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I'm glad that the other reviewers here have seen, and enjoyed "The
Civil War" by the same filmmaker. However, I don't see why it is so
important to them to explain that they enjoyed it more than this film.
Especially without explaining if they enjoyed this film more than other
documentaries ON WORLD WAR TWO! It's apples 'n oranges folks.
I, for one, am enjoying it (last installment, tonight!) immensely. And, I would say, MORE than any other WORLD WAR TWO DOCUMENTARY I have ever seen (and I believe that I've seen most all of them). Focusing on four American towns was just the right size character study for this subject. Very, very, good film.
The music criticisms are from folks who apparently didn't live through the era. Swing songs were what everybody was listening to, dancing to and romancing to during WW II. In my opinion, the music was perfect. Even our GI's listened to it wherever they were. Even I, as a young boy remember nearly every song because I lived during those difficult times. The music picked up our spirits, took our minds off the horrible stories of combat and death occurring all around us. The sad and slow symphonic and odd flute sounds should remind one of the eerie and uncommon circumstances we all had to face during those times. And that death in combat is not a usual experience for most of us. Actually, I think the combat sequences and death scenes should be required viewing for all the kids being raised and educated today. They need to see the horrible sacrifices this nation made to be certain they, we and many other nations remained free from maniacal tyrants and killers like the Jap emperor Hirohito, Tojo, Hitler and all their ilk, and still some who stalk this country as you read this. If everyone watched and listened without criticizing to the message of those who fought this war, the families who remained at home and worried, cried, prayed and mourned their dead, they might just get in tune with why this country is so great. We get to watch films like this because our fighting men and women knew the value of freedom and many, too many, sacrificed, were wounded physically and mentally, and too often paid the ultimate price so we can watch these films and don't have to speak Japanese, German or any other conqueror's language. So, shut up about the music already! Listen to the message! Please.
As a 1951 baby boomer, I am the proud son of a world war 2 vet. Growing up, Dad talked little about the war. What I learned about the war was from history books and war movies. But Ken Burns has changed all of that for me and I am sure the Millions who have seen and will see this incredible documentary. For now I am not just the son born after the war but someone who knows and feels what went on for 5 years in Europe,North Africa, in the Pacific and the Far East. I have learned things no book or film ever taught me: the sights, the smell and the taste of the horrors our boys faced as we fought toward victory. This is a movie that is going to be too late for the many Vets that have passed on during the 62 years since V-J day. But it is now here , for the record , for all us now and future generations to say "THANK YOU" to the greatest generation for saving the world from the most brutal humans that were ever put on this earth. Again, Thank you Ken Burns for this incredible experience.
I still think that the gold standard of WW II documentaries is the
1970's World at War series. Laurence Oliver's ominous Macbeth style of
narration set the tone and the 26 episode series covered WW II really
well. Critics point out that it showed the war from more of a British
point of view. I suppose the fact that Britain and it's dominions were
fighting against the Germans and the Japanese for longer than any of
the other allies in the Far East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the
Atlantic, Scandinavia and continental Europe is perhaps understandable.
If casualties alone was the standard used to measure sacrifice or
relevance then the USSR could lay claim to that . Over 15 % of it's
population in some form of another perished in the eastern front
amounting to millions in a war of annihilation against the Germans.
Taking it on it's own I don't think there is a conflict in human
history that can match the brutality and barbarism that took millions
of lives in such a short space of time. They are all important topics
in the context of WW II and they have over the years been excellently
covered and narrated by American as well as British production
companies. One aspect that has not been really been examined thoroughly
is the WW II purely from an American point of view.
Ken Burns probably needed to remind a new generation of Americans whose understanding of war is limited to computer games and watching smart bombs and predator drones on TV or on you-tube bombarding specs on the ground from a command center in Florida. In previous wars, Americans endured greater sacrifices. A lot of boots on the ground was the order of the day and American troops encountered huge numbers of well armed and fanatical opponents. Interestingly Burns seemed to focus on four states of the USA, Connecticut, Alabama, Wisconsin and California. I don't know why he picked these these in particular, but probably because it gave a good geographical balance of how it affected the lives of the families and the servicemen in the USA.
There is no doubt that mainland USA protected by the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans had an easier time in WW II than the other allies. The US was never really under a serious threat of either large air raids or invasion. Yes crude attacks were attempted both by the Germans and Japanese but only for propaganda purposes. If it was an accident of geography (and the isolation explains the USA's late entry into the war) lucky for the USA and lucky for the world too! Remember it was a world war and the arsenal of democracy as it was known could offer vital military equipment and manpower for the war effort.
