Monday, October 01, 2007

The War

I've been watching The War on PBS, a more solitary experience that I would have predicted. Apparently its getting reasonably good ratings. But almost none of my circle is joining in, despite the fact that it is disproportionately populated with bookish history geeks, WWII buffs, and socially awkward people with nothing better to do with their evenings anyway. No matter what the ratings, this series certainly has not become the cultural phenomenon that Ken Burns' previous war epic, The Civil War, became 17 years ago. (Amazing to realize it's been 17 years since that was first run.)

For what its worth, I think The War has been excellent. I'm a great admirer of the Ken Burns style and pacing and if anything, he's gotten better at telling stories over the past two decades. I especially like how he does the openings, starting with a riveting, dramatic, often tragic first hand account of an incident, then slowly fading in the title to some appropriately emotional music. It gets me every time.

This production has drawn a multitude of critics, from both the multi-culti left and hard right (at least of Brooklyn, NY). But it seems to me if you can let go of the notion that this is a "definitive" account of World War II (something Burns denies), and appreciate it as a documentary of some of the millions of facets of this greatest of 20th century human endeavors, it has to be viewed as brilliant.

I would disagree with the PC liberals calling out Burns for inadequate representation of various racial minority experiences. If anything, Burns spends too much time viewing events through the racial prism. That war, and war in general, is so much larger than that. Sometimes it feels like he's doing the "World to End - Blacks and Japanese Americans Hardest Hit" routine. But those stories are real and fascinating (and real fascinating) and worth telling. I'm glad someone is doing it. Ken Burns is who he is, a product of late 20th century postmodern establishment liberal sensibility. I do wonder, if our society someday gets beyond its obsession with race (prediction, year 2476) will this documentary be looked on as an anachronistic artifact of this time.

One of the stories of intererst to me was the Battle of Peleliu, covered last night. A particularly brutal fight between US Marines and Japanese soldiers over a 5 sq. mile island, resulting in 12,000 deaths in two months (10,000 of whom were Japanese).

This was of particular intestest because last week while I was in San Diego, we toured the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway. While up in the "island" of the ship (where the bridge and flight control are located) an excited commotion broke out among the retired Navy guys giving the tour, and they announced a ship with the strange name "Peleliu" was entering the harbor after a months long overseas deployment. This picture is taken from outside the bridge of the Midway.

That white line around the perimeter are the sailors in their dress uniforms, "manning the rail," a US Navy tradition for ships coming home.

It was mentioned at the time that the USS Peleliu was coming home from Iraq. It turns out they were on a humanitarian mission in East Asia called 2007 Pacific Partnership:

The four-month humanitarian mission will bring together host nation medical personnel, partner nation military medical personnel and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide medical, dental, construction and other humanitarian-assistance programs ashore and afloat in the Philippines, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

In a brief pierside ceremony prior to the ship's departure, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Robert Willard praised all involved with the mission that continues the long tradition of U.S. Navy support of humanitarian-assistance programs throughout the world and that reflects international compassion for the people of the Western Pacific region with whom many share common bonds.

"The United States is a Pacific nation, and as such, we share many interests, values and beliefs with our Pacific neighbors. As mariners, we have a tradition of rendering assistance to those in distress on the sea, and Pacific Partnership is a logical extension of these ideals," Willard said.

Particularly noble work for an amphibious assault ship, armed with 6 Harrier attack plans, 35 helicopters, the "Bushmaster" 25 mm gun (take that, Dennis Kucinich) and up to 1,900 Marines.

BTW, here's one more picture, me in one of the Midway's old T-2s, preparing to give the crew of the Peleliu a thrill with a low altitude pass.

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