Where’s the Beef? Ken Burns’s “The War”

WarI 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.   

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Where’s the Beef? Ken Burns’s “The War”

WarI 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.   

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Is Civil War Memory a Military History Blog?

TechWe here at Civil War Memory are pleased to learn that this site is still one of the top 5 military history blogs.  In fact, according to a survey by Brett Holman of Airminded, we are number 2 positioned just behind Mark Grimsley’s Blog Them Out Of the Stone Age.  The results shouldn’t be taken too seriously as the rankings are based on Technorati’s ranking (remember the lower the number the better); in addition, Holman utilizes the categories as determined by HNN’s extensive history blogroll

While I am pleased with the results of the poll I’m not so sure that I consider this site to be a military history blog.  I don’t talk much about military history in the traditional sense and most of my posts reference topics in popular culture, memory, and race.  Of course, I am very interested in the military aspects of the war and have spent a great deal of time reading up on the subject.  I believe it to be a significant sign of progress that over the past few decades one can be considered a Civil War historian without necessarily focusing on military affairs.  The journal Civil War History has it about right in terms of the time frame and topics that articles address. 

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A Wonderful Evening With Desmond Tutu

ArchbishopdesmondtutuLast night I traveled with 40 students and faculty to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu accept the Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award from James Madison University.  Roughly 40 students decided that listening to Archbishop Tutu was more important than anything else they had planned for a Friday night.  I am impressed and proud of these students.  We had a great time.  As he spoke about the possibilities of peace in the world and a belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil I sat transfixed.  It wasn’t simply the power of his words, but the combination of the words along with a career spent promoting justice in South Africa and around the world that gave his message such meaning.  One can’t help but draw a comparison with the evangelical nutjobs that infect our televisions.  He was also very funny and incredibly humble.  The archbishop even did a little dance on stage after he was given an honorary doctorate from the university.  All in all it was a wonderful evening.

Tutu_009Tutu_002 

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The Faithful Slave

It’s Friday afternoon and I am sitting in my office waiting for the bus that will take me and 40 students to Harrisonburg where we will attend an awards event for Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  I picked up Micki McElya’s new book, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America (Harvard University Press, 2007) and am making my way through the introduction.  I came across this interesting passage:

The myth of the faithful slave lingers because so many white Americans have wished to live in a world in which African Americans are not angry over past and present injustices, a world in which white people were and are not complicit, in which the injustices themselves–of slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing structural racism–seem not to exist at all.  The mammy figure affirmed these wishes.  The narrative of the faithful slave is deeply rooted in the American racial imagination.  It is a story of our national past and political future that blurs the lines between myth and memory, guilt and justice, stereotype and individuality, commodity and humanity. (pp. 3-4)

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