Wednesday, September 19, 2007

WWII as unintended metaphor

I'm anxiously awaiting Ken Burns' new documentary miniseries, "The War", on PBS in a few days. Good article in Newsweek about it, and an unintended side effect. Mr. Burns started this project in 2001, so who knew?

Inevitably, though, this documentary also puts you in a moment Burns never foresaw: today, in Iraq, and on a far different home front. No scrap drives, Victory Bonds, rationing or air-raid wardens yelling at you to pull down your shades. Where "home front," in fact, is a quaint expression—except to the families, far fewer than in World War II, with a reason to take it personally. And "war effort" means yellow-ribbon decals in the mall parking lot. In the current war, Burns says, "we're not permitted to shoot the caskets coming back. In this film, we show huge nets from a trawler, each one filled with 15 or 20 flag-draped coffins. Today you can't show the bad stuff. You can't even find the bad stuff, without behaving like a pornographer on the Internet. We don't even know the cost anymore." When Burns began work on "The War" in 2001, he couldn't have known Iraq would become the film's secret subject, even though the place is never mentioned.

Everything these days is about Iraq, from children's health care to New Orleans.

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