Ken Burns Polarizes with ”The War”

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Pity Ken Burns. This spring, Burns faced protest over the omission of Hispanic contributions to America’s World War II efforts in his latest PBS documentary, ”The War.” Burns initially refused to alter the film, then, in a face saving move, he announced that he was adding interviews with Hispanic veterans that he had already done but that didn’t make the final cut. Got it? Thus, Burns could say he never ”caved” — arguable — and the Hispanic groups could say that their contributions to World War II were being honored. Everyone could hold their heads up high.

But that didn’t happen.


Ken Burns was, ultimately, damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. The rabid right wing talk radio crowd still believes that Burns folded like a cheap patio chair. And, from the left, America’s preeminent Progressive magazine remains thoroughly unconvinced of Burns’comitment at portraying America’s diversity. From Christopher Hayes of The Nation:

”In the end, The War is a prisoner of its own iconography. That fact was probably evident months ago when Latino groups protested the complete exclusion of Latino veterans in the preliminary version of the series. Our expectations of the Greatest Generation revolve around old white men telling their stories, with some sops to diversity thrown in: Rosie the Riveter, Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code-talkers. Despite the fact that Latinos were very much a part of the war effort, they don’t figure in its mythology, and Burns initial elision (corrected in the final version) seems the result of operating within the confines of a mythology that he, himself, doesn’t even explicitly recognize.”

Unfortunately what is lost in this polarizing right-left debate is that the documentary itself — if you take out the politics of it all — is, in and of itself, a stunning achievement.

(image via abcnews)