From a standing start,(although lend lease to Britain and armament production had been steadily rising since 1940) the USA really got it's industry going on a total war footing. Japan and Germany had a ten year head start in war capacity and training. By 1942 Americans were fighting in North Africa, by 1943 Italy, 1944 France ,as well as doing a bit of island hopping in the pacific to boot and by 1945 it was all over. In fact Americas limitless natural resources, raw materials, manpower (and woman power) and huge industrial potential uninterrupted from air raids were vital. Not only was it important for victory but also in shaping the post-war world, i.e. the Marshall plan. Americas efforts in the aftermath of the war with European and Japanese reconstruction should not be underestimated.
The American military with their self confidence, bold ideas, optimism and big band music and might have irritated and annoyed the other allies. In Britain they were over sexed, over paid and over there. However, amusing that might sound it doesn't really go anywhere in telling the whole story. On the cover of this DVD set there is a photograph of a tired and gaunt looking American GI, a far cry from the beaming soldier fresh off the boat in the snazzy uniform out on the town. He could have been from any where in the USA perhaps Connecticut or Wisconsin, but his haunted face tells the story. He was probably in his early 20's wanted to go college or get married, join his fathers business, work on the farm or be a lawyer, perhaps he wanted to be a baseball player. Yet his life was turned upside down, conscripted into the service and after boot camp was shipped off thousands of miles from where he grew up to places he had never heard of!
American blood was spilled as far and wide as Iwo Jima, North Africa, Normandy, Bastogne and Guadalcanal, Anzio, Remargen and Midway, just to name a few, ten of thousands of Americans died on land in the air and at sea. American forces were involved in some of the most vicious fighting of the second world war. Victory over Hitler nor Japan could have been achieved without US participation, but the USA couldn't have done it all alone too, allies were vital too.
It gives an interesting account of the war from how it impacted the lives of Americans and how they saw it from their point of view. I got the impression from Burns that the US fought harder in the pacific, it was more personal, probably because of pearl harbor but moreover the Japanese were really easy to hate, they were exceptionally cruel to their captives. Well narrated in an easy going style by Keith David. Must movies for Americans to watch after this is THE VICTORS 1963 and finally the very impressive BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 1949.
I am a 1958 Baby Boomer. My dad was a medic with the 97th. Now I know why he didn't really talk about the war much. He mostly talked about the friends he had made, and the sites that he had seen. After viewing some of the grizzly images in "The War", I can only imagine the horror he must have endured caring for the wounded and dead. My dad passed away in 1999, but I found myself often while watching "The War" wishing that he were there sitting next to me to answer many of the questions that this documentary brought to mind. Mostly I wanted to give him a big hug. I feel that I know and understand Dad so much better now. Thanks Dad and thanks Ken Burns.
"Dear God, we need your help real bad. Don't send anyone else but
yourself, neither. Not even Jesus. 'Cause this is no place for kids."
I'm half way through the series and am absorbing it like a sponge. Fantastic story tellers, especially that pilot, Quentin Annensen (sp?). Oscar-winning actors couldn't have done it any better, telling chilling stories that make me realize how lucky I am, as a young man, to not have to experience such things. (...And I thought I had drama in my life.)
My Grandfather survived the war on various submarines, so I've been a bit disappointed there's been no mention, so far, of sub warfare. But as the series describes, "there were millions of people involved and millions of stories." I'm not too upset.
To the filmmakers, terrific job. To the vets, I'll always remember you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't know that this is quite the equivalent of Ken Burns' "The Civil
War" -- but what could be? The general outlines of World War II are so
well known (Kids: We won) that I'll skip them and just make a few
The presentation is divided roughly into three equal parts: (1) Life on the home front in Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; and Waterbury, Connecticut; (2) Combat, with some references (not many) to overall strategy; and (3) Interviews with the surviving men and women who participated in the war.
There are no reenactments, thank God. They're coming to be our substitute for B movies on documentary TV channels. There are no interviews with generals and admirals or today's War College instructors explaining why we did what we did. No British, German, Japanese, or otherwise exotic interviewees either. This is the war as seen strictly through American eyes although, as the narrator says, we suffered far less, relatively speaking, than many of the other combatants. That's just as well. It's an ipsative choice. If Burns had tried to cover just the Allies, some viewers would still be objecting. "Why don't we see more of Britain's suffering?" Or, "What about the Poles?" America suffered less but we suffered enough. There are about four minutes of color footage from a typical war-time wedding. We've all been there. The bride in frothy white, the groom in Army uniform, the cake, the two dozen assembled guests at the tables, with tiny glasses of punch, smiling nervously. It isn't until the second viewing that I realized that the uniformed groom was the only male present between the ages of eighteen and forty. All the other men were busy elsewhere.
