"The War": Final Grade

See this, this, and this for my reactions to the first six episodes of Ken Burns’s The War.

REVISED, 11/17/07

Having now seen the seventh and final episode of The War, I give the series a grade of “D”; it escapes an “F” only for its willingness to say, hesitantly, that

  • World War II was, for the United States, a necessary war because of the nature of the enemy. It was, therefore, worth its cost in lives, limbs, and money.
  • It was, in the end, necessary to drop A-bombs on Japan in order to bring the war to avert an invasion of Japan — an invasion that would have cost the lives of millions of Americans and Japanese.

But we already knew those things, didn’t we?

Like episodes two through six, episode seven suffers from viewpoint confusion. The War makes the points I list above, then — time after time — retracts or undermines them. In episode seven, for example, we hear again from the egregious Paul Fussell (see this), who clearly implies that the war wasn’t worth fighting until the Holocaust came to light, late in the war.

And there is the insistence on presenting “balanced” reactions to the dropping of A-bombs on Japan. One of the “witnesses” who appears throughout the series staunchly defends the act. Another notes its strategic wisdom but still wishes it hadn’t been necessary. But it was necessary — and, really, an act of mercy toward the Japanese as well as to America’s fighting men. Why pander to the nay-sayers, who will go to their graves condemning the act, in spite of its moral necessity?

Burns and company, I fear, simply wanted to make a “blockbuster.” To that end, they chose World War II and the “greatest generation” — subjects guaranteed to elicit sympathy and lull the viewer into agreement with the film’s subtext, which has two main elements.

One element is voiced at the very end of the final episode, in the dedication. It is to those who served in World War II, “that necessary war” (emphasis added), not “a necessary war,” as the first episode has it. The implication is that no later war was or is necessary — certainly not the present one.

The second element of the subtext reinforces the first one, and it is less subtle. That second element is The War‘s insistence on playing up America’s moral failings (as discussed above and in my second and third reactions to The War). The intended message is that because of our moral failings, and because war is hell, World War II was barely worth fighting, although it seemed necessary at the time (even to the Left). Therefore, given the murkiness of our present cause — as proclaimed loudly by the Leftists who have come to dominate the media and academe — the war in Iraq (and perhaps the war on terror) is unjustified because America remains morally imperfect and war remains hellish. The Left proclaims an act of war against anyone but Hitler (not a Hitler, the Hitler) to be an act of hypocrisy and brutality by a morally imperfect nation.

That is Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR), about which I have written:

It treats different groups as if they had different moral imperatives. By and large, they do not; most groups (or, more exactly, most of their members) have the same moral imperative: The Golden Rule.

There are, of course, groups that seldom if ever observe The Golden Rule. Such groups are ruled by force and fear, and they deny voice and exit to their members. The rulers of such groups are illegitimate because they systematically try to suppress observance of The Golden Rule, which is deep-seated in human nature. Other groups may therefore justly seek to oust and punish those despotic rulers.

I go on to point out that MMR, these days, seems to take this form:

The United States is imperfect. It is, therefore, no better than its enemies.

Such is the relativism we see in those who excuse despotic, murderous regimes and movements because “we asked for it” or “we are no better than they are” or “war is never the answer” or “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” or “terrorists deserve the protections of the Geneva Convention.” That kind of relativism empowers the very despots and terrorists whose existence is an affront to The Golden Rule.

The War is a barely redeemed exercise in Metaethical Moral Relativism. I say that only because its subtext may escape many viewers who are not of the Left. As for the Left, it had embraced MMR long before The War appeared on PBS; The War merely affirms

the American Left’s long-standing allegiance to anti-defense, anti-war dogmas, under which lies the post-patriotic attitude that America is nothing special, just another place to live.

Related posts:
Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats
Foxhole Rats, Redux
The Faces of Appeasement
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
Whose Liberties Are We Fighting For?
Words for the Unwise
More Foxhole Rats
Post-Americans and Their Progeny
Anti-Bush or Pro-Treason?
Com-Patriotism and Anti-Patriotic Acts
Depressing but True
Katie Couric: Post-American