How does ‘The War’ measure up?

Something occurred to me this morning. I was thinking about something I needed to get done, and thought I might try to get it done tonight, and then I thought, "No, you can’t: You have to watch ‘The War.’"

At that moment it struck me that I’m watching the program as much out of a sense of duty as fascination, and that surprised me.

"The Civil War" was riveting; I could hardly wait to see the next installment. The images, the words, the music all stuck in my head for a long time. All of that was so even though I have never been overly interested in that period of history.

Meanwhile, all of my life, I have been fascinated by the Second World War. I’ve never been able to get enough of films, books, what-have-you on the subject. I consider "Band of Brothers" to be the finest program ever made for television.

And indeed, I’m enjoying this program. But mostly, it’s a matter of going over familiar ground, just this time through yet another set of individual stories. It’s well done; it holds my attention. There’s no question that it is vastly superior to anything else I might watch on broadcast or cable television. (Of course, that’s not such a high standard in my view, since I consider about 99 percent of TV programming to be trash. I basically keep a TV set in order to watch DVDs.)

But after two installments, it doesn’t have the force as a cultural phenomenon that the series that made Ken Burns famous did. Maybe it’s because I learned a lot from The Civil War since, unlike so many of my fellow South Carolinians, I’ve never been one to obsess about it.

I don’t know. Thoughts?

2 thoughts on “How does ‘The War’ measure up?

  1. Kim Nesvig

    Like you, I feel an obligation and perhaps a compulsion to watch “The War”, made so much easier by the fact that today, the “Vast Wasteland” of cable and broadcast television offers nothing so compelling.
    Burns faced a difficult challenge in developing the narrative for The War. First, his documentary style is now very familiar. It was a revelation in 1991, for those of us who were unaquainted with his early works, like The Brooklyn Bridge. And, of course, the broad themes of WWII are pretty familiar to anyone who grew up watching the 20th Century on CBS back in the 60’s, or so many film and written narratives about the Good War.
    The device he chose – providing a perspective on the war from the vantage points of people from four communities – does reveal the war in a very personal way, from the front lines to the home front.
    The controversy about the lack of Hispanic stories overlooks the basic theme of The War. For most Americans, race and ethnicity were somewhat tangential, not fundemental to the experience and for understanding WWII; while race was fundemental in comprehending The Civil War. Only Black and Japanese Americans had significanly different experiences – relegation to all Black units and continuation of Jim Crow attitudes for Black soldiers, and of course, the unjustified interment for loyal Japanese Americans.
    In contrast, while some Hispanic soldiers may have encountered bigotry, by and large they shared had the same expereince as other soldiers. It is the shared purpose and shared sacrifice, for all but Black and Japanese Americans, that distinguished WWII from experiences before or since.

  2. Steve Gordy

    I’m watching the series with rapt interest, both because it goes along with research for my novel “Wings of the Storm”, but also because of the community-focused approach. Dealing with something as big as WWII is almost impossible without some predetermined framework. While each community has its unique stories (Bedford, Virginia lost 23 of the 46 men in its National Guard unit), and while cutting back and forth between narratives can be distracting, Burns’ approach seems to be working so far.

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