The music is chosen or composed by Wynton Marsalis, an ace trumpeter whose grasp of music includes all known forms. Mostly here, his score is alternately folksy, bluesy, or threnodic, and sometimes he quotes composers like Elgar and Faure. The score is punctuated with period music, like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. You won't come away whistling any of the tunes. Marsalis isn't the bombastic Richard Rogers of "Victory at Sea." He's unobtrusive, almost self effacing.
The same can't be said of the film's producer, Ken Burns, who is almost childlike in his egocentricity and his commitment. "Ewww, Tom Hanks," he exults. It would be easy to smear him a little if he weren't so good at what he does. The series, incidentally, was supported in large part by grants from Bank of America and General Motors. (At least they got SOME things right.) Another reviewer denigrated the series because it came from "the bolsheviks" at Public Broadcasting, which I guess makes General Motors a bunch of communists.
Surprisingly little of the combat footage is familiar. A few rip offs from "Memphis Belle," "The Battle of Midway," and "The Battle of San Pietro," and not much more. Just as well. Those shelves had been just about emptied by all the documentaries that have played on The History Channel and The Military Channel.
Is the presentation balanced? Or -- let me put it another way -- how much political correctness need we bear? Well, again, surprisingly little. It's a candid documentary rather than a critical one. The internment of Japanese-American civilians is described and shown but not dwelt upon. It's another mistake, a war-time tragedy, not an occasion for breast beating and white guilt. The good people of Mobile, Alabama, seem to have as much trouble with the influx of what they call "rednecks" than they do with what they call "Negroes." I kind of missed David McCullough's narration from "The Civil War." He's a cool and distanced historian, whereas Keith David's sonorous narration here is more dramatic. And I missed the sweetness and simplicity of "Ashokan Farewell."
The film is about war. And war is about loneliness, deprivation, and death. It's easy to be moved by the subject when one imagines what we learn from these episodes about America multiplied a dozen times over by the suffering endured by other nations, victors and vanquished alike. But Burns has the good taste not to jerk the easiest tears. Nobody breaks down and sobs. The P-47 pilot who killed hundreds of Germans describes the paralysis of his trigger fingers and the nightmares that haunted him for years after the war, but he does so dispassionately, a careful observer of the symptoms that stand for the greater whole. It's about as good as it's ever going to get.
These remarks cover only Parts 1 and 2 of the series.
My dad went over to Germany in 1946 to help "clean up" after the war as a member of the U.S. Army. Growing up he told us many stories of the after war devastation. I still remember those stories. I had studied WW II in high school, and this documentary helped me understand, through the eyes of four U.S. towns, just how WW II effected so many people all over the world. One thing that sticks in my mind is how the people of the U.S. all came together to save, to ration, to recycle, to just generally do without during this time. This will be a set to add to my DVD collection. Hopefully I can pass along my dad's stories as well as this collection to my grandchildren. And one more thing, I really enjoyed the music.
The six letter title ("The War") of this Ken Burns' series is
remarkably illustrative of the piece. The title is not "America's War",
as would be more apt in some objective sense, but simply "The War" as
if you the viewer were an 19-year old American about to be shipped off
to some far-off land. To you , there was only one, The War.
This seven-part series chronicles World War II through a distinctly American lens. The subjects are mostly common Americans impelled by circumstance of birth but mostly also compelled by a genuine American idealism to make war and suffer loss. What few WW2 veterans remain with us this day may be with us still perhaps a decade or two at most. "The War" gives them one last opportunity to reflect on comrades lost and horrors seen. It gives us as viewers one last opportunity to hear their stories as you might hear your grandparent tell you rather than as the cardboard cut-outs of history books. Typically for Burns', the piece is filled with well chosen period photos, moving images, and music.
And yet, as much as we want and need to remember the sacrifices of those who served, I can't help but think that this was the wrong film for Burns' to make. Sure, he will get accolades from veterans groups and politicians the country wide. But Burns should have left the story of American heroics and sacrifice to the sentimentalists - lord knows there are enough of them. A man with Burns' skill should have broadened his ken (no pun intended) to teach his largely American audience some new ways to think about the conflict and its implications for modern society.
