“The War”, A Ken Burns Film

I was never what you’d call a WWII “buff”, but I definitely read a lot about it growing up. I could probably name about 20 different WWII fighter planes, and at some point probably built a glue-smeared scale model of most of them. I know where the Bulge happened. I know why the D-Day planes had special paint patterns. I know there was a real Pappy Boyington.

Despite all that fancy book learnin’, I didn’t really understand the totality of circumstances until I saw Saving Private Ryan. I had never seen such a graphic depiction of war, and specifically of D-Day. It gave me a whole new appreciation for what combatants endure, both during the battle and for all the time after it.

I’m looking forward to the Ken Burns documentary “The War” due to the subject matter involved, obviously. I have already heard multiple reviewers say this is probably the definitive piece ever done on WWII, and quite likely the best thing that will be on television this year. And I think Ken Burns’ body of work is pretty outstanding, given there will always be quibbles when you have to get the history of anything crammed into 14 hours. What’s not to like? The best film documentarian of our age just spent 7 years chronicling the definitive event in human history.

But I have another compelling reason to watch, because one of the four towns that are the focus of the film is Luverne, MN, where my wife and several of our friends grew up. It’s been a huge deal in Luverne, as they have hosted people like Tom Hanks for the world premier of the film this week. I know the place a little bit, and enjoy learning more about it’s history. It’s not every hometown that gets the Ken Burns Treatment, so that’s pretty cool.

I went to the PBS website and looked at some of the preview clips, in an effort to see if this was something Linus could watch. It’s pretty powerful stuff, something I see no particular reason to burden him with. I wouldn’t object to him taking an academic interest in it at his current age, as I did. But there’s just too much raw footage and direct, dramatic dialogue in some parts, which is really the whole point, that this isn’t the sanitized version of the war that largely existed until Saving Private Ryan.

Check out the clips, there’s about 25 minutes’ worth overall, some very good stuff.

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3 Responses to “The War”, A Ken Burns Film

  1. kelly says:

    Pretty humbling subject material. I like the snippet where they summarize the fascination with WW2 as a narrative about Horror and Triumph. In my family that generation has passed, and with it the personal connection to that narrative with the stories fading, lost, or forgotten. Reflecting on the character of the country WW2 just kind of puts it all into perspective. Easy to feel like spoiled children living the gift paid for in blood and tears by that generation.

  2. Becky O says:

    I know this message is from weeks ago – so probably nobody will read my comment – but I have watched the first 4 hours of “The War” and am really enjoying it. In the home video of the National Guard troops from Luverne there is a picture of my Grandfather on Kodiak Island. He looks just like my dad. I am looking forward to watching the rest of the Luverne footage as it comes. Also, I have been obssessing on the way that war was felt by people at home and how the current war we are in doesn’t seem to impact anyone.

  3. David says:

    I read your comments! Unfortunatley, I haven’t had much time to watch, given my looming dissertation deadlines. However, my parents are purchasing the series, so I know I’ll get my chance eventually. The boys are really enjoying watching the series.

    As for your comments about the comparisons to the current war… in April 1945 there were over 5 million troops deployed. I believe right now the total deployment number is about 1.5 million, but that counts duplicates and I think the unique count is about 500K, so only about 10% of the overall number for WWII. Plus, the US population was only half what it is now, so at the time, about 3.5% of the population was at war. Now, it’s about 0.2%. That’s a huge difference. Also, the current troops are not a random selection of the US population. They are disproportionately urban, poor, and minority. Once Joe Mauer and Grady Sizemore are drafted and go to war, then folks will start to notice.

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