Debate over Ken Burns Civil War doc continues over many years

  • FILE - In this July 28, 2017 file photo, Ken Burns poses for a portrait during the 2017 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif.  From the time it aired nearly 30 years ago, Ken Burns' Civil War documentary has been a popular sensation and subject of debate. Millions have watched the 11-hour film, which has shaped how many Americans view the war. But controversy remains over the film’s legacy, one revived last after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the war could have been avoided had there been more compromise. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) Photo: Chris Pizzello, Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP / Invision



Photo: Chris Pizzello, Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

FILE – In this July 28, 2017 file photograph, Ken Burns poses for a portrait in the course of the 2017 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. From the time it aired practically 30 years in the past, Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary has been a well-liked sensation and topic of debate. Millions have watched the 11-hour movie, which has formed what number of Americans view the battle. But controversy stays over the movie’s legacy, one revived final after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly mentioned the battle might have been prevented had there been extra compromise. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) much less
FILE – In this July 28, 2017 file photograph, Ken Burns poses for a portrait in the course of the 2017 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. From the time it aired practically 30 years in the past, Ken … extra


Photo: Chris Pizzello, Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Debate over Ken Burns Civil War doc continues over many years


NEW YORK (AP) — From the time it aired practically 30 years in the past, Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary has been a well-liked sensation and topic of debate.

The 11-hour, nine-part collection premiered in September 1990 and have become certainly one of PBS’ most generally seen academic packages, with some 40 million taking in at the least a part of the unique broadcast.

“The Civil War” was the uncommon documentary to encourage a skit on “Saturday Night Live” and helped make Burns, in his mid-30s on the time, the uncommon documentary maker recognizable to most of the people.

During its preliminary run, then-President George H.W. Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who would quickly command the U.S.-led Gulf War, had been amongst those that watched it. Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the movie in protection of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had mentioned the Civil War might have been prevented with extra compromise.

“I don’t know that I’m going to get into debating the Civil War, but I do know that many historians, including Shelby Foote in Ken Burns’ famous Civil War documentary, agree that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War,” Sanders mentioned. “There are a lot of historians that think that.”

And numerous historians who do not.

“There’s no one who thinks intransigence was shared equally,” says historian Harold Holzer. “Kelly accepted the old line idea that people were just arguing about tariffs and states’ rights.”

Burns himself challenged Sanders’ interpretation on Twitter. He wrote that “Many factors contributed to the Civil War. One caused it: slavery.” He famous that the documentary ends with commentary from Barbara Fields, a revered scholar of slavery and the Civil War, who says “the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought and regrettably it can still be lost.”

As a lot as any guide or movie in recent times, Burns’ collection has formed how Americans understand the battle. Holzer says “The Civil War” has a few vital and productive legacies — it introduced slavery to the middle of the Civil War debate, erasing a few of the injury attributable to “Gone With the Wind” and different narratives of the previous, and helped create an everlasting in style following for Civil War tales. But he says “The Civil War” was “somewhat romanticized,” notably in its remedy of Gen. Robert E. Lee and different Confederate leaders.

“Since the film and book appeared there’s been a lot very good work done on Robert E. Lee,” says historian Geoffrey Ward, who has collaborated with Burns on “The Civil War” and quite a few different initiatives. “Had I the benefit of it all I’m sure we would have painted a harsher but more accurate portrait of Lee.”

Sanders’ feedback do replicate what Foote mentioned within the movie: Scholars argue concerning the documentary partly as a result of Burns included commentators with very totally different interpretations. Fields’ perspective — that slavery was the trigger, that the battle was mandatory and unavoidable and that preliminary hopes for black equality had been fiercely resisted within the South and stay unmet — is widespread amongst historians now. But much more time in “The Civil War” is given to Foote, who died in 2005.

Foote was a well-liked Southern historian and raconteur who scorned slave holders and abolitionists, and in Burns’ movie contended that the battle occurred “because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise.”

Ward praised Foote as a “master storyteller” however added that “his views on its causes were his own.” The explanation for the battle, Ward added, was slavery.

“Ken Burns always looks for varied voices and he always looks for characters, and Shelby Foote was certainly a character,” Holzer says. “The most amazing thing he said was that the two great geniuses of the war were Lincoln and (Confederate Gen.) Nathan Bedford Forrest. Foote somehow compared the great emancipator with a man who owned slaves, murdered blacks and joined the Ku Klux Klan. “

The documentary impressed sufficient dialogue to change into a guide, “Ken Burns’ The Civil War: Historians Respond,” a 1995 publication that includes contributions by such main students as C. Vann Woodward and Eric Foner and responses from Burns and Ward.

The commentary ranges from reward by Woodward, a Pulitzer Prize winner and marketing consultant for the movie, for Burns’ thoroughness and dedication, to detrimental critiques by Foner and others. Catherine Clinton, who has labored on quite a few books concerning the South, faulted the “wholesale neglect of women.”

Slavery historian Leon Litwack alleged that the movie “revives the pernicious notion” that the “war need not happened at all.” Foner, an authority on Reconstruction, criticized Burns for making “no attempt to convey the state of the nation at war’s end in 1865.”

“The word ‘Reconstruction’ is never mentioned, and what little information there is about the era is random and misleading,” Foner wrote.

In the guide, Ward acknowledged errors, together with the improper date for Lincoln’s badbadination (he had confused the date in April with the day of Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945). But he disputed the feedback of Foner and others and famous that he and Burns had executed their finest inside the boundaries of the medium, writing that “Television is better at narrative than badysis, better at evoking emotions than at expounding complex ideas.”

Burns, within the guide’s closing essay, wrote that he and his collaborators had labored exhausting to “question badumptions” and “doubt easy solutions.” He consulted Confederate historians, Marxist historians and people in between. The movie, he insisted, was not meant to be a definitive badertion and had no set agenda, past the evil of slavery and the timidity of Union Gen. George C. McClellan.

“The rest of the war, North and South, male and female, black and white, civilian and military, was a vast and complicated drama,” he wrote, “poetic as well as social in dimension, emotional as well as didactic in context and scope, instructive to the heart as well as the head.”


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