Filmmaker Ken Burns says Vietnam War Holds Lessons for Trump Era

Burns says his new series “The Vietnam War” shows even bitter enemies can reach an understanding if they truly try.

Dawn Uhl-Zifilippo/WDET

Renowned filmmaker Ken Burns says the Vietnam War helped create the current divisive climate in the U.S. But he says examining the conflict rationally might help bridge the political chasm.

Burns, who went to school in Ann Arbor, screened excerpts from his upcoming documentary “The Vietnam War” at the Michigan Theater.

The film takes pains to describe the war from U.S. and Vietnamese viewpoints.

Burns says that gives the audience the chance to understand both sides.  

It is something the documentarian says seems to happen only rarely these days.

“And you want to be able as human beings to permit The Other, who we’ve demonized because they don’t watch the same cable news channel as we do, to permit themselves to make a journey that makes you realize they are not that far away from us,” Burns says.

He adds that the politics, personalities and protests of today echo those in the tumultuous times surrounding the Vietnam War.

“We live in an era still suffering from the deep, deep wounds of Vietnam and we’ve got to figure out a way to talk about it,” Burns says.  “And it really doesn’t become important to say ‘Did he change his mind? Did he come around?’ All it requires for all of us is some sort of seeing larger than the myopia of our own binary point of view.”

PBS plans to air the 10-part, 18-hour documentary on the Vietnam War in September.


  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.