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It wasn't intentional, but Iraq parallels exist

September 02, 2007|Paul Lieberman

The country where Americans are fighting and dying today is never mentioned in "The War," but Ken Burns expects viewers to think of Iraq at many points as veterans and their families back home share their experiences of World War II. "Absolutely," he says, while adding: "This is not the intention of the film."

One theme of the series is that WWII touched every street in every town of America -- if families were not losing sons and husbands, they were pulling iron beds out of garages in scrap metal drives, or saving bacon fat because it could be reused in the manufacture of explosives. Those who fought included future doctors, a Princeton soccer captain and the sons of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"The secret of the Second World War, unspoken in our film, is that in shared sacrifice we made ourselves richer," Burns says. "We made ourselves financially and materially richer by paradoxically giving things up. We were certainly tempered and knew how to do it by the Depression -- we were used to doing without -- but we did without again, and in doing so we transformed ourselves from a puny military power with an army smaller than that of Romania in 1940 to the greatest military power on Earth [and] the greatest industrial power on Earth.

"We now today have a separate military class that suffers its losses apart and alone. [And] we are asked right now after 9/11 to do what? To go shopping."

He says that one of his goals is to debunk "the gallant bloodless myth" that attaches itself to even the most righteous of wars, given that reality includes attrocities even by the "good guys." In the end, a "bottom-up" view of any war will find similar testimony from those in the trenches.

"You could go back and get somebody from the Peloponnesian War and somebody from Iraq and they'd come back and they'd say exactly the same thing: 'Our officers didn't know what they were doing. Our spears weren't long enough. Our shields weren't wide enough. . . . I saw bad things. I did bad things. I lost good friends.' That's war."

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