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The War (2006)

PBS Home Video

Cast: Soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians from four American towns who took part in the Second World War.

Rating: PG

Run time: 15 hours

Genre: Documentary

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

Six years in the making, this is a brilliant, extraordinary documentary about the impact of the Second World War on the citizens of four American towns.

The personal stories of the survivors - soldiers, sailors, airmen, family members, factory workers and Japanese Americans shipped off to remote internment camps makes for spellbinding viewing.

The war affected every inhabitant of Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota as it did the inhabitants of every town in every country caught up in the war.

Families were separated as sons and brothers marched off to war in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war on the U.S. Many thought it would soon be over, but 1942 brought bad news everywhere and soon the telegrams were arriving telling devastated familes their loved ones weren't coming home.

As the war transformed the U.S. economy, and turned sleepy communities into major manufacturing centres turning out tanks, airplanes, ships, guns and bombs, the men in the front lines faced unimaginable horrors - particularly in the Pacific theatre where fanatical Japanese troops fought to the last man in a series of brutal island campaigns. Many U.S. troops captured by the Japanese were brutalized and executed. Little wonder the survivors harboured a deep hatred that lingered for decades after the war.

It was scarcely better in the European campaign, where thousands of Americans died in the bomber air war and during D-Day and its aftermath. The documentary does a particularly fine job of showing the tough campaigns to take North Africa, Italy, France, Holland and Germany.

Vets who saw their friends killed and had to kill themselves speak of the trauma that never leaves them. Many remember with tears the first time they killed an enemy.

The seven part-series includes a lot of combat footage, much of it in colour, and all of it harrowing. This is real war, not some glorified Hollywood version of it.

With the hit music of the day - from Bing Crosby to Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra - bringing alive the atmosphere of the war years, filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick deserve accolades for a wonderful project.



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