Ken Burns: We may face the most difficult crisis in American history | US TV

KProjectSyndicate en Burns drives through busy traffic, trying to get from New York, where he was born, to New Hampshire, where he lives and works in a rural splendor. He took this step in 1979, not to serve a major master planner but out of financial desperation.

“I was shooting my first movie, and I was starving, and the rent was going up in NYC and I couldn’t stand it,” recalls the documentary, over the phone. “I’ve found the connection with nature to be incredibly important for this labor-intensive work that we do.”

But when Burns’ movie first came out, Brooklyn BridgeWhen he was nominated for an Academy Award, his friends and colleagues assumed he would return to New York or try out Los Angeles. surprised them. “I made the biggest and most important professional decision, which is to stay.

“I live in nature. I walk constantly and do a lot of letter writing, speech writing, screenwriting, text fixing and editing in my head and this is very helpful. I happen to live in an especially beautiful part of the country.”

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Burns settled in New Hampshire, the state that inspired the Thornton Wilders Our Town, an idyllic play on the American experience. Something in the New England air helped him produce the epics Civil warThe war (about World War II) and the Vietnam War. Cultural Studies of Baseball, Country Music, Jazz and National Parks; Profiles spanning Roosevelts, Hemingway, Muhammad Ali and Benjamin Franklin.

come now The United States and the Holocaust, a three-part television series series directed and produced by Burns, Lyn Novick, and Sarah Botstein and written by Jeffrey Ward. Over the course of six hours, he examines America’s flawed response to Nazi persecution and the mass murder of Jews, questioning what could have been done differently to stop the genocide. The voice actors include Liam Neeson, Matthew Rhys, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, Werner Herzog, Joe Morton and Hope Davis.

It may be Burns’ most educational film to date as it ends provocatively with images of Dylann Roof, who shoots and kills nine African-American worshipers in a South Carolina church; White supremacists march with burning torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us!” ; 11 worshipers were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh; and the Storming the US Capitol By a crowd of Donald Trump supporters on January 6, 2021.

“We had to do this because the way we organize this series is that we start with American anti-Semitism, racism, the malicious slave trade, xenophobia, patriotism, and eugenics,” he explains. “We are, therefore, obligated not to close our eyes and pretend that this is something comfortable in the past that does not correspond to the present.”

Burns has sounded the alarm about the threat to American democracy ever since Starting address At Stanford University in California in June 2016. After six years and one Trump presidency, he’s more anxious than ever.

After three previous major crises, I believe we are facing the fourth and perhaps the most difficult crisis in American history. The three are the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and the institutions were not as attacked as they are today and this makes the fragility of Benjamin Franklin’s statement, “A republic, if you can keep it,” even more so. relevant.

But I am also talking about Britain. I am also talking about the rise of the right in France. I’m talking about Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and a tendency.”

Burns adds: “Story holocaust It reminds us of the fragility of democracies but how, as frustrating as it can be, there is nothing more important than preserving those democracies – constitutional and parliamentary, whatever they may be – in the world because we see from human history that their authoritarian regimes have been murdered by more than 100 of their citizens more Which killed democracies. It’s not that democracies haven’t done bad things and will continue to do bad things, but they don’t do it on the scale of authoritarian regimes.”

Burns’ 1990 masterpiece The Civil War blended black-and-white or sepia photographs with brass and string music and vocal artists including Morgan Freeman, Julie Harris, Jeremy Irons, Arthur Miller and Sam Waterston. The rich-voiced narrator was David McCullough, a revered historian who died last month. The series was as evocative as stepping into a Victorian home where nothing had been touched or altered for a century.

An immigrant family looking at the Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island in 1930, which was used in the United States and the Holocaust.
An immigrant family looking at the Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island in 1930, which was used in the United States and the Holocaust. Photo: 1930… / PBS

But after a generation there is talk of a distant sepia world Explode in full color. Earlier this year, the New York Times asked, “Are we really facing a second civil war?“The New Yorker asked,”Is civil war coming?Last month a survey found that More than two in five Americans We think civil war is at least somewhat likely in the next 10 years. What does Burns do with it?

To be sure, much of the smoke that preceded the American Civil War continues now: increasingly vitriolic rhetoric, isolated and sporadic incidents of violence. This also applies to Nazi Germany. I’m not saying it can necessarily work this way, but it could Go this way I think, gratefully borrow from our beloved Deborah Lipstadt [a historian interviewed in The US and the Holocaust]It is time to save democracy before it is lost.”

