Monday, December 11, 2023
Sep 22

Written by: Diana West
Saturday, September 22, 2007 8:14 AM 

Between Alessandra Stanley's multicultural gripe in The New York Times, and Cecilia Alvear's Latino lament in the Washington Post, Ken Burns' new documentary on World War II is under bizarro attack from the identity-politics Left. Stanley complains for  most of the review that  Burns tells "only" an American story:

World War II didn’t happen just to us.

But it would be hard to glean that from Ken Burns' 7-night, 15-hour tribute to the greatest generation that ever bought war bonds, joined the Marines or tightened rivets on a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The London blitz, Stalingrad, Bergen-Belsen and the Warsaw uprising are parentheses in this respectful, moving and meticulously illustrated anthology of small-town lives turned upside down by what one elderly veteran calls “a necessary war.” 
The war was necessary, but is this approach?
The tone and look of Mr. Burns’s series, which begins Sunday on PBS, is as elegiac and compelling as any of his previous works, but particularly now, as the conflict in Iraq unravels, this degree of insularity — at such length and detail — is disconcerting. Many a “Frontline” documentary has made a convincing case that the Bush administration’s mistakes were compounded by the blinkered thinking of leaders who rushed to war without sufficient support around the world or understanding of the religious and sectarian strains on the ground. Examining a global war from the perspective of only one belligerent is rarely a good idea.

Thank you, Alessandra Stanley, for your sage wisdom on documentary-making. Perhaps now you might care to make one. She concludes:

“The War” gives generous voice to a wide variety of remarkable people, but they are all American voices. Mr. Burns delivers almost everything viewers care to know about wartime America; it’s also telling that this is the only tale he wants to tell.
Fie on Ken Burns, says the New York Times, for freely exercising his First Amendment rights to craft his documenatry the way he wants and using all American voices. Indeed, it is "telling," as she intones. It suggests that Burns wanted to tell an...American story. 
This rates a big NYT sneer. 
For the Love of Pete! 
As for  Cecilia Alvear, her  complaint is ethno-specific.  Even after Burns  bent under Hispanic pressure groups to add a Hispanic voice or two to the show, he still gets taken to task for not thinking of it himself. This is an ongoing flaw, she writes:
Some critics of Burns have previously noticed the way he ignores Latinos, pointing out that in his 19-hour documentary saga "Jazz," Latinos rated only 3 1/2 minutes of airtime and that many of the greats of Latin jazz, who played alongside whites and African Americans, were overlooked. 
I certainly have my complaints with the "racialist" point of view promoted in "Jazz," as catalogued in the January 15, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard ("All That Jazz: Ken Burns in Black and White"). Burns elevated all black musicians to the denigration of all white musicians in an excercise that comes under the category of racially charged invective more than musical criticism. (His all-but-complete omission of the tunesmiths of jazz--the men who gave us the great American popular songbook--was another glaring deficiency of the show.) In light of Burns' omissions and trivialization of mainstays of American jazz, Alvear's concern that "the greats of Latin jazz" have been ignored, as a matter of prejudice, is absurd.  
She continues:
In his 23-hour production "Baseball," Burns devoted only six minutes to Latinos, who now play a dominant role in the sport. Six minutes, so help me A-Rod.
It's odd behavior for a filmmaker so adept at chronicling the black experience in this country. "Race is at the center of all of American history," Burns has said. Yes, it is. But there is more to the story than just black and white.

In a question-and-answer session after the screening I attended, Burns said that one reason Hispanics were overlooked in "The War" was that "no one came forward" from the Latino community when he and his team solicited stories. So why didn't they exercise a bit of journalistic due diligence and reach out to people? He also said it was impossible to tell the stories of every minority group involved.

Whatever happened to "E pluribus unum"?

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