Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The War

The Children and I have been watching The War - Ken Burns's new documentary series. To be honest we didn't intend to - we intended to turn on PBS and catch an utterly ridiculous but charming "mystery" show called Rosemary and Thyme [nb - we have a softness for this particular show because one of the stars played Barbara Good on Good Neighbors] but the first episode of The War was on instead so we did a quick swap of the television watching brain cells and settled in.

I've been quite looking forward to this series. It's been extensively advertised all summer long and I was a great admirer of Burns's Civil War. Also for some reason this has been a particularly World War II year - perhaps partly because of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima; partly because I've been reading rather a lot of Stephen Ambrose. Anyway, I was very pleased that we accidentally hit on the very first episode.

And... and I have to say I'm a little disappointed. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm not captured by this one. I know he's trying to focus on only four American towns, but it still feels too scattered to me. Maybe we're being given too much general history and not enough personal story? Maybe it's just that I know much more about WWII than I did about the Civil War when I saw that series [nb - Kirk was appalled when I carelessly mentioned that the Civil War happened in 1840 or so... this was at the same time that I could recite the French kings from Charles Martel through Louis XVI. I can no longer do this but I do know the dates of the American Civil War now!]. Maybe... and this is awful... there is very little tension because we know from the start who will survive?

We watched again last night and will continue to watch through the series. It is interesting, and it has been enlightening for the Children who knew a great deal about the European conflict from the Blitz through VE day but almost nothing about the war in the Pacific. There has been some discussion about peoples who have been indoctrinated to believe in their own superiority, to value ruthless violence, to despise "weakness" and difference. I have been interested, but saddened to see that the photographs of death and atrocity (and there are very, very many) do not shock or distress them overly - they are more likely to point out the ones they have seen before. They are much more disturbed by film and photos of the living, of children dealing with the horror of their situation, than of those who have been killed.

I'm also interested that the image that has stayed with me most through these two episodes was a very early shot, just before they got to Pearl Harbor, of an airplane beneath the ocean, crusted with various creatures but still entirely recognizable. There was something serene about that image - eerie of course, they always are whether its a collection of amphorae or a modern cargo ship, but serene.

Of course, the thing that struck me most last night was the dignified voice of the announcer saying:

"Corporate sponsors of The War include..."

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