As I type, I’m watching the final quarter of Part I, Vietnam in HD. This section covers Hill 875 and features accounts of veteran Charles Brown. Okay, Hill 875 is Hamburger Hill. The raw footage, processed for HD TV, tells it like it is. As far as the eye can see, the earth is a charred-charcoal-black-residue of incinerated matter from napalm, I assume. Charles Brown lets us know, our boys won Hamburger Hill, but once we left, the VC took it back.
This morning, I’m reading some of the reviews of The History Channel’s newest production, Vietnam in HD, and to my surprise, they are scathing. Okay, so I need to put these reviews aside and experience the special for myself. One item I can’t put aside, however, is a comparison of Vietnam in HD to the PBS documentary Vietnam: A Television History (1983). That’s no good, I’m thinking, that was a masterpiece, and had an entirely different scope and focus, or function really.
Don’t want to go there! Then there’s Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; don’t want to go there either. That’s a film/document masterpiece also, and should be owned and studied by every American as a worthy interpretation of what might have occurred in Vietnam (as a metaphorical expression). Part I of Vietnam in HD, from an initial viewing, serves an entirely different function.
This is the preservation of history. The telling of the story, per se, or a slanted interpretation is not the point. The point is to experience the photographs and film footage in their restored state, with a cool detachment, with the eye of a historian. You can go back to books and other documents to learn the details of what happened, and you should do so.
Sources for the raw footage are the National Archives, the Marine Corps Historical Center, the Army Heritage Museum, various air force museums, and most important of all, much of the film comes from the personal collections of Vietnam veterans. I assume, much of it has never been seen before (by the public), and so this is a primary virtue of this new special. Understanding of the war comes in microscopically, personal, and subjective, just as all ‘real history’ does.
‘Real history’ is not actually interpretation, but rather the magic of going back in time and reliving an event, without imposing the attitudes and events of the present upon the pristine event under examination. Here’s where the detachment and objectivity comes into play. Inhale the data without interpreting. Color footage on one of these new HD TVs allows you to do so. Just viewed LBJ driving a white convertible Cadillac with Lady Bird on the passenger’s side, meeting General Westmoreland in Johnson City. Knew I was there!
Or check out Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley (November of 1965), as recounted by UPI reporter Joe Galloway. I’ve studied this battle many times before, but oh my God, you’re really there when this footage crosses your screen! Sure, in the 1960s we saw the horrors of war in the jungle on a small black and white television set, but the technology here acts as a virtual time machine.