In fact, the US and Holocaust release was originally supposed to be released in 2023, but Burns sped up production by several months, “to the consternation of my colleagues, only because I felt the urgency of being part of a conversation“.

The result does not feel rushed. It is a characteristically distinctive blend of film and still images, first-person accounts from witnesses and survivors, and interviews with historians and writers. One memorably notes that while the United States was exemplary in fighting fascism, it was less important. Caring for the victims of fascism.

The film dispels the idea that ordinary American citizens cannot be aware of the horror unfolding in Germany. The persecution of Jews was widely reported in newspapers and radio (there were 3,000 articles on mistreatment of Jews in 1933). Many Americans protested, boycotted German goods, and some took heroic actions to save individual Jews.

But the rotting Foreign Ministry found the scale of Adolf Hitler’s final solution to be unbelievable. Congress seemed to be content with following public opinion rather than leading it. This view was shaped in part by vocal anti-Semites such as Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, and Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic.

While 225,000 people eventually found refuge in the United States, many more were denied entry. family Anne Frankwhose memoirs chronicled life under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, sought refuge in the United States but were refused visas. Then Otto Frank, Anne’s father, decided that he had no choice but to arrange the construction of the family’s hideout in Amsterdam. They were eventually caught.

And Burns adds, “It’s a new scholarship that the Franks were trying so hard to get into the United States. Otto Frank was begging the people, and if we let him in, as he certainly should have been—the quotas weren’t filled—maybe Anne Frank would be alive and be a writer.” Brilliant. Who knows what the circumstances of that would be? We had to tell people what happened at that event.”

Ester, Bronia and Shmiel Jäger in Poland, circa 1939, used in the United States and the Holocaust.
Ester, Bronia and Shmiel Jäger in Poland, circa 1939, used in the United States and the Holocaust. Photo: 1939 / PBS

As Nazi atrocities worsened, America strengthened its borders. Senator Robert Reynolds of North Carolina declared, “If I had my way, I would today build a wall around the United States so high and secure that no foreigner or foreign refugee from any country on earth could expand or mount it.”

The construction of the wall is an undeniable echo of the launch of the Trump presidential campaign in 2015, and it has been repeated countless times since. The film describes anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1930s and 1940s rooted in a fear of “substitution” – foreshadowing the “Great Alternative” conspiracy theory that now drives the far right.

Burns, who is fond of a quote often attributed to Mark Twain—”History does not repeat itself, but often chimes in”—reflects: “As we worked on the film it became increasingly clear with a great deal of urgency and urgency how nearly every sentence chimed in. The conservatives who installed Adolf Hitler were sure they could control him. Within a few months they were either dead or completely marginalized. It is a telling story: he wished to make Germany great again.

[President Franklin] Roosevelt had to fight the isolationist America’s First Committee. We meet characters like Breckenridge Longthis stubborn antisemitic and the Assistant Secretary of State in the State Department in the Roosevelt administration who does everything in his power to hide or bury news about the coming Holocaust and make it more difficult for refugees who meet the requirements.

“He always changes the requirements, raises the level, moves the goal. Reminds me a bit of Stephen Miller [a senior adviser to Trump] in the previous administration.

Six million Jews were killed. America, proudly a nation of immigrants, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty and the welcome mat for the “gathered masses,” did not live up to its ideals. “Although the United States has let in 225,000 people, more than any other sovereign nation, we can only by meeting the quotas — meager quotas, malicious quotas — have let in five times that number and are still, in my opinion, a failure.

“This is not entirely about Franklin Roosevelt, this is about Congress and the people of the United States who have consistently voted against him, even when the atrocities were revealed. When the concentration camps were liberated and the footage came back, only 5% of the American public was willing to let more people in” .

Burns, who has won dozens of awards, is now 69, an age when many people have retired to live empty nests. But back home in Walpole, New Hampshire, he was a single father raising two daughters, ages 17 and 11 (he also has two daughters, ages 39 and 35). And alongside his powerful fellows, he appears to be hungrier and more prolific than ever before in America’s small-screen documentation.

Their next big project will be about the American Revolution, which can hardly be in time as the Left claims 1619 and the Right claims 1776 as the birth certificate of the nation, and with a Broadway hit, Hamilton reworked the origins story to the beat of hip-hop.

Then what – or who – is on Burns’ wish list? He says, “Oh my God.” “If I were given a thousand years to live, which I will never get, I would never run out of topics in American history.”

Leave a Comment