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The War (film)

Documentary mini-series by Ken Burns on the American experience of World War II. Produced in 2006, The War debuted on public television stations in September 2007, shown in seven roughly two-hour parts. Included in the sprawling documentary is the story of Japanese American forced removal and incarceration as well as the story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team .


As a mechanism for narrowing the enormous story of the war, Burns, co-director Lynn Novick, and writer Geoffrey Ward focus on four typical American towns/cities in different parts of the country: Luverne, Minnesota; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Waterbury, Connecticut. The filmmakers develop characters from each locale—war veterans from both the Pacific and European theaters along with women and others who spent the war years at home—that they follow through the war, recalling the stories through interviews along with diaries and letters voiced by actors. The film proceeds in more-or-less chronological order, juxtaposing segments on key battles with those on the impact of war on the home front or on specific populations. The filmmakers focus on the lives and actions of ordinary soldiers and civilians, rather than on generals or political leaders.

Episode One: "A Necessary War," December 1941 to December 1942

Begins by profiling the four towns/cities, introducing us to key characters from each. From there, it covers the attack on Pearl Harbor and reaction in each locale; America's state of denial and unpreparedness about the war prior to that and the rush to enlistment afterwards; the grim situation in early 1942 that saw the Japanese in control of the Pacific and the Germans largely in control of Europe, German U-boat attacks on American ships in the Atlantic, and the Bataan Death March. The episode concludes with what proved to be the turning points in the Pacific: the Battles of Midway and Guadalcanal.

Episode Two: "When Things Got Tough" January 1943 to December 1943

The war in North Africa, the liberation of Sicily and the invasion of Italy; the air war in Europe and the desperate odds that bomber crews faced; the continued imprisonment of American civilians in the Philippines and POWs in Japan; and the various impacts of war in the four communities: enlistments, letters home, booming war industries, nearly full employment (including women and African Americans), and rationing of daily goods.

Episode Three: "A Deadly Calling" November 1943 to June 1944

Advances in the Pacific, including the Battle of Tarawa, but at a large cost. In Europe, failed attempts at the Gustav Line and Monte Cassino and a landing at Anzio beachhead that stalls before the eventual taking of Rome. Also covers the African American experience in segregated units and in places like Mobile, both new opportunities and old resentments. Booming war industries in Waterbury and salvage and scrap drives everywhere.

Episode Four: "Pride of Our Nation" June 1944 to August 1944

This episode focuses primarily on the long delayed invasion of France in the European Theater and the Battle Saipan in the Pacific. The French story begins with the multi-pronged invasion of Normandy, the stalemate in the hedgerows beyond the beaches, and concludes with the Allied breakthrough and eventual liberation of France. We continue to follow the cost of the war in the four featured towns/cities.

Episode Five: "FUBAR" September 1944 to December 1944

Continued progress in Europe and the Pacific is marred by strategic blunders by war planners that result in death and mayhem for ordinary soldiers: Operation Market Garden in Germany and the invasion of Peleliu, a Pacific island, and the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in Germany, neither of which proved to have military value. In examining the continuing impact of the war on the four communities, a focus on Sacramento highlights the all-African American 4909th unit at Fort McClellen.

Episode Six: " Ghost Front" December 1944 to March 1945

The Battle of the Bulge (the title refers to the German counterattack in the Ardennes, an area that had been so quiet to that point that Allied soldiers called it a "ghost front"), the shelling of Dresden and other German cities, and the crossing of the Rhine on the European front; the Battle of the Manila and the liberation of the Santo Tomas prisoners and the Battle Iwo Jima and the fire bombing of Japan on the Pacific side. Also explores the role and dilemma of medics, the growing psychological toll of battle, and pin-up girls.

Episode Seven: "A World Without War" March 1945 to September 1945

The final battles in in Europe and the end of the war there is followed by the discovery of the Nazi death camps. In the Pacific, the Battle of Okinawa, kamikaze attacks, and planning for an invasion of Japan, before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bring an abrupt end to the war. While there are wild celebrations in the four towns, they are balanced by grieving for those who were lost, the adjustments returning soldiers faced, and changes in the local and national economy. The last segment of the film bring us up to date with many of the key figures whose stories we followed throughout.

The Japanese American Experience

Nearly every episode (all except episode six) includes one or more significant segments on Japanese Americans during World War II. Much of the focus is on the experience of Japanese Americans from Sacramento, including their roundup and forced removal, their incarceration, and their military service in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, including the rescue of the "Lost Battalion." Among the Sacramentans interviewed are Susumu Satow, Asako Tokuno, Robert Kashiwagi, and Tim Tokuno. Daniel K. Inouye 's story is also highlighted.

Episode One: A seven-minute segment (beginning at about the 81:30 mark) on Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent roundup of Japanese Americans, with a focus on those in Sacramento. Susumu Satow talks about his family being forced out during the harvest and having to leave strawberry crops for others to harvest and profit from, and Asako Tokuno talks about leaving UC Berkeley and closing up the family flower business after the rest of her family is removed. Daniel Inouye also talks about his reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor, his work as a Red Cross volunteer, and the ban on Japanese Americans enlistment in the U.S. armed forces.

Episode Two: A five-minute segment (starting at 44:00) again focusing on Sacramento includes interviews with Robert Kashiwagi, who was pulled from a sanitarium to go Amache and with Satow and Tokuno, who discuss conditions in the camps. Many of the visuals consist of home movie footage from the collection of the Japanese American National Museum .

Episode Three: Includes an eight-minute segment (starting at 31:00) on the 442nd, featuring Daniel Inouye and Sacramento natives Robert Kashiwagi, who decides to volunteer even while objecting to having to join a segregated unit, and Tim Tokuno, who notes the irony of having to visit his family at Topaz before shipping out.

Episode Four: Another six-and-a-half minute segment on the 442nd and 100th (beginning at around the 104 minute mark) portrays their heroic service in Italy featuring interviews with Inouye, Kashiwagi, and Satow. In the Saipan segment, there is a brief mention of Japanese Americans troops trying to convince Japanese civilians to surrender rather than commit suicide.

Episode Five: A nearly ten-minute segment (starting at about 73:20) on the rescue of the Lost Battalion continues the "FUBAR," theme, highlighting not only the deeds of the 442nd, but the incompetence and arrogance of General John E. Dahlquist .

Episode Seven: Included in this episode are brief segments on the reaction of the 442nd to President Roosevelt 's death (25:10), the battle in Italy that resulted Daniel K. Inouye's injuries (32:30), and the return of Japanese Americans to Sacramento, including the postwar story of Robert Kashiwagi (101:50).

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like 442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity (2010); Daniel K. Inouye: An American Story (2003); We Came to Grow: Japanese Americans in the Central Valley 1869-1941 (1999)

Media Details
Release Date 2007
Runtime 870 minutes
Director Ken Burns
Producer Ken Burns
Writer Geoffrey C. Ward
Narrator Keith David
Music Wynton Marsalis
Cinematography Buddy Squires
Editing Paul Barnes