Under the Radar

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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