The War (miniseries)

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The War
Written byGeoffrey C. Ward
Directed byKen Burns
Lynn Novick
Narrated byKeith David
Theme music composerWynton Marsalis
"American Anthem" music and lyrics by Gene Scheer
performed by Norah Jones
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes7
Producer(s)Ken Burns
Lynn Novick
Sarah Botstein
CinematographyBuddy Squires
Editor(s)Paul Barnes
Erik Ewers
Tricia Reidy
Running time14 hours (total)
Production company(s)National Endowment for the Humanities
DistributorPublic Broadcasting Service
Original releaseSeptember 23 –
October 2, 2007

The War is a seven-part American television documentary miniseries about World War II from the perspective of the United States. The program was produced by American filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, written by Geoffrey Ward, and narrated primarily by Keith David.[1] It premiered on September 23, 2007. The world premiere of the series took place at the Palace Theater in Luverne, Minnesota, one of the towns featured in the documentary.[2] It was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


The series focuses on World War II in a "bottom up" fashion through the lenses of four "quintessentially American towns":

The series recounts the experiences of a number of individuals from these communities as they move through the war in the Pacific, African and European theaters, and focuses on the effect of the war on them, their families and their communities.

A number of notable actors including Adam Arkin, Tom Hanks, Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Lucas, Bobby Cannavale and Eli Wallach are heard as voice actors reading contemporary newspaper articles, telegrams, letters from the front, etc. Notable persons including Daniel Inouye, Sidney Phillips, Joe Medicine Crow and Paul Fussell were interviewed.

The full documentary runs 14 hours and was broadcast in seven parts on PBS over two weeks, starting on Sunday, September 23, 2007 and continuing four nights the first week and three nights the second week, from 8 to 10 p.m. (8 to 10:30 p.m. on three nights). The documentary was provided to PBS affiliates in two versions: One with profanity generally prohibited by FCC regulations (including explanations of the acronyms FUBAR and SNAFU) and one without the expletives.[3]


Each episode begins with the introduction:

The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting.
This is the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced that war.

No. Episode Original air date
1"A Necessary War" (December 1941 – December 1942)September 23, 2007 (2007-09-23)
Introduction to the American entry into World War II. Tells us about the four towns mentioned that Burns selected for its wartime experiences and of the residents of those places. By this time, they have already known of the early initial conflicts of World War II in Europe through newspapers and newsreels, but it was only through the attack on Pearl Harbor that roused an isolationist, unprepared country into mobilizing for war. But setbacks arose: The Philippines fell and with it the internment of Americans at Santo Tomas in Manila and the Bataan Death March. American shipping became easy prey for German U-boats along the American coast and in the Atlantic. But America succeeds in stopping the Japanese advances at Midway and Guadalcanal.
2"When Things Get Tough" (January–December 1943)September 24, 2007 (2007-09-24)
With American industry in full production, the United States entered the European war through the North African Campaign where they, together with Allied forces, eventually defeat the Germans in Tunisia despite the initial disaster in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. The air war over Europe and the bombing of Germany. Allied forces commenced the Italian Campaign through the invasions of Sicily and Salerno, punctuated by the experiences of the soldiers from the towns featured. The internment of Japanese Americans is also further discussed.
3"A Deadly Calling" (November 1943 – June 1944)September 25, 2007 (2007-09-25)
The American mobilization transformed cities like Mobile, Waterbury, and Sacramento into boom towns. Mobile thrived on its extensive shipyards that employed many African-Americans, but racial segregation hampers the war production effort in the United States, resulting in ugly riots like in Mobile. African-Americans, as well as Japanese-Americans, were nevertheless recruited by the armed forces into combat units and sent into action, though African-American units were still segregated. The American public finally gets to see the bloody sacrifice of their armed forces through pictures published in LIFE: one of these is the dead on the shore of Buna. The American offensive in the Central Pacific begins with the Battle of Tarawa. The grueling and costly battles of Anzio and Monte Cassino in the Italian campaign. Eventually, the Allies triumph and General Clark's forces take Rome.
4"Pride of Our Nation" (June–August 1944)September 26, 2007 (2007-09-26)
1944: On D-Day, 1.5 million Allied troops embark on the invasion of France, which, after initial setbacks, succeeded. D-Day is followed by the lengthy Battle of Normandy, which ends after three months with the liberation of Paris. The Marines meanwhile fight a costly battle on the island of Saipan in the Western Pacific. These were punctuated by recollections of the participants of the designated towns. The American public, through radio, the press and newsreels, were normally kept informed of the progress of the war. However, as the war progresses, the dreaded War Department casualty telegrams appear at a fast rate.
5"FUBAR" (September–December 1944)September 30, 2007 (2007-09-30)
This episode starts with the mistaken Allied assumption that the war in Europe would be over before the winter of 1944. It covers the disastrous Operation Market Garden; the bloody invasion and battle of Peleliu; the incompetence of General Dahlquist and the rescue of the Lost Battalion by the 442nd during the horrendous Battle of Hürtgen Forest. But there are achievements: General MacArthur returns to the Philippines following the US invasion, much of the Japanese fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the heroism of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team; the thrill of the internees at the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila in seeing American planes strafing Japanese ships in Manila Bay and the fall of Aachen, the first German city to be captured by the Allies. There are the experiences of African-American servicemen and those of American Indians. But the reality is that the war will not end in 1944, and more ground will have to be covered and lives lost to achieve the ultimate victory.
6"The Ghost Front" (December 1944 – March 1945)October 1, 2007 (2007-10-01)
The Germans launch a major surprise offensive in the Ardennes which becomes known as the Battle of the Bulge; the battle develops into the bloodiest of the war for the Americans. The siege of Bastogne and combat stress reaction during the war. The Santo Tomas internment camp is liberated following the Battle of Manila. The Marines assault Iwo Jima. The controversial air war against Japanese and German cities towards the end of the war. The final invasion of Germany and General Patton's attempts to rescue his son-in-law from a German prison camp behind the German lines. There are also insights into the role of medics in combat, pinups and American POWs in Japan. But still, there are newspaper reports of new setbacks and losses, and the endless and unendurable telegrams bearing the bad news from the War Department.
7"A World Without War" (March–September 1945)October 2, 2007 (2007-10-02)
The War finally reaches its end: the bloody Battle of Okinawa and the kamikaze attacks. The death of President Roosevelt and the assumption to office of Harry Truman. The Soviets commence their final assault on Berlin. Hitler's suicide and the fall of the Third Reich. The awful reality of Nazi Germany is discovered with the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and death camps. VE Day following Germany's surrender. The sinking of USS Indianapolis. Plans for the ultimate, long, and bloody conquest of Japan. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The liberation of the American POWs in Japan and VJ Day following the Japanese surrender at the USS Missouri. The episode concludes with the return and reunification of the American fighting men, and the fates of the towns and personalities first featured earlier in this series as they, and the United States, continue with the business of living in a postwar world. Extras: This is followed by David Brancaccio interviewing Ken Burns, Rev. Forbes, and Lynn Novick about what they were attempting to accomplish in this production.

