As I watched the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick PBS series on the Vietnam War, I was reminded of a memorable essay by Jim Webb — Vietnam war hero, novelist, and most recently Democratic senator from Virginia — that called into question the popular idea of a “Vietnam generation.”
Webb noted that those who came of age during that war are more properly regarded not as a generation but as an age group, permanently divided by different reactions to a whole range of counter-cultural agendas, most importantly the personal ramifications of the war itself. I believe Webb’s essay explains why Burns’ stated hope that his documentary will “help end divisions over the war and facilitate national healing” fails.
The divisions over Vietnam are deep and people on both sides of the divide have become invested in their respective positions. As someone who is proud of his service during the Vietnam War, I saw the series — touted as an even-handed portrayal of the war — as just another manifestation of the standard narrative advanced by those of the “Vietnam generation” who have somehow been anointed as spokesmen for all of us.