Ken Burns explained to the audience at the Air Force Academy last week why he had spent the last 6 years researching and producing The War, his 7 part, 14.5 hour documentary on World War II which will debut on PBS in September 2007:
Every day, over 1,000 WWII veterans are dying.
WWII was the greatest cataclysm in the history of the human race
We wanted to dispel the myth of the “gallant bloodless war”
There are young people today who think that in WWII the Allies fought against the Russians, and on the side of the Germans
We don’t think of memory as a concrete thing, but we must preserve it before it’s gone. This is the story of WWII told from the bottom up, not by experts. We wanted to tell the whole story, not small parts of it like “Saving Private Ryan.” It is a difficult story to tell.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was wounded 6 times in the Civil War and later became a Supreme Court Justice talked about the “incommunicable experiences of war.”
CBS news journalist Eric Sevareid in 1985 said that “War happens inside a man…and that is why, in a certain sense, you and your sons from the war will be forever strangers. If, by the miracles of art and genius, in later years two or three among them can open their hearts and the right words come, then perhaps we shall all know a little of what it was like–and we shall know then that all the present speakers and writers hardly touched the story.”
Ken Burns continued:
In extraordinary times, there are no ordinary people. We selected first person accounts from 40-50 veterans across four geographical locations across America:
- Mobile, Alabama – which was an important shipyard
- Sacramento, California – a larger, varied town
- Westbury, Connecticut – populated with Southern European immigrants: Italians and Jews
- Luverne, Minnesota – in Rock County
As we watched the 7 or 8 clips during the preview, we heard a newspaper column being narrated from the editor of the Rock County Herald. He described getting a phone call early in the morning on D-Day from a woman acting like a modern day Paul Revere. As the editor described what was different about this day in America, the Air Force Academy cadet next to me did not realize it was being narrated by Tom Hanks. It was riveting.
To be continued…
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian