PAUL KIRK: Good evening and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. I’m Paul Kirk, chairman of the Board of Directors, and on behalf of myself, the Board, our Library Director Tom Putnam, and Foundation CEO John Shattuck, the Kennedy Library is truly honored to present this extraordinary evening. It is a great privilege to welcome a number of very special guests tonight. First, I would like to acknowledge Bank of America, the lead sponsor of the Kennedy Library Forum Series, and a distinguished sponsor of the PBS documentary The War. It’s my honor to recognize three executives who are with us from Bank of America: first, our board member, Anne Finucane, who is joined by Brian Moynihan President of Global Wealth & Investment Management Massachusetts, and President Bob Gallery. We are grateful to have all of you with us for this special evening.
We are also very grateful to our other generous Forum sponsors, and I’d like to recognize Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation, and Joe Corcoran of the Corcoran-Jennison Companies who are with us tonight, along with our series sponsors Boston Capital and the Lowell Institute. Our media sponsors include our neighbors, the Boston Globe, ably represented tonight by Al Larkin; and WBUR, led by Paul LaCamera who is with us tonight, and which broadcasts the Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings; as well as NECN. Our great thanks to these civic institutions who have made tonight and all of the Kennedy Library Forums possible.
To moderate the discussion tonight with Ken Burns is Boston’s own chronicler, Mike Barnicle. Mike Barnicle has been a columnist for more than 30 years, writing for The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, and the Boston Herald; he is a twice-weekly essayist on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Mathews; and, a regular contributor to the country’s longest running award-winning local news magazine, Chronicle, on WCVB-TV. Mike has also hosted several award-winning documentaries for WCVB, including Armed and Dangerous, an incisive look at the proliferation of guns in this country, and Justice On Trial, a critical examination of the Massachusetts judicial system. He reported and hosted Suffer The Children, a moving documentary about children at risk. In addition, he has appeared on PBS’s News Hour, ABC’s Nightline, and CBS’s 60 Minutes and written for Esquire, George, and ESPN Magazine.
He has won local and national awards for both his print and broadcast work in his more than quarter century in journalism, including awards from National Headliners, Associated Press, United Press International, and DuPont Columbia. He graduated from Boston University in 1965, and holds honorary degrees from University of Massachusetts and Colby College among others. He began his career working for a variety of well-known political figures including the late Robert F. Kennedy and Edmund Muskie. Please join me in welcoming Mike Barnicle.
[Mike Barnicle introduction of Ken Burns unavailable]
KEN BURNS: I feel compelled to inoculate myself at the moment of such a generous introduction by telling you that for the last 30 years, I’ve had on the refrigerator of my home in Walpole, New Hampshire a now old and faded New Yorker cartoon that shows two men standing in Hell, the flames licking up around them. And one guy says to the other, “Apparently my over 200 screen credits didn’t mean a damn thing.” [laughter]
I, too, would like to make three brief thanks. First, to public television, that provided me the home to produce this film [applause] … as represented in this town so ably by WGBH. They literally represent a kind of oasis in what we now know is a sea of 400-plus channels with almost nothing on. If you watch public television, there’s something on. And we are so grateful to them and to our underwriters -- in this case, Bank of America – which has proved to be the most enlightened, smart, savvy, wise sponsors we’ve ever had.
You know, there’s that old saying from high school philosophy that if a tree falls in a forest and no human being hears it, did it make a sound? I can’t answer that, ladies and gentlemen. But the corollary that I know: if you make a good film and no one knows it was on, is it good? And the answer is no. It takes a lot of help to get the word out, and Bank of America has been extraordinary in getting the word out about this film. I don’t think the country would be aware of this film and have responded as they have so magnificently without their help, and I’d like to thank them. [applause]
Let me just say, for a world-weary veteran, I’ve been on the road for about eight months, trying to make sure that people knew that this film was on. How great it is to be done, to come home, to be at a place as special as this place. As you walk around this building, you are, it seems to me, reminded of a couple of very powerful recurring themes in America. One is, of course, family. As you see the amazing human beings populating the pictures here, you can feel and you can ache for the kind of family bonds that you see exhibited, even in the most casual photographs. You wish the same for yourself. You hope that you are able to replicate it at a personal level, and you wish so much that your family would understand the very nature of shared sacrifice that is implicit. Also, not just the family bonds of this remarkable family, but also the sacrifice their sons made, particularly in the war we’ve spent so long trying to come to grips with. I can’t imagine, Paul, a more appropriate place to come home than this magnificent place with this view and this audience. So let me just say from the bottom of my heart just how special it is to be here this evening.
Last Sunday, PBS began broadcasting our seven-part, 14 1/2-hour series on this Second World War, the American experience of this Second World War, titled simply “The War.” It came precisely 17 years to the moment after PBS began broadcasting our series on the American Civil War. It’s a little bit daunting to think that you’ve spent that long in your professional career and all you’ve been able to remove is the word “civil.” [laughter]
That first series began with a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was wounded six times in the Civil War and would go on to serve his country again as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He said, “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt, we still feel, the passion of life at its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.” Holmes was struggling to put into words what every soldier who has experienced combat knows in his or her gut: that paradoxically, when your life is most threatened, when violent death is possible at any moment, everything is vivified, your experience of life heightened to a degree not felt in ordinary life.
And so Lynn Novak, the co-director with me on this film, and I felt that, despite the thousands of documentaries on the Second World War, we didn’t really think we’d known what it was like to be in war. We felt it had been mediated by too much emphasis on context; too much emphasis on the generals and the politicians who do not do the fighting and the dying; too much emphasis on strategy and tactics that abstract the human costs; too much on weapons and armaments that do the damage but aren’t part of the damage. And that it was possible to tell a film, particularly at this urgent moment when we are losing 1,000 veterans of the Second World War each day in America, it would be possible for a few moments to ask a handful of people.
We chose four geographically distributed American towns, got to know the people, and followed their sons off to this horrific cataclysm: what it was like to be in battle, and conversely, what was it like to be at home waiting anxiously for a loved one to come back. We didn’t want to impose any political point of view or bias. We were struggling to come to terms with an essential aspect of what it was like to be in war and also to participate again in what that meaning of shared sacrifice was.
Now, you have to understand. Filmmakers hate to show clips of their films. So I’ve asked the ushers to lock the door and … [laughter] You’ll be out at about 9:00 tomorrow morning if we don’t take any bathroom breaks, which I’m sure will be okay with you.
No, we’ve already gone through four of the seven episodes. I thought what I’d do is, for those of you who have not seen anything, just give you a little five-minute introduction from the opening of the film; then jump ahead to our sixth episode, a battle in the Pacific; jump to a tiny, little funny moment in the battle in Europe; and then go to our last episode, which will be coming up on Tuesday night and which will need absolutely no introduction; and, finally, end with a remarkable tune that I heard during the course of the production.
My dad, who you will see under the main credit, “The War,” was a young lieutenant who arrived in France in 1945, fortunately as the action was winding down. He passed away in 2001. As I had the terrible task of taking his ashes from Michigan, where he died, to New Hampshire, where I live, I heard on - of course - public broadcasting a beautiful song sung by an opera singer. Wasn’t meant to be sung by an opera singer. This is an anthem to be a popular song called “American Anthem.” It was so beautiful that I pulled off to the side of the road and wept like a baby - as much for the terrible cargo I was carrying as for the beauty of this song. But I worked the melody into the film and was haunted by the lyrics. I would hope that every person in this room would want to hold forever the remarkable chorus of this song, “Let them say of me, I was one who believed, of sharing the blessings I received, let me know in my heart when my days are through, America, America, I gave my best to you.”
We were fortunate enough to get a remarkable young woman with a voice so special it is a gift from God, Norah Jones, to sing it for us, and we’ve sewed the various choruses and verses through the series. But I’ve put them all together with a kind of snapshot, a table of contents, of the images from the rest, as a way of finishing our evening before the conversation I so look forward to with my friend, Mike Barnicle. Thank you very much for coming, and I look forward to our discussion afterwards. Could you please roll the tape? [applause]
[video clip] [applause and standing ovation]
KEN BURNS: Thank you. Thank you.
MIKE BARNICLE: I don’t know how many of you shed a tear or two watching just that excerpt. I can tell you that when you see the entire project, or even any piece of the project, you might shed a few more tears. But you might also come away thinking a couple of things.
One is that when you see it in its entire scope, from the politics of those years of the war through Franklin Delano Roosevelt and through the eyes that are still so vivid in so many of the still shots that you saw here, you would want that country back again. You would want to be part of that country of shared sacrifice, of streets and boulevards where everyone knew someone serving and every home was touched. The other thing you might think of is that there is not a public high school in this country where they argue about books about same-sex marriage being read, but this film ought not to be shown to every public high school student. [applause]
The film begins, as you saw, with a marvelous-looking young man, still a young man, veteran Sam Hynes, who says, “No such thing as a good war. There are only necessary wars and just wars.” Episode one is [inaudible] a necessary war. Do you think, if anything, about the dialogue that this film might create, might stir, with regard to what Sam said? The title, the entire project with regard to Iraq today?
KEN BURNS: It’s interesting that we began this project before 9/11. We did most of our interviews, and most certainly the interview with Sam Hynes -- the one that you referred to -- before the invasion of Iraq. And, as I said, this film doesn’t have a political bone its body. At the same time, because we were searching for an experience of war, we knew that we would touch things that were not just unique to the Second World War and to the personal experiences of the people there, but also to all wars, that we would touch some common things. “I was scared.” “I was bored.” “I was hot.” “I was cold.” “I saw bad things.” “I did bad things.” “I lost good friends.” That is true now, it’s true 2,000 years ago in the Greek Wars, it’s true in the Second World War.
And we knew that history can’t just be the excavation of dry dates, facts, and events. History is actually the conversation we in the present have with the past, and so it cannot help but echo and reverberate with all that’s going on.
