Cable Risdon, 2002
Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns.
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
The War brings viewers stories of World War II through vivid stories told by veterans, sometimes accompanied by graphic images.
Women working on the B & O Railroad in 1943. During the war, women often worked to carry the load while their husbands were overseas.
Women working on the B & O Railroad in 1943. During the war, women often worked to carry the load while their husbands were overseas. National Archives
It has been called "The Good War" and the men and the women who fought it are often referenced as the "The Greatest Generation." World War II has inspired countless retellings in books and film.
At a time when America is once again struggling with important questions about when and how to fight a war, PBS is preparing to air The War. It is a seven-part documentary about World War II, the latest project by critically acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns.
"The Second World War is one of the greatest change agents in American history ... it begins to set in motion and accelerate a civil-rights movement that will not rest," explains Burns.
The film focuses on the lives of citizens in four cities — Mobile, Ala., Waterford, Conn., Laverne, Minn., and Sacramento, Calif. Rather than providing what Burns calls a clichéd history depictions that only provide an aerial view of war and its impact, The War chronicles the experiences of those fighting abroad, along with the distinct conflicts of those who remained at home.
"It was our intention [to] tell the bottom-up story of the whole war," says the filmmaker, who acknowledges World War II as the worst war ever.
Burns attempts to bring viewers a stark picture of the realities of combat. Veterans, in their own words, explain the lingering emotional impact of what they lived to talk about 60 years later. They vividly recall what it felt like to kill and to see fellow soldiers die gruesome deaths.
"I've been trying for the last 30 years to tell stories in American history that haven't been told," says Burns, who, along with Lynn Novick, directs and produces the film.
But even before its release, The War has been the subject of controversy over who it includes and who, critics say, it does not. The project came under fire this spring by some who accused Burns of omitting contributions to the war made by Latino soldiers. The growing outcry, which eventually made its way to the halls of Congress, sent Burns and his crew back into production mode.
"We went out and sought some Hispanic veterans and produced some extraordinarily interesting scenes that we've added," he says.
Now completed and ready for its debut to the world, Burns seems confident that his 15-hour masterpiece made one thing clear: "When your life is most threatened, everything about life is vivified."
Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.