Ken Burns: Focus is again on ordinary people in WW II documentary

Historians in the News

If it's true that war is about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, then it's also true that books, films and television programs about war tend to focus on the extraordinary circumstances and not so much on the ordinary people.

Filmmaker Ken Burns is poised to break from this trend when he unveils his most ambitious project yet - in his words, "a 61/2-year labour of love."

The War, a 15-hour, seven-night look at "the greatest cataclysm in American history," as Burns called the Second World War, will debut on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. - exactly 17 years to the moment that his genre-defining program The Civil War premiered on PBS.

The War will focus on the experiences of "so-called ordinary people," Burns said, emphasizing the 'so-called' with deliberate irony.

By telling the story of the Second World War through the eyes of everyday people drawn from four, geographically disparate towns - Waterbury, Ct., Mobile, Ala., Sacramento, Calif. and Luverne, Minn. - Burns believes viewers and amateur historians alike will get a genuine sense of what happened between December 1941 and September 1945.

"Not the good war of our imagination and sentimentality," Burns said, "but the worst war ever, responsible for the deaths of nearly 60 million human beings - what it was like in battle and, for some, to work and worry and wait and grieve back home, undistracted by a focus on generals and politicians, strategy and tactics, armaments and weaponry."...

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