Picks and Pans Review: Vietnam: a Television History

updated 10/03/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/03/1983 01:00AM

PBS (9-10 p.m. ET)

If you don't watch anything else on television this year, watch this series. But be forewarned. Like events from the war that it chronicles, the 13-part documentary is by turns frustrating, infuriating and inspiring. An independent production team, headed by executive producer Richard (Choosing Suicide) Ellison, spent six years and $4 million on the project, and it shows. Although repetitive, erratic and too long, the series is full of memorable moments: Ho Chi Minh is shown whiling away moments in Paris in 1946 looking like the dumbest of tourists; Clark Clifford describes softly how he formed an antiwar group among Lyndon Johnson's close aides; a GI slowly begins to cry as he tells how he shot an old Vietnamese woman for no other reason than that he was afraid. The battle footage is not sanitized; the pain and blood of war are graphically depicted. The series offers no "answer" to how and why the U.S. involved itself in the war. However, the programs seem mostly to validate the theory proposed by columnist Tom Wicker in his 1964 book JFK and LBJ: American involvement grew from a series of small decisions that, taken one at a time, seemed both morally right and politically expedient, but which eventually accumulated into a terrible morass.

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