During the closing months of World War II, Eric Sevareid, the CBS radio correspondent, felt dismayed at how inadequate his broadcasts had been in conveying the experience of war. He had parachuted into Burma, witnessed the fall and then the liberation of France and seen much of battle. But he was a journalist, he said, and that was a limitation: “Only the soldier really lives the war.”
“War happens,” he explained, “inside a man.”
And that is mostly where Ken Burns decides to look for it in his 15-hour documentary about the Second World War, “The War,” directed with Lynn Novick, now being broadcast on PBS (and to be released on DVD tomorrow). Invoking Mr. Sevareid, Mr. Burns says that his documentary — an “epic poem,” he has called it — is “created in that spirit.” Nearly 50 men and women talk about their wartime experiences, their testimonies punctuated by historical footage and somber narration.
he intention, apparently, was to see the war anew, to see it not from the vistas of generals’ maps and geopolitics, not from the perspective given by the doctrines of nations and the lures of ideologies, not even from the war’s context in history. The intention was to view it from the experiences of those who fought in it and those who knew them. If war happens “inside a man,” Mr. Burns wants to bring it home