September 24, 2007

War and Peace

I'm grateful to the New Yorker for making what I considered to be manadatory viewing, Ken Burns' PBS special on the World War II, no longer mandatory. It seems unpatriotic to say so, but I suspected this might be a bit slow, especially since I've found every Burns' special besides the marvelous Civil War epic long-winded. The reviewer says:
You have to work very hard, and take yourself very seriously as the keeper of the keys to America, to make a tedious documentary about the Second World War. But that is what Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have done with their fifteen-hour series “The War,”...
Speaking of tedious, she also spoke about the power of interest group politics:
Earlier this year, Hispanic groups, aided by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, put pressure on Burns and PBS to include some stories of Latinos in the film, which was already finished, after six years of work, involving dozens of interviews, hundreds of hours of research, reading, travelling, filming, editing, and writing (including the inevitable companion volume, by Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, who also wrote the series). To be excluded was to be written out of history, they insisted.
If the Donohue's Catholic League ever descends to that level it'll mean it's outlived its usefulness.

But I digress. The reviewer continues:
Burns has said that he hoped by making “The War” to understand something about being in battle, and he has been able to elicit from many of the men descriptions of their moment of conversion, as it were, to being dutiful soldiers who were willing and sometimes eager to kill...Sometimes the men speak of what that conversion cost them, and Burns lets the camera linger when they stop recounting such horrible moments, and their faces tell you everything—that no one who wasn’t there will ever really understand.
I've heard that before - that if you haven't experienced combat you can't really understand what it's like or what it does to you - and I believe it. It is well to remember how bad war is in order to avoid it. She uses the word "conversion", with its religious overtones, and that seems fitting since just as we who've thankfully never experienced war must rely on the word of those who have that we might more keenly wish to avoid it, so we must trust in God by relying on the witness and word of the apostles and martyrs. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio:
...[K]nowledge through belief, grounded as it is on trust between persons, is linked to truth: in the act of believing, men and women entrust themselves to the truth which the other declares to them.

Any number of examples could be found to demonstrate this; but I think immediately of the martyrs, who are the most authentic witnesses to the truth about existence. The martyrs know that they have found the truth about life in the encounter with Jesus Christ, and nothing and no-one could ever take this certainty from them. Neither suffering nor violent death could ever lead them to abandon the truth which they have discovered in the encounter with Christ. This is why to this day the witness of the martyrs continues to arouse such interest, to draw agreement, to win such a hearing and to invite emulation. This is why their word inspires such confidence: from the moment they speak to us of what we perceive deep down as the truth we have sought for so long, the martyrs provide evidence of a love that has no need of lengthy arguments in order to convince.

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