When Sam Hynes says this, divorced from any knowledge that there will be an Iraq war, he’s speaking about the Iraq war. When he later on talks about atrocities that the Japanese were committing on our troops, certain that we wouldn’t do that, he then catches himself. He says, “Though I don’t know what Americans might do in the same circumstances.” And again, years before Abu Ghraib, he echoes Abu Ghraib.
Soldiers complain about their officers not knowing what they’re doing, politicians sending them in to needless battles, the absence of the right supplies. All of that echoes with that, and so I think that we’re beginning to have a conversation. It begins with that notion that you started off, with shared sacrifice.
Today we have a separate military class that suffers its losses apart and alone from the rest of us. And we’re not connected to what’s going on, and we’ve been asked since 9/11 merely to go shopping. Not to do the kind of sacrifice knew made us richer as a people.
MIKE BARNICLE: That aspect, that lack of shared sacrifice that exists so largely in this country today. You can go for miles on the Interstate through various towns and not bump into anyone who has any sort of personal framework for the war in Iraq because they are untouched by it. We are a nation of 300 million people. This evening, as we speak, there are 160,000 soldiers, marines, naval personnel on the ground in Iraq -- 160,000 out of 300 million. A friend of mine is on the faculty at West Point, and the military -- more so today than ever -- is literally a separate universe from the rest of most of us. You brought this film to West Point. What was the reaction among the military?
KEN BURNS: Well, first of all, we went there to say thank you. The West Point history department had been instrumental in us getting our maps right. We just wanted to have maps that were accurate to the day that we were. And they’d been very helpful, so we were doing it as sort of an obligatory thing. And we arrived and they had 1,100 cadets in dress grays. The flag at West Point is nearly always at half-staff. All of the kids are going to Iraq. They are the age of my middle daughter. And we showed them tough stuff. We did it with great anxiety, that maybe we shouldn’t be doing it -- stuff in which American soldiers aren’t behaving the best way, as well as just showing the brutality of war and the tragic loss of American life.
They gave us two thunderous standing ovations and “Hoo-ahs.” We stood there with the hair standing on the back of our necks, and they came up and said, “In order to be better military, you have to show it the way it was.” I was so stunned and shocked and in such great awe of these young people who were attending one of the great liberal arts educations, but also adds a few other arts to the curriculum. They wanted to be better. They wanted their military to be better. They wanted their country to be better. I suddenly realized the great luxury all of us have here, sitting here, able to think thoughts and go about our lives knowing that there are people who will not only fight the necessary wars, but perhaps even the unnecessary wars. And it gave us pause.
MIKE BARNICLE: One of the lines in the script written by you and Geoff Ward - you heard it here in this brief excerpt - that “nothing was ever the same again.” And, of course, when nothing was prior to December 7, 1941; nothing was ever the same after that. And September 11, 2001: many people have said nothing will ever be the same again. The twin emotional feelings stirred from December 7 and September 11 - any similarities there?
KEN BURNS: Very much so. In fact, most of the interviews were done sort of in the wake of 9/11. And what we found is that that event promoted part of this expression of memory. I was speaking to someone earlier. The most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in all my days of doing interviews -- 37 years -- was what someone said between rolls. We were doing a veteran and I heard from the stairway a guy say, “Pop. You never told us that.” This is an unusually reticent generation, and they just haven’t been talking. They saw those horrible things, and there was nobody to talk to. And they came back and they suddenly feel, at the end of their lives, the intonations of mortality. Their grandchildren are often the agents of their beginning to speak. They were telling us stuff, direct, unmediated things. The Battle of the Bulge had really been this, you know, “We took over a French farmhouse, we found a wine cellar, we all got drunk. Hahaha.” And now, “It was the coldest winter, my best friend froze to death, and I had to take his body - again, stiff as cord wood - and dump it in the back of a flatbed.” And we found that footage, and it made it real.
But we found that 9/11 unlocked it. That the same things that they felt, the same sort of panic, the same sense that we were under attack, that the whole world that we had taken for granted was suddenly made fragile again, was evident in their willingness to talk about it. There was a woman in Episode 1 that you saw who just started off a sentence talking about Pearl Harbor, and by the end she was in tears, as much I think for the anxiety she feels today as for what happened back then, the ability to recall that memory.
MIKE BARNICLE: These recollections - the ability to recall that memory, many of them buried, nonverbal, and held in close concert with other people in VFW halls or Regent posts for years - suddenly spring forward after September 11 and are embodied in this film.
We live today in an age when much is written, much is viewed on our 20-minute TV programs about the cost of war. The cost of war is broken down into the billions that we’re spending. And, of course, the casualty counts, with the names, and the ages, and the hometowns that appear in agate type on page 16 or 18 of your local paper.
And yet the cost of war, in one sense World War II the images, the visual images were repressed for quite some time until LIFE magazine and the footage from the Terrorwolf, and today the cost of war, the images of war are really restricted. No photos of coffins returning, no President going to a funeral, things like that. What do you think about that?
KEN BURNS: You know, people say that it was so much more censorship then. And there was, in some way. But in a way, it was more open. We didn’t know until the end of the war what actually the cost of Pearl Harbor was -- the death, the loss of ships. But gradually, September 1943, LIFE Magazine released this famous photograph of three dead Americans on the beach at Luna, and a few months later, the Terrorwolf footage came back. Roosevelt overrode his generals and said Americans have to know what they’re seeing. And it was devastating footage, and people wept in theaters all across the country. They assumed that it would galvanize public support. It did in one way - bond sales went up - but enlistment went down. No mother was going to let a son go off to war after seeing that footage.
And today, what do we know? We don’t know anything. Most people can’t find Iraq on a map. We used to follow everything every day on the top fold of the map in our local newspapers. We listened to the news a couple of times a day; we went to the newsreels and got the information. And today, if you really want to know how bad it is, you feel like a pornographer, seeking out stuff on the Internet. And it’s not available to us. It’s not part of the currency of our lives. We continue to go shopping.
MIKE BARNICLE: Amazing when you can get so much visual and hearing on your iPod, your kitchen blender, you can get almost anything, except you can’t get reality.
KEN BURNS: You can’t get reality, no.
MIKE BARNICLE: Mechanical question. The four cities and towns: Waterbury, Connecticut; Laverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama. The pivot point for this film, four pivot points. How did you come to choose those four towns?
KEN BURNS: You know, what we really wanted was to have a random choice. We didn’t want to come in as an audience with you having a lot of preconceptions about a place, nor did we as filmmakers want to have too many. That would require us to do lots of obligatory things, to carry lots of bags in if it was a familiar place.
And so we were drawn to Waterbury, in large part, because of the transformation of that town. You know, it was called Brass City in the 19th century, and a few weeks ago, a few months ago in San Francisco, a kid came up to me and said his grandfather had died and they cut the buttons off his jacket and he wanted to give me one. The brass button says, “Made in Waterbury.” And they had saved their …
MIKE BARNICLE: May I have it? [laughter]
KEN BURNS: They had saved their archives very well there. But we realized we wouldn’t get the full range of combat experience that we wanted to have. We weren’t looking for every ethnic group. We weren’t looking for every experience, but we knew we had to get enough. So we decided then to do four towns, regionally distributed.
We’d read this beautiful memoir called, “With the Old Breed,” by a guy named Eugene Sledge, who was at Pelelieu and Okinawa. The most honest memoir I’ve ever read. He was from Mobile, and we arrived there and he had just passed away. And his family introduced us to the Phillips family, his best friend, and we sort of landed in Mobile.
We went to California and didn’t want a West Coast town that was familiar - a Seattle, a Portland, a San Francisco, LA - and picked Sacramento. I’m so glad we did - a variety of experiences, both on the home front and on the front lines.
And then we were thrashing about for a Midwestern town and it was almost a tyranny of choices. There were too many places we could have done. And we had already met, living outside of Washington, D.C., this pilot fighter named Quentin Aanenson, whose first day of work was June 6, 1944 -- the most amazing person. And so we said, “Where you from?” And he said “Laverne, Minnesota.” So we shrugged our shoulders thinking “Oh, we’re doing this arse-backwards,” and went out there and almost immediately in the archives found that the local newspaper editor, who died in ’79, Al McIntosh, who turned down big city jobs to run and own his own small town paper, wrote like a god. We were able to get Tom Hanks to read that. It’s the single, I think, greatest archival discovery we’ve ever made, this magnificent writer who seemed to understand. Waterbury, Mobile, Sacramento - all about 100,000, all transformed overnight by the war, became war towns. Laverne? No outward transformation, except those blue stars turning to gold, except for that interior psychological dimension. And Al McIntosh saw it and recorded it and got under the skin of his town. He understood how to grieve for the red of the A&P, as he passes away.
MIKE BARNICLE: It struck me that Al McIntosh, who you will meet in this film, and I think a collection of his columns seem to be really …
KEN BURNS: Yes.
MINE BARNICLE: It struck me that Al was sort of a domestic version of Ernie Pyle.
KEN BURNS: Exactly. And we have Ernie Pyle in a few of the episodes reading. And in the midst of all this censorship, there was one person who sort of came through. It’s an interesting time. Today, we’re all about marketing ourselves, you know? We’re all about sort of selling ourselves. We all have colleagues who do that, we do it ourselves. But Pyle was really … Nobody could touch him. He just spoke the truth. The GIs heard it, the people at home heard it, the brass heard it, the politicians heard it. And he kind of had a free pass. Even he himself acknowledged that he could not tell the whole story. He could not do anything but reflect a kind of positive patriotic thing. But it was an unvarnished, it was a complicated patriotism, a patriotism with undertow, which is, of course, what war is all about. And what happens is we get farther and farther away from the event of war. We began to sanitize it. We begin to mythologize it. We begin to cloak it with bloodless, gallant men, as if you can rearrange those corpses is some artful way and they weren’t really dead. He wouldn’t let that happen. And McIntosh didn’t either on the other receiving end.
MIKE BARNICLE: I just have a couple of more questions before the audience can get a crack at you. So if you want to start with two microphones here, if you want to start lining up to ask Mr. Burns some questions, I just have two more.
One is directed to what you just spoke of: the distance between the time of the event, the history that has happened between the time of the event -- whether it’s this war or the Civil War -- and today, when you finally finish this film. How does that help or hinder you, the filmmaker? The distance of time?
KEN BURNS: After doing this film, you want to have a witness. You want to have a guy say, as Dan Inouye says, “I lifted my rifle. I adjusted the sights for the wind, and I shot that guy.” Because fairly soon there’s going to be nobody around from the Second World War who is going to be able to tell you that, and it will become the province of historians. And no matter how good they are, and there are lots of great ones, they’ll abstract that. You won’t have that anymore. So that was good, but I think distance gives you unbelievable perspective. The Civil War benefited from 140 years. This benefited from 60 years.
Just think about if you and I were going to do something on Vietnam, something I’ve now discussed with my colleagues about doing. If we did it in 1985 -- ten years after the fall of Saigon, Japan’s ascended, we’re in a recession -- this is the ball and chain we’re going to carry around forever. Wait until 1995. It’s no longer the ball and chain. We’ve won the first Gulf War with one arm tied behind our back, an international coalition. We’re in the greatest peacetime expansion of our economy. Japan’s in recession. We’re the sole superpower. It will have a centrality. That’s not the biggest thing. 2005 -- in the wake of 9/11 -- now Vietnam is becoming an echo in the discussion about Iraq. It takes on a different kind of currency. So I think what you need to do is, you know, like a good mutual fund manager, sort of average out these performances and come to some more rational thing. So to me, distance always helps.
MIKE BARNICLE: Last question from me. This distance that you’re talking about, one of the most prevalent things in everything else that’s been done prior to this about World War II -- whether in documentary fashion or, most often, film action on the big screen -- always a pivotal part, of any documentary especially, are the roles played by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, General MacArthur - the fraud, “I shall return.” In this film, the string that pulls this story is pulled by none of them. It’s pulled by …
KEN BURNS: So-called “ordinary people.”
MIKE BARNICLE: Yeah.
KEN BURNS: And that was our intention all along. They’re all there, as you know. They’re sort of bit players. Roosevelt himself, by almost virtue of his unbelievable greatness, transcends this and becomes part of the family we’ve created in this film.
But for the most part, these people have been done justice to. We don’t need to celebrate them anymore. What we need to do is speak to the so-called “ordinary people.” The people you and I can have Thanksgiving with. The people back there or across the street or in the house in Fitchburg and the various places we come from. That’s why we put the addresses of the people when we meet them. We tell you where they live. They’re real people. They had telephone exchanges and we know who they are.
It just reminds us that the greatest service we can do to honor their service to us is to be truthful about what happened and say thank you in that regard. Not have mediated by all these other distractions, which is why, before we take your questions, I’d love those people who served in the Second World War to stand and let us also acknowledge you. Raise your hand or stand now. [applause]
MIKE BARNICLE: We have two microphones set up, on the left and on the right from where I’m sitting. Given my genetic and ethnic disposition, I’ll take a question from the left. [laughter]
Q: About ten years ago, my wife embarked on a program, and she interviewed about 30 or 40 veterans, all from, I believe, Newton, Massachusetts. One of them was a captain in Patton’s army, and he was the first man to enter… (inaudible). My question is she doesn’t know what to do with these tapes. She’s had this big box of tapes and they’re valuable. But she doesn’t know what to do with them.
KEN BURNS: Well, we understood by the very random and haphazard nature of they way we were doing our film that we couldn’t tell every story. How could we? This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened on the planet. We could only try to find signal and representative stories. So we initiated with PBS and local stations the production of films and the initiating of oral history projects at a local level. More than 117 are up and running, more than 40 of these local films that have been produced at the national level with the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project. They would like to find out about it. If you go to pbs.org/thewar, and find the stuff on the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, you will find a site that will help you. Your public would be so grateful that this material could be turned over to the Veterans History Project.
Failing that, you have one of the greatest, if not the greatest, PBS stations in this town, who I’m sure would be happy - and there’s a man sitting right over there - who has producers who would love to take a look at it and perhaps help you get it to the Library of Congress. But we need to know their stories, and we’re grateful that you did that.
Q: Thank you.
MIKE BARNICLE: We have a question on the right.
