Ken Burns’s Eulogy on “The War”

Ken Burns’s History–stories that need to be told better!

For years I have watched Ken Burns’s PBS documentary-style television shows  on the Civil War, the Roosevelts, and “The War.”  There may have been others, but these come to mind and are sufficient for the matter at hand.  Mr. Burns is a charming storyteller, the photos he collects to tell his tales are impressive and the music is unquestionably appropriate.  The problem with his presentations often is not so much what he includes but what he neglects either to cover or chooses to leave on the cutting room floor.  Of course, I understand the political bias Mr. Burns is burdened with, but I can overlook that.  We all have our predilections.

What does trouble me is the untold stories surrounding the subjects he covers and the impact those stories would have to question the conclusions Burns draws from his narratives. Take for instance, his series on “The War” about World War II. I’m not quite sure why, but recently I was reminded of that series and recalled an article I wrote about it at the time I watched the shows.  So, I dug back though my article folder and came upon the piece and I have turned the article into a four-page pamphlet which I titled Ken Burns’s Eulogy on ‘The War.’  I don’t intend to reprint the piece here, but I will pull out a paragraph toward the end which summarizes my observations about Burns’s production.  After listing events that went unreported or barely touched on, I wrote: “These stories are every bit as much a part of this war as were those Burns told. They are inconvenient, however, as they call into question the nobility of the allies who fought ‘The Necessary War.’ World War II was far from the noble crusade Burns imagined, and to leave that impression with his viewers, he must neglect to tell “the rest of the story.”

Until later. . .

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