I watched just about all of last night’s opening segment of Ken Burns’s The War and have to say that I am a little disappointed and doubt that the rest of the series will hold my attention. What struck me as a glaring oversight was the absence of any internal debate within the country about war before the attack at Pearl Harbor. Where was Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee? It’s surprising because Burns addressed the long- and short-term causes of the Civil War even if the interpretation was at times convoluted. Apart from a few short clips of Axis aggression there is no sense of what the war is about beyond those interviewed who attempt to convey some sense of immediacy to what is transpiring far away. There has to be some balance between the localized perspective of participants from around the country and a more sophisticated (however difficult it may be to convey in a documentary) understanding of world affairs.
At times I felt I was watching the film version of "The Greatest Generation". Perhaps the concern is that the introduction of political debate will minimize the theme of sacrifice and heroism that Burns so clearly hopes to convey. Yes, Burns does address the racial divide and it will be interesting to see how this theme is followed through the war and beyond. After all, the "Greatest Generation" was also the generation that expected black Americans to return to the status quo following Japan’s surrender in 1945.