Q: Yeah. Mine is not so much a question. I’m a D-Day veteran and I lost 37 men of my gun battery on D-Day. Twenty-three of their bodies were never recovered, and their names are enshrined on the walls of the Garden of the Missing at the cemetery at Normandy. But prior to D-Day, there was a -- I’m relating back to this issue of censorship and people not knowing what was going on – in April of 1944, prior to D-Day, there was an operation, a training operation, called Operation Tiger, in which my 4th Infantry Division was involved. After we had landed, waded through the icy waters of the channel to get the beach on this exercise, the British Admiralty was supposed to supply a picket line of vessels to protect the convoy, which contained the LSTs in the back -- had Graves Registration Units, supply units, and so on. They were still on the water at night, and German E-boats - we call them PT boats - broke through and sunk two LSTs and badly damaged another one. As a result, 700 servicemen were killed or died from that operation, and everybody says there were 4th Infantry Division men who were killed, but there weren’t! We had already landed. It was the support units, troops that were killed. But General Eisenhower was afraid that some of the men on board of those ships, for some reason they called them bigots, and I don’t know how that term originated …
MIKE BARNICLE: You know what, sir? I want to applaud you for your service on D-Day. Let’s applaud this gentlemen. [applause] Thank you very much. Thank you for your service. We have a very short …
Q: Eisenhower commanded that all of the bodies had to be recovered because he was afraid that some of the officers on that operation had the plans for D-Day. And every one of them were, but no one could ever talk about that. The families never knew until 50 or 60 years later how those people had been killed.
KEN BURNS: Thank you.
MIKE BARNICLE: Thank you. Ma’am, on the right. [applause]
Q: First, I want to say thank you to you for this wonderful film. I’m going to say something nice about General Eisenhower. I didn’t vote for him, and I was not very happy with his administration. However, the first time I went to the Holocaust Museum - and you must know this …
KEN BURNS: Yes.
Q: And I did not know this. There is an enormous dedication to him. His words are on the outside wall …
KEN BURNS: Yes, ma’am.
Q: … of that museum, and he flew - and I didn’t realize this, he was on the Western front - he flew when they first came to those camps. What he said was, “I have come here today because the day will come. There will be people who said this didn’t happen. And I want to testify to the fact that it has.”
KEN BURNS: You know, Dwight …
Q: I’m telling you, it changed my whole view of Dwight Eisenhower!
KEN BURNS: Dwight Eisenhower is an amazing human being. He was an amazing general, and the footage of him in the camp, the fury on his face, the anger, it is as if he was Ray Leopold. It’s an amazing piece of footage to look at, and I will bring it out every once in awhile.
Q: Well, in the museum now, since I took a grandson there a few weeks ago at his request, there is a photograph of him inside. I don’t remember that from when I first saw that museum, the year it was open. But thank you again.
MIKE BARNICLE: Sir, a question?
Q: Yes. Mr. Burns, you belong in the hall of fame of angels. [applause]
KEN BURNS: You know, what we do …
Q: My question is this: I was at Normandy for many, many months, not including the invasion. I was there after the invasion. One of my jobs was to watch for German planes that came over from Germany while they still had an Air Force, and they were bringing supplies to 50,000 German troops in the Jersey and Guernsey islands. My question to you is why have I not been able - and I was involved in a skirmish where I was nearly killed with some of those Germans who were trying to get onto Normandy after we had already been 200 miles inland - why do I never get a reply from the War Department when I try to ask a question? How did those 60,000 Germans that were about to invade England … What happened to them and why was there never any publicity about it?
MIKE BARNICLE: Did you run into that …
KEN BURNS: Yes I did. It’s so interesting, and if you watch carefully on our maps - and we have more concentrated maps around D-Day than ever - you will see that those islands remain red long after we’ve pushed inland in France. We had initially colored them the neutral color after the invasion, but we were reminded by West Point that it wasn’t. Again, I couldn’t find anybody who would tell me exactly when the troops were disbanded or captured or retreated and escaped.
Q: Well, quite a few of them, they were starving to death. It was about 100 miles behind the front lines, they were starving to death. One night, I was alerted with about ten other men that there was a battle going on 100 miles behind the lines, and about 200 of them, on rubber rafts, invaded a rear end of Normandy, and they killed quite a few American soldiers - missing me, obviously. [laughter]
KEN BURNS: And we’re so glad.
Q: … And there was never any … I just want to tell the audience, there were 50,000 troops in Jersey and Guernsey Island ready to invade England until we won the battle of the air, because with the supremacy of the air, they couldn’t land on England.
MIKE BARNICLE: They probably ended up opening the first off-shore accounts.
[laughter] Question on the left.
Q: Yes. My question is regarding … Mr. Burns, you mention that your documentary didn’t aspire to include various ethnicities or various different stories, given the multitude of potential stories. But I’m an aspiring high school teacher. I know that, based on what I’ve seen thus far, I see a noticeable deficit of black and Latino World War II fighters thus far.
KEN BURNS: I don’t know what you’re looking at, because the film is filled with them. I guess you haven’t seen all that …
Q: No, definitely, and I know a variety of series have yet to come out. But I know that there was a campaign, I believe it’s called the Defend the Honor Campaign?
KEN BURNS: Yes.
Q: Which was very frustrated with the shortfall of Latino representation, given the …
KEN BURNS: What we did is we went to the four towns. We spent five years there. We advertised our presence. We were seeking combat experience. We got people, and in those five years, not a single Hispanic came forward. We weren’t looking, we literally were not looking for any specific ethnicity. We took whoever came and told our tale that way. That’s the way we’re doing it.
