I've watched a couple of episodes of Ken Burns' war documentary. PBS, one of our four channels, is running it this week. I'd read about it several weeks ago as being "something to watch." It has that distinctive Burns feel; masterful images, hauntingly appropriate music, and selah-esque pauses so you can catch your emotional breath. I highly recommend it.
One of last night's segments focused on the death of President Roosevelt. At a pivotal time in the war, the commander-in-chief died. Silver-haired people recalled how everyone, everyone, gathered around the radios to listen to the reports of his passing. Fragile veterans remembered the news reaching their units and men jumping up and attaching bayonettes to their guns and charging the enemy, saying, "This is for the Old Man!" Yet another, who was overseas at the time, looked directly at Burns' camera and said through tears, "I felt great loss." And one gregarious grandpa talked of how his parents were Republican and hated Roosevelt, but "all us kids loved him. He was the face of America."
As I've watched both nights, I've been moved to tears. We routinely speak of the loss of innocence in our country. We harken back to a time when things were simpler. At least some of us do. Some find that kind of talk silly. They believe that things were as they are now and our memories are deceiving. But as I've watched the past (funny phrase), I believe that things were different back then, people and places had an innocence to them, and yes, times were simpler. People had faith in one another, in institutions, and our leaders. Was it naive and misplaced? Maybe. But at least it was there to be naive and misplaced. I'm not sure we have "faith" at all these days, in anyone or anything. Not even ourselves. And there was a simple-ness to time. Sure, the war itself was gradually making things less simple, but the images of those people and their journals of those days have a clarity to them that I do not see and hear today. The images are not populated with a number of "things," but rather always have a lot of "people" in them. Family. Community. Friends. And the voices speak of love and loss and "the Old Man" whereas the air today is full of hate and greed and the possiblity of a woman in the house that's white. Those aren't just different words, those are different values. And our values indicate what kind of a people we are. And we're different.
I feel great loss. Burns' work keeps us from historical amnesia. It is a gift. But it must be opened.