International releases[edit]

In some countries, notably Australia, Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany, The War was released as a 14-episode series. The region 4 DVD release of The War splits the series into 14 episodes, but notes that it is "a seven-part documentary".

Critical reception[edit]

TIME magazine's James Poniewozik named the series one of the Top 10 New TV Series of 2007, ranking it at no. 9.[4] Alessandra Stanley, writing for the New York Times, gave the series a mixed review, praising it as a "respectful, moving and meticulously illustrated anthology of small-town lives turned upside down by what one elderly veteran calls 'a necessary war,'" while also faulting it for "view[ing] the Second World War as a mostly domestic concern" in which "the London blitz, Stalingrad, Bergen-Belsen and the Warsaw uprising are parentheses."[5] Slate's Beverly Gage echoed these thoughts saying "it's rousing and meaningful and not technically inaccurate, but not exactly the whole truth." [6] Jonathan Storm of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, "Once-in-a-lifetime viewing."[7]


The War came under fire after previews during the editing process indicated no mention of the contributions of Hispanics to the war effort, whose representation in the war itself is estimated at up to half a million people; complaints followed later as to omissions of Hispanic and Native American contributions and those of women in uniform.[8][9][10] Originally the premiere was scheduled for September 16, 2007; the fact that this date is both Mexican Independence Day and the start of U.S. observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month drew additional fire from its detractors, and the initial airdate was later moved to September 23, 2007, with no comment from PBS.[11]

Although at first the dispute seemed to be settled with the inclusion of additional footage to address the omission, in subsequent weeks, groups began to question conflicting reports from Burns and PBS as to whether the additional footage would be provided as supplementary material or would be integrated into the overall program.[12][13][14] Burns initially insisted that re-editing the series was out of the question, with PBS defending that decision on the basis of artistic freedom. Over the months of May and June, as of mid-July, 2007, estimates put out by Burns suggested that additional footage showing interviews with two Hispanics and one Native American would be added to the series, for a total of 28 minutes additional footage to the 14 hours the program was originally planned to cover; the additional footage would air at the conclusion of the selected episodes, but before each episode's final credits.[15]

News outlets began to report as of July 11 that the additional content had not been included in materials made available for preview by television writers and critics, prompting renewed discussion and speculation as to the eventual outcome of the debate.


  1. ^ The War | Pbs
  2. ^ Steil, Mark (September 6, 2007). "Luverne prepares for 'The War'". MPRnews. Minneapolis: Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved October 28, 2011.
  3. ^ Means, Sean P. (2007-09-20). "Memories of the War: Burns' new documentary tells story through everyday Americans' eyes". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
  4. ^ Poniewozik, James; Top 10 New TV Series;
  5. ^ Stanley, Alessandra. "The War - Ken Burns - PBS - Television - Review". Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  6. ^ Gage, Beverly (2007-09-20). "Old Soldiers Never Lie". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  7. ^ Storm, Jonathan (September 7, 2007). "Nuggets - not a wealth - of good shows". The Philadelphia Inquier. Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  8. ^ Guerra, Carlos (2007-04-25). "Commentary: Honor Latinos' sacrifice even if 'The War' doesn't". San Antonio News Express. Archived from the original on 2007-05-11. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  9. ^ Dick Kreck (March 4, 2007). "Latinos left out of "The War"". Denver Post. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  10. ^ Goodman, Amy (2007-04-13). "PBS Criticized for Excluding Latino, Native Voices from WWII Documentary" ("rush transcript" version of interview of Maggie Rodríguez-Rivas). Democracy Now. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  11. ^ Guerra, Carlos (2007-02-23). "PBS' WW II film no longer on Diez y Seis, but still no Latinos". San Antonio Express-News.
  12. ^ Gamboa, Suzanne (2007-04-12). "Hispanics Still Unhappy With Burns Film,". The Washington Post. Associated Press.
  13. ^ Farhi, Paul (2007-04-18). "Ken Burns Agrees To Expand Documentary: Inclusion of Minority WWII Service Members Follows Latino Protests". The Washington Post. p. C-1.
  14. ^ Farhi, Paul (2007-04-19). "Burns Won't Reedit 'War,' PBS Clarifies". The Washington Post. p. C-1. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
  15. ^ Associated Press (2007-07-11). "Ken Burns adds half-hour to 'The War' series to include Hispanic, American Indian veterans".

External links[edit]