When we heard of the concerns, we shot some additional scenes, and they’ve been included in the first and the sixth episode - already out - and there’s an African American story in every single episode. And so there’re lots of things that aren’t there, you can’t tell everything. We don’t have it from any other nationality’s point of view. They’re not German Americans, a huge, much greater ethnic group. We don’t have WACs or WAVEs, submariners, as much Merchant Marine as we would have like to have done, Filipino Americans who suffered extensively. What this was not looking for … I mean, Arthur Schlesinger, an amazing visitor to this building, said that we suffer today from too much pluribus, not enough unum. We were looking not for what makes us distinct, but what makes us universal and in this case, American. And each one of the Hispanic veterans we interviewed said, “I’m now told I’m Hispanic. I’m Mexican American. And when I got into the Army, I was an American.”
MIKE BARNICLE: One of the great things about this film … [applause] … When you do see it, hopefully, when you do see it in its entirely, and hopefully - and good for you - you do go on to become a high school history teacher and, hopefully and optimistically, you get the opportunity to show this film to your high school history students, maybe they will all be reminded that there was a time in this land when the phrase “special interest” meant all of us. [applause]
Q: In describing the invasion of Poland, there’s no mention of the two months before. There was a Hitler-Stalin pact, which made the dividing of Poland possible two months after the German invasion. I was curious why that was left out.
KEN BURNS: It was actually mentioned, but in reference. Remember, this was an attempt to be a bottom-up film. So the scene in which the invasion of Poland took place, it takes place from the point of view of people in our four towns, watching the newsreels and trying to assimilate a kind of avalanche of information. We were looking at a street level. That’s why the Holocaust was not at all prefigured at all in our film until these three men stumble across them. A lot of the intricacies of the geopolitical mash of nations that you’re well aware of, we decided to forgo.
We do provide context in every episode. We rise up and tell you what’s going on in Burma, and the Soviet Union, and China. But what we were trying to do was to get a ground-level sense, a street-level sense of what Americans were experiencing. So we did actually mention it, but in such passing so as to not trip up in favor of … There’re so many excellent documentaries, and you’ve seen them. “Victory at Sea,” “War of the World,” that have gone into these things.
We felt that, in this urgency that I tried to describe earlier, that is was incumbent upon us to get an unmediated sense of what it was like to be in battle. You don’t have the flag raising at Suribachi here, consciously. It’s been done. We know this story. In fact, we are distracted by the flag raising at Suribachi. It’s more what happened to Ray Pitman, and that’s what we’re trying to do: that unmediated and unnecessarily, a lot of that scaffolding, the false work, that buttresses our sort of common contextual understanding of the Second World War had to be let go in favor of this unmediated view. So it’s there, it’s in the companion book, but it’s not in the degree that you would like it, sir. But I think that if we had done that, we would have had a 30-hour series and it would have been a lot ricketier. [laughter]
MIKE BARNICLE: Sadly for the audience, we only have time for two more questions. So the next to the last question, right here.
Q: I have two very simple questions. One, who took the movies, and who took the pictures that you used?
KEN BURNS: What a great question. You know, there’s a tough thing that we do in filmmaking. We have to use that footage and those photographs to tell a narrative that we want you to get into and forget who might have taken them. Obviously, there are moments when you can’t: Iwo Jima, when they’re carrying the wounded American and all of a sudden they’re running and the vehicle is accelerating, and it’s in color and they drop the body and they jump, and if you watch, you’ll see the hand grenade come in and blow them all to pieces. And you need to know who took that, how many people lived, who didn’t, of those people what happened? And we will never know.
The Army had single corps members, brave people, who shot, looking back down the beach at Omaha where the fellow drops. We were able to find in the outtakes through six years of research, a few more seconds from that shot, and it’s actually three men that drop. And you think of the brave cameraman who’s shooting without a gun, getting this.
The Marines had their own combat photographers, still and motion picture, some of them taking it in color. Some of it we discovered. Newsreels that we went to pursue the outs from the news, the outtakes, and found that when we pursued the original negative, they were in color and they had made them all uniformly black and white. Suddenly, it’s no longer that safe black and white war at arm’s length but something very close.
We owe it all to these combat photographers. You will notice in our credits that speed by, as they’re offering books and DVDs and soundtracks, that we thank them profusely in our credits for their service. You had another question?
Q: My other question is very simple. How did all the troops and the weapons get to Europe and Japan and the Pacific?
KEN BURNS: You’ll see in the film, we tend to focus just on that bit of action, but there is a huge, massive thing going on.
Now we have Blackwater supposedly taking care of our diplomats, or feeding our troops if you’re KBR, but that was all done by service personnel. And the thousands of support boats, the equipment, it all begins to accrue in the film, as you begin to watch it. You see people loading supplies. You’ll get a sense of this massive enterprise that was going on, that is impressive.
Ten to fifteen percent of the 16 million men who served in uniform saw combat. The rest were getting there: all the stuff, all the boats, all the logistics. I mean, you just think, when they’re digging up the bodies there at Hadamar, as Ray Leopold is describing, you have three servicemen -- one with a clipboard writing stuff down; one with a camera; one with a shovel. You can’t even get a trailer to Katrina victims in three months.
