Thursday, September 20, 2007

FanBoyWonder’s TV Pick—The War

From the Television Worth Watching file, FanBoyWonder would like to call to your attention an upcoming documentary special about World War II set to air next week no public television—The War

Here’s the Upshot from PBS: The War, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history — a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America — and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.

Throughout the series, the indelible experience of combat is brought vividly to life as veterans describe what it was like to fight and kill and see men die at places like Monte Cassino and Anzio and Omaha Beach; the Hürtgen Forest and the Vosges Mountains and the Ardennes; and on the other side of the world at Guadalcanal and Tarawa and Saipan; Peleliu and the Philippine Sea and Okinawa. In all of the battle scenes, dramatic historical footage and photographs are combined with extraordinarily realistic sound effects to give the film a terrifying, visceral immediacy.

Seventeen years ago, filmmaker Burns captured the imagination of the nation with his groundbreaking documentary on PBS—The Civil War

With little more than maps, still black & white photos, historian interviews, brilliantly voiced narration and a hauntingly sweet soundtrack, The Civil War managed to reignite Americans' interest in the most divisive period of our history. It also helped spark interest in the study of history itself.

It did at least for a young FanBoyWonder. We were starting our second year of college during that fall of 1990 when The Civil War aired. It moved us to declare history as a minor and we’ve continued in the study of history to this day.

In his latest film, Burns seeks to enlighten viewers about another War—this one from the not too distant past historically speaking even as the number of Second World War veterans are dwindling faster with each passing year.

Six years in the making, The War is a 15-hour, seven-part film designed to focus the experiences of the boys who went to war, as well as the family and friends they left behind.

The film’s narrative centers of gravity come from four geographically distributed American townsMobile, Alabama, Sacramento, California, the small farming town of Luverne, Minnesota and in Connecticut, the city of Waterbury, not too far from FBW's hometown.

To that end, the film purports to tell the story of World War II from the “American perspective.” This means that although the war officially started with Hitler’s blitzkrieg through Poland in September 1939, for America our war story didn’t (officially) begin until Japan’s first strike/sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Unlike Burns’ Civil War project, The War features a plethora of interviews with soldiers and civilians alike giving their first-hand accounts of life for them during the war years.

For FanBoyWonder back during our early days as a newspaper reporter, we had the honor of interviewing veterans from our various wars on a number of occasions, including a few World War II vets.

There is one interview that we’ll never forget. It was June 6, 1994—the 50th Anniversary of D-Day (and D-minus seven years to the day before we watched Brianna The Girl Wonder born into the world).

We were working for a small newspaper in Northwest Connecticut covering the local commemoration of the massive allied invasion of Normandy France—the beginning of the end of Hitler’s European conquest.

It was during an interview with one of the veterans who as we recall was among the first wave ashore Utah beach. We recall just being stunned as we watched this big bear of a man in his late 60s breakdown mid-sentence and sob uncontrollably as he recalled the things he did and saw that day and for many days afterward—horrors of war that we can’t even imagine.

FanBoyWonder was two months shy of 24 years old at the time but to this day we still recall the feeling of impotence at not knowing what to say or do and inadequacy that we felt as we realized that 50 years earlier, this old man was a boy younger than we were with literally the weight of world on him as he fought just to stay alive.

The subsequent generations with their “angst” and “the Quarter-Life Crisis” can’t help but seem soft and untested next to the generation of men AND women who experienced so much at so young an age.

Lucky for us, an older colleague from a rival paper who was also interviewing the veteran found some words to say to fill the awkward moment. Forever after during every subsequent veteran interview that we performed, we always remembered to thank them for their service.

The least we can ALL do is to thank a veteran—of any war or conflict. To thank them and to remember them and what they did or are doing.

We are heartened that The War will detail both the war in Europe against Nazi Germany AND the pacific war against Imperial Japan.

We’ve always felt that many pacific theatre WWII vets and their accomplishments have been unfairly overshadowed—however unintentional and through no fault of the veterans of either theatre. As yet, there is no “Band of Brothers” mini-series for Pacific vets; something we hope is remedied soon.

The War will air on PBS starting Sunday (check local listings). Take some time to learn and to honor.


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