For more than 25 years, Ken Burns has been telling America’s story through Emmy Award–winning and Oscar-nominated historical documentaries. The purpose of his films, he told a BYU audience in March, is to share with millions the voice of “an almost inexpressibly wise past.” Starting Sept. 23, PBS will air his 19th documentary, a seven-part miniseries about World War II. Highlights from Burns’ forum address delivered in the Marriott Center on March 27, 2007, are featured below:
A Present-Centric Culture
We live in a culture so dedicated to an all-consuming present, where people can name you 10 brands of blue jeans or perfume or handbags but can’t name that many presidents. . . . We confidently proceed on, certain our historical amnesia will never catch up with us. How wrong, how terribly wrong we are. . . . Without a past, we have no future.
Making the WWII Documentary
We have been privileged to be ushered into the lives and memories of nearly 40 men and women who brought the war modestly, gingerly, with great emotion and pain and no small amount of ambivalence to our doorsteps, so that we in turn might try to work and rework, massage and cajole, humor and celebrate the bravery and heroism of these citizen-soldiers, who when they were 18, 19, 20, and 21 years old—a time whenmost of us had the luxury of inattention and narcissistic self-involvement—happened to help save the world.
Unity During WWII
It was the last time this country was truly one. There were no red states or blue states then or a separate military class suffering all the losses apart and alone or a sense of disconnect from what was happening to our men, our men, overseas. We were all together on this one—an exceptional unity we can only hope to reclaim one day.