Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ken Burns' The War (part 2)

A Soldier Inside A Bombed Church (from the National Archives)

“The gravitas of a full orchestra, the lamenting sound of a cello, the intimacy of chamber music, and the uplifting surge of melody - songs without words, both familiar and rarely heard - combine to create a provocative expression of a nation in the midst of the greatest cataclysm in history”
–from the back notes to
THE WAR: Songs Without Words soundtrack album

stream Copland: Concerto For Clarinet, Strings, Harp And Piano : The War: A Ken Burns Film, Songs Without Words, Classical Music From The War

Leonard Slatkin: London Philharmonic Orchestra - Walton: The Death Of Falstaff : The War: A Ken Burns Film, Songs Without Words, Classical Music From The War

(Read part 1 where I talked about the documentary and two of the other discs from the series and part 3 where I talk about that last companion disc)


Andrew said...

This documentary is just amazing - Ken Burns is brilliant when it comes to this sort of thing, and as a historian, it's extremely grafifying to see the public getting something besides Saving Private Ryan

imsmall said...


Watching The War on my TV
Brings to my recollection
So many thoughts--no "Greatest," we
Were but, per my reflection,

A decent ordinary folk,
Hard-working, loyal, true,
As strove to beat the Nazi yoke
With our Red, White and Blue.

In those days there was more respect
For what we call Old Glory,
The flag, her rituals to protect,
But that is not my story.

The show reveals exciting times,
As caught up in the crush
Of swift events, all nickels, dimes
Combined to help the push.

That was before I was called up,
And I was glad to go--
Rejected twice, I didn´t stop,
They took me even so.

No, I was not a pilot on
A carrier running sorties--
That was my brother--a young man,
Those were the Nineteen-Forties.

I was what you would call today
A common foxhole grunt,
No "Greatest Generation," say
Whatever you may want.

Those fellows that I served with were
An upright bunch of boys,
Nor don´t call me an officer,
However fate deploys.

It´s sixty years and more since then,
But I can plainly see
Faces I´ll never meet again
Save in eternity.

There was a lot of memories
About the times and all,
And all of these, so the TV´s
Brought back, and I recall--

But that, of all the things I want
To tell you--not the times--
They are not what´s significant,
The nickels and the dimes:

The dances, the Glenn Miller band
The TV can recount,
But time moves on, and with its hand
Sweeps off a large amount.

That´s why the story that I have
To tell you is important,
For I was not heroic, brave,
Or saved by prescient portent--

I saw enough of death and all,
Yet some of us survived,
As to old men death comes to call,
The lives that we have lived

Gradually leaving little trace
Except for TV shows--
Alas, goes on the human race
Perpetuating woes.

Good friends I had that died, of course,
And I´ll be glad to join them,
But there´s a vision so much worse
I have--I can´t restrain them,

These tears you see, if not profuse
(I weep them every day),
Because in war I find no use
No matter what fools say.

O, I believe we had to keep
Hitler from taking over,
But victory yet wasn´t cheap;
Some lucky ones recover.

Hitler was evil; but look what
Occurred once he was gone--
Stalin--an ideological cut
And paste enforced by gun.

No, why I cry, you understand,
And why I have to tell,
You won´t find on TV--no grand
Battle proudly befell.

It was a lot of chaos as
They make the movies now,
While what I saw shall never pass
Till heaven may allow--

It is a memory recurrent
Oppresses in my dreams,
For which I have found no deterrent
And I wake up with screams.

All was explosions; in the air
A smoke so thick to clot,
And all was darkness everywhere,
And I myself had got

A something sticking in my leg,
I couldn´t hardly move,
The dead lay scattered--and I beg
God´s mercy from above.

It was amongst the German forces,
The soldiers lying dead,
Reflected light from unknown sources
Revealed a moving head--

At least I thought so: all my boys
Were either dead or gone,
While we two, poise to counterpoise
It seemed were left alone.

He crawled or slithered toward me with
A weapon in his hand--
This is not some heroic myth,
Glib authors be ye damned!

He was a boy of seventeen,
Could not have been much older,
Seen clearly as you here are seen
And I was his beholder.

He must have been good German stock--
The kind Hitler approved--
Yet even though I was in shock
I wish he hadn´t moved.

It´s kill or be killed, as you know,
So as the boy approached,
Meaning my death--not for dumb show--
His life away I poached.

He was a blond, and handsome kid,
Yet he meant deadly business--
In self defense, the act I did
Did not cause any queasiness--

I slept for twenty hours or more
Straight in the hospital--
Recovered, to go back to war,
But that night took its toll.

It was a dreamless sleep that first,
But never any since,
Nor is it I was specially cursed,
For which no evidence;

But subsequently every night
(And it is sixty years)
The visitation comes, the fright,
The handsome youth appears--

And I must shoot him once again--
It is a horror, horror,
Sweat covers me: so it has been
A lifetime, nightly terror:

Terror of having killed a boy
That was so beautiful,
That never knew life´s later joy:
I´ve had a life that´s full.

As by an accident of fate
My seed proliferates
Unto the generations--"great"
Not nearly, word which grates.

So I have even lived to see
Grandchildren of my own
Have children; but that German, he--
That boy--will not have known.

All of these things he never had,
And all I have enjoyed,
Because of war--all war is bad--
Because of me destroyed.

It was not like an option might
Present itself to me;
What I must do I did, that night,
But so regretably.

That´s why I have to talk to you,
To make you understand:
My comrades yes were comrades true,
Camaraderie is grand,

And looking back, the times were not
Without their pleasures even,
But I recall the man I shot
So early sent to heaven.

Hardly more than a boy, he was,
And if I had not killed him,
I would have died; and yet because
I did, I have instilled him

To be a nightly visitor
Eliciting my tears,
Shuddered revulsion at the core
Despite these many years.

You fight these further wars today,
But truly "war is hell,"
An adage true, so I relay
What no TV can tell.

An old man´s tears have no account
To any but himself--
They´ll package, what for some amount
You may put on your shelf,

A video as describing war
With extra scenes not seen
On your TV: but war is more
Than that, as packaged clean.

Edited--so you understand--
The story that is told
Leaves out the message men are damned
By what is sold as bold.

Historically, so it is an
Event, if not forgotten,
Of all events that come to man,
This visitation rotten,

Most horrible and most horrendous,
Not something to be sought,
More stupefying than stupendous,
War and what war has wrought.


Sean said...


Thanks for sharing this piece. I'm not sure it is of your writing or not, but regardless, thanks.