:

    Our political leaders fail to understand what it takes to win a war. Rules of Engagement are rediculous as are the politics within the Armed Forces.

    I was in Vietnam in 1966–1967 and as a 19–20 year old I saw what a FUBAR it was.

    The same is true in the Middle East. WW 11 was the last war we won and it will stay that way.

    What has changed in Iraq? Not much.

    We don’t go into conflicts anymore to end them quick and dirty because our politicals leaders are enept.

    We don’t say what we mean and don’t mean what we say.

    Americans will continue to lose theirs sons and daughters in vain until the American people demand a commander in chief that will do whatever it takes to end the fighting quickly instead of trying to appease corrupt foreign so called allies.

    • bigred22 says:

      I’ve been saying the same thing almost word-for-word. We won WWII because we bombed everything and everyone. Civilians die in war. The moment you avoid them guess where the enemy will hide. Bomb the whole middle east is the only answer.

  10. Mad Sicilian says:

    They got MY LAI wrong. Larry Colburn and his OH-23 crew kept Calley’s platoon from exterminating the last surviving group of villagers by standing in front of Calley’s troops.

    So when Basehart narrates that EVERY member of the surrounding villages of Song My were exterminated, THEY GOT IT DEAD WRONG !

    I spent a month researching 1st hand accounts from Ron Ridenhour and Colburn with his 2 crew members accounts of that day in 1968 and believe me, Colburn and a friend of Ridenhour’s were assigned missions that should have killed them during their tours for their actions on that day.

  11. Josh Hugo says:

    Thanks John, I think maybe my generation was the one which has maybe learned the most from hearing from the Vietnam Vets when it became okay” for the war to be discussed by everyone else again: “The Press,” the Anti-War folks, The Military itself. This series would’ve seemed like yesterday for you I think, because is was only 10 years after the Fall of Saigon. In hindsight I like to think I’d have said when I was your age “I will go and fight, not so much against Communism, but for my fellow Americans who are fighting there now or soon.” I’ve always said to those who opposed the war and in reference to any who did or would avoid the draft, “If you don’t go you’re sending someone else in your stead, to fight and die for you.” All Americans must remember Vietnam. It absolutely showed the Soviets and Chinese that USA would go beyond a “proxy war” to fighting ourselves. When I got out of USAF Basic I could see that Vietnam prepared President Reagan, who prepared the US Military, to defeat “The Evil Empire.” In 1990 when the Berlin Wall came down the “Cold War Victory” was absolutely due to those Vets in Vietnam and Korea who pushed back. I saw all the shiny new weapons systems of 1986 when I joined up. The F-15 Eagle, designed and produced based upon experience learned in Vietnam, is a perfect illustration that shows that without the sacrifices given and the lessons learned in Vietnam, we never would have worn down the USSR at the end of the 1980s. I say this with much Respect and Credit given to the troops who fought-not the politicians and their methods and aims. The Military was misused, lives squandered, then just as today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I grieve for all those and their families who’ve fought over there, become physically and mentally destroyed, and for those who’ve died and the parents, spouses and especially the children of those Service Men and Women.

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