The War

I spent today watching the first five installments of Ken Burns'  World War II documentary, 'The War'.  And of course I was inundated with the images:  airplanes drowning in the sea, a parachute impaled on winter branches – its living occupant having run away or been shot away, soldiers with faces looking like puzzles with the wrong pieces forced into place.  There were the terrible corpses of the dead, and the even more awful faces of the living.  Barbed wire on Omaha Beach.  Soldiers advancing onto shore:  with no sound, you didn't hear the bullets, so when they fell, it looked like they had merely tripped and fell.  And then stayed there.  Color reels of ships erupting into bloody flames.

And while watching this, I was reminded of something; it was as if my mind had tapped me on the shoulder, to make sure I didn't forget a news story I had been hearing for the past few days.  The story reported the trimming down of questions for the American Citizenship Test.  A local reporter had thought it a pithy idea to ask an American-On-The-Street these questions.  Questions like, who was President during World War I, what was Susan B. Anthony known for, etc.  Finally one person answered, "These questions are stupid.  All those people are dead."

Now, let me start by saying that I believe that in memory, people and events can live on.  To forget that a person has lived is to grant him a fate worse than death.  I would like to ask the testy American who was so disinterested in the dead – the soldiers I watched today:  do they bore you as well?  Do the war dead become unimportant by virtue of the decades and decades that separate your life from theirs?

They screamed for help, drowning at Normandy, ignored by the troop ships passing them, whose commanders were instructed not to stop under any circumstances.  Theirs were lifetimes in hell, existing for days in swamps, jungles, foxholes and trenches.  Is it stupid to remember them?  There are barely 100 survivors of World War I still alive.  When they pass on, do we forget them too?  Should we forget that war as well?

I study World War I.  I'm surrounded by books, memoirs and photographs from that wasteland.  And I cried today as I listened to stories over 60 years old.  I was glad, too - because my tears felt like contributions to the memory of the dead. I can't forget war's pettiness, its disillusionment, its tragedy.  I couldn't forget.  How dare one forget?  

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15 responses to “The War

  1. "How dare one forget"No matter how painful. Everytime I get on my bike I go visit my "guys" at the Nat. Vet. Cemetery down the road.I send prayers up with every 21 gun salute I hear from my gardens.Beautiful post, Aubrey.

  2. I think we best honor the dead by making sure no one else has to suffer the same fate. To a man, every soldier killed would tell us "stop this madness." So far we're doing a lousy job of it. We can never do better by forgetting.

  3. Orwell, in his novel 1984, wrote, "Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your memory."In the novel, the protagonist forces himself to forget, but in real life it's much simpler: people like to forget.Sidenote: I grew up in Luverne, one of the four towns/cities documented by "The War." Each Veteran's Day and Memorial Day for six years, I played "Taps" as part of the ceremonies at local cemeteries. Several times the veterans and I were the only ones there. I find it intensely ironic that my hometown suddenly developed a memory of WWII as the premiere approached. As Orwell wrote, I'm sure they believe they've always honored dead, from everlasting to everlasting.

  4. Lovely post indeed…I shall pray for peace tonight

  5. I had to try to not watch bits of it because I want a day of it. I kept seeing it out of the corner of my eyes as I passed through the family room but I was mowing lawns, pruning hedges, shampooing rugs. Each time I passed I took a new image with me to my task. I saw Mr. Burns do an interview the other night and was sad to hear how long it took the survivors to be able to talk about it. He said they would talk now because they were close to the end of their journey. The pain was too great to do so prior. A hundred left. He made sure we got the truth and not speculation or hypotheticals. As they say " Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it".

  6. We should strive to learn from the past, and never forget it.

  7. I've been waiting around forever to watch that. How did I miss that it was finally on? This is terrible. Also, well said. This is information I hammer into my kids' heads. How can it just pass away from the collective consciousness? How dare anyone let it?

  8. I found this by accident a few days ago. I am far too inarticulate to discuss how these days and those days and the days before that tear me. There are just far too many people who can't and won't imagine anything can be different.

  9. That photo and envelope are amazing! Great post, I am waiting for the Documentary to go to DVD.

  10. I did not expect to like THE WAR, very much. It had nothing to do with Ken Burns as a documentarian. It had more to do with my feelings about WWII. One, I'm more of a Civil War buff . . . which means that Burns' documentary on that particular war was my all-time favorite. It still is. And I must admit that ever since the release of "SAVING PRIVATE RYAN", there seemed to be this propaganda campaign began by Hanks and Spielberg over the worship of that war. THE HISTORY CHANNEL seemed to have more programs on WWII than any other historical event or period. I rather got sick of it. Yet, after watching Burns' new documentary, I have suddenly found WWII interesting again. Even more so, after I had watched BAND OF BROTHERS.

    Good job, Mr. Burns.

  11. I will definitely get my hubby The War for his b-day in Oct. now.I have been hearing about it from so many sources.I, personally, will probably not be able to watch much of it. I take each image to heart and make myself sick. But, I believe it is necessary to share this information. To honor all of those who were there, who still have memories of being there, of what it was all about. Is it just human beings on a path to evolving to something better? I guess I hope so.

  12. Those are people who believed, with all their souls, their bodies and hearts, that to not fight was the ultimate loss. Those were brave people who put the liberty of their countrymen ahead of their own lives, their own needs to be reunited with their families, their own aspirations. Those were people who understood that when freedom is lost, everything else is devalued.
    They made the ultimate sacrifice for us, that we might live the free and easy lives we (at least in many of our home countries) live. To forget them is beyond ignorant. To forget them is unforgivably selfish. To feel even a fraction of their pain by remembering them fully, gore and all, is not the half of what they deserve.
    Haunting post, Aubrey. Thankyou.

  13. WTF?? how about a spoiler alert, aubrey????i wanted to watch that series. but now, thanks to you, I know how it ends ;(maybe there is an alternate ending on the DVD? kind of like that twilight zone episode with the radio?

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