Ken Burns & Lynne Novick’s The Vietnam War I felt was “harrowing.”

What does the word harrowing mean?


In farming this is a harrow.

A device consisting of a heavy framework having several disks or teeth in a row, which is dragged across ploughed land to smooth or break up the soil, to remove weeds or cover seeds;

A harrowing documentary feels like it’s doing this to you?

A harrowing experience is painful, but it breaks up your clods.

The etymology drifts back into the mists of Old Norse before dissolving away into Proto-Indo-European and Old Persian, but it may have something to do with “harvest”



From Proto-Germanic*harjōną (see also East Frisian ferheerje, German verheeren(to harry, devastate)) Swedish härja(ravage, harry)), from Proto-Germanic*harjaz(army) (see also Old English here, West Frisian hear, Dutch heer, German Heer), from Proto-Indo-European*koryos (compare Middle Irish cuire(army), Lithuanian kãrias(army; war), Old Church Slavonic кара(karastrife), Ancient Greek κοίρανος(koíranoschief, commander), Old Persian [script needed](kāraarmy)).

As a boy, Winston Churchill went to a school called Harrow:

which he found to be a harrowing experience.  Churchill had many harrowing experiences.  He was in combat, for one.  That’s a famous harrow.  Having polio is harrowing.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 27: President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City. This photograph is unusual in that FDR’s leg braces are clearly visible. (Photo by Martin Mcevilly/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Childbirth has got to be harrowing, as is growing up on the frontier.

You wouldn’t wish any harrowing experiences on anybody, but it seems like all great leaders had been through a harrowing or two.



Ken Burns Vietnam

This fall, Ken Burns new documentary about the Vietnam War will be on PBS.

Any one of these clips from it will make you still for a minute.

The intensity of what happened with the US in Vietnam is insane.  The magnitude of the scar is unspeakable.  Literally: we can’t talk about it.

When Ken Burns made The Civil War, about something 150 years ago, it made people cry.  What is it going to be like to watch The Vietnam War, a thing every person in my parent’s generation had to reckon with in some serious way?

I saw that one of the talkers is Karl Marlantes.  His book What It Is Like To Go To War is astounding.

I’m not sure enough people heard about it.  At one time I had the same publisher as Karl Marlantes, which I was very proud of, they sent me his books for free.

Marlantes tells this story about running into Joseph Campbell, by chance:


Imagine having whiskey with Joseph Campbell.

The best discipline:


The other day on Reddit “Today I Learned” I saw this.

I went to check the source, the Lodi News Sentinel, 1971:

Preserved at this blog:

There the author gives a question and answer about his own time in Vietnam and after that I would describe as harrowing and illuminating and powerful.

Ken Burns made some darn good movies.