MIKE BARNICLE: Last question.
Q: I was wondering what you would want young people to take away from this film.
KEN BURNS: I would want young people to take away from this film exactly what I want anyone who watches this film to take away from it, which I think can be boiled down to two things.
One, what it was actually like to be in battle. What the cost of war is, undistracted by all of those mitigating factors, and undistracted by a kind of creeping false patriotism that layers over, that encrusts all of our views of war. So you can see what it is actually like. Because in a democratic society, all of us have the ability to elect the officials that will make the decisions to go to war, and we have to be … There’s something in the human breast that is so funny. It’s such a disconnect. At the Civil War, they rode out in carriages with picnic baskets to watch the war, and slunk back to Washington when they saw what war does. We forget what happens. And if we are able to vote the people into office who are going to decide, we have to know what the cost is and make damn sure that they only get us into necessary wars. [applause]
And the other thing is what we’ve talked about all the way through. That the man for whom this library is dedicated. That in shared sacrifice, we made ourselves richer. Not just spiritually and communally richer, but financially and materially richer. We are so independent free agents today. We are inquisitive. We wish to give up nothing. And yet we feel a poverty of spirit. The people of that period were willing to give up almost everything, and in the case of the soldiers, everything. And they enriched themselves in ways that, as Mike says much better than I can, that we just stand in awe and wish we could be like today. And so it’s the same thing for a veteran of the Second World War that we dedicate this film to, and to you that we also made it for, that we wish you would come away with those two things.
MIKE BARNICLE: As Paul Kirk approaches for benediction, let me ask you one last question. One of the still photos quite prominent at the start of this documentary is of your dad.
KEN BURNS: Yeah.MIKE BARNICLE: When you were making this documentary, across all the years encompassed in making it, how many conversations did you have with your dead father?
KEN BURNS: Every single day. That’s one of the reasons, sir, we wanted to do that oral history project, is because … You know, my dad didn’t see combat, or I don’t think he saw much. He talked about the war, he shared with my brother and me some of the artifacts, but when we began this project, he had just passed away. Every day, there was something I wanted to … In the beginning, you know, when you lose someone like your dad, you get close, almost reaching for the phone. And as the days go by, you don’t reach physically, but you reach emotionally and spiritually and psychologically. And every day I’ve lived with a certain amount of regret of all the questions that were unanswered. That now, as I get smarter, asking the questions of these veterans that I didn’t. That’s why I slipped him into the film, because in a way, part of the past, part of our interest in history, is a kind of waking of the dead. We find in the examples of the past not only things to point us in the right direction, but a kind of resurrection of those closest to us. We can relive their importance to us by honoring their actions. In a small way, by inserting my dad in it, I could continue to have that conversation.
MIKE BARNICLE: That’s why our greatest industry, greater than autos, industry, steel, hi-tech, I would submit, and you’re a representative of it, is the memories …
KEN BURNS: The memory business. You said it when you began your thing. We’re all in the business of memories. And part of the urgency of this is that someone on the road a couple of months ago said, “When a man dies, it’s like a library burning down.” You think that all the memories, all the associations, all the stories, all the tales are the unique and precious volumes of this library that we will no longer be able to have. How important it is to turn to that veteran, to our great-grandma as well, and say, “What did you do? What was it like? Tell us what happened?” So we don’t experience the kind of regret that I felt in the last few years.
MIKE BARNICLE: Ken Burns, thank you.
KEN BURNS: Thank you. [applause]
PAUL KIRK: Ken, I just want to say, on a personal basis, as a son, and having watched this series as it unfolds, it helps to remind me and explain to me - and I’m sure I’m one of hundreds of thousands - of what my father and mother experienced. The heroism and the horror, the loneliness and the waiting, the camaraderie my father had with all of the guards with whom he served, and the community, the shared community sense that we talked about. So on a personal basis, I want to thank you.
I also want to congratulate you. This is the best of history. It’s the best of television. I remember Walter Cronkite used to sign off, he’d say, “And that’s the way it is.” He also had a Sunday show that was “You Are There.” I think Ken has produced the kind of documentary that tells us that’s the way it was, and we have a sense that we were there.
I can’t be here in this place and not be mindful of how John Kennedy introduced, in his own words in his inaugural address, an essential lessen that would guide his presidency, when he said, “Tempered by war.” And I think also it perhaps was that experience that gave him the courage to do what we need to be doing today: asking people what they can do for their country. And please, God, it won’t take the lesson of “The War” to give political leaders the courage to do the same thing when it is so desperately needed. And this film, my hope is, will instill that kind of courage and that kind of leadership for the kids who face our future.
So many thanks to you again. Thanks to Mike for your typical thoughtful and incisive questions and comments. Thank you to our audience for your interest and attention and for your questions, as well. I’ll ask one favor of you, if I may, and that is, two favors.
To stand and give a standing ovation to Ken Burns and Mike, but to stay at your places while they exit the stage and thank them for their service and contribution to our country.
Thanks so much. [applause]