Ken Burns’ “The War”

Ken AshfordHistory2 Comments

My expectations of the new Ken Burns documentary were rather low.  WWII is an awfully big subject, but Burns handled The Civl War, another monumental subject, just fine.  So I was a little disappointed to read that he wasn’t going to treat WWII comprehensively.  Instead, he was going to focus on the impact of the war on four places in the United States — Waterbury (CT), Sacramento (CA); Luverne (MN), and Mobile (AL).  My initial thought was, "Ken.  This was a world war.  Maybe we could focus on other places in the word?  Like, say, London or Warsaw?"

But — that said — I thought the first installment was pretty darn good for what it was.  I thought the jazzish music was a little weird, but all in all, I thought his "human" approach to the subject was fresh and moving.  From a WWII documentary perspective, I guess it makes a nice companion piece to the classic BBC "World at War" documentart series (a more traditional documentary with maps and troop movements arrows and the like).  Burns is trying to present WWI as "an epic poem", rather than as a textbook lesson.  And that’s fine.

The footage in Burns’ film is graphic and disturbing.  But that’s not what has some people worried.  This is what worries them

Missing from the version of “The War” to be shown by APT and by some other PBS stations will be four expletives.

The FCC hasn’t revealed in advance whether it will punish stations that air “The War” with the expletives intact. That’s why PBS is providing its 350 member stations a choice of two versions of the series: a clean one without the profanity, or the original with the expletives, as Burns wanted.

It was unclear Friday how many PBS stations would air the original, unedited version.

“No one has been keeping tabs on it, and there are many, I think, that haven’t yet decided,” said Jared Seeger, a spokesman for Burns’ Florentine Films production company.

APT spokeswoman Kathie Martin said the nine stations in Alabama, including WEIQ-TV42 in Mobile, would show the profanity-free version because “The War” will air “during family prime time.”

“We want to be sure that because of the educational nature of this, that we are not offending anyone with the language,” she said.

Yup.  Showing pictures of bodies that have been scorched by the H-bomb is perfectly alright as long as nobody drops the F-bomb when talking about it.