Who's watching 'The War'?

Ransom Riggs

Hey, is anybody watching Ken Burns' new 14-hour documentary, The War? So far as I can tell, exactly zero of my film school friends are, even though it's ostensibly the best (or one of the best) works by the best (or one of our best) documentary filmmakers. (That may have something to do with the time commitment involved, but that's what Tivos are for, right?) I'm just one episode behind so far, and am loving it: it's a history of the war from the soldier's perspective, not the generals' or the politicians', and Burns' overarching thesis -- that there are "no good wars, only necessary ones," as one of his interviewees muses -- really shines through.

I'm also probably a little biased: my friend Sarah produced the film, so for a few years now I've been hearing about the tribulations they underwent to get their hands on all this rarely- or never-seen footage: digging deep inside military archives; spending weeks at the Library of Congress; negotiating with German archivists for the use of their war footage (and getting royally overcharged for it).

Needless to say, the result is World War II as you've never seen it, and I can say for my part, at least, that I've come to realize just how alien the concept of "total war" is to me and probably many people my age: to paraphrase one War veteran, it's a profound and lonely feeling you get when, as a soldier coming from a society that emphasizes individual rights and freedoms as ours does, to realize in your icy foxhole in the dark of night, that your life is expendable. How many non-veterans can say they've felt that?

In case you've missed the whole darn thing (the series ends this week but will be re-run forever, I'm sure), here's a 27-minute preview. See if it doesn't hook you right away.