Epic, lavishly illustrated accompaniment to the PBS series, of a piece with The Civil War, Baseball and other such overstuffed packages.
“For those Americans who lived through the Second World War…it remains to this day simply The War.” So write Ward (Unforgivable Blackness, 2004, etc.) and filmmaker Burns at the close of this history, which manages to be at once pointedly cautionary (“no nation should embark upon any war without first understanding what its cost will be”) and celebratory in a Capraesque sort of way. Their WWII is a story of ordinary Joes (and Janes, though they figure a touch too little here) made extraordinary by circumstances; some of them have been overlooked, such as the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and some are overlooked even here, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Despite limitations of coverage—and it’s to be noted that this is emphatically the American war, which began more than two years later than the Russian, British and French war against fascism—Ward and Burns take a wide-angle approach, considering the effects of combat on the home front and providing plenty of photographs that have not been seen dozens of times in other books; the absence of iconic Iwo Jima and Times Square shots is refreshing, the inclusion of made-for-moderns images of mayhem and death often disturbing, which is just as it should be. Interspersed throughout the text is an affecting war-at-home commentary from contemporary newsman Al McIntosh, who writes of apprehensive draftees leaving and equally apprehensive veterans returning to Wisconsin. Other voices include the scholar-veteran Paul Fussell and the great combat journalist Ernie Pyle, who writes of GIs turned from civilians into hardened warriors: “The most vivid change,” he observes, “is the casual and workshop manner in which they now talk about killing.”
Excellent—an introduction to the war for the uninitiated, and a scrapbook of sorts for those who remember it.