If an American and, say, a Croat were to start discussing the war today, the American would speak about pride and sacrifice. Even if moderately knowledgeable about history, he'd have perhaps some vague sense that the Yugoslavs were somehow involved. Never in his wildest dreams would he have guessed that the Yugoslav armed forces suffered more dead than the Americans in World War II. And such are the points that need to be made in this age where 9/11, however inherently important it is, should be put into context. 3000 or so people died in 9/11. This is a blip on the radar - a bad few weeks in Iraq or a particularly bad day in any given African conflict. The message that Americans need to learn is not more paeans about the uniqueness and greatness of their sacrifice - but rather more about the universality of it. To be a world leader, America in 2007 needs less navel gazing and more outward understanding.
"The War" - "America's War" - provided none of this. It also barely touched issues of class and race in any substantive way, other than to give a somewhat embarrassingly lopsided and timid view of the internment of Japanese Americans. We need the Ken Burns' of the world. What am I saying - we need Ken Burns' to do more than pay homage to our great, brave veterans. We need him to tell the stories about ourselves and our world that Americans just don't know.
Ken Burns has done it again. "The Civil War" was a masterpiece.
"Baseball" was absolutely superb. And "The War" is another A+ piece of
work. Why? Let me count the ways.
1) All wars are hell. This time Burns was able to show what little he felt most humans could suffer without vomiting, some of which was filmed on the spot. Sure, some of the editing was a little choppy. Sure, vast areas of what happened in 1939-1946 had to be omitted by nature of the immensity and complexity of what happened. But most of the younger kids who thinks wars are only fought in the Middle East and who knew nobody in their families who died, or for that matter don't even know the dates of WWII, haven't a clue. So what if they didn't like the music? Hell, they didn't have Ipods or plasma tvs or cable then. Do some reading. Try to envision what absolute hell war is. Burns showed us.
2) For the first time, we were able to hear it - extensively - from people who lived through it. How many wouldn't give a lot to sit down with the folks from those 4 towns who spent hours in interviews, to hear more about it? WWII affected, almost as much as the Civil War, everyone in the country. Go talk to them, kids. Hear what they have to say. You and your generation have never submitted to anything that meant a total effort by your country to remain free. You can't conceive what it means to say that dropping 2 A-bombs of necessity to end the war saved over 500,000 American lives. People today froth at the mouth when they read the media touting the nearly 4,000 dead in Iraq. How about saving 500,000 lives? This war was so immense and affected everything and everyone that every generation of Americans should be made to really study it. Never since have we faced what these people faced. And Burns shows it. All of it.
3) We - you - can't view this documentary in terms you are comfortable with: instant gratification, burning the flag, anti-war demonstrations, cell phones and emails, and the whole plethora of me-me-me that exists today. You need to read what life was really like then, who did what and how they did it, what they believed in, what manners they had, what they were willing to die for. Burns gives you continuous examples of people from 4 American towns for 15 hours to try to tell you what Americans were willing to do to save their way of life from seriously evil sickos who were hell bent on destroying us. Those psychos in the Middle East have the same sort of plan to destroy anything in the west; similar to plans Hitler had to literally own the world and kill off those he felt were in the way and the plans that the Japanese had of making every western country a subservient fiefdom. Read about it. Read a lot about it (if you know how to read) and then watch the Burns doc. See what it took to stop them. Oh, Hitler and Tojo and Stalin, eventually, weren't that bad? They were only comic-book characters? If you believe that, you need a serious education.
4) What happened in 1941-1945 happened. As in all wars throughout history, there were morons in charge of some, heroes in charge of others, misguided attempts, spectacularly successful attempts, incredibly unlucky attempts. But nothing ever so large, on such a scale of planning, training, executing, supplying, and staffing h as ever occurred in the history of man, and probably never will. And Burns eloquently captured some of its essence. Nobody could EVER capture all of it, or even parts of it, on the scale in which it happened. WWII was the last of the romantic wars. During WWII there were still espionage, undergrounds, passwords, night parachutings, spy chains, radio broadcasts, a whole litany of danger that stopped with the Cold War. After that, Korea and Vietnam and now the butchery in Iraq turned into cold, mechanical, medieval barbarism. Burns had to pick and choose the parts that brought the personalities of those from four American towns into view. And he did that very well.
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