Picks and Pans Review: Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

UPDATED 04/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sun., April 3, 9 p.m. ET)

B

By a fluke of timing, this Vietnam show may be even more shocking than its producers intended it to be. Just before I watched it, I passed a newspaper stand and saw fresh pictures of U.S. soldiers arriving in Honduras. Then I put a tape of Dear America in the VCR and saw a scene that looked precisely the same, even though that scene was more than 20 years old and came from Southeast Asia, not Central America. But don't be misled; there is not necessarily a message in the coincidence. Dear America does not try to be an antiwar or pro-war show so much as it tries to be just a war show, just another Platoon or a nonfiction Tour of Duty that tells us what it was like to be in Vietnam, nothing more. In Dear America more than two dozen actors read real letters from soldiers as we see newsreels and home movies from over there and hear music from back then—a collage that is sometimes powerful and occasionally awkward. "This was my first real look at war, and it sure was an ugly sight," one soldier writes early in the conflict. "I'm a Marine," says another, "and I hope someday to be a good one." Through their stories and observations, we do see what life and death were like in Vietnam. That is valuable but limited. Dear America, like Platoon, is a show about the experience of Vietnam, not the lessons of Vietnam. We still need shows that also help us decide what those lessons were.

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