The American Renaissance: Chapter Eleven, Ken Burns And His War
By Michael Moriarty
The Ken Burns series on Netflix is not entitled World War II. Nor is it called The Second World War.
No, this extensive examination of America during the Second World War is simply entitled The War.
“The War” series
America’s war with her own racism.
Ken Burns’ extraordinary achievement, The Civil War series?
No matter which American war we are talking about, the most common denominator throughout all of Ken Burns’ major works on war is not the inevitable role of the military but the perverse and eternal presence of American racism.
At no time during either his The Civil War or The War do we sense that America has made any substantive progress in Ken Burns’ personal War On Racism.
That, apparently, is Ken Burns’ job.
So Ken Burns is shouting, with increasingly intense tones:
I get it!!
The price we pay for the indisputable genius within Ken Burns’ eloquence?!
His talents as one of the world’s greatest storytellers?!
The “Price” is the bellicose nature of his unrelentingly repeated “Message”!
His prodigiously Shakespearean gift for sharing history with us?!
If you want it, you’ll pay!
You, the Ken Burns audience, are just a typically afflicted example of Eugene Burdick’s and William Lederer’s “Ugly American”! America’s warrior presence in Southeast Asia smells of the same inherently American racism that virulently infected not only the Confederate South but was racing throughout America’s entire conduct of World War II.
What President Roosevelt did to those poor Japanese Americans?!
“Doing to the Japanese what the Japanese did to the Americans!! Imprisoning them.”
That certainly was the message in Ken Burns’ The War.
No, the series makes it clear that Japanese “concentration camps” and America’s “internment camps” weren’t exactly alike.
However, the shocked and insulted response to America’s “better safe than sorry” policy was unapologetically and, for someone as undeniably “tasteful” as Ken Burns, shockingly heavy-handed.
My Ivy League professors had the exact same delivery as Ken Burns.
Slip the knife quietly, if possible, into your student’s Achilles heel!
There’s nothing quiet about Ken Burns’ War On American Racism.
The feeling one gets is that despite the profound sense of American History within all of Ken Burns’ prodigious vision, one senses that Mr. Burns, instead of simply delivering it to us, pours it down upon us from a far loftier place on earth than we generally ugly Americans might be inhabiting.
The War’s charming Southern belle from Mobile, Alabama?! Apparently her warm and winning veneer covers the very American, from both North and South, hidden agenda: American Racism!
Imperial Japan’s policy of “Death to all non-Japanese?!”
You want racism?!
An increasingly infectious and virulent racial hatred that wasn’t attended to for at least half-a-century?!
From Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism to Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust?!
In a series on World War II, with Americans fighting both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany?!
It is time to lecture the United States on racism?!
Speak down to America and Americans as if they hadn’t lost at least 620,000 men and women in a Civil War that ended slavery?!
As if Martin Luther King made no progress whatsoever with his cause?!
And between 50 and 80 million human beings lost their lives in a World War II that was the most undeniably monstrous confrontation! A war meant to defeat a European and Oriental, homicidal racism?!
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.