Marines on Peleliu, 1944
Back in 1990, filmmaker Ken Burns captured the attention and imagination of the whole country when PBS released his superb multi-part documentary on the Civil War. Endlessly imitated by other documentary producers, and repeated too often, it almost became a sort of cliche, in its sunset shots with wistful narration, overdubbed with mournful strains on violin or piano. Nevertheless, it totally remade the way documentaries are directed and produced. Burns is an incredibly talented researcher and director.
At the time, Burns vowed never to cover the topic of war in one of his documentaries again. Lately, however, realizing that World War II veterans are passing away at a rate of 1,000 a day, and hearing entreaties from several who want to get their long-held stories out before they too pass on, he has had a change of heart. Thousands of documentaries have been made before on World War II, but I have no doubt that Burns will make this one fresh and unique.
His new seven-part series The War will debut on Sunday night.
THE WAR, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history — a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America — and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.
I think Burns will say that there are many similarities and crucial differences between that war and the current one, but one thing that is surely different really sticks out in my mind...
It is the saga of this privatized group of modern-day-Hessian mercenaries called Blackwater, an apparently unaccountable band of soldiers-of-fortune who are in the news again this week for allegedly killing civilians recklessly, and perhaps even in smuggling guns to the PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
This outfit needs to be shut down. While it still can be. I'm not naive enough to think that the "Good War" was all good, but can you imagine a private army, answerable to no one, operating like this in our name in WWII? This is the United States of America, for crying out loud.