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Bank of America Chairman/CEO and American Filmmaker Discuss the Vietnam War’s Powerful Effects on Society Today

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Ken Burns


Sponsored by Bank of America and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown

Bank of America partnered with the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business to host a forum featuring American Filmmaker Ken Burns and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan to discuss Burns’ latest film, “The Vietnam War.” Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and a Senior Fellow at “The Future of Diplomacy Project,” moderated the dialogue, held at Georgetown on November 30, 2017.

Why Vietnam now? Burns sees the Vietnam War as a “signal event” and “defining moment” in American history. It was a deeply polarizing and complicated time in our nation’s past that can provide lessons today as we find ourselves culturally and socially divided, and needing to overcome partisan politics and come together to solve problems.

Moynihan stressed the importance of having conversations about a time that few discuss today. He believes Vietnam can help us better understand present circumstances and open a dialogue about divisive topics. For over ten years, Bank of America has partnered with Ken Burns to tell the stories of American history as a way to offer perspectives from the past to prepare for the future.

The film covers hundreds of minutes of declassified tapes of conversations among Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and their aides throughout the war, vividly demonstrating the difficulties of politics, military and diplomatic strategy and policy decisions.

Both men noted that the film project brought people together – U.S. and Vietnamese veterans and civilians, American protesters and policy makers – to remember a time that was traumatic, destructive and divisive. Burns described how painful it is for older Vietnamese who lived through the war to talk about this period of devastation and a country divided. Burns believes that the film provides a safe space for these conversations.

As the documentary shows, the anti-war protests in the U.S. were largely fueled by students. There had never been an anti-war movement of this kind, born out of the civil rights and anti-nukes movements. Proponents of these and other factions joined together on college campuses across America to oppose the conflict.

Burns and Moynihan believe this is a story for all generations, especially today’s youth, to help them understand the conflict and its lessons for the future, including defense, military strategy, political decisions, commitment of American resources and our ultimate goals for the common good of the country. Moynihan specifically highlighted the “living history” of Vietnam War participants and the opportunity to learn from the past to prepare for the global future.

In summing up the discussion, Leslie Crutchfield, Executive Director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative, discussed the reality that some movements work and others do not. In the case of the anti-Vietnam War movement, the key to its success in shutting down the war was the merging of smaller movements into one larger force, demonstrating that small groups can impact change. Ms. Crutchfield concluded the evening challenging the audience to discover their own truths, examine why they care about something, decide what to do and how to speak up and finally decide how history will bend in their hands.

For more information about the Global Social Enterprise Initiative, visit the website at or follow on Twitter @GSEI_Georgetown. Beth Day contributed to this article.