Anybody who ever sneered at a returning Vietnam war veteran should be required to watch Now Tell Us About the War (PBS, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 10-11 p.m., check local listings).
''Now Tell Us,'' funded by VNCV (Vietnam Combat Veterans) Construction & Historical Renovation Ltd., of Syracuse, N.Y., allows eight Vietnam veterans to give shockingly personalized testimony concerning their inner feelings about the war as narrator Martin Sheen reads from their writings and the works of others who shared the Vietnam experience.
This painfully honest program, produced by Nancy Roberts for WCNY, Syracuse, is not a memorial to the dead. It is more a tribute to the survivors and their indelible memories as well as their war-borne revelations, shared in poems, letters, novels, essays, and artwork.
Although much of the program consists of talking heads - wonderfully aware human beings baring their crisis-forged attitudes - there are also unforgettable images that viewers will find difficult to ignore: ''Just you and me, right, Lord?'' states one forlorn bit of graffiti on a Vietnamese wall.
They make their own problems real, with vivid recall of their attitudes:
''How could I feel so terrific doing something so horrible,'' says one man, trying to analyze the exhilaration.
''It was like the best pillow fight in the world,'' another remembers with remorse.
''When a young man goes into combat he is killed and reborn into something else,'' still another reveals.
''I had seen something about human nature that contradicted so much I had been taught ... forbidden knowledge so terrible I could not communicate it,'' one states. ''Now Tell Us All About the War'' is burdened with an overwhelming sense of shame mixed with an accusatory sense of betrayal. But there is also a sense of relief that somewhere, buried among all the awfulness, something positive may yet emerge. But at the very least, ''Now Tell Us'' spotlights the realization that we all share in the loss of idealism and loss of innocence associated with Vietnam.
''To forget is worse dishonor than to condemn,'' says one of the eight - who are all artists in one way or another. For many years, America, in effect, dishonored its Vietnam veterans by trying not to listen to them, not to see them. To refuse to hear what these men have to teach us now would dishonor them once again.